File image of Neeraj Chopra.(PTI)
File image of Neeraj Chopra.(PTI)

Neeraj Chopra betters national record on comeback

  • Chopra, who has already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, bettered his own national mark of 88.06, achieved at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.
By Avishek Roy
PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 10:48 PM IST

It was one of the most anticipated returns of an Indian athlete before the Tokyo Olympics and javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra did not disappoint.

Considered India's best medal prospect in athletics in Tokyo, Chopra sizzled on comeback after 14 months with a new national record of 88.07 in the Indian Grand Prix 3 at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, on Friday.

Chopra, who has already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, bettered his own national mark of 88.06, achieved at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.

“I was targeting a throw above 85m since it was my first competition after more than a year. But any improvement, even by a centimetre, is always good for an athlete. It will give a lot of confidence not only to me but everyone who has been working with me – the coaches, support staff. I felt good, the body was responding well,” said the 23-year-old.

It came despite a strong crosswind that made it difficult for Chopra and the rest of the field to control the trajectory of the javelin. Despite that three of them breached 80m --- a first in a javelin competition in India. Sahil Silwal, 20, set the tone with a personal best of 80.65m in his first throw; Chopra began with 83.03m and then registered two foul throws as he seemed to get off balance trying to put in more power. The fourth throw went to a distance of 83.36. A change of javelin did the trick for Neeraj.

“I changed from Nemeth javelin, which I prefer, to Nordic and it paid off. It is good for windy conditions. The fifth throw was technically very good. I could not feel the effort at all which I was putting in my earlier throws. It went so well. I was thinking it was 85 but the release was good and it turned out to be the best,” he said. In his last attempt he recorded 82.24m.

Shivpal Singh, who has also qualified for Tokyo, took second place with a throw of 81.63m while Sahil finished third (80.65).

Chopra has been working on his technique under biomechanics expert Klaus Bartonietz.

“My focus was more on release. If you see my throws at the Asian Games, they were going towards the left, close to landing out of the sector. I have worked on throwing it straighter. I have also worked on my strength at the recent Bhubaneswar camp,” he said.

Above everything, Chopra has shown great mental reserve to return from long stretches of inaction each time he was sidelined. First it was an elbow injury that required surgery on his throwing arm, which kept him out of action for 14 months after his win at the 2018 Asian Games. The entire 2019 went in the tough recovery phase as he prepared to launch himself for the Tokyo Olympics qualification, which he did in style. Then came another long period of no competition because of the pandemic.

Now, all he wants is to compete against the world's top throwers -- Johannes Vetter, Rio Olympics gold medallist Thomas Rohler, Anderson Peters, Magnus Kirt, Andreas Hofmann. Throwing the javelin beyond 90m will be Chopra's next target. He will compete at the Federation Cup starting March 15.

“The feeling of international competition is important. I have had just two competitions in two years, so I need to compete against the top throwers before the Tokyo Olympics,” he said.

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