Neeraj Chopra shows stomach for fight and offers indication of being in great space

Neeraj Chopra in Doha Diamond League 2024 (Image: Charudutta Joshi for RevSportz)

Olympic and world champion Neeraj Chopra showed his stomach for a fight as he opened his Olympic Games year with a best throw of 88.36cm to finish a close second behind Jakub Vadlejch in the men’s javelin throw in the Doha Diamond League on Friday. Neeraj’s final throw took him to within 2cm of his friendly rival from the Czech Republic.

Taking part in his first competition since defending the Asian Games gold medal in Hangzou on October 4 last year, Neeraj gave enough indications that he is in good space as he prepares to make a mark in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games competition. From the little that we saw from the comfort of our homes, he has cast aside the reflex action of feeling his hamstring.

“The most important competition for me this year is Paris Olympics, but Diamond League meetings are important too. This was the opener for me this season. I finished second with a narrow two centimetre margin, but next time I will try to draw far and try to win,” Neeraj was quoted as telling the official website.

It is evident he has a plan, drawn up with coach Dr Klaus Bartoneitz. It has placed him in good physical and mental space. The addition of strength and conditioning coach Spencer Mackay has stood him in good stead. And although the Germans were not competing in Doha, it can be said that Neeraj can be a reason for the Indian Tricolour to flutter high on August 8 in Paris. 


Back to Doha, on a night when the temperature was 28 degrees Celsius and humidity was 34 per cent, it seemed like a stiff wind – around 20kmph – challenged the throwers. For the second year running, the Suhaim bin Hamad Stadium, famous for being the stage which has produced six of the 11 90m throws, did not get to see any athlete breach that mark.

The 26-year-old Neeraj started with a no mark but found some rhythm to 84.93m with his second try before he secured two successive 86m throws. Some would have read his fifth attempt as a sign of flagging energies but he was conserving himself for that last-ditch effort. He seemed to factor in the fact that there would be a short break to accommodate the men’s 400m hurdles.

While everyone else in the stadium watched Brazilian Alison dos Santos breeze to a meeting record time of 46.86 seconds, the top three javelin thrower were focused on staying warmed up for their final attempts. And, true to his own expectations, Neeraj was able to produce the best throw of the three.

The self-talk that Neeraj seemed to have had wound him up to produce his best try. It speared across the night sky and landed a mere 2cm behind Vadlejch’s 88.38m that won him the top prize. With time, he has been able to prepare himself to be in any situation. Even if he cannot dominate from the start, none of his rivals will discount his ability to mount a challenge.

For long, it seemed as if the 33-year-old Vadlejch would finish with the two best throws of the night. But Neeraj had other ideas and his final effort would have made the Czech star heave a sigh of relief. He would have been particularly pleased that he has now beaten the Indian in four successive competitions after facing 10 defeats in-a-row from the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, it was an underwhelming Diamond League debut for Kishore Kumar Jena. He started with 75.72m, fouled his second throw and finished in ninth place with a 76.31m effort. For someone who has a personal best of 87.54m, he would be disappointed that he did not even get close to the 80m mark. Yet, he will come off with some learnings.

Kishore Jena in Doha Diamond League 2024 (Image: Charudutta Joshi for RevSportz)

Just watching Neeraj would have added deep insights into the art of being in competition readiness. Not to speak of the Olympic and world champion’s stomach for a fight.