No 90m throw in Doha Diamond League but Neeraj Chopra's season is off to a good start - Hindustan Times
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No 90m throw in Doha Diamond League but Neeraj Chopra's season is off to a good start

May 11, 2024 12:09 AM IST

The Indian finishes second best at the Doha Diamond League but his effort of 88.36 shows that he is on the right track

It wasn’t the 90m night everyone craved for. Nor was it the one everyone is increasingly used to when it comes to Neeraj Chopra and the habit of winning. But it was one where India's Olympic and world champion javelin thrower displayed another quality of his.

Neeraj Chopra, of India, makes an attempt in the men's javelin throw during the Diamond League athletics meet at the Qatar Sports Club stadium in Doha(AP)
Neeraj Chopra, of India, makes an attempt in the men's javelin throw during the Diamond League athletics meet at the Qatar Sports Club stadium in Doha(AP)

Used to producing his most menacing and often competition-sealing throws early, Chopra dug into his reserves to deliver the best for the last. Overcoming a sedate start on what seemed a windy Friday evening in Doha, Chopra's 88.36m effort in the sixth and final attempt gave him a second-place finish at his season-opening Doha Diamond League. It landed just two centimetres short of Jakub Vadlejch's 88.38m, the Czech delivering his top effort in his third attempt.

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Kishore Jena, Chopra's compatriot and fellow Asian Games medallist, had a disappointing season-opening outing, being eliminated at the halfway stage after managing a best of 76.31m in his third attempt. Anderson Peters, also signing off with his best effort (86.62m), was third.

At the end of it all, Chopra smiled at the camera and then gestured towards his team raising the first two fingers of his right hand. Two centimetres separated him and a second straight victory to kickstart a new season in Doha. But on an evening where conditions tested the Tokyo Games champion as much as his mental reserves, a second-place finish was a decent outing for Chopra.

Early into the start of the javelin event, signs were clear that this wouldn’t live up to Doha’s reputation of aiding big throws (Germany Thomas Rohler’s 93.90m, the third best throw ever in history, came here in 2017). The conditions didn't appear too friendly. Bahamian Steve Gardiner, who won the men’s 400m sprint earlier in the evening, felt it was "really windy", a sentiment echoed by women’s 800m winner Noelie Yarigo who said, "It was windy so I was scared to go in the front".

Chopra's first couple of throws usually do the job for him, but the story was a whole lot different here. First to line up among the 10 throwers, the Indian began with a no mark followed by a valid attempt of 84.93m. Such has been Chopra's lofty standards and consistency of late that it was his most subdued effort since hurling the javelin at a distance of 80.96m in June 2021. Jena too recorded an underwhelming start to his 2024 season after the breakthrough last year with a 75.72m effort.

Vadlejch set the pace with an 85.87m opening throw backed up by 86.93m in his second attempt. Peters, who struggled throughout the last season after being attacked in August 2022, registered a strong 85.75m at the second time of asking. Vadlejch bettered himself at the third time of asking, his 88.38m raising the bar on an otherwise measured evening.

Chopra was put in a spot he isn't used to over the last couple of years — asked to chase and crank things up. And he did. He went farther by a metre-and-a-half and landed the javelin at 86.24m in his third attempt. Chopra had climbed to second spot, yet his expression wasn't too upbeat.

In his now trademark style, the Tokyo champion lifted both his arms after the next attempt, giving away his raised expectations from that throw which however rested six centimetres short (86.18m) off the previous one.

A penultimate effort of 82.28m perhaps signalled Chopra's challenge fading away. The trendsetter in Indian athletes, though, continues to find ways to surprise. After Vadlejch's no mark off his last attempt, Chopra left his mark on the evening with a greater final fling that took the javelin to 88.36m. Two centimetres separated the Indian and the Czech, who both called it a night with a hug and a smile.

Chopra will now fly home for a rare visit during the season. He has entered to compete at next week's Federation Cup in Bhubaneswar, expressing his wish and willingness to display his craft in front of home spectators and in the company of domestic throwers. If that does pan out, it will be the first time Chopra will turn up for a meet in India since becoming the Olympic champion in 2021, and for two competitive events within a week since 2022.

His next key global competition in the Olympic year will be the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku, Finland next month, where a stronger field — including the likely presence of Germany’s 19-year-old sensation Max Dehning who became the youngest-ever thrower to enter the 90m club earlier this year — could well await.

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