His last javelin throw in the recent Diamond League leg, in Monaco, may have brought us back to earth a bit but under-20 World champion Neeraj Chopra is India’s brightest prospect at the World Athletics Championships in London.
Neeraj, who set the under-20 world record at the Junior Worlds in Poland last year with a personal best 86.48m, could manage only a 78.92m effort in Monaco while finishing seventh but still the 19-year-old will be carrying the country’s hopes in London.
"He is capable of doing anything because his performance has been very consistent. He is capable of giving a good performance in London," said Chief National Coach Bahadur Singh Chouhan, the former Asian Games shot put gold medallist.
"Neeraj is someone very special. Unfortunately, he did not qualify for the last Olympics though he came very close. Had he qualified, there was every chance of this boy getting a medal at Rio. He is very different from the rest."
Neeraj has been proving that time and again, often coming good when the chips are down. At the recent Asians in Bhubaneswar, he broke the championship record with a stunning 85.23m that fetched him the gold from a strong field.
Clearly, Bahadur Singh is expecting Neeraj to produce something special and win a medal at the Worlds but he is not saying that loudly.
"If we say that he will win a medal, that would be dangerous. It will put pressure on him but we expect a very good performance from him," said the Chief Coach. Long jumper Anju Bobby George is the lone Indian to win a medal, a bronze in 2003 in Paris, at the World Championships.
However, Neeraj will be up against a very strong field in London and will virtually begin as the 11th seed, if one takes out two of the five Germans who are currently above the Indian in the world list this season.
And the list includes world leader Johannes Vetter (94.44m) and the Olympic champion Thomas Rohler (93.90m) — both from Germany — who have gone past 90m this year.
But Neeraj’s performance in his Diamond League debut in Paris — he was fifth there with 84.67m — just before the Bhubaneswar Asians, offers hope.
"I hope to do well in London, hope to improve my personal best," said Neeraj, virtually brushing away the weight of expectations from his young shoulders.
Meanwhile the Russia-born American Galina Bukharina, the coach for quartermilers, feels that the men’s and women’s relay runners have a good chance of making the final.
"There is more depth in the men’s team than in women’s this season," said the 72-year-old, who was the coach of the Russian mile relay team which broke the world record while winning the gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Our quartermilers have been in good form this season so where do the Indian relay teams stand?
Based on the ‘world rankings’ after the qualification period, which began on January 1 last year and ended on July 23 this year, the Indian men are on a slightly higher perch (10th rung) than the women (13th).
Both the 4x400m relay teams hit gold at the recent Asians but they failed to progress to the final at the Rio Olympics last year, with the men being disqualified in the heats and the women finishing seventh in the first round. A spot in the final will surely be an achievement.
Among the rest of the 25-member team, Asian champion Nirmala Sheoran has a good chance of entering the women’s 400m semifinal if she betters her personal best 51.28s which came in the Federation Cup in Patiala last month.
Much was expected of Asian women’s shot put champion Manpreet Kaur but like Inderjeet Singh, who failed a dope test just before the Rio Olympics, Manpreet tested positive for drugs a few days ago and has now been slapped with a provisional suspension.
It will be difficult for the rest of the Indians to achieve a top-10 finish but with the road to London not offering a clear picture — athletes were not given ideal conditions to bring out their best in pre-Worlds meets — there could be a surprise or two.
Neeraj Chopra has often been coming good when the chips are down. At the recent Asians in Bhubaneswar, he broke the championship record with a stunning 85.23m that fetched him the gold from a strong field. Clearly, Bahadur Singh Chouhan, the Chief National Coach, is expecting Neeraj to produce something special and win a medal at the Worlds but he is not saying that loudly