Neeraj Chopra, the first Indian track-and-field athlete to win an Olympic gold medal, instantly became the heartbeat of the nation on 7 August 2021 as he stood atop the podium after the men's javelin event at the Tokyo Olympics.
The achievement was rewarded and celebrated on Neeraj's return home, to India; in fact, the ceremonies continued for a few months as everyone wanted to be a part of history. The downside though? The 25-year-old could not return to training like many of his peers, and instead, fell sick, following events in the hot summer sun. Along with his team, Neeraj took a call to miss the final Diamond League event of the season, and instead, focused on returning to peak fitness and form, before making his comeback.
And this June – 14 June to be precise – the young athlete will return to competitive action at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku, Finland.
"I'm not feeling as much pressure right now. I can only focus on training, and right now, that is going well. But who knows, maybe a few days before the event I may feel the pressure," Neeraj told The Quint from Finland.
'Will Do My Best in Every Competition'
Neeraj won his Tokyo gold with a throw of 87.58 m, but his personal best – a bit higher at 88.07 m – was achieved at the Indian Grand Prix in March 2021. However, some of his main rivals, including former World Champion Johannes Vetter, have thrown well above 90 m repeatedly. In fact, going into the Tokyo Games, Vetter was the gold medal favourite, with seven throws over 90 m between April and June 2021. In fact, in May 2021, he achieved his season-best of 96.29 m. But the rainy conditions in Tokyo worked against him as the German was eliminated in the qualification round.
For 2022, Neeraj has set the 90-m mark as his target.
"That is my target for this year but I'm not focusing on getting it at the very beginning. Yes, I will give my best in every competition but who's to say if everything will go well on each day? A lot depends on the weather and the conditions, so let's see when I get a good result," he said.
As Neeraj completes the final leg of his training before his big comeback, the javelin star has now also collaborated with YouTube Shorts for a campaign to help his fans interact with him through the 'Jav Run Challenge'.