Tokyo: Star Indian javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra raised India’s hopes of a track and field medal when he qualified for the final at the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday, sealing a top place from his group, and finishing ahead of Germany’s Johannes Vetter, who is tipped as the favourite for gold at the quadrennial showpiece.
At the Olympic Stadium, the 23-year-old Chopra, the junior world champion, cleared the automatic qualifying mark of 83.50 metres with his first attempt of 86.65 metres in Group A to emerge a strong contender for a medal in the final to be held on Saturday.
All eyes will be on Chopra on Saturday’s final as he is on a roll this season and is the owner of the national record — 88.07m — which he achieved at the Indian Grand Prix in March.
Germany’s Vetter was second in the Group A with 85.64m, taking all three attempts before he could make the cut. Chopra made only a single attempt.
In javelin throw, an athlete can make the final by either attaining the qualifying standard or by finishing among the top-12 competitors in the event.
India’s other javelin thrower Shivpal Singh came up with below-par throws and attained his best of 76.40 in his first attempt to finish 12th in Group B and failed to qualify. His other two attempts were 74.80 and 74.81 metres respectively.
Following the conclusion of the qualification round, where 12 throwers qualified – seven from Group A and five from Group B – Chopra’s performance stood out as, despite missing almost the entire 2020 due to injuries, he has come back strongly to be in contention for a medal on Saturday.
Chopra began his season with a new national record of 88.07 metres at the Indian Grand Prix in March and followed it up with another commendable 87.80m throw at the Federation Cup.
He then headed to Europe to prepare for Tokyo 2020. There, Chopra threw 83.18m at a Lisbon meet for gold, managed another gold-winning effort of 80.96m in Sweden and threw an 86.79m at the Kuortane Games in Finland for bronze. All three events were held in June.
At Tokyo 2020, Chopra will be up against favourites Johannes Vetter, Chinese Taipei’s Chao-Tsun Cheng, Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago and world champion Kenya’s Julius Yego.