Kolkata: India’s reigning Olympic Champion Neeraj Chopra stands hours away from creating another history at the grandest of stages as by the time you wake up on Sunday morning, the 24-year-old javelin star may re-write the history books of Indian athletics.
After becoming the first Indian track and field Olympic gold medallist in Tokyo last year, he may now become the first World Champion in as the much-awaited javelin throw final of the World Athletics Championships takes place in Eugene, Oregon from 7:10 AM IST.
For the record, he would be the second Indian to claim a Worlds medal as the record lies with long jump legend Anju Bobby George, who won a bronze medal in 2003 Paris.
Achieving the title will be easier said than done with Grenada’s defending World champion Anderson Peters finding his best form ahead of the title showdown. A teaser of the big battle was on the show during the qualification round on Friday morning when Neeraj booked his final berth with a huge 88.39-metre throw only to see his Caribbean coeval go better with at 89.91m the other group. Needless to say, their opening attempts made the direct qualification standard of 83.50m a mere footnote.
Peters may also get to claim that he is the favourite for the gold medal given he holds the season-leading throw of 93.07m and has gone beyond 90m thrice this year; something Neeraj is yet to achieve despite being on a national-record-breaking spree.
The javelin duo has crossed paths on three separate occasions this summer with Neeraj getting better of him twice at Paavo Nurmi Games and Kuortane Games in Finland last June. However, at their first biggest showdown of the season at the Stockholm Diamond League, Peters showed he reserves his best when it matters as he threw 90.31m ahead of Neeraj’s 89.94m (NR) for the top spot.
However, the strong feeling across India is that their favourite track and field star will triumph over Peters like he did at the Tokyo Olympics against Johannes Vetter.
“Andersen Peters is a great javelin thrower as well but we all believe our boy Neeraj will be the World Champion,” AFI’s javelin coach Samarjeet Singh told Firstpost on the eve of the final. “Neeraj has been that athlete, who always does the miracle. There was a time when Indians were not expected to go beyond 85m but Neeraj changed that. I am certain we will see him throw 90m soon.”
However, it will be wrong to assume that Peters is the only threat Neeraj faces on the day as the tough 12-athlete field includes Gemany’s Julian Webber and Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch.
Both Webber and Vadlejch are experienced campaigners and know the art of peaking at the right time of the season. For example, the Czech’s best efforts of the season (90.88m and 88.59m) came at the Doha and Stockholm Diamond Leagues respectively. Webber too threw big at the prestigious FBK Games (89.54m) and in Stockholm (89.08m).
In Friday’s qualification round, Webber also threw 87.28m to make his intentions clear while Vadlejch hurled the javelin at 85.23m.
Coach Samarjeet, however, added that the presence of AFI’s German biomechanic expert Bartonietz Klaus as Neeraj’s coach gives the Indian an advantage over his rival.
“Klaus sir has been vital in his progress. They were always in sync together since Day 1 (Neeraj first met with Klaus in Patiala while recovering from elbow surgery in 2019) as they had a similar way of looking at the game. That coach-disciple understanding is always an advantage,” said coach Samarjeet, a 2013 Asian Games Bronze medallist.
Rohit Yadav participates in his maiden final
Amid the mammoth battle on Sunday morning, it’s easy to miss Rohit Yadav, who made it into the Worlds final that too on his first major competition debut. The 21-year-old young man from UP, who has been a long-time training partner of Neeraj, couldn’t breach the direct qualification standard but his first throw of 80.42m turned decisive enough to book his final spot.
On Sunday his effort would be to at least go above his season and personal best of 82.54m while making it to the top eight will be a big result.
“For his debut at a major event, Rohit has done well to reach the final. The good thing is he himself knows he can do better than that. Improving his personal best will be a successful end to his campaign,” said Samarjeet.
Irrespective of the results on Sunday, Rohit should still pat his back on reaching the finals and hopefully gets to celebrate the success of Neeraj.
The World Athletics Championships Oregon22 javelin final will be live telecast across SONY TEN 2 channels in India as well as live-streamed on SonyLIV app from 7:05 AM IST (Sunday)
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