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Back on the track after a long break, Neeraj Chopra’s shedding the pounds to add the metres


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 kuch khaya (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.”

Post-Olympic recovery

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.”

On August 07, Neeraj Chopra clinched a gold medal with a stunning throw of 87.5m in the men’s javelin throw final at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. With the win, Neeraj became only the second Indian to win an individual gold in the Olympics, and the first to notch up a track and field Olympic medal for the country. (AP)

In Chopra’s words:

Growth of javelin

“I have visited a few stadiums and have seen a lot of kids. Coaches told me that due to Covid, the numbers were a little less but a lot of children are joining. It is a beautiful change. Everyone watched the Olympics this time and now parents are now encouraging their children. I have seen a lot of kids taking up javelin.”

Missing out of action

“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. I spoke to my coach and physio and my team decided against participating in competitions at that time. So I decided to compete next year and decided to take a break.”

Developing javelin

“If we talk about elite athletes, they should get opportunities to participate in more competitions. Right now, only the top athletes get such opportunities. But budding athletes also need international exposure. Only when they compete with the best will they start believing in themselves.”

2024 Paris Olympics

“Training will be different for Paris. But three years are a lot and before that, we have big competitions like the World Championships. We will continue training and increase the intensity closer to the Games. I am taking it step by step. My coach will draw out a plan for me.”

Fitness

“Patiala was really cold and I was getting way too my wedding invitations. 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.”

90m mark

“It is really important. Medal and distance are two different things. Only the world’s best feature in the 90m club. I want to break the barrier and I feel I am quite close to it. I know if I have a good throw in 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.”

Technique

“My technique won’t change but we will make improvements. There is always scope for improvement. I will work more on strengthening my core muscles and explosiveness.”

Diet

“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. I love my Indian food a lot… Maine sab kuch khaya (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. I was getting physically drained earlier than usual but I pushed myself mentally. We have to push even when we get tired. You have to be adamant.”





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