New Delhi, July 1 (IANS) Indias star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra feels the pressure of being the 2020 Tokyo Olympics gold medallist is unlikely to affect his performance at the World Championships in Oregon, the US, starting July 15.
The 24-year-old has raised expectations of gold in the World Championships following his sterling performance in the Stockholm Diamond League 2022 in Sweden on Thursday, where he broke the national record again with a throw of 89.94m to finish second.
The Indian javelin ace fell just six centimetres short of the elusive 90m mark, but he bettered his personal best of 89.30m, set earlier this month at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland. World champion Anderson Peters of Grenada broke the 16-year-old meet record with a huge 90.31m throw in his third attempt, which was enough to get him the top spot.
Chopra said in an interview facilitated by JSW Sports that he will play with a 'free mind' and 'perform to his potential' in Oregon, where he could bring India only its second medal ever from the World Championships after long jumper Anju Bobby George won the bronze in Paris in 2003.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: How do you feel about your performance at the Stockholm Diamond League 2022? Did you expect to start off with 89.94 metres and how does it feel to get a personal best and a national record?
A: It feels very nice (to win silver). There was no such thing in my mind that I had to do it (aim for a giant throw and cross 90 metres) in my first attempt itself. I just kept my mind-set positive. The only thing I had in my mind was to play well and put in my best effort, that's all. The first throw was very nice, just that I missed the 90m mark. Initially, I thought I had done 90m but it was not to be. But since it's my best throw, the feeling is really nice.
Q: What was going through your mind when Grenada's Anderson Peters threw over 90m in the third attempt? Did it push you to try to go beyond him in your remaining attempts?
A: When Anderson Peters crossed 90m, I also felt that I had to breach that (90m mark). But for that to happen, everything has to be perfect. The javelin has to go in a straight line and the technique too has to be perfect. When everything is perfect, only then the throw goes that far.
We put in a lot of effort in each throw, so the body also tires. Having said that, I am happy with the competition and the fact that all my throws were good. Playing in the Diamond League after a long time (first outing since 2018), I gave a good performance which has prepared me for the next two competitions (Worlds and Birmingham Commonwealth Games).
Q: This year, there have been some very close javelin events with many athletes doing well. What do you think of your chances of going into Oregon? Are you feeling any pressure as reigning Olympic gold medallist?
A: Well, I don't know (whether there will be pressure of being an Olympic medallist). I think I'll come to know about it on the day of the competition in Oregon. Every competition, every day is different. When I start competing, I will know whether I am feeling the pressure of being the Olympic champion. Having said that, I think nothing of that sort should happen because I play with a free mind and perform to my potential. There is no pressure whatsoever. I train well and give my 100 per cent in every competition.
Q: Only one Indian, long jumper Anju Bobby George, has won a World Championships medal in athletics. Is there any added pressure on you because of that?
A: There is no such pressure that we have just one medal at the Worlds. I will put in my best effort, that is my job and that is what I am going to do. I haven't thought about anything other than that. Right now, there is no pressure whatsoever. But it all depends on what mind-set I am in in Oregon on the day of the competition.
Q: There were thousands of people in India following your performance online. How does it feel to have made such an impact in a country where athletics is not traditionally followed a lot?
A: I am feeling very happy and proud that people are watching athletics online in India. Many Indians had come to Stockholm to watch me. The Indian Ambassador too came to meet me, so it felt really nice that athletics is getting so much popularity in the country. People are getting to know about the sport.
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