Neeraj Chopra (File photo)
Neeraj Chopra (File photo)

'Expect to win every time I throw': Neeraj geared up for big season

World No 1 javelin ace confident after productive training in recent months, says he could break 90m barrier before the Olympics

CHENNAI : It's mid-April and the athletics season is slowly warming up. Off-season training is over and athletes are gradually gearing up for competitions. In Antalya, at the Gloria Sports Arena, one man is quietly training for the gruelling season that would culminate with the Olympics in Paris from July 26 to August 11. Javelin Olympic and world champion, Neeraj Chopra, is now looking forward to the big days ahead.

After a productive training for around three months or so in South Africa, the 25-year-old Indian has shifted to Turkey before starting his season at the Doha Diamond League on May 10. Though not finalized, Neeraj outlined his plan for the season during an online interaction on Thursday. His 90-metre plan is still intact and he felt that it can come before the Olympics as well. Staying injury-free will be crucial too.

Neeraj spoke about his new strength and conditioning coach and how it has helped him. As reported by The New Indian Express, Neeraj has been working with strength and conditioning coach Spencer Mackay, who was at the Inspire Institute of Sports in Bellary. "I had worked with him during my injury rehab in 2019," said Neeraj.

"During training before the season, the focus was on fitness, strength and conditioning. There was a marked improvement in technique like clean and jerk and snatch (lifting). We have worked on our strength and conditioning in South Africa and here in Antalya as well. Now, we have started throwing as well. Overall, it was quite good."  

The one question that would not leave the current World No 1 until he manages to pull it off is his 90m aspirations. Neeraj is hoping it can come soon. "Hopefully, this time it happens before the Olympics," he said with a smile. "People don't have to wait for the Olympics. Everything is going fine (training) and smooth. So preparation is good and it may happen early.”

As expected, the world has changed for Neeraj after the Tokyo Olympics gold. His self-confidence has inflated. The expectations are sky-high too. "The confidence level is high. And I expect to win every time I throw in a competition. I have won quite a few events as well. I won the silver and gold at World Championships, Diamond League Trophy and threw well and retained the Asian Games crown. So it was good. Mentally and physically, I think I'm prepared for the Olympics. I have not done anything special for mental training but I know it's the second Olympics and I feel good and physically, I am feeling good. What is good is that everything is positive."

Speaking about off season, Neeraj said that though the season starts by January or February with indoor events, javelin is not part of it. "For us, we feel like when will the competitions start?," he said. "Finally, that wait will be over in May. If we utilize the off-season well, it is good for us."
Doha, as expected, will have some of the big names joining Neeraj and though it is thought to be a venue that aids long throws, the Indian thrower felt it depends on the conditions on a given day. "It depends on the conditions. Last time, I was running against the wind and it became difficult for throwers," he said. "But if we run into the wind, things are much better. We can find the rhythm better."

Young German thrower Max Dehning had set the tone for the season, clearing 90 metres. Speaking about Dehning, Neeraj said that it must be a great achievement considering he had never crossed 80m before (79.13m being his previous best). In 2023, Dehning's best was 78.07m.

"Really excited to compete against Dehning. But it depends on the kind of pressure they (competitors) are able to handle. Never competed against him, but it will be interesting."

He also spoke about Johannes Vetter and his rivalry with him this year. "Vetter had not been doing well last season due to injury but I met him in South Africa and had some chat. He says he is fine and I am looking forward to the season to compete against him," said Neeraj.

'Great move by WA'

Neeraj also welcomed the World Athletics' decision to give prize-money to the gold medallist at the Olympics starting with the Paris Games. He felt that unlike sports like tennis, football or cricket, athletes don't make too much money. "It is good if someone supports you because in the end, you will have to support your family," he said. "It is a great move by World Athletics (WA)," he said. "WA is getting quite active. So, it's a good move for athletes."

Speaking about his journey, Neeraj felt that winning at big events like the World Championships and Diamond Leagues have been quite positive. "Earlier, there were no medals at World Championships or Diamond Leagues, but now I have been competing and winning. That's a big change. I am able to maintain my position."

Neeraj was effusive in his praise for Kishore Jena, who won a silver medal at the Asian Games behind the former. He said that the way Kishore has been progressing, first at the World Championships and then at the Asian Games, "who knows he might be the one who would breach the 90m mark before me."

About the hot conditions in Tokyo and even in Paris, Neeraj said heat doesn't bother him much. "We are from India and used to the heat," he said with a big laugh. "Even Paris is expected to be hot and apart from sweating, I don't mind the heat. Body remains warm and the only thing is I don't like to wear wet clothes. In fact, the cold is something that I'm not used to. Keeping warm becomes difficult. One has to make extra effort to keep the body warm. But then we have to be prepared for all-weather conditions."

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