India’s Neeraj Chopra is keen to join javelin’s elite 90-metre club but will happily settle for a shorter throw in Paris if it proves enough for him to hold on to his Olympic title, his coach said.
The mop-haired Chopra catapulted himself into instant stardom three years ago when he threw 87.58 metres in Tokyo to earn India’s first Olympic gold medal in athletics.
The 26-year-old has gone on to become the world champion and in 2022 registered a personal best (PB) distance of 89.94 metres at the Stockholm Diamond League. Chopra is asked about the 90-metre mark in practically every media interaction, but defending the Olympic title remains his absolute priority, his coach Klaus Bartonietz said.
“A medal is more important than a mark. The mark increases almost every year, but the medal stays,” Bartonietz said from Doha. “Nobody asks Neeraj how far his throw reached in Tokyo. It was 87.58 and it was enough. If it’s 85 metres and still gets you an Olympic gold, you should be okay with it.”
Bartonietz said it was tough for athletes to produce personal bests at the Olympics because of the pressure that accompanies performing on the biggest stage in sport.
Although the 90 metre-mark has been surpassed 125 times by 24 athletes since the competition javelin was redesigned in 1986, only three of those throws have come in Olympic competition. “I’d be happy if Neeraj can produce his PB in Paris. It should be enough,” Bartonietz said.
“It’s one thing to throw 90 metres, and a totally different thing to do it in the most important competition in a four-year cycle.”
Chopra, the first Indian to win the Diamond League trophy, has been remarkably consistent in big events, and Bartonietz said he would not be surprised if the thrower from Haryana hits the magical mark in Paris.
“I’d say he’s close to the mark,” the German said. “For several years, he has been throwing 87-to-high 88s consistently...It will be nice to join the 90-metre club of throwers.”
Chopra began his season with a second place finish at the Diamond League meeting in Doha on Friday, falling two centimetres short of Jakub Vadlejch’s winning throw of 88.38m.
Bartonietz said the idea was to keep Chopra in good shape before the Olympics to ensure he would not “mess it up at the most crucial time”.
One way of doing that was to shield him from any pressure, the coach said. “If you allow yourself to be under pressure, it may break you.”
Bartonietz, who succeeded javelin great Uwe Hohn as Chopra’s coach, has been impressed by how his charge has matured since the Tokyo Games.
“More than anything else, he knows what not to do to get the best out of himself,” the German said.
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