With his back against the wall, Neeraj finds silver lining at World Championships

The 24-year-old Chopra, who had come into the showpiece as a hot medal favourite, produced a best throw of 88.13m to finish second.

Published: 24th July 2022 08:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th July 2022 02:00 PM   |  A+A-

Silver medalist Neeraj Chopra, of India, celebrates during the men's javelin throw final at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene

Silver medalist Neeraj Chopra, of India, celebrates during the men's javelin throw final at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene. (Photo| AP)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Sport never fails to throw up surprises. Saturday too was one. The fallibility, the uncertainty, nail-biting suspense and the unforgiving predicament of the unknown give sport that power to excite and rejoice. Even if the result can be predicted, twists bring with it joy that is unparalleled elsewhere in the firmament of life.

Sometimes, we sit in bewilderment at the human endurance and tenacity to claw back from the brink. The plot gets even more intriguing when conditions are challenging and settings veer from the usual.

Neeraj Chopra was just that and much more this time. Neeraj, ever so meticulous with these first two throws, fouled his first and had a modest second of 82.39m, and 86.37m in the third, was off the medal bracket.

The heart would have pounded more. The muscles would have stiffened. The mental aspect of playing catch-up would have had its bearing on the physical side too. One good throw is what he and his coach Klaus Bartonetz believe in. And that throw came in the fourth attempt. He tumbled his usual tumble. He yelled.

The scoreboard read 88.13m. And as he brushed past the camera, he gestured with both hands to calm down. A relief and a smile. "The throw felt good," he said later. He overtook Czech Jakub Vadlejch who had a 88.09 third throw.

Finally, Neeraj was in the silver medal position with 88.13m and that did not change. Grenada’s Anderson Peters had a series of 90+ throws and remained the leader until the end. His series of 90.54, 90.21, 90.46... and the last throw of 90.54m shows the kind of form he is in.

The rivalry that sprouted during their junior world championships days is expected to continue. "It's good to have someone who can egg you on. That will help me to improve," Neeraj said. Neeraj later said conditions were different and negotiating it was challenging. "I was facing the wind and conditions were far from ideal," he said during an interaction after the medal.

"There were good competitors and they were throwing well. So it was challenging for me and at the same time, it was a learning experience,' he said.Though he was short of his personal best of 89.94m and the 88.39m that he threw during qualification, yet this mark was better than his Tokyo 2020 Olympic distance of 87.58m.

The 24-year-old, however, had belief in his ability and despite not throwing his best in the early rounds, he was confident of clearing a good distance. Being consistent gives confidence and making a comeback is the hallmark of a champion too.

"I usually don’t like to leave it for the final few throws but this time, it happened. It's always good to have a good start and not leave everything for the final throw. Today was that day. But somehow I was confident that I could have a good throw," he said.

There was no doubt that he would win a medal. The colour was to be determined on Saturday at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon on Saturday evening (Sunday morning India time).

That he would be India's second medalist at the Worlds after long jumper Anju Bobby George in 2003 was determined after he finished second in the qualifying backed by a very consistent performance throughout this season.

Even in his moments of joy, Neeraj did not forget to acknowledge Anju's feat in 2003 saying it’s not easy to win a world championships medal and she had won 19 years ago.

As far as the pressure of being a Tokyo Olympic champion is concerned, he said that there was nothing like that. "There was no pressure that I am Olympic champion and in fact I was not even thinking about that. I only thought about throwing a good one, that's it," he said.

Neeraj, who seemed a little stiff after the fourth attempt, said he hurt his right thigh after the fourth throw. "I could feel a little strain in the thigh after the fourth throw and that’s why I wouldn’t get enough power in the later throws. Hopefully, it is a minor niggle. I will get to know more about it tomorrow,' he said.

With the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in a week’s time, Neeraj felt he should be fine.


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