Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra led India’s march into the final of the men’s javelin throw as he was joined by DP Manu and Kishore Jena in the 12-man field for the final, scheduled on Sunday night, at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest.
But for the injury to Rohit Yadav, India would have had four athletes in the final as Neeraj got in as the Diamond League champion. Adding spice to the battle for gold will be Commonwealth Games champion Arshad Nadeem of Pakistan, Czech Jakub Vadlejch and German Julian Weber. Both Neeraj and Arshad also qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics, going past the qualification mark of 85.50m.
The final could well become an India-Pakistan contest as Chopra and Arshad looked the strongest during qualification. While Chopra made his presence felt with a superb first throw of 88.77m, Nadeem, competing in Group B, who also skipped the Asian Championships like Neeraj, got the job done on his third attempt, a season best of 86.79m. The Pakistani, who won the gold in Birmingham Commonwealth Games in Neeraj’s absence with a massive 90.18m, will hope to trouble the Indian in the title round.
Neeraj, without a world ranking, was 18th and last in Group A but the wait was worth it for millions of fans as he again made it look simple with just one throw.
Powering in from the top of his run-up, Neeraj flirted with the lines and for a brief while it appeared as if the massive throw would not be counted as he halted his follow-through just inside the line.
But much to Neeraj’s relief, it was a clean attempt and a new season’s best. It was 10cm more than his winning effort at the Diamond League meet in Doha. The automatic qualification mark was 83m. With the job done, Neeraj showed a double thumbs-up to the cameras before leaving the stadium.
“During the warm-up I felt the power and knew I could make it with only one throw. It felt great releasing the javelin and the result was very satisfying. I was able to save energy for the final since I threw with only 90 per cent effort. I will give everything in the final as I would like to have a world gold as well,” Chopra said.
Neeraj’s coach Klaus Bartonietz was happy with his ward’s performance. “He has given the same 100 percent during preparation just as last year,” a confident Klaus told TOI.
While Neeraj topped the list of qualifiers, debutants Manu, from Karnataka, and Jena (Odisha) made their first appearance a memorable outing. Manu’s best of 81.31 came on his second attempt and won him the sixth place while Jena’s 80.55 in his first try put him in the ninth spot.
Defending champ crashes out
Meanwhile, world leader Vadlejch opened with an effort of 81.34m before nailing the final berth with an 83.50m. The 32-year-old from Prague tops the season’s charts with an 89.51m throw in June at the Paavo Nurmi Games. He was second behind Chopra in the Tokyo Olympics and third at the Worlds in Oregon.
Defending champion Anderson Peters of Grenada looked out of shape as he touched 78.49m to finish 16th and bow out of the meet. Former world champion Julius Yego of Kenya, who won the gold at the 2015 Worlds and Rio Olympics silver, was next with a best of 78.42m.
Aldrin finishes 11th
In Thursday’s afternoon session, India’s Jeswin Aldrin finished a disappointing 11th, managing just one legal mark in the men’s long jump final. After fouling his first two attempts, the national record holder managed a 7.77m in his third effort.