Returning Chopra, roaring Dehning set to face off in Turku - Hindustan Times

Returning Chopra, roaring Dehning set to face off in Turku

ByRutvick Mehta
Jun 17, 2024 10:58 PM IST

The Olympic and world javelin champion will head a top field at the iconic Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland on Tuesday night

Fancy a little taster to the most anticipated competitive platter at the Paris Olympics from an Indian viewpoint, on which the country’s biggest medal hope rests? The Paavo Nurmi Games is set to cook up just that on Tuesday.

Neeraj Chopra in action during the men's Javelin final at Asian Games in Hangzhou, China,
Neeraj Chopra in action during the men's Javelin final at Asian Games in Hangzhou, China,

For, the prestigious meet in Turku, Finland will not only see Neeraj Chopra back in action after a minor fitness scare in this Olympic year, but also pit him against the global cream of men’s javelin throw. Most of whom the Indian is likely to get a taste of again in less than two months at the Paris Games for a bite at his second Olympic medal.

The quality field for the Continental Tour Gold meet includes Chopra’s familiar rivals in two-time world champion Anderson Peters of Grenada and Finland's Oliver Helander, who beat Chopra the last time he competed in Turku two years ago. Adding intrigue to this rich field is the unknown — Max Dehning, the 19-year-old latest arrival to the 90m club who everyone including Chopra has an eye on this year.

So much so that in April, a good month before Chopra began his season, he brought up Paavo Nurmi Games and the prospect of competing with the German teen, who hurled a season-leading 90.20m in February to put his previous personal best of 79.13m to shame.

“Mazaa aayega (It will be fun),” Chopra said in April. “I have not yet competed with him, but I am looking forward to meeting him and competing with him. He went from 79 to straight 90 — matlab 80 wala page skip hi kar diya pura (he skipped the entire 80m page),” he added, chuckling.

Since that shock-and-awe effort in his season opener in Halle, however, Dehning has been largely subdued. In his subsequent seven throws, the German hasn’t gone beyond 81.78m, settling for a 12th-place finish at the European Championships last week with a best throw of 76.16m.

Chopra, in contrast, has turned up for just two meets this season so far, treading with caution in the Olympic year while giving minor physical issues utmost attention.

The 26-year-old began his season at the Doha Diamond League in May, finishing second with his final throw of 88.36m. He then made a dash to India to compete at the Federation Cup five days later in Bhubaneswar for his first competitive outing in the country since becoming an Olympic champion. Four throws into it with a best of 82.27m that was still enough for victory, Chopra was done for the evening after discussions with his coach Klaus Bartonietz and physio Ishaan Marwaha. Later in the month, he pulled out of the Golden Spike meet in Ostrava, Czech Republic after feeling muscle discomfort in his adductor during a throwing session.

“Just to clarify, I am not injured but I don’t want to take any risk during the Olympic year so had to take this decision. Once I feel it’s fully recovered, I will get back to competitions,” Chopra wrote on social media.

He will return to the Paavo Nurmi Stadium after missing the event last year while recuperating from an injury. In 2022, in what was his season opener then, Chopra threw 89.30m only to be beaten by Finland’s Helander. The personal best beginning though set Chopra up for the rest of the season in which he rewrote that mark to 89.94m at the Stockholm Diamond League and delivered 86-plus throws throughout.

Chopra’s 88.36m in Doha remains the second best of this season after Dehning, among the field for Tuesday. Reigning European champion Jakub Vadlejch, the winner of Doha, won’t compete but Peters, who threw 86.62m to finish behind Chopra there, will.

Local hope Helander threw 85.75m last week in Rome to come third at the European Championships, and will enter the home event with some confidence. Others that round off the quality field include 2012 and 2016 Olympic medallist Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad & Tobago, Moldovan Andrian Mardare and Finland’s Lassi Etelatalo and Toni Keranen.

Perhaps more than the result, the sight of a fully healthy Chopra back to doing his thing with the javelin in Turku on Tuesday will be a relief-inducing appetizer before the main course in Paris in August.

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