Neeraj Chopra has become the first Indian javelin thrower to qualify for the final at the Tokyo Olympics. Chopra secured a direct qualification into the final after a throw of 86.65 metres -- ahead of the qualifying mark of 83.50 metres -- in his first attempt. With this stunning throw, the 23-year-old topped the Group A.
Besides Chopra, only Finland’s Lassi Etelatalo -- with a throw of 84.50 metres -- could manage to cross the qualifying mark. Meanwhile, Germany's Johannes Vetter, the defending world champion, struggled in his first two throws before crossing the automatic qualification mark with a 85.64-metre throw.
Chopra's Olympics performance has been the best by any Indian javelin thrower so far. After his trailblazing feat, Chopra said, "I am at my first Olympic Games, and I feel very good. In warm-up, my performance wasn't so good but in the qualifying round, my first throw had a good angle, and was a perfect throw."
He added, "It will be a different feeling in the finals since it is my first time in the Olympics. Physically we 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."
Chopra will be in action next in the final on August 7.
Chopra belongs to Khandra village near Panipat in Haryana. His father is a farmer. An alumnus of DAV College, Chandigarh, he is a junior commissioned officer of the Indian Army. He was given the rank of ‘naib subedar’ in 2016. He has also been conferred with the Vishisht Seva Medal for his service in the Indian Armed Forces.
Chopra won gold medals at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made things difficult for the swashbuckling athlete.
"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 that 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 minds and trained very hard," Chopra told PTI.
Chopra’s qualifying throw was his seventh-best. 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 in Finland).
In 2019, Chopra suffered a major injury to his right elbow, causing him to miss out on the action the entire year. However, he returned in time to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Now, he is just a javelin’s throw away from an Olympic medal.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)
First Published: IST