Consistency Key as Neeraj Chopra Aims for Stars at 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra will be attending his first ever Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Neeraj Chopra's Javelin Throw Qualification Round at 5.35 am on Wednesday
Personal Best & Season Best: 88.07m (March 2021)
One-Time Asian Games Gold Medallist
One-Time Asian Championships Gold Medallist
One-Time Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist
Current Ranking: 16; Highest Ranking: 4
Since he burst onto the scene after winning the Junior World Championship in 2016 with a record-breaking throw, Neeraj Chopra has been billed as one of India’s most promising athletes.
Neeraj, who hails from Panipat, threw the javelin 86.28m, setting a new world record in Poland and announcing his arrival in grand style. That effort would have seen him take the Bronze Medal as per the Rio Olympics results, which had finished just a few months before, behind Thomas Roehler (90.3m) and Julius Yego (88.24m) and ahead of Keshorn Walcott (85.38m).
This was the performance that Neeraj believes sparked off change in how the sport was looked at in India.
After such a noteworthy start to his career, the questions on everyone’s mind have revolved around when if not whether Neeraj can bring back the much-awaited track and field medal at the Olympics.
Mind you, this is the 23-year old soldier’s first Summer Olympics. He had sealed qualification in February 2020, at Potchefstroom, his first meet since October 2018, with a throw of 87.86m The Olympic qualifying mark was 85m.
Currently, Neeraj, like most athletes, is in his final preparatory lap and the lack of competition in the build up is a concern.
Neeraj, who spent most of his time during the COVID-19 pandemic at home and going through rehab, structured his days and weeks meticulously to help all-round development. His routine sees him get a day off on Sunday and couple of evenings off in the week as well, as he oscillates between light and heavy sessions through the rest of the week.
Having started off his journey as a novice in 2011 when he was introduced to the javelin, Neeraj, the first Indian to win an Asian Games Javelin Gold medal, spent the next few years honing his talent and learning the basics before starting off with an absolute bang!
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At his first appearance in the showpiece event, what might make Neeraj’s route to the podium that tad bit easier is that defending Olympic champion in the men’s javelin throw, Germany’s Roehler and Estonia’s Magnus Kirt, the Silver Medallist from the 2019 World Championships in Doha, have both pulled out from the Tokyo Games.
The build-up to the Summer Games has not been the best for Neeraj. Injured and out of action for a year in 2019, he secured qualification in the only competition he took part in 2020 with a throw of 87.86m.
After sporting activities began amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Neeraj has not shown any signs of slowing down and has consistently been registering throws in the high 80s. While at the Federation Cup and Indian Grand Prix he threw 87.80m and 88.07m respectively before moving base to Europe earlier this month.
In 3 competitions, Neeraj had a best throw of 86.79 metres in Finland, 83.18 metres in Lisbon and 80.96 metres in Sweden, showing that he has well and truly recovered from his elbow injury and isn’t rusty either.
Among the top favourites that Neeraj will have stiff competition from is the likes of Germany’s Johannes Vetter who has consistently thrown over 90 metres and has a personal best of 97.76 metres.
Interestingly, Neeraj and Vetter were in competition recently in Kuortane Games in Finland. Vetter won the event with a best throw of 93.59m while Neeraj finished third with an effort of 86.79m.
It was his third best performance this season so far since rewriting his own National Record during the Indian Grand Prix 3 with a throw of 88.07m in March at the NIS Patiala.
London 2012 Gold Medallist Keshorn Walcott, reigning World Champion Anderson Peters of Grenada, and Poland’s Marcin Krukowski (89.55 m), second best this season after Vetter will also be in the mix for top honours in Tokyo.
During Neeraj’s long break injury, most of his competitors, the Germans primarily, had been slogging it out in various meets. In 2019 alone, six throws of over 88 metres were made, including two 90 plus hurls before the pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt.
A throw in the high 80s is likely to have him knocking on the door for a top 3 finish, but if he can break through the 90m barrier, it would give him a better shot at the elusive medal.
Neeraj’s consistency through the stop-start build-up phase ahead of the Tokyo Olympics is important and is likely to hold him good stead in Japan.
Winning an Olympic medal is no easy feat and especially in an event where Asian athletes have had little stay. The javelin event has for long been the happy hunting grounds from the Europeans, like Uwe Hohn, the only person to throw over a 100m.
For Neeraj, who has trained with Hohn, the biggest challenge will be his lack of international competitions before a major event such as the Olympics. But be that as it may, Neeraj is careful off overdoing it and has pulled out of an event in Switzerland to ensure he continues to be at his fittest. Rarely do the top athletes stretch themselves in the final weeks ahead of the marquee event.
One of his problems earlier, much before the pandemic in 2018, was a wobbly javelin when air-borne, but Neeraj has more than managed to steady matters, which aids his overall performance.
While Neeraj is more inexperienced as he has been to the Diamond League events, Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games previously but is going to be at his first ever Olympic Games.
Neeraj believes that the 90m mark is achievable at the Olympics and expects that his fitness, which he believes is at its peak, will help him achieve the target.
Approximately 35 athletes are expected to be in the event to start with before the list reduces to 12 in the final. While Neeraj has well and truly been consistent in his few chances, more experienced hands in the competition will not make it easy for him.
At the biggest stage it’s not always current form – take for example the London Games when Walcott pulled off a big upset after topping favourites Norwegian Andreas Thorkildsen and Finland’s Tero Pitkamaki.
Once an overweight kid who had no idea about the javelin, Neeraj’s, Act 1 in will be on 4 August in the qualifiers before the Final Act three days later on 7th in Tokyo.
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