Neeraj Chopra aims for gold at Asian Games

The javelin thrower, who won the Commonwealth Games gold medal last month, hopes to do an encore in Jakarta.

Neeraj Chopra won gold in the men’s javelin throw at the Commonwealth Games last month.   -  PTI

Buoyed by the Commonwealth Games gold medal, Neeraj Chopra, India’s star javelin thrower, is aiming for an encore in the upcoming Asian Games.

Neeraj became the first Indian javelin thrower to win a gold at the Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast last month with a throw of 86.47m. Although he terms it a ‘confidence booster’, he feels that effort will not be enough for a gold in the Asian Games.

He told PTI, “Winning a gold in the Commonwealth Games with a very good effort early in the season is a big confidence-booster going ahead in the year. Not only the gold but the performance has [assured me] that I can do better. Winning an Asian Games gold is my next target.”

‘Tougher’ challenge

He added, “I worked hard to win the Commonwealth Games gold and I will have to work even harder for the Asian Games. The Asian Games will be tougher [than the Commonwealth Games] and I have to do better than my personal best (of 86.48m) if I have to win a gold in Jakarta.”

Ahead of the final round at Gold Coast, Neeraj was the clear favourite to win the gold as Kenyan former world champion and Rio Olympics silver medallist Julius Yego crashed out at the qualification stage and Trinidad’s Keshorn Walcott, the 2012 London Olympics champion and Rio Games bronze medallist, had already opted out of the Games.

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Neeraj outlined the tougher challenge posed by his competitors in the Asian Games. He said, “In Jakarta, there will be Taipei’s Asian record holder Cheng Chao-tsun (who has a personal best of 91.26m) and then Ahmed Bader of Qatar, who can throw above 85m. So, it will a tough competition in the Asian Games and it will not be easy.”

Taipei’s Cheng Chao-tsun has been Neeraj’s close rival in Asia in the last couple of years. Last year, the Taipei thrower had defeated Neeraj in an Asian Grand Prix event while the Indian got the better of him in the Asian Championships in Bhubaneswar.

Chao-tsun is the only Asian to break the 90m barrier in the men’s javelin throw as he hurled the spear to a distance of 91.26m on his way to win the World Underside gold medal in Taipei City in August last. Qatar’s Ahmed Bader is an up and coming talent and won a silver behind Neeraj at the 2017 Asian Championships in Bhubaneshwar. He has a personal best of 85.23m.

Preparing well

Neeraj said, “I will be preparing well for the Asian Games. I am going to start with the Diamond League in Doha on May 4 where the competition will be of Olympics and World Championships level with three-four competitors who can hurl above 90m or near-about consistently taking part.”

Neeraj will be in Finland for six weeks before the Asian Games as part of the Athletics Federation of India’s training-cum-exposure tour. For this purpose, all top Indian athletes will be sent in different countries, mostly in Europe, before the Asian Games, depending upon their disciplines; all top coaches will accompany them, too.

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In the season-opening Doha leg of the prestigious Diamond League series, Neeraj will be competing against the likes of reigning Olympic champion Thomas Rohler of Germany, world champion Johannes Vetter, also of Germany, and world silver-medallist and 2018 Diamond League champion Jakub Vadlejch of Czech Republic. Rohler and Vettel have been competing for some time to break the threshold of 90m while Vadlejch has been consistent at achieving distances of 88m or 89m-plus.

Asked if he will be training under former world record holder and national team javelin head coach Uwe Hohn, Neeraj said, “Yes, I will be with him. There is no plan to train under another coach as of now.”

Uncertain for National C’ships

Before the Commonwealth Games, Neeraj had a three-month training stint in Offenburg, Germany, under reputed coach Werner Daniels before he returned to the national camp at NIS Patiala to be under Hohn, another German.

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The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has decided to host the National Inter-State Senior National Championships — it serves as selection trial for the Asian Games — in Guwahati from June 26-29. “I have already qualified for the Asian Games [by achieving the qualifying standard of 81m]. So, let us see [whether I take part or not].”

If he does not take part in the meet, he will have to appear for a confirmatory trial on August 15 to see whether his performance is at the requisite level.

After his exploits in Gold Coast, the international media had described him as an Indian from a poor family, but with Bollywood looks. Neeraj shrugged it off: “It is up to them to write like that. I don’t take it seriously and it does not affect me. At this stage in my career, I am thinking just about my sport.”