Superstar Neeraj Chopra lapping up the attention at Hangzhou Asian Games
Neeraj is again the clear favorite to win gold in the men's javelin throw.
Neeraj Chopra in conversation with media at Hangzhou Asian Games (Image Credits: S Kannan)
If proof was needed of Neeraj Chopra’s popularity, one got a taste of it at the Asian Games Athletes Village in Hangzhou on Saturday. There was mild drizzle, and Neeraj looked at the sky, half in hope the weather would be clear over the next few days.
The young man who is now a celebrity loves clear weather, which is his state of mind over the last five years. “Neeraj, you are a hero, an icon, a role model,” a question was asked. Neeraj was almost blushing when he replied. “Chotta, badaa, kuch naheen. This is sport, and I am hoping for clear weather,” said Neeraj.
The way he has been competing with consistency and composure marks him out as a champion enjoying celebrity status. Yet, there is no arrogance when he speaks, he remains modest.
Neeraj has achieved almost everything in the last five years. It began with the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in 2018, the same year he won gold in the Jakarta Asian Games. “I was flag bearer then, what a proud moment,” recalled Neeraj emotionally.
The Haryanvi has competed around the globe, shown that his javelin is a magic weapon to win medals. Yet, he is excited about the Hangzhou Asian Games, where his event is next week. ”I am fine and healthy, no fitness issues really,” said Neeraj. And he was dead serious. When he skipped the Commonwealth Games last year in Birmingham after the World Championship in Eugene, Portland, people questioned Neeraj.
Never doubt his loyalty as he is an honest guy who has won every medal of every hue. Getting familiar with the arena in the athletics stadium is important. Neeraj had a feel of the ambiance on Friday night. “I like large stadiums,” said Neeraj. When he competed in Eugene, it was a small stadium last year. The bigger stadia provide more energy. “I enjoy it, but then I have won in small and big stadia as well,” said Neeraj.
At 25 years of age, Neeraj is almost like a veteran. He has gone from one success to another, something which no Indian track and field star has done before. To have won gold in Tokyo was magic. If one thought it was a freak triumph, Neeraj has proved many wrong.
Neeraj is confident of crossing the 90m mark soon
Indian athletics has seen champions in Milkha Singh, PT Usha and Anju Bobby George. Neeraj belongs to the New Gen, full of hope. There is hype as well. He loves the media and the media loves him. It is a romance.
What is it that keeps driving Neeraj? After all, he has achieved everything. In 2021, he had told this writer he would want to go for gold in Paris 2024. “I want to improve, be consistent and perform at my best. People will keep talking about the 90-metre mark and if I will get to it,” said Neeraj with a smile.
People think records and milestones are so easy. Yet, for the athlete, the first goal is winning a medal. Neeraj believes in that. “Mere liye, medal jeetna zaruree hai (for me winning the medal is important),” he said.
As one who has caught the imagination of lovers of track and field the world over, Neeraj has been a super duper hit in all types of events from Asian Games to Olympics and World Championship to Diamond League finals.
The boy from Panipat in Haryana started as an amateur athlete training at the Shivaji Stadium. That was years ago. To become a superstar is not easy, yet to keep the focus intact is vital. His eyes are lit up, for winning in Hangzhou would be special. Is there pressure? None dared to ask Neeraj!
His coach Klaus Bartonietz was sitting next to Neeraj at the interaction. The grand old man is the father figure to guide Neeraj. “He makes my job so easy,” said Klaus when asked about the current situation.
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