An hour or so after the pre-event press conference for the Doha Diamond League was over, Neeraj Chopra was still giving interviews to journalists, seeking exclusive quotes from India’s javelin superstar. While others who attended the media conference – Steven Gardiner, Nina Kennedy and Miltiadis Tentoglou – had long left the venue and were taking much-needed rest before Friday’s event at the Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium, Chopra was in no hurry to leave.
Among many amazing qualities that the reigning Olympic, World and Asian champion possesses, it’s his rare ability to handle every situation with composure and always sport a smile and pose for pictures for anyone who walks up to him.
But there is one question that has followed him ever since – by his own admission – he threw 88.06m at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, en route to winning the gold medal. When will he cross the 90m mark?
“I really want to break this barrier,” Chopra said on Thursday, as he launches himself towards what he hopes will be a successful title defence at the Olympic Games in Paris this August.
Fellow Olympic and World long jump Champion Tentoglou, who was seated two seats away from Chopra, chipped in: “I will be very happy if Neeraj throws 90m tomorrow, truly happy.”
The Greek echoed what everyone in the athletics world would want. The 90m throw is a magic mark for a javelin thrower and Chopra – who set his personal best of 89.94 in 2022 – has never shied away from acknowledging that he needs to cross it one day. For an athlete, who has won all that needs to be won, the distance should not matter. But here is Chopra, who continues his quest for excellence despite having gone the distance no Indian has dared to achieve.
“I am stuck between 88 and 90 metres,” said Chopra in a lighter vein on Thursday. “This question has followed me ever since I threw 88.06 at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. But I had elbow surgery soon after, which forced me to miss the 2019 season.
“But I really want to break the barrier this year. Even last year, I had said that Doha is famous for 90m. But, we were not lucky due to too much headwind. Maybe tomorrow we’ll have a good day. Obviously, it is the Olympics year and India is a big country and everyone always expects gold. My focus is to just stay healthy and concentrate on my technique. And yes, if I stay healthy everything will be good,” the 26-year-old added.
Chopra, however, insisted remaining consistent has been his key to success in big events. “Maybe it is my greatest weapon. I will throw over 90, but consistency is more important for me,” he pointed out.
Chopra enjoys immense popularity in India but downplayed his celebrity status saying his decision to train in South Africa, Turkiye recently and in Europe later this year, was motivated by the need to focus on the Paris Olympics.
On Friday, Chopra will face competition from Jakub Vadlejch, to whom he finished second at the Diamond League final in Eugene last September but ended his season with victory at the Asian Games.
They will be joined by Grenada’s two-time world champion Anderson Peters, who finished third behind Chopra and Vadlejch in Doha last year, plus 2015 world champion Julius Yego and world finalist Oliver Helander.
The women’s pole vault features the indoor and outdoor world champions, as Australia’s Nina Kennedy opens her Diamond League campaign against Britain’s Molly Caudery, who competes for the first time since her world indoor triumph in Glasgow.
Kennedy said she was confident of adding Olympic gold later this year as she begins her season in Doha.
“The last two years in my career have been a huge step up. Two world medals and a Diamond League final winner. I will be going to this Olympics with a good shot. It’s these new nerves and new feelings, which is all new to me. I am trying to approach it exactly like last year. I am excited but I am trying to enjoy this pressure,” the Australian said.
In the men’s long jump, world and Olympic champion Tentoglou makes his Doha Diamond League debut as part of a field also featuring Carey McLeod, Tajay Gayle and Simon Ehammer.
The 26-year-old athlete – who retained his world indoor title with victory in Glasgow in March – boasts a personal best of 8.60m from 2021 and is so far unbeaten this year. In recent years he has gained a reputation for being an exceptional championship performer and in particular, for his final jump heroics. “I keep myself motivated because I love the event and love to jump,” said Tentoglou, when asked about what motivates to keep going.
“I plan to get better every time and every year. This year is very special because of the Olympics in Paris. There are European Championships too next month. I am doing more quality training. It’s going to be a difficult year but I am excited. I am definitely one of the best and other guys know that I can jump very well anytime so I think I put pressure on them,” the Greek said.
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