by Disha Pawar | Image Courtesy : Rahul Pawar
There are gold medallists, Olympians, world champions and then there is Neeraj Chopra, who is all of these yet is a different league in himself altogether. Humble, focused and extremely passionate about his sport.
Growing up Neeraj says he didn’t have an inspirational figure to look up to. Little did he know then that it was him who was destined to become that figure for the future generation to follow! What he was deprived, he became just that.
When FistoSports tried to get in touch with the World Junior Champion, we were told it isn’t easy to get through the Asian Games Gold medallist. We weren’t surprised with the fact considering the innumerable achievements he has to his name. However, once you do get through the layers, he is the most easy-going athlete you’d wished to have a chat with. Again, humble focused and extremely passionate!
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Javelin throw was never your first choice of sport, it was only to lose weight as a child that you would go to the ground/ stadium some distance away from your house. Today when you look back, what comes to your mind?
Yes, I used to go to the stadium to run and lose weight as I was a fat child. There I met Jaiveer bhaiya (Javelin Throw national champion) who introduced me to the game. Today when I look back, I don’t find it funny, in fact I am only filled with motivation because it was a struggle to start from nowhere and with zero facility and yet reach where I am today. So old times remind me of my struggle and it makes me feel humble and motivated.
Who was your inspiration while growing up, as India didn’t have a prominent star in Javelin Throw then?
I didn’t have anyone to look up to, to be very honest. In fact, I did not even know that there is such a sport as Javelin Throw. It was only when I started going to the stadium that I saw some players engage in a different activity when I got inclined towards it. Initially it was Jaiveer who got taught and trained me, and from then on there was no looking back.
How supportive was your family with your choice of sport?
Initially they hesitated just like any other Indian parent, but when I started showing results at district, state and national level, they encouraged me to do better. I was never pressurized or forced to do otherwise.
Unlike other sports, in Javelin Throw, athletes get better with age. You are only 21 years old and are already giving a tough time to athletes who are in their 30s. Do you see yourself breaking your own coach’s record, who is the only athlete to cross the 100 mark?
I don’t think of breaking records. The more I think, the less I’ll perform. I don’t believe in playing under pressure. I train as hard as I can, taking one step at a time. If I set a benchmark for myself, I may be able to achieve it once but may not be able to sustain it for a long time. Aaram aaram se khelta hoon, koi pressure nahi hai. (I play calmly, without bowing down to any pressure.)
You tasted success at a very young age, how did it affect your education?
In 2016, before Rio Olympics, we had qualification tournaments and they clashed with my exams. So my education eventually took a back seat. I tried studying and appearing for exams but sports life demanded a lot of time. At the end of 2016, I got placed in army, so couldn’t go ahead with education. However, I am trying to complete my degree now as and when I am able to make time.
How were you treated in college and by your peers?
I wasn’t treated differently, though they gave me a lot of respect. I am like any other normal student when with my friends. They don’t treat me like a world junior champion or something. That tag doesn’t affect the way they behave with me.
We know you aim to cross the 90 mark before or at Tokyo 2020. Any other dream apart from that?
Mai zyaada soch nahi raha iske bare mai. Dheere dheere chalo, apne aap ko improve karo. Aur toh koi aim nahi. Jitne zyaada tournament khel saku utna try karta hoon. (I am not thinking much about it. I am taking it slow, and giving myself enough time to improve. Also, I try to participate in as many tournaments as I can.)
How is it different to train overseas as compared to train in India?
The overall atmosphere outside is very different from what you get in India. It’s a more disciplined environment with proper diet and schedule. The food that we are provided there is exclusively made for athletes. Also, we get to play more competitive tournaments which in turn benefits us more.
Did it ever happen with you that success at such an early age got to your head or you couldn’t handle success?
Not at all! I have always valued my success as I remember my struggling days. It has not happened yet that success has got to my head, and I assure it won’t happen in future. I play my sport because I am passionate about it, success will follow if I work hard.
What do you like to do in your free time? How do you unwind?
In my free time, I play other sports like volley-ball and basketball. I also play a lot of video games. Otherwise, I try to catch up with my friends, go out with them to malls or simply go shopping.
What’s the story behind your haircut? You seem to be extremely fond of long hair.
(Laughs) They keep growing, so I don’t pay much attention to my hair. I have always been fond of long hair. There isn’t a trend or celebrity that I follow. Fir jab zyaada bad jaate hai toh kaat deta hoon. (However, once they start growing beyond a point, I have to get them to a certain length.)
You are quite popular on social media. Have you got used to the attention or still struggling to cope with it?
I am neither quite tech-savvy nor much of a social media buff. But I do try to reply to my fans/ followers whenever I can.
Do you watch movies or listen to songs? What kind?
I enjoy watching films. My favourite actor is Akshay Kumar because he is so fit along with being such a great actor. He can pull off any role, be it action, comedy or serious. Another actor who I like is Randeep Hooda because he is also from Haryana so I can identify with his language. Actress toh saari hi acchi hai!
After a splendid conversation with FistoSports, Neeraj Chopra signed off expressing gratitude towards all his sponsors like JSW Sports, Gatorade India, Nike Global, et al over the years who he said made his journey easier. Also, pointing out that before Tokyo 2020, he is prepping hard for the upcoming World Championship where he wants to give his best.
There isn’t an ounce of a doubt that this star athlete is anything less of a marvel! More power to the World Junior champion to progress to become the World Champion soon!
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