Hangzhou, China: Olympic and world javelin champion Neeraj Chopra says mind and body are primed to defend his Asian Games title when the athletics starts in Hangzhou on Friday at the end of a gruelling season.
The Indian spearheads a handful of top-class track and field stars competing across seven days at the “Big Lotus” Olympic Stadium, which has a capacity of up to 80,000.
Among them is fellow Olympic gold medallist and three-time world high-jump champion Mutaz Essa Barshim.
Chopra is expected to dominate the javelin after a strong season that saw him secure gold at the world championships at Budapest in August.
He also won the Doha and Lausanne legs of the Diamond League series, but suffered a rare setback this month when he was beaten by the Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch in Eugene.
“I still have one more competition, the Asian Games,” he said after Eugene.
“In big competitions, I think it’s about mindset, in big competitions we don’t need to prepare ourselves. When we enter the stadium, our mind is ready and the body is also ready for the competition.”
48 gold medals at stake
He will face stiff opposition from Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem, who took silver at the worlds behind the Indian on his comeback from elbow surgery and a knee injury.
Fellow Indian Kishore Kumar Jena, who was fifth in Budapest, will also be vying for the medals.
A total of 48 gold are at stake in track and field in Hangzhou, with Qatar’s Barshim an overwhelming favourite to win his third Asian Games title after successes in 2010 and 2014.
He has motivation to get back on top of a podium after being shocked at the world championships by Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi, who denied him a fourth consecutive title.
Barshim is the Asian record holder and also owns the second-highest jump in history at 2.43 metres.
China a dominant force
His chief rival is set to be South Korea’s Woo Sang-hyeok, the 2022 world championship silver medallist and 2018 Asian Games runner-up.
Woo took out the Diamond League trophy in Eugene with a personal best of 2.35m, but Barshim wasn’t there.
Hosts China have been a dominant force in track and field at the Asian Games and are bolstered by the likes of veteran Olympic women’s shot putt champion Gong Lijiao and women’s Olympic javelin gold medallist Liu Shiying.
Filipino Obiena to watch in pole vault
“I hope I can win gold again in Hangzhou, which will be my fourth time competing at the Asian Games,” said Gong, who will be looking for a throw of 21.00m to get her over the line.
“This time it’s special as it’s a home event.”
In other events, the Philippines’ EJ Obiena is one to watch in the men’s pole vault after equalling his own Asian record of 6.00m in Budapest to claim world championship silver behind Swedish world record-holder Armand Duplantis.
China’s 2022 world championship gold medallist Wang Jianan will start as favourite in the men’s long jump.