Neeraj Chopra stays bullish ahead of World Championships
Neeraj Chopra has learnt one thing from his 2017 IAAF World Championships. That is never to take the qualification round lightly. A precociously talented 19-year-old Neeraj had competed in the 2017 World Championships thinking a berth in the final round was easy meat. But as it turned out he could not earn a final berth as his best throw of 82.26 metres fell short of the automatic qualification mark of 83m.
“I am not taking the qualification round lightly, I have learnt that from London in 2017. At that time I did not have much international experience. I thought I would do 83m (the qualification mark in 2017) but failed to do it. If you don’t do well in the qualification round and can’t qualify for the final round, there is no point. I also have to be focused and give my best during the qualification round,” the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games javelin champion said during a media interaction on Wednesday.
Neeraj was speaking from Chula Vista in the US, the base for the Indian athletics squad. He leaves for Eugene, the host city of the 2022 World Championships, on Wednesday (Thursday IST). The World Championships begin on Friday. He will have his qualification round on July 21 and the final two days later. Neeraj is one of the favourites to win gold in javelin, after his very impressive performances in the three meets in June that he participated.
He improved his personal best twice — he recorded a 89.30m throw on June 14 at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland before sending his spear to 89.94m, just six centimetres short of 90 metres in the Stockholm Diamond League on June 30. In between, he had won the javelin throw event at Kuortane Games in Finland with a throw of 86.69m under wet and slippery conditions. “The preparation has been good and my confidence level is high. In the three events I took part, I had done two personal best marks and won one. I have been consistent,” he said. “I can do better (and get past 90m). It was just 6 cm short of the 90m mark in Stockholm. So hopefully I can do my best in the World Championships.”
A medal in Eugene will be another piece of history for the Haryana lad as he will become only the second Indian track and field athlete and the first male player from the country to win a medal in World Championships. Long jumper Anju Bobby George was the first Indian to win a bronze in 2003 in Paris. His main rival for the gold medal will be Anderson Peters of Grenada, the 2019 champion.
Peters heads to Eugene as the main contender for gold. He has four of the top five throws this season with 93.07 metres being the best result this season. Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Czech Jakub Vadlejch, Finland’s Oliver Helander, Germany’s Julian Weber and Trinidadian Keshorn Walcott also have the form and potential to grab the limelight.
However, the 2017 world champion and 2019 bronze medallist Johannes Vetter of Germany, who is second on the all-time list with 97.76m, is out with a shoulder injury. If Neeraj wins the yellow metal, he will become the first male javelin thrower to follow Olympic success with a World Championship gold since Norway’s Andreas Thorkildsen feat in 2008-09. Before that, world record holder Jan Zelezny of the Czech Republic had achieved the milestone in 1992-93 and 2000-01.
Neeraj, however, is not bothered by his rivals’ performance as well as his predecessors’ records. “I will go with the same mindset I had in Tokyo... With a relaxed mind. I will give my best. That is the only thing, I am not putting pressure on myself. If you prepare well nothing else matters.” Neeraj has earned a reputation for winning most of his top competitions on the basis of the first couple of attempts.
“I try to get the best out of my first throw and it happens many times that the best throw comes early. That may not happen all the time. I have to get the best in later throws too. It is not that you give your best in the first throw and then rest. I strive to give my best till Neeraj Chopra the last attempt.”