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'Lot has changed since 2018': Neeraj Chopra returns to where his star was born

It was at the 2018 Asian Games that Neeraj Chopra first crossed 88m and won a historic gold in javelin throw.

Lot has changed since 2018: Neeraj Chopra returns to where his star was born

Neeraj Chopra at the Asian Games Village in Hangzhou 


Dipankar Lahiri

Updated: 30 Sep 2023 5:25 AM GMT

Hangzhou: When Neeraj Chopra had won the javelin gold at the 2018 Asian Games with a 88.06m throw, his roar had resounded all the way from Jakarta to India. Five years later, as he lands in China to defend his title, nothing is what it was like back then.

"That was just the start of my journey, a lot has changed since then. It was a dream back then that I would one day play and win at the Olympics, World Championships, Diamond Leagues. Now, all of that is fulfilled. Here, I am going to get a chance to defend a major title like the Asian Games," Neeraj Chopra said in his first interaction with reporters at the Asian Games Village on Saturday morning.

Neeraj had first touched the 85m mark at the 2016 U20 World Championships, but it was at the 2018 Asian Games, where he reached 88m, that he showed that his success would translate to the senior level too.

His gold medal in javelin back then was a historic achievement for India as it was an improvement from a bronze medal won back in 1982. But he has only created successive chapters of history since then - such that even though the Indian men's cricket team is also here, but they are hardly the biggest stars. All the Indian athletes, officials and mediapersons have been making a beeline to meet the superstar, to click selfies with him - cricketers included.

"I also like to meet other athletes, I also love to take photos with them, exchange wishes with them. It is tru that cricket is very popular in India, it feels good to be part of the same contingent. The men's cricket team was very energetic, it was nice meeting them," said Neeraj, assuring that he does not mind the attention.

On what advice he shared with Kiran Baliyan, who won a historic bronze medal at the Asian Games on Friday evening in shot put, he said, "There is no pressure in your first Asian Games, Commonwealth Games. Last time, I was just enjoying playing, meeting all the other athletes. I told Kiran to give her 100% and play with a free mind."

On his plan for Wednesday, the day of the javelin finals in Hangzhou, his last day of competition in what has been a long season, he said, "I will give my 100% as it is the last event. I'll take a rest after this and then begin preparations for the Paris Olympics. I just hope the weather stays well,; of course if it rains, we cannot change nature."

Wherever there is Neeraj Chopra, there is a crowd at the Asian Games Village.

When the conversation veered to the inevitable 90m mark question, he said, "The 90m mark is a target in every competition, how the day goes will decide when I get it. I had started the season very well, with two big throws. In later events though, I faced some headwind. It was a relaxed throw at the World Championships... God must have a plan for when I hit the 90 mark. Winning is more important for me. There are many who have touched 90, the important thing is to compete with them on the day and win."

Neeraj added that the groin injury he has carried this season is the only challenge he has needed to overcome on a personal front.

"The thought of the injury should not bear heavy on my mind, that should be enought to help produce my best. Javelin is a technical sport, if there is an injury, the affected muscle protects itself, it is not possible to give your best," he said.

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