Feeling really good, says Neeraj ahead of first home event in three years

Neeraj Chopra
Neeraj Chopra (Image: G Rajaraman)

Subhayan Chakraborty from Bhubaneswar

There’s a buzz around Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, venue for the 27th Federation Cup athletic championship. From auto drivers to hotel staffers, almost everyone knows India’s golden boy is returning home.

After three years of international triumphs, Neeraj Chopra is set to grace home soil again, headlining the final day of action. The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and Odisha Sports have made entry free for the event scheduled to start at 7pm on Wednesday.

As soon as Neeraj landed in Biju Patnaik International Airport, a swarm of reporters encircled the Olympic and world champion for bytes, after he had stopped to oblige a couple of autograph seekers. Humble as ever, Neeraj took a few questions, before photographs of him in Bhubaneswar started flooding social media. It was a true homecoming for the nation’s athletics hero.

The javelin star’s rise has been nothing short of extraordinary. After his last domestic appearance in 2021, when he clinched gold with a throw of 87.80m, Neeraj has conquered the global stage. The Haryana athlete made history at the Tokyo Olympics, securing India’s first-ever track and field gold with an effort of 87.58m. He also became the world champion, other than winning three Diamond League medals and a DL champions’ trophy. In between, he defended his Asian Games gold.

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Neeraj Chopra
Neeraj Chopra (Credit: Vishnu Reddy for RevSportz at Zurich Diamond League 2023)

The javelin event promises to be a star-studded affair. The favourite will face competition from local boy Kishore Jena, who has also qualified for the Paris Olympics. With the nation eagerly waiting, all eyes will be on Neeraj as he seeks to continue his legacy. There’s excitement, with the possibility of him setting a national record. The current mark is 89.94m. There are also talks of breaking the 90m barrier. Whether Neeraj goes for it so soon after the Doha Diamond League remains to be seen.

Jena and DP Manu add depth to the competition. From Kothasahi in Odisha, Jena stunned the world with a personal best of 87.54m at the Asian Games, earning a silver medal and a coveted spot in the Olympics. After a bad day in Doha, Jena will look to bounce back. “He (Jena) is a good athlete,” Neeraj said. “He did well in Asian Games and will perform better in the future.”

Neeraj Chopra and Kishore Jena in Asian Games
Neeraj Chopra and Kishore Jena in Asian Games (Photo: Rohan Chowdhury)

Looking ahead, Neeraj remains focused on defending his Olympic title in Paris. With each throw, he is not only aiming for greatness, but also igniting a passion for athletics across the nation. He has forced people to open their streaming devices to watch him compete live, even late at night.

“Feeling really good. It’s a preparation for Olympics. Looking forward to playing in India after a while. Let’s see how it goes,” Neeraj said. Asked about a gold medal in Paris, he said, “There’s still some time for that. Let’s see how it goes here. If one more Indian qualifies for the Games, it will be good. It is possible. If you look at the result of Indian athletics overall, the outcome has been really good.”

Alongside Neeraj, Jena and Manu, Shivpal Singh, Parmod, Uttam Balasaheb Patil, Kunwer Ajairaj Singh Rana, Rohit Kumar, Bibin Antony, Vikas Yadav, Vivek Kumar and Manjinder Singh will participate in the javelin finals.

The final day of Federation Cup will also be a celebration of talent, dedication, and the rise of Indian athletics. As Neeraj returns to his roots, the stage is set for another chapter in his remarkable journey. Can he breach the 90m mark? Live streaming is available on AFI’s official YouTube channel.

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