New Delhi: India's lone world record holder athlete – javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra – has joined the Army and feels the satisfaction of being able to financially support his farmer father will enhance his performance.
Chopra, who holds the junior world record in javelin throw, has been appointed a Junior Commissioned Officer by the Indian Army but will be on leave for the time being to train at the national camp at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Centre in Bangalore.
"I have left my regular college studies at DAV College, Chandigarh. Now I will complete my graduation through a correspondence course. I have joined Indian Army as a Junior Commissioned Officer. I completed the formalities in December last year and reported at the headquarters in New Delhi. I am training at SAI Bangalore on leave," Chopra told PTI in an interview.
"My father is a farmer, mother a housewife and I live in a joint family. Nobody in my family has a government job, so everybody is happy. For me, it is a sort of a relief because now I am able to help my family financially besides continuing with my training," said the 19-year-old, who hails from Khandra village near Panipat in Haryana.
Chopra hurled the spear to 86.48m to set a new junior world record en route the gold medal at the 2016 IAAF World U-20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
His effort was better than the bronze-winning throw at the Rio Olympics (85.38m by Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago).
Despite being a junior athlete, that stunning throw in Poland put Chopra at No.11 in the senior rankings of last season.
Chopra, who now trains under Australian coach Garry Calvert, wants to take part in some top level competitions like the Diamond League Meetings before the (Senior) World Championships in August.
"My main target this year is to win a medal in World Championships in London. I want to take part in competitions outside India, in Europe, in Diamond League series. But till now, I have no knowledge whether I am going to take part in the Diamond League before the World Championships.
"Of course, a medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is the target. An Olympic medal is the ultimate aim of any athlete. But before that, I want to win a gold in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games next year also. There is also the Asian Championships in June this year," Chopra said.
Asked if feels under pressure since creating the world record last year, he said, "I am still young and there is a long way to go. I believe I can be the best in my event as my career progresses.
"I know there are a lot of expectations from me to do well and win medals for the country in international events. But there is no pressure on me. I want to focus on my job only and results will come."
Breaching the 90m mark will put him in contention for a gold in any top competition, but Chopra says he does not wish to think too far ahead.
"I can't say when I will be able to throw more than 90m, it can happen anytime when I peak and it is a matter of just a throw. I want to give my best during the World Championships. I want to remain injury-free and peak at the right time," he said.
"My training has just started and I am not exerting much. If I exert in throwing practice on the ground, there could be an injury. Competitions are far off and so I am focussing more on improvement on technical aspects and strength building. My coach wants improvement in my technique."
Asked about his domestic schedule this season, he said, "I will take part in the Federation Cup in Delhi (in April) because it is the qualifying event for the Asian Championships to be held in India (in June) and the AFI has made it mandatory to take part in these events.
"Training is going on well. Morning trainings are from 7am to 10am and in the evening again from 4pm to 7pm. There is only evening off in a week. Mostly evening off on Wednesdays but there is full day practice on Sundays."
He said he left NIS Patiala for Bangalore on his coach's suggestion as the southern city is more suitable for him.
"I came to Bangalore in September last year. In Patiala, winters are colder than here. Temperature is mild here, not too hot and not too cold. Coach says temperature in Bangalore is more suitable for me than at Patiala," Chopra said.
He said his improvement came after joining the national camp and the support given by the JSW Sports.
"I was initially at Panchkula but after that I came to NIS Patiala. The facilities there, the diet regime and experience of the seniors taught me a lot and all this improved my game. I got a gold in Senior National Open in Kolkata and JSW came to sponsor me after that. AFI then sent me for training in Poland.
"I don't think about money, what I want is to get the best training facilities, keep on training and get medals for the country," Chopra said.
Chopra also had a message for dope cheats and asked them not to sully the country's image.
"Doping gives a bad image to the country, please don't do this. There has been a huge doping scandal involving Russia, this is really bad. Despite this scandal, Russia remained and will remain an athletics powerhouse.
"It is not the case with India. We (India) are not being able to make a name at the world level and still we are in the news due to doping. Be self confident and do hard work," he signed off.