Olympic-bound star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra smashed his own national record with a throw of 88.07m, which is also the best of the year so far (if ratified by World Athletics), as he returned to action in style during the third Indian Grand Prix meet in Patiala on Friday.

Competing for the first time in more than a year after the Covid-19 pandemic wiped out the whole of 2020 calendar, Chopra hurled the spear to a distance of 88.07m in his fifth attempt to go past his earlier national record of 88.06m, sealed during the gold-winning effort at the 2018 Asian Games.

The 24-year-old Chopra opened the competition with an effort of 83.03m before having two foul throws. After a fourth throw of 83.36m, Chopra sent the javelin to the record mark which was manually verified and confirmed by the organisers amid loud cheers from a sizeable audience at the NIS Patiala. His final throw was 82.24m.

“I was prepared and today it was windy. I used my favourite javelin but it was going very high. Then I used the new Nordic javelin that is good for windy conditions for the fifth throw and that bagged me the national record,” Chopra told Athletics Federation of India in an interview after his record.

“I don’t have a lot of experience of throwing in such winds but slowly I’m getting used to it,” he added.

Chopra is one of India’s leading hopes for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics but Chopra is aware that the competition is tougher than ever.

“On the world level, I would need to perform even better as current standard in the world is quite high. In fact, in the history of the sport, there has never been such a tough competition,” he said.

Chopra qualified for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in January last year in an event in South Africa during his training stint in that country. That was also the last competition he had taken part before Friday.

“I was out of competition for a long time. My last competition was in South Africa where I had thrown (a little over) 87m and qualified for the Olympics. So this is my first tournament in over 13 months. So it feels good to break the national record,” he said.

“I’ll play more competitions in coming months to get ready for the Olympics where my aim will be to make the country proud,” he added.

Chopra, who was representing Haryana in the IGP, had said that he will also take part in the Federation Cup National Championships to be held from March 15-18, reported PTI.

Another Olympic-bound javelin thrower, Shivpal Singh of Uttar Pradesh, was second with a best throw of 81.63m while Sahil Silwal, representing Haryana, was third with a best effort of 80.65m.

The Tokyo Olympics qualification mark in men’s javelin is 85m which was achieved by Chopra and Yadav in South Africa last year.

With PTI inputs