From a remote village near Panipat in Haryana, javelin-thrower Neeraj Chopra never thought he would one day be the toast of the nation. On July 29, the 18-year-old’s throw of 86.48m at the U-20 World Championships in Poland, made him the first Indian athlete to win a world title and also the first to set a world record at any level. An attempt at a wild card entry into Olympics 2016 was fruitless and Chopra now hopes to compete in the 2020 games.
“My life has changed for ever. I am so busy attending meetings and felicitations that I don’t get time to practice. It’s been 10 days, and I am not getting time to go to the ground or the gym,” a smiling Chopra told the Deccan Chronicle. “There was a time when I used to have only `20 in my pocket, and I would practice the whole day without eating anything. At that time, the situation was such that if I spent that `20 on food after practice, then I would not have enough left to pay my fare to go home. Now things have changed for the better and I am getting support from all quarters and specially from the JSW Sports Team,” the 12th South Asian Games gold medallist added.
Coming from a family with no previous connection with sports, Chopra chooses the javelin as a career in 2011 on his uncle’s insistence and went to the National Institute of Sport in Patiala to hone his skills. Chopra is the eldest among three siblings and his father Satish Kumar is a farmer, while mother Saroj Devi is a homemaker. “Life was very tough. I was working hard but I was uncertain about my future in this sport. It was all dark. My family members did not have the financial ability to support me. Now, I feel happy the way I performed in Poland. I owe my success to my family, coaches and seniors specially Jaiveer Monu,” said a BA first year student.
His life revolves around the sport and he aims to win an Olympic medal in the future, and emulate his success at the senior level as well. “I really don’t idolise anybody but always think about how to improve my technique and myself. There are so many sporting heroes in our country and whoever wins or makes our country proud is my idol. I always think of making myself better than the best in javelin throw,” he adds.
It is not easy to handle the pressure at such a young age, but listening to music and talking to close friends and family members helps Chopra unwind. He is not an avid reader, but loves to read motivational books and autobiographies of sportspersons. “Listening to music is my hobby. I love the folk songs of Haryana very much. Even sharing my thoughts with near and dear ones makes me calm and happy. I also dream of playing every sport once in my lifetime. I am curious to know about every sport in the world. I love reading motivational books, whenever I get the time after my daily routine. I read newspapers and read about sports in any book,” says the teenager, who begins his day with practice for three to four hours in the morning and then takes time for muscle recovery before heading to the gym in the evening.
“After the competition, I take a break, I travel with friends and love to visit museums. Ancient places fascinate me the most. I have been to Red Fort in New Delhi and NIS Patiala, there are many such places,” he adds. Fashion comes last in the teenager’s to-do list, but lately he has come to understand the importance of looking good and presentable so he shops for himself whenever he gets the time. “Initially, I was not conscious of my looks. I used to wear simple PT shoes while going to the ground... and everyone used to laugh at me. Many athletes wear branded shoes with spikes. Same with my clothes, whatever was available, I used to wear that. Now, things have changed. I have realised that physical appearance also plays an important role in one’s success. Now, I try to wear branded stuff. Proper apparel and shoes make you comfortable while competing. I shop for my own track pants, T-shirt and shoes now.”