The Commonwealth Games gold has given him the confidence and star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is now aiming to grab another yellow metal at the upcoming Asian Games, which he admitted will be tougher than the Gold Coast CWG.
Neeraj became the first Indian javelin thrower to win a gold at the CWG at Gold Coast last month with a throw of 86.47m but he said that effort will not be enough for a gold in the Jakarta Asian Games in August.
“Winning a gold in CWG with a very good effort early in the season is a big confidence-booster going ahead in the year. Not only the gold but the performance has made me assured that I can do better. Winning an Asian Games gold is my next target,” the 20-year-old Haryana athlete told PTI.
“I worked hard to win the CWG gold and I will have to work even harder for the Asian Games. The Asian Games will be tougher (than the CWG) and I have to do better than my personal best (of 86.48m) if I have to win a gold in Jakarta,” he added.
At Gold Coast, going into the final round, Neeraj was the clear favourite to win the gold as Kenyan former world champion and Rio Olympics silver medallist Julius Yego crashed out at the qualification stage while Trinidad’s Keshorn Walcott, the 2012 London Olympics champion and Rio Games bronze medallist, had already opted out of the CWG.
“In Jakarta, there will be Taipei’s Asian record holder Cheng Chao-tsun (who has a personal best of 91.26m) and then Ahmed Bader of Qatar, who can throw above 85m. So, it will a tough competition in the Asian Games and it will not be easy,” said Neeraj, who is targetting 90m before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Taipei’s Cheng Chao-tsun has been Neeraj’s close rival in Asia in the last couple of years. Last year, the Taipei thrower had beaten Neeraj in an Asian Grand Prix event while the Indian got the better of him in the Asian Championships in Bhubaneswar.
But Chao-tsun is the only Asian to break the 90m barrier in the men’s javelin throw as he hurled the spear to a distance of 91.26m on his way to win the World Underside gold medal in Taipei City in August last.
Qatar’s Ahmed Bader is an up and coming talent and won a silver behind Neeraj in the 2017 Asian Championships in Bhubaneshwar. He has a personal best of 85.23m.
“I will be preparing well for the Asian Games. I am going to start with the Diamond League in Doha on May 4 where the competition will be of Olympics and World Championships level with three-four competitors, who can hurl above 90m or near about consistently taking part,” said Neeraj who will be in Finland for six weeks before the Asian Games as part of the Athletics Federation of India’s training-cum-exposure tour.
All the top Indian athletes will be sent in different countries, mostly in Europe, before the Asian Games depending on their disciplines – like jumps, throws, sprints and long distance race – and all the top coaches will accompany them.
In the season-opening Doha leg of the prestigious Diamond League series, Neeraj will be competing against the likes of reigning Olympic champion Thomas Rohler of Germany, world champion Johannes Vetter, also of Germany, and world silver-medallist and 2018 Diamond League champion Jakub Vadlejch of Czech Republic.
Rohler and Vettel have been competing for some time in a sort of a match of who can throw above 90m more often while Vadlejch has been consistent at 88m or 89m-plus.
Asked if he will be training under former world record holder and national team javelin head coach Uwe Hohn, he said, “Yes, I will be with him. There is no plan to train under another coach as of now.”
Before the Commonwealth Games, Neeraj had a three-month training stint in Offenburg, Germany under reputed coach Werner Daniels before returning to the national camp at NIS Patiala to be under Hohn, another German.
The AFI has decided to host the National Inter-State Senior National Championships – which will serve as selection trial for the Asian Games – in Guwahati from June 26-29.
“I have already qualified for the Asian Games (by getting the better of qualifying standard of 81m). So, let us see (whether I take part or not).”
If he does not take part in the meet, he will have to appear for a confirmatory trial on August 15 to see whether his performance level is at the requisite level.
After his exploits in Gold Coast, the international media described him as an Indian from a poor family but with Bollywood looks. Asked about his take on this description, Neeraj said, “It is up to them to write like that. I don’t take it seriously and it does not affect me. At this stage in my career, I am thinking just about my sport.”