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Tokyo Olympics: Neeraj Chopra on the Brink of History - India's Best Hope for Athletics in 100 Years

Neeraj Chopra qualified for javelin throw finals with the best distance in qualification. (Reuters Photo)

Neeraj Chopra qualified for javelin throw finals with the best distance in qualification. (Reuters Photo)

Read all about Neeraj Chopra's javelin throw qualification, his records, and who he is up against. Neeraj Chopra qualified for the finals of men's javelin throw with a single throw and it was a stunning 86.65m effort.

Neeraj Chopra qualified for the finals of men’s javelin throw with a single throw and it was a stunning 86.65m effort. He is India’s best hope to get a medal in athletics. The 23-year-old is currently ranked fourth in the world and is in the finals of men’s javelin throw after a fantastic first throw in the qualification. His sole throw went well beyond the qualification mark and helped Chopra storm straight into the final. Ahead of the Olympics, Chopra was short on preparations because of Covid-19 pandemic but that did not show in his qualification throw.

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.

Neeraj Chopra’s Qualification Throw

Competing in his first Olympics, Chopra took just a few seconds to make it to the final round to be held on Saturday as he sent the spear well past the qualifying mark of 83.50m during the group A qualifications. His mark of 86.65m remained the best throw during the qualifications.

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Neeraj’s throw was the best in the qualification while Germany’s Johannes Vetter was the second best with a throw of 85.64m. The third best throw in the qualification was of Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem with a distance of 85.16m.

Neeraj Chopra’s Best Throw

Neeraj’s personal best throw is 88.07m, which is also his season-best. Among the 12 people in the finals, four people have a better personal best than the Indian. Vetter has the best record at a massive 97.76m while Czech Republic’s Vitezslav Vesely (88.34m), German Juliab Weber (88.29m) and Czech’s Jakub Vadlejch (89.73m) are ahead of Neeraj.

What Makes Neeraj Chopra’s One of the Favourites to Medal

Well, to start of with the two throwers who have thrown better than Neeraj Chopra’s season-best of 88.07m Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago (89.12m) and Marcin  Krukowski (89.55m) have failed to qualify for the final. Krukowski is the 2012 Olympics champion and Walcott 2016 Rio Games bronze-medallist. Vetter’s 96.26m this season may remain out of reach for Chopra, but realistically the Indian has one of best chances to take at least a silver.

Men’s Javelin Throw World Record

The current men’s javelin throw world record is 98.48m and it is held by Jan Zelezny from 1996.

History in the Making

If Chopra delivers India’s elusive Olympic medal in athletics, that will end a wait of 100 years. Three track and field athletes were part of the five-member Indian team at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium — the other two being wrestlers. Since then, no Indian has won a medal in athletics. The International Olympic Committee still credits Norman Pritchard’s 200m and 200m hurdles silver medals in the 1900 Paris Olympics to India though various research, including the records of then IAAF (now World Athletics), showed that he had competed for Great Britain.

A farmer’s son from Khandra village near Panipat in Haryana who took up athletics to shed flab, Chopra can script history by winning the elusive medal, which the likes of late Milkha Singh and P T Usha let it slip from their grasp in 1964 and 1984 editions. Chopra’s performance during qualification was one of the best performances by an Indian in the Olympics, as he finished ahead of gold-medal favourite and 2017 world champion Vetter.

Vetter, who had earlier said that Chopra will find it tough to beat him in the Olympics, struggled in his first two throws before crossing the automatic qualification mark with a 85.64m final throw.

Neeraj Chopra Profile

Personal Best - 88.07m; Season Best:88.07m; World Ranking: 12

Finished 15th at 2017 WCh. Gold at 2017 Asian Ch, 9th in 2015. Gold at 2018 CWG. Gold at 2018 Asian Games. Gold at 2016 Junior WCh. Gold at 2016 South Asian Games. Silver at 2016 Junior Asian Ch. He is the first athlete representing India to have won gold in javelin at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, both in 2018.

Meet Neeraj’s Competitors

Andrian Mardare (Republic of Moldova)- Personal Best - 86.66m; Sesason Best:86.66m; World Ranking: 15

Finished 17th at 2017 WCh. Placed 7th at 2018 European Ch. Silver at 2021 European Throwing Cup. Gold at 2017 U23 European Throwing Cup. Bronze at 2017 U23 European Ch. Bronze at 2014 Junior WCh. In other events - finished 4th in mixed team event at 2015 European Games. In 2020, he broke the Balkan Championship javelin record that had stood for 32 years with a throw of 83.60m.

Amb Kim (Sweden) - PB 86.49; SB: 82.40; World Ranking 12

Finished 17th at 2016 and 2012 OG. Placed 8th at 2019 WCh, 11th in 2015, 10th in 2013. Placed 7th at 2016 and 2012 European Ch. In 2021 season, finished 3rd at Grand Prix Gateshead in Diamond League. He was initially a pole vaulter, but switched to javelin after breaking three poles in the space of several months while attempting vaults.

