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Have handled pressure well in past: Indian javelin thrower Neeraj

Indian javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra. Photo: @Neeraj_chopra1/Twitter

New Delhi, July 12 (MNN) Indian javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra can feel the rising crescendo of drumbeats as Tokyo Olympics approaches, but does not feel the pressure as he has been there and done that in big events the past as well.

The 23-year-old is carrying on his shoulders the medal hopes of more than a billion people and is expected to end India’s medal drought in track and field events at Tokyo 2020, which begins on July 23, olympics.com reports.

“There was pressure when I went to the Commonwealth Games and then the Asian Games (2018). But I think I handled it pretty well. I was able to stay relaxed and perform well,” Chopra told the media on Sunday, from his training base in Uppsala, Sweden. The Indian won gold at both those events.

“I understand the Olympics are on a much bigger scale and nothing like I have experienced before. People are expecting me to come back with a medal. Almost every day someone is writing about it. There are also people who think I am not ranked in the top three and so may not be able to win a medal. But I am just focusing on my training and technique, making sure I stick to my diet and take proper rest. Mentally I am automatically getting into that head space as the Olympics is approaching.”

Even his competitive gears have started clicking as Chopra finally got a chance to participate in tournaments.

Playing his first tournament since last year’s lockdown at Indian Grand Prix III in Patiala in March, Chopra showed no signs of rust.

He registered a personal best, and broke his own national record, with a throw of 88.07m during the tournament.

A few days later, he won another gold at the Federation Cup with a throw of 87.80m.

But the second wave of the pandemic in India threw a spanner in the works. The rising heat in Patiala did not provide the Indian athletes with optimum training conditions and countries across the world quickly shut their doors for any training or competition.

It was only in June that Chopra could travel abroad and get some competitive minutes under his belt. He picked up gold medals in the City of Lisbon athletics meet and the Karlstad Open in Sweden.

However, it was the star-studded field at Kuortane Games in Finland that gave him a taste of what might be in store at the Tokyo Games.

World number 1 Johannes Vetter grabbed the gold with a throw of 93.59m while 2012 Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott registered a throw of 89.12m to win silver. The Indian came in third with a throw of 86.79m.

“I am happy I got to compete in Kuortane,” said Chopra, who was competing at an event of that caliber after more than two years. “Hopefully I won’t get overawed by the competition when I go the Olympics now.”

“Earlier, when I used to go to international competitions I would feel completely normal,” he added. “But this time it was a completely different feeling, like I was playing an international tournament for the very first time. I wasn’t that fit, maybe because of all the travelling. The throw was fine, but I kept thinking I can do better during the run up. That feeling you get when you have been competing consistently, wasn’t there.”

Having got the international tournaments under his belt though, Chopra has decided to focus on his fitness and technique between now and the Olympics. He pulled out of the event in Lucerne, so as to not risk injury, and the Diamond League in London (which begins on July 13) due to the time-consuming visa formalities.

“There are a few technical flaws that I am trying to iron out,” said Chopra, who is training in Sweden with coach and bio-mechanics expert Klaus Bartonietz.

“I need to work on the angle of the delivery. It was a problem I had at the Asian Games as well, where I gave the spear too much height. Also earlier, my javelin used to veer towards the left. I have rectified that to a certain extent so that it stays within the foul line. But we are still working on throwing the spear as straight and flat as possible because it will travel a greater distance then.

“In terms of mental preparation, I am doing some meditation and visualization. I think about how it’s going to be like in Tokyo and try to visualise what the atmosphere is going to be like. I do it so I don’t get overwhelmed by all the new sights and sounds around at the Olympics.”

Ever since he burst on to the scene in 2016, when he won gold at the IAAF Under-20 World Championships with a world junior record of 86.48m, Chopra has been destined for bigger things.

He has delivered on the promise so far, but the Indian is still an Olympics novice, getting ready for the biggest day in his fledgling career.

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