When it comes to sports, India is fortunate that its athletes find a way to overcome the impediments that its officialdom throws in their paths—whole areas fraught with politics and unprofessionalism. If India is winning medals at the Asian Games, it has been possible in spite of official bungling, due to athletes’ own talent, resilience and steely determination. The government does provide facilities and exposure, but it’s a mite compared to the odds athletes face.
Many of the stories of the Games medal winners so far, and those who may or may not win, are tales of victories carved through adversity.
Neeraj Chopra, the world under-20 javelin record holder, is easily the best bet to win a medal, a gold, rather, for India in athletics at the Asian Games. Having won the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold with a superb throw of 86.47 metres in April and achieving his personal best this May, the national record-holder is on a high. At the moment, he is training under German Uwe Hohn, the legendary former javelin world record-holder, in Finland, from where he is going straight to Indonesia.
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In May, 20-year-old Neeraj cleared 87.43m at the IAAF Diamond League in Doha to establish a new national record—and his personal best—though he finished fourth. For the record, he is still some distance away from the Asian record of 91.36m, set by Chao-Tsun Cheng of Chinese Taipei in August last year. However, the under-20 world record of 86.48m, set in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in July 2016, is under his name.
Expectations are high, but Neeraj deals with pressure well. “It just hampers performance”.
“I am training hard under the legendary Uwe Hohn at the High Performance Training Centre in Kuortane. I threw the javelin to 85.69m in a competition here. The effort is to do even better at the Asian Games,” Neeraj tells Outlook from Finland. This might be less than his best effort, but he is supposed to peak only when it matters—during the August 18-September 2 Games.
Neeraj will, of course, be competing in Jakarta under huge expectations from his Indian fans. But the boy from Khandra village, near Panipat, has learnt to deal with pressure. “I am not taking the Asian Games as a pressure event, though it’s good that Indians believe in me. We athletes shouldn’t labour under a lot of pressure as, at times, it hampers performance,” he says.
The man who could give a tough competition to any Hollywood actor in looks also refuses to buckle under the talk of winning a medal. “I am not going to enter the competition with the aim of winning gold or achieving my personal best. I always give my best. Whatever strength is there in my body I put it behind every throw, 100 per cent,” Neeraj emphasises. About the possible challenge that he could face at the Games, he says: “Athletes from Chinese Taipei, Qatar, China, and Japan can prove to be a good challenge, but I will make all the effort to give my best.”