Star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is shouldering India’s medal hopes in Athletics with the 23-year-old Chopra, currently ranked fourth in the world, being short on preparations, having competed in only one top-class international event in the run-up to the Olympics due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Athletics Federation of India had planned training-cum-competition tours abroad for the athletes prior to the Games but had to cancel them due to the global travel restrictions triggered by the pandemic. Out of the 26-member Olympic team, only Chopra was able to train and compete in Europe in early June before arriving in Tokyo on Tuesday.
How has been Neeraj Chopra’s Recent Form?
He had just three international events before the Olympics but the first two were minor ones with local athletes competing. In his only top-class international event this year, Chopra finished third with a throw of 86.79m at Kuortane Games in Finland while Tokyo Olympics gold medal hot favourite Johannes Vetter (93.59m) of Germany won the event.
Chopra, who began the season by breaking his own national record with an 88.07m throw at the Indian Grand Prix in March, has spoken about his frustration at the lack of top-class international events in the build-up to the Olympics.
Who are Neeraj Chopra’s Competitors?
The 2017 world champion Vetter (personal-best 97.76m, season-best 96.29m) has been unbeatable this season with 90m-plus throws in seven events between April and June.
If he continues his form, Vetter seems to be a sure-shot for his first Olympics gold. Chopra’s competitors for other medals could be Poland’s Marcin Krukowski (PB & SB 89.55m), 2012 Olympics champion and 2016 Rio Games bronze medallist Trinidad & Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott (PB 90.16m, SB 89.12m), and Latvia’s 2014 under-20 World champion Gatis Cakss (PB & SB 87.57m).
When is the Qualification Round?
Chopra, who has been based in Uppsala in Sweden with biomechanics expert Klaus Klaus Bartonietz, will have his first throw in an Olympics during the qualifying round on August 4 before the finals to be held three days later.
What makes Chopra a favourite to finish in the Top 3?
The field was depleted after reigning Olympic champion Thomas Rohler of Germany pulled out with a back injury. World champion Anderson Peters, on the other hand, has not been in great form this season. Estonia’s World Championships silver medallist Magnus Kirt has also pulled out due to a leg injury. Among the 32 in the fray (Group A and B) combined Neeraj Chopra’s Personal Best throw of 88.07m is the 12th best, however, only three others, including Vetter, have thrown better than Chopra’s 88.07 this season.
Why Neeraj Chopra could make history at Tokyo 2020 for India?
India first participated at the Olympic Games in 1900, with Norman Pritchard, being the lone athlete winning two silver medals in athletics.
Neeraj Chopra can add to that tally in Javelin Throw at Tokyo 2020.
Since then, Milkha Singh (finished 4th in 400m at 1960 Olympics), P.T. Usha (4th in 400m hurdles at 1984 Olympics), Anju Bobby George ( 5th in long jump at 2004 Olympics) and G.S. Randhawa (5th in 110m hurdles at 1964 Olympics) coming close.
The likes of Sriram Singh (7th in 800m at 1976 Olympics), Lalita Babar (10th in 3000 steeplechase at 2016 Olympics), Vikas Gowda (2012, discus throw, 8th), Krishna Poonia (6th in discus throw at 2012) and Kamalpreet Kaur (6th in Dicus Throw at 2020 Olympics) being the others to finish in the top 10.