His previous coach, the late Garry Calvert called him a “once-in-a-generation talent.” Anju Bobby George, former Indian bronze medallist at the World Championships said “he is the most promising young Indian athlete today,” whose “best performances are yet to come.” It is not often that a young Indian track and field athlete enjoys such a ringing endorsement, but then, it’s also not often that someone like Neeraj Chopra comes along.
After becoming the first Indian male javelin thrower to win an Asian Games gold, Chopra said he could’ve breached the 90m mark. In what wasn’t a very competitive field, the 20 year old bettered his own national record, throwing 88.06m. His previous best was 87.43m that he threw at the IAAF Diamond League in Doha earlier this year.
Consistency has been the hallmark of Chopra’s season. The 20 year old has thrown 85m plus seven times, and all top Asian throws have been in his name.
Javelin throwers tend to get better with age, far into their 20s and early 30s. It is here then, that Chopra’s talent becomes abundantly clear when you compare the distances of his throws to what elite athletes were registering at the age of 20.
2016 Rio Olympics Gold medalist Thomas Rohler of Germany, who threw a distance of 90.30m to clinch the medal had a best throw of 80.79m at 20. Kenyan athlete Julius Yego, the Olympic silver medallist and 2015 world champion was not throwing beyond 75.44m when he was Chopra’s age. When we speak in relatives and not absolutes, the Indian is already far ahead of the two on paper.
Since his junior world championship gold in Poland in 2016, the Panipat boy’s career graph has only gone up. The 2018 season has been tremendous. First he set a new national record at the Federation Cup in Patiala with a throw of 85.94m. Then he bettered it at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast with 86.47m. And then, in the IAAF Diamond League in Doha, he threw a sensational 87.43m, shattering the recently set national record and his personal best, only to improve on it at the Asian Games.
Chopra has been training with national coach Uwe Hohn – the only athlete in history to have thrown the javelin more than 100m. The two have been working on ironing out the chinks in the armour, like balancing Chopra’s body better and keeping it back a bit in order to throw the javelin even more powerfully.
Chopra’s next step is to break into the 90-metre club. It didn’t happen at the Asian, but it’s no calamity. Chopra has set himself a target of reaching the mark by the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. And in ‘relative’ terms, he’s well on his way to getting there.