Neeraj Chopra’s Return to India After Three Years Promises Emotional Reunion for Fans

Neeraj Chopra
Neeraj Chopra (Image: G Rajaraman)

Amidst the crescendo of the Indian Premier League (IPL 2024), one individual who momentarily redirected attention in the domestic sports sphere was Neeraj Chopra. News of the javelin maestro’s long-awaited return to India, three years after his triumphant display at the Tokyo Olympics, spread like wildfire on Wednesday.

For many, disbelief mingled with anticipation as Neeraj, renowned for his golden throw in Tokyo and subsequent dazzling performances, transitions from the screen to the live stage. Indeed, Neeraj Chopra, who clinched an emotionally charged gold medal after a fierce contest with the relatively unknown Kishore Kumar Jena at the 2023 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, is poised to grace home turf.

Before scrutinizing the term “turf,” it’s worth noting that Neeraj will be physically present at the Kalinga Stadium in humid Bhubaneswar, Odisha, on May 14 and 15, competing in the prestigious Federation Cup athletics event, organized by the Athletics Federation of India. Among the contenders vying to challenge Neeraj and Jena are Shivpal Singh and DP Manu. The qualification rounds commence on May 14, with the climax scheduled for May 15 at 7 pm.

Consider this: Neeraj will be warming up, a task made more manageable amidst Odisha’s scorching heatwave. Yet, for fervent athletics enthusiasts already envisioning Neeraj’s javelin trajectory, a reality check is in order.

Neeraj and Jena will initially contend in the high-profile Diamond League in Doha, Qatar, on May 10, followed by their appearance in Bhubaneswar. Expecting Neeraj to excel in both events might be overly ambitious. As Neeraj acknowledged in his recent media interaction via Zoom in March/April, the pressure preceding each competition is palpable.

Any elite athlete admitting to experiencing no stress or pre-competition jitters is undoubtedly extraordinary. Whether in tennis, boxing, swimming, track and field, or the pulsating atmosphere of the IPL, pressure is omnipresent. For admirers who’ve revered Neeraj, particularly since his Tokyo Olympics heroics, witnessing him compete on home soil is monumental.

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

Despite representing Haryana, Neeraj’s reluctance to compete domestically stems from his rigorous training regimen and preparations for a prospective Olympic medal at Paris 2024. Establishing a support system abroad, comprising not only a coach but also a dedicated support staff, is crucial for maintaining peak physical and mental condition.

To jog readers’ memories, Neeraj’s last appearance at the Federation Cup in Patiala in 2021 saw him achieve a distance of 87.80 meters. His pinnacle remains the 89.94 meters mark set in Stockholm on June 30, 2022, during the Diamond League, where he shattered the national record once more.

For those not ardently versed in athletics but captivated by Neeraj’s superstar persona, aspirations of a 90-meter throw resurface. However, the pursuit of the 90-meter milestone is more fanciful than realistic. Within the throws arena, especially in the technical event of javelin, daily form supersedes grandiose targets. It was this fervor in Hangzhou where Kishore Kumar Jena momentarily threatened Neeraj’s dominance in the final, before the latter unleashed an exemplary performance, recording 88.88 meters. Notably, this feat was achieved amidst administrative errors that initially jeopardized Neeraj’s efforts.

Though unintentional, the glitch hinted at foul play, provoking accusations of foul play or distraction against Neeraj. Despite the challenges, Neeraj adeptly navigated the situation, securing victory and silencing skeptics.

Looking ahead to Neeraj’s forthcoming appearance in Bhubaneswar, the sweltering conditions demand meticulous preparation, ample chalk for grip, and precise execution of the javelin throw. Considering the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic’s dark days in 2020 and 2021, the staging of an athletic event like the Federation Cup amidst stringent bio-bubble protocols and spectator restrictions in 2021 was unprecedented.

Come May 14 and 15, 2024, the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar anticipates a bustling crowd. The prospect of witnessing Neeraj and Kishore Kumar Jena’s showdown during prime time, coinciding with the IPL match between Rajasthan Royals and Punjab Kings in Guwahati at 7:30 pm on May 15, adds an intriguing dimension. Undoubtedly, the javelin final promises to captivate audiences.

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