Alexandru Novac (Romania) - PB: 86.37; SB: 83.27; World Ranking: 28

Finished 13th at 2019 WCh, 29th in 2017. Finished 17th at 2018 European Ch. Placed 9th at 2021 European Throwing Cup. Gold at 2018 U23 European Throwing Cup, bronze in 2019. Silver at 2019 U23 European Ch. Silver at 2014 Youth OG. His personal best in the event is 86.37 metres set in Nembro, Italy in 2018. This is the current ROU national record.

Vitezslav Vesely (Czech Republic) - PB: 88.34; SB: 83.04; World Ranking: 26

Bronze at 2012 OG, 7th in 2016, 12th in 2008. Gold at 2013 WCh, 4th in 2011, 8th in 2015. Gold at 2012 European Ch, silver in 2014 and 2016, 9th in 2010. Finished 11th at 2021 European Throwing Cup, 5th at 2021 Golden Spike. At age 21, he considered giving up javelin after becoming frustrated with injuries. He had suffered problems with his shoulder, elbow and ankle.

Julian Weber (Germany) - PB: 88.29, SB: 84.95; World Ranking: 9

Finished 9th at 2016 OG. Finished 6th at 2019 WCh. Finished 2nd at 2021 British Grand Prix in Diamond League. Placed 1st at 2016 European Throwing Cup. Gold at 2013 Junior European Ch. He practised athletics as a child, but gave it up for four years to play handball. At age 16, he returned to javelin and trained with his father’s friend and athletics coach Stephan KALLENBERG (GER).

Lassi Etelatalo (Finland) - PB: 84.98; SB: 84.50; World Ranking: 13

Finished 4th at 2019 WCh. Placed 4th at 2019 European Ch. Placed 9th at 2009 U23 European Ch. In 2021 season, finished 6th at Paavo Nurmi Games on World Athletics Continental Tour. In 2017, he required surgery on an ankle injury. His nickname is Lassilihas.

Johannes Vetter (Germany) - PB: 97.76; SB: 96.29: World Ranking: 1

Finished 4th at 2016 OG. Gold at 2017 WCh, bronze in 2019, 7th in 2015. Finished 5th at 2018 European Ch, 16th in 2016. In 2021 season, finished 1st at European Throwing Cup, British Grand Prix and Golden Spike. In 2019, he was elected to the Offenburg local council as an independent representative. He moved to the region from Dresden in 2014. ‘I have always been very interested in politics.’

Arshad Nadeem (Pakistan) - PB: 86.38; SB: 86.38; World Ranking: 23

Finished 16th at 2019 WCh. Placed 6th at 2019 Asian Ch, 7th in 2017. Gold at 2019 South Asian Games, bronze in 2016. Bronze at 2018 Asian Games. Finished 8th at 2018 CWG. Bronze at 2016 Junior Asian Ch. He was a promising cricketer until he took up javelin, and had to decide. ‘Not becoming a cricketer was the best thing that happened to me. I wouldn’t be in the Olympics otherwise.’

Pavel Mialeshka (Belarus) - PB: 85.06; SB: 85.06: World Ranking: 25

Finished 27th at 2019 and 2017 WCh. Finished 23rd at 2018 European Ch. Bronze at 2021 European Throwing Cup, 7th in 2018, 6th in 2017. Placed 10th at 2013 U23 European Ch. Bronze at 2011 Junior European Ch. He took up the sport in 2004 at the Specialised Youth Sports School of Olympic Reserve No.3 in Slonim, Belarus.

Jakub Vadlejch (Czech Republic) - PB: 89.73; SB: 84.93; World Ranking: 7

Finished 8th at 2016 OG, 24th in 2012. Silver at 2017 WCh, 5th in 2019, 16th in 2011, 20th in 2015. Finished 8th at 2018 European Ch, 9th in 2016, 16th in 2010, 20th in 2014. Finished 4th at 2021 British Grand Prix in Diamond League, 4th at Golden Spike. He took up athletics at age 10. ‘I was like the classic child who was trying to offload his infinite energy.’

Aliaksei Katkavets (Belarus) - PB: 86.05; SB: 85.10; World Ranking: 21

Finished 14th at 2019 WCh. Finished 4th at 2021 European Throwing Cup. Bronze at 2019 U23 European Ch. Gold at 2019 U23 European Throwing Cup. He combined playing football with athletics before focusing on javelin. ‘Once a coach asked me to throw a football and he was surprised by the distance I threw it. After a couple of training sessions, he invited me to compete in javelin.’

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first published:August 06, 2021, 19:24 IST