Olympic champion javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is relying on his red-hot form and consistency this season to grab a historic medal at the World Athletics Championships, beginning on Friday in Eugene, USA.
The 24-year-old Chopra will be one of the medal favourites in the showpiece after pulling off the third-best throw of the season with an effort of 89.94m during the Stockholm Diamond League on June 30.
A medal in the World Championships will be another piece of history for Chopra 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 the World Championships. Long jumper Anju Bobby George had become the first Indian to win a bronze in 2003 in Paris. ”The preparation has been good and my confidence level is high. In the three events, I took part in, I had done two personal best and won one. I have been consistent in my three performances,” Chopra said at a virtual media interaction from his training base in Chula Vista in the USA.
”I can do better (and get past 90m), it was just 6cm short of the 90m mark at the Stockholm Diamond League. So, hopefully, I can do my best in the World Championships.” In his three outings this season, Chopra has improved his personal best twice — he recorded an 89.30m throw on June 14 at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland before sending his spear to 89.94m, just 6cm shy of 90m in Stockholm. He had won the javelin throw event at Kuortane Games in Finland with a throw of 86.69m under wet and slippery conditions.
Chopra’s main rival for the gold medal will be Anderson Peters of Grenada, the 2019 World Championships gold medallist. Peters heads to the World Athletics Championships as the stand-out contender for gold as he owns four of the top five throws this season. His best effort of 93.07 is also the best result this season. The 2017 world champion Johannes Vetter of Germany, who has a maximum number of 90m-plus throws among active athletes, has pulled out with a shoulder injury.
Gold is not beyond Chopra’s reach as he has beaten Peters twice this season — at Paavo Nurmi Games and Kuortane Games. If Chopra wins the yellow metal, he will become the first male javelin thrower to follow Olympic success with 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 2000-01 and 1992-93. Asked about the mindset with which he will go into the World Championships, Chopra said, ”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.” But, Chopra has learned one thing from the 2017 World Championships in London where he could not qualify for the final round. He said he cannot go into the qualification round thinking that he would get into the finals without much effort. ”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 if you can’t qualify for the final round, there is no point. I have to be focussed and give my best during the qualification round also.” Chopra had competed in the 2017 London World Championships with the hope of at least making it to the finals. But he could not do that at his best throw of 82.26m fell short of the automatic qualification mark of 83m. He will have his qualification round of the Eugene World Championships on July 21 and the finals two days later.
Chopra has won most of his top competitions based on the first couple of attempts. During the Tokyo Olympics last year, his second-round throw (out of six attempts) of 87.58m fetched him the historic gold.
”I try to get the best out of my first throw and it happens many times that the best throw comes from the first. Sometimes, that does not happen and so I have to try to get the best in later throws.
”But it is not that you give your best in the first throw and then leave it. I have to try to give my best till the last attempt.” Chopra would leave Chula Vista for Eugene on Thursday.