Starved for competitive exposure in the build-up to the Olympics, star India javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra has found a unique way to ensure that his mind feels ready for his maiden appearance in the Games.
“I listen to slow music and imagine that I am in a competition, taking part and throwing in the Olympics, so that I don’t feel completely new in my first competition,” Chopra revealed in an online interaction from his training base in Upsala, Sweden.
Touted as one of India’s strongest bets for a medal in Tokyo, Chopra said his build-up to the Games has been quite challenging given the lack of competitive exposure but he is trying to stay positive for the big event.
The 23-year-old Chopra said he has missed the ‘natural feeling’ of being in a world-class field, except for one occasion, in the run-up to the Games which open on July 23. He meditates to keep himself focussed when not training.
That one time was the Kuortane Games event in Finland on June 26 where he won a bronze with a performance of 86.79m in a star-studded field comprising, among others, Olympics gold favourite German Johannes Vetter, who won the event with a massive throw of 93.59m.
“I had a new experience in Finland. During the run-up, I felt the real experience of a top-level competition, the kind of natural feeling which gives you the best performance comes after you take part a lot of world class events,” Chopra said from his training base.
“For me, that was the only time,” he added.
Talking about the challenges that came with the restrictions that came into force because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chopra said he has tried to stay positive nonetheless.
“I did not get good international competitions when I wanted and there had to be several changes in training and competition schedule.
“But, I am in positive frame of mind because a lot depends on the performance of the day. I am just hoping to give my best and realise my dream of winning a gold for the country.”
Chopra, who has pulled out of the June 13 Diamond League at Gateshead due to visa issues, has taken part in only three international events since June 10.
He won’t participate in competitions anymore before travelling to Tokyo on July 26.
“Getting the UK visa (to take part at Gateshead) was difficult for Indians due to COVID-19 situation in India. So, I decided to miss the Diamond League. There is no time for competition now.
“I can have some intensity training for another week. After that I will have light training.”
He said he was focusing on improving his technique.
“The performance in Finland was also not my best, there were technical issues, the height of the javelin was an issue. My javelin could not reach the venue that day and I could not use it. I had to use another javelin.
“At the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, the height of the javelin was an issue though I won gold in both. I am working on reducing the height of the javelin so that it can cover more distance.”
Dwelling on his technique further, he said, “Sometimes, my javelin went out of the sector. I have made improvements in these technical things.”
He said he was working on throwing the javelin “on the line” and not on a high projectile path.
Asked about the pressure of expectations on him, he said, “I could handle pressure well during the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. But the Olympics is altogether another level. I am trying not to take any pressure.
He said the Khel Ratna nomination will inspire him to better his performance in the Olympics.
“It’s the fourth time (nomination). I could not get the award for three times, that means my performance was not good enough. So, I will have to better my performance in the Olympics to get the award.”
The qualification round of the javelin event is scheduled for August 4 and the final on August 7.
“The qualification will not be easy, the qualifying mark will be 84m or 85m. Every competitor will get three attempts. Those who qualify for final will get two days for rest, it is good time for recovery.”
Chopra rewrote his own national record during the Indian Grand Prix 3 with a throw of 88.07m in March at the NIS Patiala. A few days later, he threw 87.80m during the Federation Cup at the same venue.
His 86.79m effort at Kuortane Games was his third-best performance this season.
In his previous two competitions in Europe, Chopra had come up with the best effort of 83.18m to win an event in Lisbon, Portugal on June 10 before a below-par performance of 80.96m at the Karlstad Grand Prix in Sweden on June 22.