India’s Neeraj Chopra marked a memorable comeback to competitive javelin throw, registering a best throw of 87.86m – the second best throw of his career– to win the ACNW League Meeting in Potchefstroom, South Africa on Tuesday evening.

With the throw, the reigning Commonwealth and Asian Games Champion became the first Indian javelin thrower to qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo, starting in July, as confirmed by the Athletics Federation of India. The Olympic Qualifying standard was set by World Athletics at 85m.

This was the first competitive meet for Chopra, who missed out the entire 2019 season due to a surgery on his throwing arm in May and subsequent rehabilitation, since September 2018. After undergoing an elbow arthroscopy surgery on May 2, 2019, Chopra underwent rehabilitation at National Institute of Sport, Patiala and the Inspire Institute of Sport, Vijayangar, before shifting base to Potchefstroom, South Africa to train under coach Klaus Bartonietz in November last year.

“I am extremely pleased with the performance. Going into the competition, I did not try to put much pressure on myself and was keen to test myself out as it was my first meet in a long time. The warm-up throws went very well, and even though my first three throws were around the 81-82m mark, I felt there were some flaws I could work on,” Chopra said from Potchefstroom after the meet.

This was a major target for me during my rehab and I’m happy to have qualified. I will now get back to my regular training here in Potchefstroom with my coach and physio in a few days’ time and continue my training towards the Olympics. I will look to compete more in the coming months and am looking forward to more high quality competition at the Federation Cup and the Diamond League circuit.”

“It’s been a difficult time over the past year, but I knew I was preparing myself to come back stronger. I am extremely grateful for all the support and guidance I’ve received from all quarters and I am committed to come back stronger and make the country proud.”

At the meet held on Tuesday evening at the McArthur Stadium, Neeraj registered throws of 81.63m, 82.00m and 82.57m in his first three throws, before unleashing the throw that earned him his qualification in the 4th round. His compatriot Rohit Yadav, who is training for the U20 World Championships later this year, had a best throw of 77.61m.

Manisha Malhotra, Head of Sports Excellence and Scouting at JSW Sports, was present at the venue and said the result would ensure the athlete enters the new season on a positive note.

“This is a great performance by Neeraj and shows that the efforts put in by everyone working with the athlete have been positive,” said Malhotra.

“Even despite missing the 2019 season, the goal for him was always Tokyo and it’s extremely heartening to see that his hard work and patience has borne fruit. Now that qualification is secured, it would be crucial for him to manage his workload and compete in more high-level competitions as he gets set for the Olympics,” she added.

Neeraj had missed the IAAF World Championships, the Diamond League and the Asian Championships while recovering from the injury. His last major international competition was the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games where he won gold with a national record of 88.06m.