The field was full of world class throwers, including Germany’s Johannes Vetter, but the pressure of the final clearly got to him perhaps, while Neeraj soaked it in and created history — winning only the second individual gold medal for India and the first in 121 years by a track and field athlete representing India.
TimesofIndia.com was part of the media invited by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) for a press conference with the champion.
This is what Neeraj had to say.
The gold medal…
I want to show the gold medal to all of you first of all and say lots of thanks to everyone.
Dialled home yet?
Haven’t talked to people at home abhi (just yet). I saw some videos of my village, the whole village was dancing. It’s the blessings of entire India that I could win gold.
Ending the wait for an athletics medal…
We have won gold medals before at the Olympics, we have won in shooting (Abhinav Bindra) and hockey. In athletics, I feel we have missed medals by fine margins over the years. So this medal (gold) was important…Now that I have won, I feel we can do anything.
Re-living the competition…
If we throw well in the first attempt, the other athletes feel pressure. It was 87 plus (87.03m). Johannes Vetter (of Germany) was in superb form throughout the year. (But) Maybe there was pressure on him, so he couldn’t do well (to qualify in the last-eight finalists). If the first throw is good, then you grow in confidence. My second throw was also stable (87.58, which clinched gold). After that, I started thinking about the Olympic Record. I wanted to give my personal best and wanted to try for the Olympic Record. I gave it my all over the subsequent throws, but javelin is a technical event. You can put as much power as you can. I did that, with speed, but it wasn’t a good throw. Now I want to achieve the 90m mark as soon as possible.
THE THROW THAT WON #IND A #GOLD MEDAL 😍#Tokyo2020 | #StrongerTogether | #UnitedByEmotion @Neeraj_chopra1 https://t.co/F6xr6yFe8J
— #Tokyo2020 for India (@Tokyo2020hi) 1628339151000
I wasn’t sure of the gold (after the second throw), but knew I had thrown my best. We can’t bring thoughts of gold into our minds (during the competition). Such thoughts are dangerous, then there is a risk that we may not put the required effort. But I felt it (87.58m) was one of my better throws.
The Vetter threat…
People were saying that Vetter has said that (Neeraj won’t be able to touch me at the Olympics). I believe that at the Olympics, world rankings don’t matter, the day matters. So I didn’t react (to Vetter’s comments). I didn’t want to say anything. I respect him. I am sad that he exited the final. I think sometimes even the biggest of athletes can’t perform. But I focused on myself and gave my 100 percent.
Was there pressure?
Tokyo hadnl not seen gold for India and mine was the last event. But when I am on the runway and in the event, then my whole focus is on the throw. That is the reason there was no pressure..but there was a feeling…that I had to win a medal for athletics.
The moment he booked gold…
When all the last-eight athletes had thrown (their sixth throw), I knew I had won gold, But I was still in competition mode. Suddenly (after I finished) everything changed. I felt like ‘what happened?’. On the runway (during the final throw), I was almost blank, but then I re-focused on my run.
What worked the most in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics?
The most important thing this year was playing in competitions. I talked to the federation (AFI), TOPS, Sports Authority of India. All of them supported me. The 2-3 international competitions I got were very important, because these were the athletes (competing) there. Today it was the Olympics, but there was no pressure on me that I was among such big throwers. It was like I had been with them, so I could focus on my throws.
I had Tokyo 2020 in mind, but when the Olympics got postponed, I took it like I have one more year to play. So I prepared accordingly. Now I have won gold, so I feel whatever happened, happened for good.
On the recovery road after elbow surgery…
There were lots of ups and downs after the injury…I can’t explain. There was a time when due to the injury, there were problems, but everybody stayed together with me. The surgery was successful. (But) 2019 went to waste (couldn’t compete due to the recovery process). I had worked hard for the world championships. I shifted my focus to the Olympics. Then corona (Covid-19) happened. But I thank the government that I could (still) get some competition under my belt and qualify (for the Olympics).
The importance of grassroots coaching..
I feel the coaches you start your journey with are the most important. They had taught you in the beginning when you didn’t know anything. For javelin, they are dedicated. Jai Choudhary is a coach in the national camp now, and there is a boy called Sahil who is throwing 80m plus. So he is very dedicated and wants to give his life to javelin. Whenever I play and win, I feel very happy for him (Jay).
On the role of foreign coaches and experts…
Athletics is a sporting category in which you improve slowly. We give 100%. Javelin is very technical. There were technical faults (in my throws) when I began. I improved,then foreign coaches came in, I made a world record at the junior world championships. They (foreign coaches) had experience, understood my body, made good training plans for me, because they had worked with several throwers in different countries and deeply understand the technique.
What a moment. What a champion. 🙌This is the moment all of #IND had been waiting for. 😍 #Gold#Tokyo2020 |… https://t.co/WLDiRHRbev
— #Tokyo2020 for India (@Tokyo2020hi) 1628343698000
Message to youngsters…
I think the young athletes should not only focus on competition. They also need to focus on training, and not just because the coach has given a certain plan. I always train with full focus. My biggest motivation is training because if I do well there, then I do well going ahead. There are years of hard work because of which I have reached here.