To appreciate why Neeraj Chopra is a special athlete just split his six throws at the Zurich Diamond League — first three and next three. Bouncebackability is the theme. During the first three he wasn’t fast on the runway, didn’t feel confident and hadn’t even warmed up properly despite more warm-up throws than he ever did before a competition. He was in fifth place.
In the next three, the newly-crowned World Champion, fatigued after competing just four days earlier in the big final and under the weather, clawed back to finish second. Like all greats, Chopra, even when not at his best, produced an inspired performance. At one point, the World Champion said he feared finishing outside the top 8.
Midway through the competition 80.79 metres was his best, Round 2 and 3 were no marks. “It was the first time after three throws I had only 80 metres. I first thought there were just eight competitors, then after the third round I saw there were 10 throwers. I felt I could be out of the top-8. Then I pushed myself,” Chopra said a day after finishing second in Zurich and qualifying for the Diamond League final.
Chopra’s next three throws were 85.22, foul and 85.71. He finished second in the Zurich Diamond League, third overall on the points table and booked his place for the Diamond League Final in Eugene in two weeks.
— Inspire Institute of Sport (@IIS_Vijayanagar) September 1, 2023
Thursday night wasn’t about giant throws. Chopra says he didn’t want to disappoint the organisers by pulling out of the Diamond League. He also wanted to experience how it feels to compete again within four days of a big event.
Chopra didn’t have an easy night with three no marks out of six. He saved the best for the last with a sixth round throw of 85.71 metres to finish second behind Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch (85.86 metres) who got his best in the fourth attempt. Julian Weber of Germany finished third with 85.04, also on his fourth throw in a close contest.
The three occupy top 3 spots on the points table after four rounds; Vadlejch on 29, Webber on 25 and Chopra on 23. The top six qualify for the Diamond League final.
“Fatigue was there. When you are fatigued if you try to throw your personal best then it could be an issue. I was not feeling like I had warmed up properly. In the first three throws, I could not pick up speed, I was not confident. Shoulder wasn’t a major issue but the groin (adductor muscle strain) was at the back of my mind. First three throws I could not go 100 percent and then I pushed. I am happy with two 85-metre throws. I know where to push further… in Eugene and at the Asian Games,” Chopra said.
Taking a toll
Competing in Zurich just four days after winning a maiden World Championship gold took its toll. Even before the qualifying round of the World Championship, Chopra was feeling ill. He didn’t want to sound like he was making an excuse so didn’t talk about it till Thursday.
“From Budapest only, I had health issues with cough and throat pain. Problem started before the qualification round only. I didn’t say it then because I did not want it to sound like an excuse. Zurich also I had a cough. Body is aching because of back to back competitions,” Chopra said.
After bagging the historic gold, Chopra said he slept at 4 am as he had to give a sample for dope testing, attend the medal ceremony and also answer journalists’ questions over a Zoom call. In Zurich, he trained once.
Qualification round at the World Championships, the final and then competing in Zurich was like three competitions in six days, Chopra said.
— JSW Sports (@jswsports) August 31, 2023
“It was like three competitions in six days because there was a qualification round also, because you have to prepare for it too though I needed just one throw to qualify. My main focus because I had an injury issue was to remain healthy (not get injured) in Zurich and enjoy the competition too. The World Championships and the Olympics is a competition where you have to play for the country so you have to give more than 100 percent. Here I wanted to be a little careful, aisa nahi ki pura tod phod macha do,” Chopra added.
The 25-year-old has a taxing schedule. After the Diamond League final stopover in Eugene, he competes in the Asian Games two weeks later. He has to crisscross the globe, adjust to time zones, maintain his fitness levels and get enough time for recovery in between. Chopra said he was ready for the challenge.
“I will be competing in the Asian Games, before that I have the Eugene Diamond League on 16th and 17th (September). There is very little time, there will be travel because I have to go to the US and then return and there is time difference also. Hopefully, I can finish the season without injury so I can begin training early for next season.”
Back-to-back competitions have been tough but Chopra has gained enough experience to know when to hold back and when to go all out.
“Many times you have to understand your body. Sometimes the body is not ready and if you try to push there could be issues in the next competition. Sometimes you have to see in which competition you have to push yourself. Now, in the next 10 to 12 days I will train here, first I will do some recovery. I need to rest properly and prepare for the Diamond League final.”
Defending his Diamond League and Asian Games titles will make it a perfect season for World Champion Chopra.
Sreeshankar in the final too
India will have two athletes in the Diamond League final in Eugene after long jumper Sreeshankar Murali finished in the top six on the points table at the end of the Zurich leg.
Sreeshankar finished fifth in Zurich with a best jump of 7.99 metres. Sreeshankar is third after four events with 14 points and trails Simon Ehammer of Switzerland (23 points) and World Champion Maltiadis Tentoglou (29 points). Tentoglou won in Zurich with 8.20 metres, while Jamaica’s Tajay Gayle finished second (8.07m).
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