The World Junior Champion. The Asian champion (at Asian Games as well as Asian Championships). The Commonwealth Games champion. Most recently, the Olympic champion.

The one major medal that is missing from Neeraj Chopra’s cabinet is at the World Athletics Championships. And he is one step away from that in Eugene, Oregon.

Coming out to throw first on qualifications day, Neeraj kept his appearance nice and quick. He also later said in the mixed zone that throwing in front of fans was great but his attempt was done in quick time before many people came in. It was so quick that photo agencies could barely get any clicks of him in action. (Journalist problems, eh?).

But for Neeraj, it was important to get qualification out of the way in his first attempt. One and done, as he did in Tokyo. Conserve the energy and turn his attention to the main task at hand.

The finals of the World Championships.

Having missed out at 2017 London, due to a lack of proper focus in qualification in his own words, and then having to watch 2019 Doha go past him as he dealt with his injury, 2022 Eugene sees Neeraj take in the first senior World Championships final of his career. He has good memories of the U20 version of this event, having set the junior world record back in 2016. Now, it is the real deal.

Having ended his 2021 season early due to illness and other commitments post Tokyo, Neeraj started preparing late last year at the Chula Vista Olympic training centre in California. The choice of venue is important, because from the get-go his target has been to do well at the World Championships and getting back into the athlete life, it made sense to do it in the same time zone. He then moved to Europe earlier this year, training in Turkey and competing in Finland and Sweden, before embarking Stateside once again. A training camp at Chula Vista, for himself and the rest of the Indian athletes too, and then off to Eugene.

“The weather here is very good, the facility too is good, as is the food. TOPS helped me get here and it’s been useful,” Neeraj said in a pre-World Championships press interaction. “The pre-World Athletics camp here is important. The time difference is significant from India to USA, so it was important to acclimatise ourselves to the time difference and weather here. So as to recover from jet lag and all.”

It showed in the ease with which he dealt with qualification, no fuss. Part of how Neeraj has grown in recent times is to make world class athletic excellence look commonplace.

And the consistency he has shown so far this season will be key. As Olympic champion, there will be attention on him from the start, and it is then that the solidity of training and the processes he has followed to get here will (and must) kick in.

“It has been very good. I got a lot of confidence from these performances – it’s not just about the best throws, but about consistency. On that front it has been good this season, the confidence is high. I feel I can do even better now. Because I am very close to throwing 90m. Just 6cm off in Stockholm, so I feel like the preparation has been good,” Neeraj said.

And a look at his numbers this seaosn will tell you about the consistency he has sought and achieved.

Neeraj Chopra’s throws this season so far from Finland to Eugene: 86.92, 89.30, X, X, X, 85.85, 86.69, X, X, 89.94 (NR), 84.37, 87.46, 84.77, 86.77, 86.84, 88.39m

The competition

As reigning Olympic champion, Neeraj is expected to be on the podium now of course but the competition is going to be tough come Saturday evening. In fact, it would be perfectly reasonable to think Anderson Peters, the reigning world champion, is the favourite. His world leading 93.07m earlier this season in Doha was a monster throw that came off the final attempt after Jakub Vadlejch threw a 90.88m off his final attempt to throw the gauntlet down. Peters has the experience of being in the final before and delivering, and he looked in complete control in the qualification stage as well, as the only athlete with a better throw than Neeraj, a solid 89.91m.

The podium competition in all likelihood is going to be between Peters, Vadlejch, Neeraj, Weber and Helander, all capable of 89-plus. But the only person who can run away with it is Peters. The Grenadian had a mid-season dip after the highs of Doha, apparently due to an injury, but crossed 90m once again in Stockholm, later saying Neeraj’s 89.94 to open the event inspired him to go big.

“I feel the javelin competition is a very tough one out there this season,” Neeraj had said.

“There have been so many competitions where throws have been over 89m, 90m. Anderson Peters, Jakub Vadlejch, Julian Webber, Oliver Helander, Keshorn Walcott have been throwing consistently. From that I feel it is going to be a good competition, but the rest, it will depend on the day.”

Top 10 marks (one per event) in men's JT 2022

Mark Competitor Nat Venue Date
93.07 Anderson PETERS GRN Suhaim bin Hamad Stadium, Doha (QAT) 13 MAY 2022
90.88 Jakub VADLEJCH CZE Suhaim bin Hamad Stadium, Doha (QAT) 13 MAY 2022
90.75 Anderson PETERS GRN Blankers-Koen Stadion, Hengelo (NED) 06 JUN 2022
90.31 Anderson PETERS GRN Olympiastadion, Stockholm (SWE) 30 JUN 2022
89.94 Neeraj CHOPRA IND Olympiastadion, Stockholm (SWE) 30 JUN 2022
89.91 Anderson PETERS GRN Hayward Field, Eugene, OR (USA) 21 JUL 2022
89.83 Oliver HELANDER FIN Paavo Nurmi Stadium, Turku (FIN) 14 JUN 2022
89.54 Julian WEBER GER Blankers-Koen Stadion, Hengelo (NED) 06 JUN 2022
89.30 Neeraj CHOPRA IND Paavo Nurmi Stadium, Turku (FIN) 14 JUN 2022
89.08 Julian WEBER GER Olympiastadion, Stockholm (SWE) 30 JUN 2022

This late in the piece, though, Neeraj knows that what others do is going to be immaterial. It is an individual competition and looking at what his peers do won’t help matters.

“I haven’t changed my training much, but the coach tells us what percentage we have to operate at with the lifting, throwing, sprinting and jumps. We just dial it up closer to the competition. Not adding anything new closer to the competition so as to not load any muscle in the wrong way,” he added.

Rohit Yadav is also in the final along with Neeraj (Reuter photo)

There will also be a second Indian in the fray with 21-year-old Rohit Yadav, who was also with Neeraj at Chula Vista recently. Having made it through to the final in 11th place overall, the youngster has a couple of meters left in his tank to catch up with or better his best.

“I told him the same thing that I try to follow. To do his best and not take pressure over the distance. I told him this, ‘see my South Asian Games throw in 2016 was 82.23m and then later that year, I threw with a big improvement at the U20 Worlds to get 86.48m. Bhai, kuch nahi pata kab kitna accha throw nikal aayega, bas mann se kar poora’,” Neeraj said about his conversation with Rohit.

In all honesty, the pressure aspect – one that he has been asked about repeatedly in his media interactions, home and abroad – was an unknown for Neeraj too. While his off-season was satisfactory, until he got onto the field and took part in competitions, there was no way of knowing if pressure was a factor. Based on his performances so far in Finland, Sweden and at the qualification round Stateside, he has handled it alright.

On Saturday afternoon at Hayward Field, everything will be dialled up a notch. The pressure, the attention... the stakes.

Only Anju Bobby George has ever won a medal at the World Championships from India. Should Neeraj top the podium in Eugene, he’ll become India’s first-ever athletics world champion. Not just that, he will also be the first male javelin thrower to follow Olympic success with World Championship gold since Norway’s Andreas Thorkildsen in 2008-’09 and Zelezny in 2000-’01 and 1992-’93. There is history on the line.

“Yes, I feel little bit [nerves because of expectations] sometimes in big competitions,” he said. “But if we are in the run-up and the javelin is in our hands, the focus is only on the throw.”