In the immediate aftermath of his historic silver medal at the Athletics World Championships in Eugene in July this year, Neeraj Chopra was in a mixed emotional zone during media interaction. For most parts of it, he was pleased to have come back from a sluggish start, producing a mighty fourth effort to finish second behind the brilliant Anderson Peters. But there was also the disappointment that he couldn’t quite come up with his best, even frustrated a little bit by the conditions that made his outing tough.
At one point, he was asked how does it feel now to have completed the collection of major medals. He smiled, and the response came, “Yeah, all those [other ones mentioned] were gold, but this is silver. So there is a hunger inside to change the colour of the medal at the upcoming World Championships. But very happy to have completed the collection. There is one more title I rate highly, that’s the Diamond League, it’s an important event for athletics. Happy now that a long wait for a medal here is over.”
He did not know when he spoke, that the throw to clinch silver at the Worlds would give him an injury that would force him to miss the Commonwealth Games. There were even reports that he might not be able to return to the Diamond League circuit for Lausanne... but he recovered in time to make the trip to Switzerland.
His two appearances during the regular season of the Diamond League meets were enough to earn him a spot in the season finale in Zurich on Thursday where history – as is often the case with him – is on the line.
In Stockholm, he came second behind Peters but had also produced his career best so far of 89.94m. In Lausanne, on return from injury, he registered 89.08m with his first attempt. On that night, he claimed another first – a Diamond League meet win.
In the final field of six, Neeraj Chopra will hope to clinch the first Diamond League trophy of his career in what will be his third appearance in a DL-Final.
The climax of the Diamond League season at the Weltklasse Zurich in Switzerland will see Diamond trophies handed out to winners, to go with $30,000 cash prizes.
Chopra will face a familiar field that includes 2016 Diamond League champion Jakub Vadlejch, who topped the Diamond League rankings for the season with 27 points. Julian Weber of Germany will join Chopra and Vadlejch alongside Portugal’s Leandro Ramos, USA’s Curtis Thompson and Patriks Gailums of Latvia.
The most notable absentee, of course, is two-time world champion Anderson Peters of Grenada. His season had to be ended due to a series of unfortunate events back home.
The two-day event will be Chopra’s third Diamond League Final appearance, after having finished seventh in 2017 and fourth in 2018.
While Peters’ absence means there is no outright favourite, Chopra should fancy his chances in what is bound to be a three-way contest for the title. Weber has been inconsistent this season when it comes to throws close to 90m but, on his day, he is more than capable.
Vadlejch, on paper, presents the biggest challenge to the Indian star. The two have been competing together since 2017. The Czech athlete had the early edge in meetings, winning the Diamond League final in 2017 when Chopra came seventh. Starting from the Olympic Games though, Chopra has had the edge over Vadlejch in their Head-to-Head, finishing ahead of the Tokyo silver medallist at every event since.
The question, of course, will be which athlete is able to turn up with their best at he end of a long season (a shorter one in Chopra’s case, but not without injury).
“It’s been a great year for me so far. I have gone over 89m thrice out of the five competitions, 88.13m in the World Championship, and managed to do well in Kuortane Games with 86.69m despite the challenging weather. So, the performance has been consistent and now the focus is on doing well in Zurich,” Chopra said after his Lausanne Diamond League meet win.
“I’ve always believed that Diamond League is a big competition and I really like competing here. I don’t want to focus only on the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Championships because winning a Diamond League Trophy is also a big achievement for an athlete.”
On Thursday, he will look to add another chapter in a book that is already fast filling with historic milestones for Indian athletics.
The broadcast begins at 10.30 pm IST, Neeraj Chopra’s event is scheduled to start at 11.50 pm IST.