Neeraj Chopra ended India’s wait for a second World Athletics Championships medal on Sunday after he won silver in the men’s javelin throw event. Chopra’s silver is only India’s second medal after Anju Bobby George’s bronze in Paris 2003, and the 24-year-old said he hopes that India will build on his success and win more medals in the future.
“What Anju Bobby George did back then put India on the global stage. I am happy to win another medal for India and I hope we can win more next time,” Chopra said in a press conference after his win.
“The World Athletics Championships have always been tougher than the Olympics. If you see, the championships record is better than the Olympic record. We knew that the competition this year would be good. If you look at the season, the top throwers are matching each other. There’s a lot of happiness to win a medal for India after such a long time. There’s more happiness because the whole team has also performed well. Many athletes reached the finals and did so well. This is a good start for Indian athletics for future events.”
Chopra was one of the favourites to win gold alongside defending champion Anderson Peters of Grenada. By virtue of being the reigning Olympic champion, there was a burden of expectations on Chopra to win gold but the Haryana athlete said he never let the pressure get to him.
“The thought or the pressure that I am an Olympic champion and so I have to be the world champion never crossed my mind. It was challenging after the third throw that a medal might not come but I just believed in myself and gave my best.
“The competition was tough and there were a lot of good athletes. The average throws were also good and it became challenging. But I always believed that I can throw well till the end.”
Over the years, Chopra has had the tendency to lay down the marker with his first two throws but did not get the perfect start in Eugene as he struggled with the conditions at Hayward Field. He fouled on his first throw and was fourth in the field after four throws with an 86.37m throw.
“The conditions were tricky and it was windy today. The wind blowing in from the front was challenging for me and I learnt a lot. It took some time to get warmed up but I still believed that there was a good throw coming.”
Elaborating on the conditions, Chopra’s coach Dr Klaus Bartonietz said, “the stadium is a wonderful stadium. As wonderful as it is, it is also complicated. In the middle they put a giant TV screen and the wind blows in from different directions and you can’t predict it. Looking at the qualifications and warm-ups we knew that the competition would have been tough today.”
With Peters throwing over 90m twice (he’d make it three on his last attempt) and Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch throwing 88.09, there was pressure on Chopra to throw big with his fourth attempt.
“The competition was tough and there were a lot of good athletes. The average throws were also good and it became challenging. But I always believed that I can throw good till the end.”
Even as Chopra and the other finalists struggled with the wind, Peters staged a successful defence of his title, throwing the javelin over 90m thrice. When asked why Peters was able to throw over 90 relatively easily even as Chopra and the other finalists struggled, the Indian said, “It might have looked like it but 90m throw is not easy. Anderson Peters put in a lot of effort. Only he can answer how he was able to deal with the conditions.
“It happens often that our body feels good on a particular day and we do well. I always say that every athlete has his day and today it was Peters’. It was good that he was able to manage the conditions today and win. If we look at the Olympics, it was challenging for Peters and he couldn’t reach the final. Every competition is different for each athlete. Every athlete’s body and effort is different so it’s unfair to compare us. Peters did well today and the rest of us also tried hard in a tough competition.”
Chopra was effusive in praise of Peters against whom he has been competing since their junior world championships days. When Chopra won gold at the 2016 World U20 Championships, Peters won bronze and the Grenadian failed to qualify to the finals at the Tokyo Olympics. However, Peters has been in top form in 2022 and has four of the five 90m+ throws recorded this season.
“Peters has been throwing very well this year and he has the world lead. His average throw is high and he has quite a few 90m+ throws. It is a very good thing that an athlete has worked so hard and progressed and I am happy for him. The competition is increasing this year and it is challenging me to do well against such tough competition,” Chopra said.
Chopra and Peters are set to continue their rivalry at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in a few days’ time. However, it is yet to be seen if Chopra will be fully fit for Birmingham. The 24-year-old looked in some discomfort in the follow through of his last two throws and he said he felt something in his thigh after the fourth throw.
“There was some pain in the thigh after the fourth throw. I could not put in as much effort after that. I strapped it up but some doubt did creep into my mind after that. Hopefully it is nothing serious but we will see tomorrow morning.”