Halwa, desi ladoo await Neeraj in off-season breather as he aims for title defence in Paris

Neeraj Chopra said it was difficult for athletes to retain focus mentally after such goof-ups and hoped that such incidents aren’t repeated.

Halwa, desi ladoo await Neeraj in off-season breather as he aims for title defence in Paris

Neeraj Chopra

Olympic champion, World champion, two-time Asian Games champion, 2022 Diamond League winner, 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist — Neeraj Chopra certainly needs no introduction. The Panipat javelin star has all the top prizes in his cabinet but his hunger for perfection and consistency is in itself a mark youngsters can thrive for. For Neeraj, though, the mark is not only set at the elusive 90m throw, but on a “consistent” basis.

He came agonizingly close to the magic mark at the Stockholm leg of Diamond League last year, when he hurled the javelin to a Personal Best of 89.94m but since then hasn’t been able to crack the code. At the Asian Games in Hangzhou, he came up with a Season Best of 88.88m to defend his crown after a controversial start marred by a goof-up by the technical officials.

To sum up his consistency over the past couple of seasons that culminated at Hangzhou, Neeraj has gone past the 89m mark on three occasions last year with throws of 89.30m at the Paavo Nurmi Games in June 2022, 89.94m at the Stockholm Diamond League in July 2022 and 89.08m at the Lausanne Diamond League in August 2022. He started the 2023 season with a 88.67m in Doha and went on to better it at the World Championships qualifying in Budapest with a distance of 88.77m before recording his season best in Hangzhou with 88.88m en-route to the Asiad gold.


And it’s even more remarkable that he achieved a season best in what was his final tournament of the year, which has involved plenty of travel and trouble with injuries.

“I am happy with the way our Indian athletics have improved by leaps and come up at the global level in the year. Personally I am happy to get the World Championship title and defend the Asian Games crown but distance wise, I would say I had a better last season. In between I had a groin injury and had to skip three competitions. Having said that, throw wise I feel I was more consistent this season, constantly throwing around the 88m mark, but somehow failed to get to the 89 and 90m and that would leave you all with the question till the next season,” Neeraj said with a smile while replying to a question from The Statesman on his analysis of the season.

“The 90m can be achieved in the next season, but the main focus is to remain injury-free,” he added.

The men’s javelin event at the 19th Asian Games was marred by controversy with both Indian throwers falling to technical officials’ goof-ups, and Neeraj said it was important for him and silver medallist Kishore to stand for each other.

Neeraj, whose first throw appeared well over 87m, had to retake the effort as the officials had not measured his throw before the next thrower had launched his javelin. Later, Kishore also shrugged off a wrongly awarded red flag to claim the silver medal with a throw of 87.54m.

“It’s important to stand by each other, I also had to go through the same thing, then the same happened with Kishore Jena. It was important to stand for our rights, be it Jyothi Yarraji (in women’s 100m hurdles) and then both of us in the javelin throw competition.”

Neeraj said it was difficult for athletes to retain focus mentally after such goof-ups and hoped that such incidents aren’t repeated.

“It’s not that China was hosting the Asian Games for the first time, they had hosted the Olympics and the Asian Games. This will certainly have an effect on the hosts as the matter has reached the International Amateur Athletics Association (IAAF) and hope such incidents are not repeated,” he said.

“From an athlete’s perspective, it’s difficult mentally to get the momentum going after such glitches. Also since it was the season ending tournament, it was also difficult for me to keep myself mentally stable and those 15-20 minutes disrupted the body that was warmed up and went into the competitive zone. But thankfully, we (Neeraj and Kishore) could overcome those and emerge with gold and silver,” he added.

Returning to China six years after his last throw in Jiazing, Neeraj said he was overwhelmed by the support of the crowd but more than that his fellow athletes from other disciplines supporting each other.

“It was different this time, last time I only had the Commonwealth Games title, and the Asian championship medal. In 2023, I went in as the defending champion, a world and Olympic champion. It was a different feeling. The stadium was really beautiful and what’s more exciting was the number of supporters that turned up this time. Not only the spectators, it felt good to see other athletes cheering for each other’s events,” he said.

Neeraj is also in favour of having a global level javelin competition, if not a franchise league in the country.

“It’s not about starting a league. Yes we need bigger championships at home, where our younger athletes can rub shoulders with the bigger throwers and learn from each other,” he maintained.

Having ended the season on a high, Neeraj now looks forward to spending quality time with his family and friends. Halwa and desi ladoo await the self-confessed foodie back home, but the world champion also wants to save himself from gaining much weight, and indicated his plans of resuming training soon for his title defence in Paris 2024.

“Halwa, desi ladoo, but jyada nehi, bahut jald weight badh jata hai…yeah it’s been a long season, and I will spend a few weeks with family and friends, but I want to restart my training soon. A long break won’t help as we have to prepare for Paris,” he said.

During the break, Neeraj hopes to catch up some of the cricketing action from the ongoing World Cup while revealing his second favourite team after India in the showpiece event.

“My entire support is for the Indian team at the cricket World Cup. Other than that since I train more in South Africa, I feel they have a decent team and are looking good,” he said before signing off.