Neeraj hopes to upstage defending champion Peters at Worlds

Given the form he is in, the Tokyo Olympics champion is expected to script history and become only the second Indian and first male player from the country to win a medal in the World Athletics Championships


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India's Neeraj Chopra. — AFP
India's Neeraj Chopra. — AFP

Published: Fri 15 Jul 2022, 12:13 AM

India’s Neeraj Chopra will carry a billion hopes into the World Championship for yet another landmark result and it won’t be a surprise if long jumper Murali Sreeshankar also grabs a slice of history at the showpiece, starting in Eugene, USA, on Friday.

Chopra is cherishing phenomenal results this season. The star athlete has improved his personal best twice — he recorded a 89.30m throw on June 14 at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland before sending his spear to 89.94m, just 6cm shy of 90m, in the prestigious Stockholm Diamond League Meeting on June 30.

In between, he had won the javelin throw event at the Kuortane Games in Finland with a throw of 86.69m, under wet and slippery conditions.

Given the form he is in, the Tokyo Olympics champion is expected to script history and become only the second Indian and first male player from the country to win a medal in the World Athletics Championships.

Chopra’s main rival for the gold medal will be the defending champion Anderson Peters of Grenada. Peters is the favourite to win gold as he owns four of the top five throws this season. His best effort of 93.07 is also the best result this season.

A gold is, however, not beyond Chopra’s reach as he has beaten Peters twice this season — at Paavo Nurmi Games and Kuortane Games. Peters also struggled briefly this season due to injury, while Chopra has been in the pink of his health. His other challengers include Olympic silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch (season’s best 90.88m), Germany’s Julian Weber (SB 89.54m), Trinidad and Tobago’s 2012 Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott (SB 89.07m) and Finland’s Oliver Helander (SB 89.83m).

Chopra will have company in Rohit Yadav, who has a season’s best of 82.54m while finishing second in the National Inter-State Championships last month.

The two qualifying rounds of the men’s javelin throw competition will be held on July 21, while the final will be held two days later.

National record holder long jumper Murali Sreeshankar will be a dark horse as he sits at joint second place among season leaders with his 8.36m effort during the Federation Cup in April. He will be seen in action on Friday (early hours on Saturday in India) in the qualifying rounds.

The 23-year-old Sreeshankar has also been a consistent performer this season. He had another big jump of 8.31m in an event in Greece before winning gold at the National Inter-State Championships with a leap of 8.23m.

Sreeshankar shares the joint second spot among season leaders with Olympic champion Miltiadis Tentoglou of Greece who is the favourite to win gold here.

The 24-year-old Greek long jumper has claimed Olympic, world indoor (8.55m) and European outdoor and indoor titles in his event. He is unbeaten in the outdoor season, having nailed eight wins out of eight, including Diamond League successes in Rabat, Oslo and Stockholm.

The season leader is, however, the multi-talented Swiss athlete Simon Ehammer who is better known as a decathlete. He produced a monster jump of 8.45m in an event in Austria in May.

Cuba’s Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Juan Miguel Echevarria is not taking part.

Another Indian, Jeswin Aldrin who had a wind-assisted 8.37m jump during the Federation Cup will also be in the fray. He was initially not named in the Indian team after his form dipped but was later added following two rounds of trials.

In the men’s 3000m steeplechase, Avinash Sable will have to improve his timing by several seconds from his national record effort of 8:12.48 if he wants to be in contention for a podium in a tough field. He will compete in heats on Friday (Early Saturday morning in India).

In an event dominated by the Kenyans over the years, the battle for the top spot could be between Morocco’s season leader and reigning Olympic champion Soufiane El Bakkali (7:58.28) and Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma (7:58.68), who won silver in both the Tokyo Games and last World Championships.

Kenya’s Conseslus Kipruto will also look to defend the title he had won in 2019 though his form this season has been unspectacular.

The first day of competitions on Friday will also see Sandeep Kumar and Priyanka Goswami competing in men’s and women’s 20km race walk event finals respectively while Asian record holder shot putter Tajinderpal Singh Toor will have his qualification round.

Athletics Federation of India (AFI) initially named a 22-member team but later added long jumper Aldrin to the contingent.

But three athletes are set to miss the championships. Quarter-miler Aishwarya Mishra and men’s 4x400m relay team member Arokia Rajiv failed to impress the selectors in two rounds of trials while 200m runner S Dhanalakshmi had visa problems.

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