Upon returning from Tokyo, Neeraj Chopra had been on a felicitation spree. Everyone wanted to savour the javelin thrower’s historic feat – winning the country’s first athletics gold at an Olympics. On most occasions, Chopra happily obliged. But the exhaustion and long break away from training – courtesy the felicitations – took a toll on the 24-year-old’s body.
But after a decent break, where he finally got an opportunity to ease back into the athlete’s diet, Chopra returned to the rigours of sport. It has been just over three weeks since he landed in the elite Chula Vista training centre in California to resume his training and the effects are already showing.
“I have lost 5, 5-and-a-half kilograms in 20 odd days,” says Chopra during a year-end press meet. But hitting the track after a long break wasn’t as smooth as the Olympic champion would have wanted.
“When I returned from the Olympics, I didn’t put any restrictions on my diet. I had been controlling my eating habits for a very long time thinking I need to restrain myself until I do well in Tokyo,” he says.
“I love my Indian food a lot… Maine sab kuchkhaya (I ate everything). After the Olympics, I gained 12-13 kilograms. I have lost 5 kgs and have reached my normal offseason weight. It has been 20 days or so since resuming training and I have cut down this much. It was really difficult initially. My body was hurting and I had to put extra effort into everything.”
Chopra and his team had decided it was time to take a little break to recuperate after the Olympics. While he was out of action, his biggest rivals, like Johannes Vetter, who failed to reach the finals in Tokyo, were busy taking part in the European circuit. But Chopra doesn’t feel left out and admits he wasn’t in the best shape to compete at that time.
“I did not have a visa for Europe and I wasn’t getting one easily. I came back from Tokyo and also fell ill for a few days. Even if I had managed to get a visa and reached these competitions it would have made no sense because going there for mere participation wouldn’t look nice. If I were as fit as I was during the Olympics, it would have made sense to take part in these competitions but I wasn’t well,” he explains.
Chopra is pleased with the progress he has made since he started training again. Training abroad, he says, has also helped him stay more focused than he would have had he remained in India.
“Patiala was really cold and I was getting way too many wedding invitations,” he states.
“When you go out for training, you only train and rest and hardly go out. When you train (abroad), your entire attention is on your sport. We need to follow a proper athlete’s life and we have to give our 100 percent. The weather is also fine now.”
Joining the 90 metre club
The Olympic gold – the pinnacle of the athletics world – is a cherished achievement for Chopra but he is still hungry to make it to the elite 90m club. He feels he is very close to breaching the magical mark and needs just one good day to land it.
“It is really important. Medal and distance are two different things. Only the world’s best feature in the 90m club,” he adds.
“I want to break the barrier and I feel I am quite close to it. I know if I have a good throw in a competition, I will get it. But I don’t think about it much. I don’t (put) any pressure on myself. And it’s not necessary that the throw will be 90.0 it could be 91 too. Or maybe even 89.99.”