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Neeraj Chopra: Sure, Steady, and Successful

This week, Neeraj Chopra became the first Indian to become world number one in javelin throw.

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If the affable Neeraj Chopra’s World No. 1 rank in men’s Javelin Throw has come as a just reward for his consistency in big-ticket events and has been exhilarating for those who have basked in reflected glory, the 25-year-old’s journey ahead promises to be just as exciting – not just because of the milestones that beckon him but also because of his evolution as a high performance athlete.

As news of his ascent to the top spot on World Rankings spread cheers in India, it is natural for the ‘what next’ question to arise. The greedy can say he has to acquire the aura of invincibility; the uninitiated can demand that he wins gold in this year’s World Championships and the Olympic Games next year, unmindful of the quality of competition and the unforgiving nature of sport.

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Purely from a competition perspective, besides the Diamond League series, he will have the World Athletics Championships in Budapest and the Asian Games this year. And in 2024, besides the Diamond League, of course, the Olympic Games in Paris will obviously be the high point of his season.

More than anyone else, he will want to give his best effort in each of these majors. And more than anything else, he will not want to tinker with his carefully crafted work ethic.

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From someone from a predominantly rural background, Neeraj Chopra has come a long way to occupy the mindspace of so many fans of sport around the world. His ability to soak in the pressure of competition sparks envious thoughts among others. While he can decimate opposition with a powerful opening throw, he also has the ability to summon reserves of energy late in a competition.

The time away from training in the wake of his Olympic Games success would have been reason for him to crumble under the demands of patience and think of an alternative career. After all, he had reached the rarest of summits for a track and field athlete by taking the top place on the Olympic podium and nobody would have grudged a decision to walk away from sport.

Having not harboured any such thoughts – but on the contrary discovering that his hunger to excel with the javelin had not been satiated by Olympic Games success – he has now learnt to recalibrate goals and the journey each year. The World Championships silver medal in Eugene and the Diamond League Trophy last year are proof, if any was required.

He will have set some significant targets to achieve along the way in the time ahead. At 24th on the all-time list with a personal best of 89.94m, he will want to rise higher.  And that means he will have to break the 90m mark. For fans, willing him on and waiting with expectations, it seems an easy thing to achieve but a lot of things have to fall in place for that to happen.

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Had it not been for a headwind that the athletes were challenged by in Doha, he would have entered the 90m Club in the Diamond League on May 5 when he sent the javelin to 88.67m, his fourth best result in competition. The 90m throw can come in due course, but it does not make sense for anyone to make it the Holy Grail that he must pursue.

He is well aware that it took him six years to add 3.48m to the 86.46m mark he established as the World Junior U20 record in winning the World U20 Championships gold in Bydgoszcz, Poland on July 23, 2016. And in a sport where improvements come in in small increments – and exponential improvement raises suspicions – he is prepared for the long haul.

Many of my colleagues have asked Neeraj Chopra the 90m question at every opportunity but the man himself has handled it with a rare composure. It is an indication that among many amazing qualities he has a grounded athlete, patience stands out as much as a deep understanding of the demanding nature of the art form that he practices.

He enjoys the high of competition, while being deeply respectful of his competitors (and friends). And as he evolves to be a globally acclaimed and respected star of his sport, you can be sure that Neeraj Chopra will not stray from his commitment to his chosen vocation, focusing on his preparation and improving his awareness of the requirements of his sport.

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Of course, he will have to stay injury free and enjoy his training. He is fortunate that the Athletics Federation of India found him a biomechanics specialist as his coach. By all accounts, Dr. Klaus Bartonietz and he share a wonderful coach-athlete relationship without any of the stresses that seem to be an integral part of many such partnerships.

More importantly, while he attempts to stay clear of distractions and keep his mind clutter-free, there will be demands on his time and attention by everyone around him and beyond. He will have to develop the art of saying no without offending anyone in the bargain. But in our country, it is easier said than done.

Neeraj Chopra has used his native intelligence to walk the tightrope gracefully. After all, he he has been able to showcase an ability to conquer nerves in every major competition dating back to the World Junior Championships in 2016 and in the Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar the following year well ahead of the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and Olympic Games.

You can be sure that Neeraj Chopra will continue to take responsibility, stay motivated and manage his emotions while working on his strengths and finding his non-negotiables while he continues his quest for excellence and to give boundless joy to his compatriots back home.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Neeraj Chopra 

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