CHENNAI: The last competition was not ideal. Tokyo 2020 champion Neeraj Chopra had to walk away after a nasty slip in extreme conditions. It was cold. According to his coach Klaus Bartonietz, it was the "coldest day" they competed in. The rain made the newly-laid track slippery. Neeraj managed to throw the spear 86.69m before the fall but was enough to secure gold at Kuortane Games.
On Thursday, when he competes at the Stockholm Diamond League, he would be looking to stand ahead of a strong field. The field is mouth-watering with almost all top javelin-throwers of the season in action. Oliver Halendar from Finland, who beat Neeraj to gold at Paavo Nurmi with 89.83m (personal best), has entered. So have the 90m+ throwers of this season — Trinidad and Tobago's Anderson Peters (93.07m PB) and Jakub Valdejch (90.88m of Czech Republic (PB) — in the Doha DL.
Since then, Peters has crossed the 90m mark once more with a throw of 90.75m but in Paavo Nurmi and Kuortane, he managed 86.60m and 84.75m. While Valdejch's best had been 85.50m in early June. Julian Weber of Germany too has a throw better than Neeraj this season with a distance of 89.54m.
Since each DL gives athletes points, for Neeraj a strong finish in Stockholm will be crucial after missing Doha. Since Monaco (August 10) would be three days after Commonwealth Games, Neeraj will not be able to compete, his result in Lausanne on August 26 will be crucial to qualify for the final in Zurich.
Neeraj, however, had a brilliant opening to the season at Paavo Nurmi in Turku where he managed to throw a personal best 89.30m. Neeraj and his team left for Stockholm on June 22 for the Diamond League. For Neeraj, Diamond League has not been a very happy hunting ground so far and fourth has been his best finish. His last appearance in a Diamond League was in 2018 in Zurich before injury forced him off the circuit for more than a year. Last year before the Olympics, he had to abandon his plans of competing in London because of visa issues and also did not want to expend too much energy before the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Weather prediction for Stockholm is not very exciting with the prediction of thunderstorms but by evening during the event, there is less likelihood of rain. His team is confident of a good show. Coach Bartonietz last week told this daily that there was no issue after Neeraj's fall and that he is fit. With this being the last event before shifting attention to the World Championships, throwing well and getting the technique right too would be crucial.
The elusive 90m mark has turned into a national interest, especially after the season-opening throw of 89.30m, but for Neeraj, there is no pressure as such. For his coach, it's just a number and it's more psychological. But one point both agree on is that the mark is within reach. "All I need is a good throw where everything goes perfect from the run-up to release," was what Neeraj had said after Turku. His coach too echoed those words. In the end, it's like what Klaus had said, "Neeraj has to control the javelin properly and get a clean throw. One good throw at that moment with good control is enough."