Neeraj Chopra leads Indian charge

The young javelin thrower, who carried the Indian flag in the opening ceremony, will lead the country’s hopes in athletics, which begins in Jakarta on Saturday.

Neeraj Chopra won the gold medal in the Men's Javelin Throw at the Commonwealth Games 2018.   -  AFP

Four years ago, he was not anywhere on the country’s sporting radar but now as he makes his Asian Games debut, Neeraj Chopra is one of the biggest medal prospects around. The young javelin thrower, who carried the Indian flag in the opening ceremony, will lead the country’s hopes in athletics, which begins in Jakarta on Saturday.

Chopra will be competing in three premier events over the next few weeks, but the Commonwealth Games champion explained where his priorities lie.

“The Asian Games will be the priority for us Indians but if you look at the standard, then the Diamond League comes far ahead. It is Olympic standard,” said Chopra in a chat with Sportstar here.

Chopra has hit a high this year, taking his national record to 87.43m in Doha in May. With Taipei’s Asian record-holder Chao-Tsun Cheng in the fray, what could be the golden throw here?

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“You can’t say anything. The winning throw at the 2012 Olympics was just 84m. So, it depends on the day, the weather and how your body is feeling,” said the Asian champion. However’s Chopra’s main rival Cheng, whose Asian record of 91.36m came with the World University Games title last year, said gold could go for 88m.

“But that’s not my target, it’s higher,” said Cheng.  “I had an elbow injury in March, lost two to three months early this year but now, I’m in good shape.”
 

Many Asian leaders
India won just two athletics golds at the last Asiad, through woman discus thrower Seema Punia and the 4x400m relay women. But there is a buzz of excitement this time with many others topping the Asian lists - like Jinson Johnson (men’s 800m), P.U. Chitra (women’s 1500m) and shot putter Tajinder Pal Singh. It will be interesting to see whether they are able to convert this into golds. Four to five golds look a strong possibility this time.

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Johnson, an 800m bronze medallist at the last year’s Asian Championship in Bhubaneswar, has made stunning progress this season but with Kuwait’s Asian champion R. Alzofairi missing, he will have to watch out for the strategies worked out by Qatar’s Abubaker Abdalla and Jamal Hairane during the two-lapper.

Chitra’s track in the metric mile appears a lot better with Bahrain’s Manal Behraoui - who could have been a big threat - opting for the 800m.

Tajinder is the only Asian to cross 20m this season and with Iran’s Asian champion Ali Samari struggling to get past 19m this season, the challenge could come from his teammate Shahin Mehrdelan.

India has a talented bunch including quartermilers Hima Das and Muhammed Anas and long jumper M. Sreeshankar eager to make a mark but life will not be easy here. All the three relays could bring golds but there are some issues to overcome. And that is another story.