Focussed on my throws to stave off pressure: Gold medal winner Neeraj Chopra

New Delhi (IANS): Neeraj Chopra (23) on Saturday created history by winning India’s first Olympic gold medal in athletics on the penultimate day of the Tokyo Games.

As he got ready for his first throw in the final, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra was conscious of the fact that India had never won an Olympic medal in athletics and neither had it claimed a gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics and that he was the last hope for the country on Saturday. But he says this did not add to the pressure and he could focus on winning the gold medal.

“Yes, I was aware that India had never won a medal in athletics, nor has it won gold medal in Tokyo till that time. My event was the last one and there was pressure. But when I am on the runway for my throw, my focus is always on my next throw and I don’t think of other things. So, I concentrated on my performance, tried my best and I am happy that I managed to win the first gold medal in athletics and also first gold medal in Tokyo,” Chopra told a virtual press conference organised by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) on Saturday.

Chopra said he did not feel much pressure of participating in the Olympics as he has been participating against the same athletes for years and therefore was comfortable looking at familiar faces.

“The 3-4 international events that I participated in, during my stay in Europe before the Olympics were very crucial for me as they gave me the confidence,” said Chopra, who thanked AFI, Sports Authority of India and the Sports Ministry for making arrangements for his tour of Europe that helped him win the gold medal.

He said putting his best effort in his first few throws was crucial as that would increase pressure on other competitors. In his first attempt, Chopra cleared 87.07 metres which virtually killed the competition as no one else came even two metres close in their first few tries.

“It was crucial for me to give my best in the first throw as that would not only put others under pressure but also give me confidence. And when the second throw too went past 87 metres, I was very happy,” said Chopra.

Indeed, Chopra was so happy that he turned to his coaches and waved to them. He however, said he did not think at that time that he has won the gold because by getting such thoughts he would not be able to concentrate on his subsequent throws.

“It was too early in the competition so getting such thoughts would have impacted my performance,” said the Army man from Haryana.

Chopra said, before his fifth and last throw, he was aware that he has won the gold medal as no one could overtake him. So, he tried to go for the Olympic record which was just over 90m but could not get it despite his best effort.

THE Haryana athlete, who is a Subedar with 4 Rajputana Rifles in the Indian Army, clinched the gold in javelin throw with an attempt of 87.58 metres, becoming only the second Indian after Abhinav Bindra to win an individual gold medal at the Olympics, and the first athlete in Independent India to win a medal in a track and field event at the quadrangular event, the Indian Army said.

Chopra was born on December 24, 1997, into a family of farmers in the small village of Khandar in Panipat district in Haryana.

His father, Satish Kumar, is a farmer and mother, Saroj Devi, is a housewife. He grew up along with his two sisters.

Chopra took to javelin throw to reduce his weight and he quickly took a liking for the sport. The rest is now history.

He came into prominence with his performance at the U-20 World Championship in Poland in 2016 where he set a new junior world record with a throw of 86.48m. He then won the Asian Championship in 2017 in Bhubaneswar with a throw of 85.23m.

Neeraj then started training under the legendary Uwe Hohn of Germany and won the gold in Commonwealth Games in 2018 with a throw of 86.47m before throwing his personal best of 87.43m in the Doha leg of Diamond League in the same year. He also won gold at the Asian Games in 2018 with a throw of 88.06m.

Chopra was enrolled in 4 Rajputana Rifles as a direct entry Naib Subedar on May 15, 2016. After joining the Indian Army, he was selected for training in the Mission Olympics Wing and Army Sports Institute, Pune.

Mission Olympics Wing is a premier initiative of Indian Army to identify and train elite sportsmen in 11 selected disciplines at five Mission Olympics Nodes to excel in various national and international competitions.

Mission Olympics Wing has given two Olympic silver medals in shooting to the nation and is committed for many more.

Subedar Chopra’s medal highlights the hard work and efforts of Mission Olympics Wing.

Chopra was conferred with the Arjuna Award in 2018 and the Vishisht Seva Medal (VSM) in 2020 for his excellence in sports.