Neeraj Chopra on life after Tokyo 2020 win: ‘More people recognise me now…but inside, I’m the same person’

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Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra needs no introduction. The javelin thrower made the country proud when registered a throw 87.58m in his second attempt and won India its first-ever track and field medal. Since the historic win, he admits that life has “changed quite a bit” for him, but the athlete is quick to point out that he continues to be the same person.

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Ahead of the Paavo Nurmi Games, the 2016 South Asian Games gold winner interacted with indianexpress.com over email about his much-deserved winning experience, how he prepares himself for wins and failures, his daily diet, and the one thing his sport has taught him. Edited excerpts below:

You made the country proud by winning a Gold at Tokyo Games 2020. How has life changed for you since then and what’s next for you?

I think my life has changed quite a bit, but inside I’m the same person. I like to live my life as an athlete, with my focus on training and my competitions. Of course, more people recognise me now and the love and support across the country has been amazing. But as an athlete, I don’t let all those things distract me; I am focused on starting my 2022 season soon at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku, Finland on June 14.

Being a sportsperson requires you to not only train the body but also the mind, including dealing with pressures or losses. How did you prepare yourself for the finals at the Tokyo Games?

I go into every competition with the desire to do my best, and all my preparations are planned toward helping me achieve that. In a sport like javelin, it doesn’t make much sense to take pressure on things you can’t control, like how far or how well the competitors are throwing. I like to keep my focus on things that are within my control, and that is to give it my all and throw my best possible throw. For the finals in Tokyo, my preparation was just like any other event, where I wanted to do my best, and I am happy that I was able to do that and got the result I did.

What does your daily diet chart look like? To maintain your physique did you have to give up on some food that you absolutely love and miss having?

As an athlete, I do need to be careful about my diet, but there’s no fixed diet that I follow. I love to eat and when I’m in my off-season, I do indulge in sweets or other things I like. However, when I am training and in competition, I know that nutrition and diet play a very important role in maintaining fitness, so I automatically go into a zone where I watch what I eat. This could be things like avoiding fried or sweet foods or even trying to ensure I’m getting all the right nutrients, to help me recover after a session.

Every sport teaches something — the one thing/life lesson javelin has taught you over the years.

The one lesson I have learned from javelin is that there is no substitute for hard work and dedication. And I think that is true for any sport or any other aspect of life. Whenever I get asked this, I always tell the children I meet or their parents that they should allow their kids to explore their interests and give a 100% to whatever field they are interested in. I feel what helped me gain success was that I loved everything about my sport and focused all my efforts on becoming a better athlete and thrower.

Social media is a great way to connect with your fans/audience. What type of content do you usually prefer sharing?

I am not a big user of social media, but I do like to share glimpses of my life with my audience and followers. Since I am an athlete, most of my content revolves around my sport, training, and fitness. I also enjoy traveling on off days when I am training in different parts of the world, so sometimes I like to show the sights from my surroundings to my followers.

Tell us about the #JavRunChallenge, and how has the response been to it? Also share some tips to participate

The #JavRunChallenge came about when we were discussing how to do something fun and unique with my sport, and also make it engaging for the mass audiences. The idea behind it is to motivate everyone to run towards their goals, whatever they may be. For me, what is most heartening is to see how I am being able to use my sport of javelin for this and in my own way, help make the sport known more in India. The response has been fantastic to see, there are cricketers, TV stars and other popular celebrities giving it their own spin, and I am happiest when I see videos of young kids also trying their hand at it! It’s very easy, to be honest. You just need to go on to the YouTube platform and follow the instructions. My only tip would be to have fun with it and be creative, because that’s how we’ve intended it to be.

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