Into the finals with a “perfect throw”, trailblazing javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra on Wednesday said he will need the same performance with a higher score to be in contention for India’s maiden track-and-field medal at the Olympic Games here.
The 23-year-old Chopra became the first Indian javelin thrower to enter the finals of the Games with a big throw of 86.65m that put him on the top of the Group A qualification.
He took just a few seconds to make that cut, sending the spear well past the direct qualifying mark of 83.50m in his first attempt. “I am at my first Olympic Games, and I feel very good. In warm-up my performance wasn’t so good, but then (in the qualifying round) my first throw had a good angle, and was a perfect throw,” Chopra said after his event.
Chopra is, however, under no illusion that the final will be a totally different contest where the world’s best will go for podium finish.
“It will be a different feeling (in the finals), since it is my first time in the Olympics. Physically we (all) train hard, and are ready, but I also need to prepare mentally. I will need to focus on the throw, and try to repeat this (performance) with a higher score,” he said.
Chopra’s performance on Saturday will go down as one of the best performances by an Indian in the Olympics. He finished ahead of gold medal favourite and 2017 world champion Johannes Vetter of Germany.
Vetter, who had earlier said that Chopra will find it tough to beat him in the Olympics, struggled in his first two throws before crossing the automatic qualification mark with a 85.64m final throw.
The 28-year-old towering German, who came into the Olympics after having seven monster throws of over 90m between April and June, was lying at a dangerous seventh position after his first two throws but eventually qualified for the final at second.
Finland’s Lassi Etelatalo also advanced to the final as an automatic qualifier with a first round throw of 84.50m. Those who touch 83.50m mark or the 12 best performers qualify for the final on Saturday.
A farmer’s son from Khandra village near Panipat in Haryana who took up athletics to shed flab, Chopra left the javelin arena after his first throw, having secured his place in the final easily.
He reiterated that the build-up to the Olympics was difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Last year was very difficult, because we were ready for the Olympics, and due to coronavirus everything was closed. We felt a little sad, but after we started training regularly. We need to train every day, so it was difficult.
“But when Japan said they could do the Olympics, we prepared our mind and trained very hard.”
The reigning Asian Games and Commonwealth Games gold medallist had been short of preparations in the run-up to the Olympics with just three international events, out of which only one — Kuortane Games in Finland — was of top-class level where Vetter took the gold and he finished third.
This was Chopra’s seventh best throw and third best of the season 2021. His earlier six best throws are 88.07m (March 2021; Indian GP-3), 88.06m (2018, Asian Games), 87.87m (January 2020; ACNW Meeting in South Africa), 87.80m (March 2021; Federation Cup), 87.43m (May 2018, Doha Diamond League) and 86.79 (June 2021; Kuortane Games).