NEW DELHI: The moment everyone has been waiting for is here. Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra will begin his much-awaited campaign at the World athletics championships in Eugene early Friday morning (India time) when he, along with compatriot Rohit Yadav, will compete in the men’s javelin throw qualification rounds in Group A & B at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field in the US.
Neeraj, who is aiming to become the country’s first-ever track and field world champion in the event’s 39-year-long history, is expected to top the qualification stage and reach the final, scheduled early Sunday morning on the concluding day of the event.
Legendary long jumper Anju Bobby George is the first and the only Indian ever to win a medal at the World athletics championships – a bronze with a leap of 6.70m – at the 2003 Paris edition of the meet.
In his debut outing at the 2017 Worlds in London, Neeraj had failed to qualify for the final round. He couldn’t clear the automatic qualification mark of 83m, with his best throw recorded being 82.26m.
“I would look to compete at the World Championships with a pressure-free mindset. I won’t like to bring that aura of invincibility with me that ‘oh, I am an Olympic champion’. I will put my natural game into play and give my 100 percent on the field. For every athlete, the target is always the gold. It’s the same for me,” Neeraj had recently told TOI during an exclusive interaction from his training base in Chula Vista.
The reigning CWG and Asian Games champion will be looking to breach the 90m milestone at the Worlds, a mark he has set his sights on reaching this year. Three weeks ago, Neeraj had launched the spear to his career’s personal-best distance of 89.94m for the second-place finish at the Wanda Diamond League in Stockholm on June 30.
On June 14, at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku, Neeraj had come up with a national record of 89.30m to finish runner-up.
“Distance is not something in my control. I can only throw the javelin with full force giving my 100 percent. I know I am very close to achieving the 90m-mark. Sooner or later, it will happen. I’ll look to breach the mark at the Worlds. It could be 91m or 92m as well. Let’s see. I want this hunger to keep burning inside me,” added the former world junior champion.
At the Worlds, Neeraj would be challenged by reigning world champion, Grenadian Anderson Peters (PB 93.07m), Olympic silver medallist Czech Jakub Vadlejch (90.88m), Finland’s Oliver Helander (89.83m), Germany’s Julian Weber (84.91m) and Trinidadian Keshorn Walcott (88.70m), among others. However, the big name missing from the competition will be 2017 world champion and 2019 bronze medallist Johannes Vetter.