Athletics - Neeraj Chopra
Neeraj Chopra exults after throwing the javelin to 89.94 metres in his first attempt in Stockholm Golden League on Thursday. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Kolkata: It’s been almost year since that magical evening in Tokyo last August when Neeraj Chopra, Indian javelin thrower, became the toast of the nation when he ended the country’s long wait for an Olympic medal in athletics in style. As the World Championships in Eugene, US come up in about two weeks’ time (July 15-24), the golden boy seems to be peaking at the right time again.

The 24-year-old, who had been training overseas for the last few months in preparation for what would be a busy year for him with the Worlds being followed by the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China scheduled in August-September, is now postponed), has raised the bar for himself by bettering his own national record twice in the last month. On Thursday evening, he hurled the spear to 89.94 metres at the Stockholm Diamond League 2022 in Sweden but had to be content with a silver - bettering his own national record of 89.30m at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland.

‘‘It felt good to achieve the distance with my first throw itself. I thought I could cross the 90m mark as well, but I had been happy with my effort,” Chopra said in reply to a number of media queries facilitated by his managers JSW Sports. “It is okay as I have more competitions coming this year. I am close to 90m now and I can throw it this year,’’ he said.

As one of the top bracket javelin throwers in the world now, the Army officer from Haryana understands the merits of crossing the threshold of 90m - and the important thing is he is heading in the right direction. He had clinched the Olympics gold with a throw of 87.58m, which proved enough to do the job on a rainy evening in Tokyo though it was below his personal best of 88.07m till then.

The Athletics Federation of India has announced a 22-member squad (17 men and five women) for the Worlds on Friday, though it’s a no-brainer that a billion hopes will now be resting on Chopra’s broad shoulders when the Who’s Who of the sport converge at Nike’s headquarters town Eugene. Like the Olympics, where India’s best legacy rested with the agony of fourth place finishes till Chopra bucked the trend, the country does not have much to write home about in the Worlds expect a bronze medal finish by long jumper Anju Bobby George in 2003.

‘‘See, I cannot afford to let pressure bother me because there had been only one medallist from India so far. I will see what the scenario is on reaching Euegene and try to give it my best shot. Ultimately, it’s all a matter of how you are perfoming on a given day,’’ Chopra tried while trying to make light of the topic. The reality, however, is life has undergone a 360 degrees change for the self-effacing young man in the past one year when from being one of the medal hopefuls in Tokyo Olympics to the country’s only calling card in world class competitions.

Looking back at his effort in Stockholm, where the reigning world champion Peters finished with a giant throw of 90.31 m in his third effort, Chopra said several things have to fall in place for a throw to cross the 90m mark. ‘‘I was participating in a Diamond League event after 2018 and still could have done better. I had a feeling that I could do it, but a lot of things have to come together for the javelin to go that far,’’ he said.

I was participating in a Diamond League event after 2018 and still could have done better. I had a feeling that I could do it, but a lot of things have to come together for the javelin to go that far

- Neeraj Chopra, Olympic gold medallist

Chopra’s effort earned a pat from Peters of Grenada, who broke the 16-year-old meet record with a his 90m plus throw. “Getting the 90m throw was really good, I was very much motivated by Neeraj to get a 90m throw because he started the competition with a personal best and a national record and that was pretty good for the start,” he pointed out.

Chopra’s exploits on the field, meanwhile, have ensured an unprecedented number of eyeballs among the Indians who follow his competitions online. ‘‘It’s a great feeling to recognised with so many people are following me. There were a lot of Indians at the venue on Thursday and the Indian ambassador to Sweden was also there. My job is to keep trying hard to repay their faith,’’ he signed off.

Indian contingent for Worlds

Men: Avinash Sable (3000m Steeplechase), MP Jabir (400m Hurdles), M Sreeshankar and Muhammed Anees Yahiya (Long Jump), Abdulla Aboobacker, Praveen Chithravel and Eldhose Paul (Triple Jump), Tajinderpal Singh Toor (Shot Put), Neeraj Chopra and Rohit Yadav (Javelin Throw), Sandeep Kumar (20km Race Walking), Amoj Jacob*, Noah Nirmal Tom, Muhammed Ajmal, Naganathan Pandi, Rajesh Ramesh and Muhammed Anas Yahiya (4x400m).

Women: S Dhanalakhsmi (200m), Aishwarya Kailash Mishra (400m), Parul Chaudhary (3000m Steeplechase), Annu Rani (Javelin Throw) and Priyanka Goswami (20km Walk).