Updated: September 4, 2021 2:52:54 pm
Olympic Gold medallist Neeraj Chopra wanted to give a hug to his biggest rival Johannes Vetter, and make him feel “you are the best”, after the German javelin thrower’s premature exit from the Tokyo Games final.
Speaking at The Indian Express e.Adda, where he was the guest Friday alongside bronze medal-winning wrestler Bajrang Punia, the 23-year-old said he now wished for Vetter to set a world record when the new season begins. Vetter has thrown over 90m, considered to be holy grail in javelin, seven times this year but failed to repeat that performance at the Olympics.
Chopra was responding to a video message by Vetter, in which he asked the Indian how he felt after winning the Olympics gold and said he was “looking forward to competing with him, against him”.
“I wanted to talk to Vetter after our final… but I didn’t feel like walking up to him. When an athlete works so hard to reach a level that he was so close to a world record but then was out of the best eight, I didn’t feel like it was the right moment,” Chopra said. “After I saw he was ninth after three throws, I went to see the list myself to check. I didn’t believe that someone like Vetter wasn’t in the best eight.”
Chopra said: “Please pass on the message to him that I consider him as a great athlete and when he was leaving the field, I wanted to hug him and make him feel ‘you are the best.’ It’s just that he didn’t have a good day. But no matter where he is from, every athlete tries hard. He is very close to the world record and I hope he sets the world record. Next season, I will also give my best and I hope he also gets the world record.”
Chopra and Punia’s medals, on the final day of India’s events at the Tokyo Olympics, ensured the country finished with its best-ever tally of seven medals. On Friday, they spoke on a range of topics — from the need to have better scouting and coaching systems to creating accessible infrastructure to help emerging athletes.
Apart from Vetter, actor Katrina Kaif, cricketers Irfan Pathan and Mohammad Kaif, and former CAG and BCCI CoA chief Vinod Rai, were some of the other guests who had questions and messages for Chopra and Punia.
In a video message, Bollywood star Katrina Kaif spoke about how the importance of fitness would be amplified by the achievements of the two athletes.
Addressing Chopra, she said: “Your performance at the Olympics and what you have achieved, I think, has inspired the whole country and for me also it is a very personal inspiration as someone…who is extremely into fitness and fitness is an important part of my life. To see how you pushed yourself and how you trained yourself and what you can achieve for me is really inspiring to see. So important to the new generation and important actually to the entire country I feel to advocate fitness… they look up to you and are encouraged about their own fitness.”
In a message to Punia, she said: “I actually remember the first time I saw one of your training videos. I actually felt a bit emotional seeing it because I have not seen a lot of physical training like that in India… someone training at that level. It came across on my feed on YouTube and I saw it and I was just blown. You can just see the amount and effort and hard work that you put into your training…”
Chopra responded by describing the actor as a top performer in her field, and emphasised the importance of her message on fitness.
Mohammad Kaif asked the duo about their relationship with opponents off the field. “When people watch sportspersons on TV, they see aggression and have a go at each other,” Kaif said, while speaking to Punia. “But after the event is over, we sit with them, develop a friendship. Bajrang, for you especially because you play a contact sport.” The wrestler replied there is a lot of bonhomie among the competitors once their bouts are over.
Referring to a recent incident, where Chopra’s comments in relation to Pakistani javelin thrower Nadeem Arshad were taken out of context, Punia said: “Recently, there was an issue with Neeraj and a Pakistani thrower. On the field, we are rivals. Off the mat, we are all like brothers. In wrestling, we have to literally fight with each other and we have that drive to beat the other person. When we are off it, the atmosphere is nice and there is a lot of bonhomie.”
Chopra and Punia were in conversation with Sandeep Dwivedi, national sports editor, The Indian Express, and assistant editor Mihir Vasavda who covered the Tokyo Olympics.
The e.Adda is a series of informal interactions organised by The Indian Express Group and features those at the centre of change.
Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways and MSMEs Nitin Gadkari, AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria, and former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian were among the guests at the e.Adda this year, as these discussions moved online during the pandemic.
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