Neeraj Chopra comes from behind to nail silver, India's best showing in World Athletics

Neeraj Chopra comes from behind to nail silver, India's best showing in World Athletics
Till the halfway mark of the World Athletics Championship javelin throw final at Eugene in USA, India’s Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra was in fourth place. Known to throw his best in the first attempt, Chopra’s chances of landing on the podium looked remote.
The commentators had already started to talk about the impact of extended celebrations and the series of felicitations on the latest Indian superstar’s training. India’s only previous medal at the Worlds had come 19 years ago — and the wait seemed set to get longer.
But those in the 24-year-old’s inner circle say that he has it in him to rise to the occasion. They call it the “Neeraj Chopra in the stadium button”. When switched on, the javelin thrower from Haryana goes blind to the surroundings, doesn’t even look at his coach Klaus Bartonietz, who sits in the stands.
Before his fourth throw, Chopra went into that rarefied zone. He went about his routine with head down. And it was only when he saw the javelin fly from his hand and knew that this was sure to get him a medal, he let out a roar. It silenced the doubters and sceptics.
After starting with a foul and two modest throws of 82.39m and 86.37 metres, Chopra stormed back with an 88.13 m effort. It was an improvement on his gold-medal winning distance of 87.58 m at the Tokyo Games, but he was still a distant second to Grenada’s Anderson Peters.
While Chopra has never recorded a 90 m throw, Peters, also 24 years old, crossed the fabled mark three times just in Sunday’s final. It was his monstrous final attempt of 90.54 that ensured him the gold.
After securing India’s first-ever World Championship silver medal — Anju Bobby George had got a long jump bronze back in 2003 — Chopra spoke about the level of competition he had to face.
“You have to understand that every time you cannot win a gold. There will be a day when you may not even win a medal. You have to keep on working hard. I will try to do better than what I did here. Peters threw really well. Three throws over 90 metres is difficult. I was feeling like I had a good throw coming. I am satisfied India has won a medal after a long time,” he said.
The wind conditions made things tough for the throwers, Chopra said. “It was a tough competition and all were good athletes. The wind was in my face (he was throwing into a headwind). So, it was difficult. But it was a learning experience. I was putting in the effort (in the first three rounds) but it (a big throw) didn’t happen,” he said.
In the days following the Tokyo gold, Chopra was in no shape to be on the World Championship podium. His cheat day had extended to several weeks as India poured love on its first-ever athletics gold medallist. There were many dinner invites. At one such high-profile feast, a chief minister himself prepared a rich spread for him. The diet chart that Chopra had followed in the days before the Olympics was ripped apart.
“It was almost like starting from zero because there was a four-month gap, he was overweight, and had put on about 12 to 14 kilograms,” Marwaha said.
World Athletics Championships, World Athletics Championships 2022, Neeraj Chopra, javelin, javelin throw, Sport news, Indian Express, India news, current affairs, Indian Express News Service, Express News Service, Express News, Indian Express India NewsNeeraj Chopra reacts during the final. Reuters
The days of toil paid off. Since Chopra isn’t an outright power thrower, he relies on flexibility. For that, he improved arm speed, hip mobility, and ankle strength. The result was a finer technique and, in turn, more energy to sustain him through the six rounds.
“In the initial competitions, he used to get tired very fast. This year, he is not as exhausted as before (at the end of a competition). The reason for that is his throw is more efficient and his body flows well,” Marwaha said.
Almost every coach or trainer that Chopra has worked with has mentioned his commitment and attitude. “He is over-enthusiastic in training. It is not that I tell him that ‘you have to do 10 minutes’ and he will step down at 9 minutes and 50 seconds. It will always be 10 minutes or beyond 10 minutes. That makes him different from other athletes, you need that dedication level,” Marwaha said.
Before this World Championship final, Chopra’s trophy cabinet at his home in Haryana’s Khandra village had the gold medals he won at the junior World championships, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and the Olympics. Chopra had secured all those top-of-the-podium positions with a spectacular first throw.