When Neeraj Chopra entered the field at the National Stadium, Tokyo – no long hair, a confident stride, and the intent to do well for a country that has been deprived of an athletics medal in its independent history – he wasted no time. With his first attempt in qualification round, he sent the spear 86.65m and crossed the automatic mark that earned him a “Q” next to his name. One and done, as they say.
The performance laid down the marker for what’s to come a few days later as Chopra became the first Indian ever to win an athletics gold medal at the Olympic Games.
It is an oft-repeated belief in athletics that the qualification performance means very little before a track and field final at a major event. The only purpose of a qualification event is just that: a ticket to final. A new day awaits. But, having said that, it is important to be tuned in from the get-go because an athlete only has three attempts to seal that spot in the final and every attempt that doesn’t achieve it instantly dials up the pressure.
We saw that in men’s qualification at Tokyo, we have seen it in the women’s qualification in Oregon at the ongoing World Championships as well. If you are not your best and warmed up quickly enough, sometimes even the big names can fail to make the cut.
That is what Neeraj Chopra must avoid as he begins the quest for a World Championships medal on Thursday in Eugene (Friday early morning in India) with qualification in men’s javelin throw.
Chopra is slated to go first in Group A of qualifiers and that means he will get first use of the field, and could potentially be done with his day’s work in a matter of seconds. But he will also be aware that things don’t always go to plan, as we saw, with Johannes Vetter in Tokyo.
Vetter, incidentally, is absent in Eugene as he recovers from shoulder issues. But the field is loaded otherwise. There are six men in the start list across the two groups who have gone past 89m this season, Chopra included (twice). The lead is with defending champion Anderson Peters, who threw a massive 93+ in Doha earlier this year but then saw his numbers dip a little bit before crossing 90m once again at Stockholm Diamond League, responding brilliantly to Chopra’s 89.94m.
The other men with 89m+ throws this season are Tokyo silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch of the Czech Republic (90.88m), followed by Chopra, then Finland’s Oliver Helander (89.83m), Germany’s Julian Weber (89.54m), Trinidad and Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott (89.07m).
Chopra's best throws this season
|14 JUN 2022||Paavo Nurmi Games||Turku, FIN||2.||89.30|
|18 JUN 2022||Kuortane Games||Kuortane, FIN||1.||86.69|
|30 JUN 2022||BAUHAUS-Galan, Diamond League||Stockholm, SWE||2.||89.94 (NR)|
Chopra knows the importance of starting well in qualification as he recalled his experience from London. In 2017, Chopra registered marks of 82.26m, x, and 80.54m and missed out on reaching the final.
“One thing I’d say for sure, what I learned from my previous World Championships appearance that I am trying to follow now is to focus on the qualification round as well,” Chopra said in an interaction with journalists from his training centre in Chula Vista before departing for Oregon.
“London World Championships in 2017 was my first big-ticket event at the senior level. I didn’t quite have the right knowledge. I was thinking that throwing around 83m in qualification would be enough to send me to the final, aaram se kar lenge (will do it easily). But I learned that I need to focus completely on qualification round as well. You need to do well there, if I don’t cross the direct qualification mark then there is no point in preparing well. That was my learning. Now, I am just focussed on giving my best, not thinking about what distance I need to throw.”
Chopra missed the Doha World Championships in 2019 due to his injury rehab.
Top 10 athletes in men's javelin (2022)
|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|
|89.94||Neeraj CHOPRA||IND||Olympiastadion, Stockholm (SWE)||30 JUN 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|
|89.07||Keshorn WALCOTT||TTO||Blankers-Koen Stadion, Hengelo (NED)||06 JUN 2022|
|87.70||Curtis THOMPSON||USA||East Stroudsburg South HS, East Stroudsburg, PA (USA)||09 JUL 2022|
|87.53||Aliaksei KATKAVETS||BLR||RTSOP, Minsk (BLR)||08 FEB 2022|
|87.32||Andreas HOFMANN||GER||Leichtathletikarena, Eisenstadt (AUT)||02 JUN 2022|
|85.97||Vítězslav VESELÝ||CZE||Stadion U Červených domků, Hodonín (CZE)||25 JUN 2022|
If he kept track of the events in the women’s event on Thursday, he would have seen that the throws were not quite up to the personal best mark of several athletes. Speaking after qualifying for the final, Annu Rani said that warm-up area in the arena was not quite conducive to get the body going right away and that’s why she needed that third attempt to get close to 60m and make the cut. Only a total of three athletes managed automatic qualification.
Ultimately, Chopra has been in a good space this season since returning to action post Tokyo. He typically tends to bring out his best at the start of the event, at least going by recent trends. And if he could repeat that again on Thursday afternoon in Eugene, he’d get one step closer to ending India’s long wait for a second Athletics World Championships medal.
Also in action in Group B later on is Rohit Yadav, who is among the group of upcoming Indian javelin throwers to have crossed the 80m mark. He goes penultimate in group B and would likely need his lifetime best to get a spot in the final.
Men's Javelin schedule
|Athlete||Event||Qualifiers (IST)||Finals (IST)|
|Neeraj Chopra||Men's Javelin Throw|| July 22: 05.35am|
|July 24: 07.05am|
|Rohit Yadav||Men's Javelin Throw|| July 22: 07.05am|
|July 24: 07.05am|