Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra made history on Sunday by becoming the first Indian to win gold at the World Athletics Championships 2023 in the men’s javelin final. His impressive throw of 88.17m secured his gold medal and, once again, proved why he is the best of the best.
Back in 2022, fresh off of his Tokyo Olympics win, Neeraj Chopra sat with HELLO! for a chat about his motivations, dreams, and future film industry aspirations! Read the throwback interview here...
Neeraj Chopra single-handedly renewed India’s Olympic hopes in track and field, winning gold at Tokyo 2020 in an unbelievable show of excellence. The youngster, who hails from Haryana, was brought into athletics by his uncle, who wanted Chopra to lose weight since the boy was once plump.
Years later, he’s India’s premiere javelin thrower, readying himself for the next Olympic games and impressing everyone with his humility and down-to-earth demeanour. Millions of Indians aspire to be like him, while others swoon over this newfound celebrity. HELLO! spoke to the man of the moment, while he trains in the US for the upcoming season of athletics.
HELLO!: How are you handling your newfound celebrity status?
Neeraj Chopra: “I prefer not to think about it at all. According to me, there’s nothing special to handle. My work is to train and do what I did in the past. I try to be polite to the people who show me appreciation and love wherever I go and spend however much time I can spare with them.”
H!: Instagram has made you a sensation, with several memes dedicated to you. Do you find these entertaining?
NC: “Yes, Instagram does have a lot of memes on me (laughs). A few days ago, some friends shared one. It was a video of me throwing the 87m javelin at the Olympics, only for a dog to fetch ‘the stick’ back. I found that hilarious because the dog had a weird smirk on his face, trying to convey that I shouldn’t throw his stick that far. These things are great for a few good laughs.”
H!: What was it like returning to India post the Olympic gold and meeting the prime minister?
NC: “I felt very good, almost elated, on returning to India. Every athlete that competed in the games was at the felicitation ceremony, including the staff, coaches, masseurs, every member of our teams. It felt positive and reassuring to get that sort of recognition. Meeting the prime minister was an out-of-the-world experience. He spoke to me for a long time. Whenever he speaks to us athletes, he motivates us and tells us to compete without any pressure, to not think about anything but the game before us.”
H!: Tell us about your current training schedule.
NC: “We train keeping in mind the competitions we have this year. At the moment, I’m training in California. There’s an Olympic and Paralympic centre here that’s a great place to get in shape. My first month here was dedicated to regaining my fitness levels. I had to return to the same level I was at during the Olympics and lose some of the excess weight I had put on—around 10 to 12 kg! So there was a lot of cardio along with my other usual training sessions. After losing some weight, I began strength work and concentrating on my javelin throwing technique.”
H!: You’re very fond of your gadgets and sportswear…
NC: “I like things that can make my everyday life easier. These are usually inexpensive. I recently bought a new iPhone, a laptop and a projector to watch movies at home. I also like my headphones and often buy clothes when I feel like indulging myself. I also bought a new car at home but haven’t been able to drive it much because of my training.”
H!: Where do you get the strength and resolve to retain confidence at a platform like the Olympics?
NC: “I used to believe that competing at the Olympics would involve a lot of pressure and an even greater sense of responsibility. Handling the pressure is difficult, but that lessens as we compete more against international athletes. It makes a lot of difference as being pitted against them gives us an idea of the kind of competition we’re up against. The rest depends on our training and fitness.”
H!: We hear that you are an avid photographer. When did this hobby take root?
NC: “I don’t know how good a photographer I am, but it feels good to take pictures of the places I get to visit. At first, it was just a way to document memories, but then I started appreciating the beauty of nature, realising that it was meant to be cherished and enjoyed, even remembered. It’s great to revisit them years later.”
H!: With a busy schedule, how do you manage to handle the commercial obligations you have?
NC: “My schedule, at the moment, is pure training. I talk to my commercial team when I get to rest and recover. Otherwise, the guys at the agency I work with manage my work obligations well. It feels good that there are people in place to take care of these tasks for me.”
H!: How supportive has your family been?
NC: “Whatever I’ve done, whatever I’ve dreamt of doing, my family has always been there to support me. They backed me with money and moral support throughout my journey. They never let me feel any pressure, which taught me to focus on achieving one thing at a time. I don’t have any familial tensions, which makes for a great environment to be able to concentrate on the sport.”
H!: Apart from the Olympic gold, tell us the high points of your career.
NC: “The World Junior Games, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games were all memorable moments from my athletic career. But spending time with family has become a rare luxury now. So talking to them late into the night is what I cherish most these days, along with reconnecting with my close friends.”
H!: Would you ever consider a parallel career in fashion or films?
NC: “I don’t know about fashion and films, but I’ll always give my best to sports. I had no experience being in front of a camera earlier. I realised what actors and models go through during a recent shoot for an ad. Initially, I was a little embarrassed, shy and nervous, but then told myself I had to give it my best because there were so many people working on the assignment. So I put my heart and soul into shooting that ad. It turned out well, so it was well worth the effort.”
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s March 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!