The 23-year-old javelin thrower says he was was pleased with his release angle and follow through.
Neeraj Chopra’s alarm went off at 5.15 a.m. on Wednesday. The 23-year-old javelin thrower does not usually wake up this early to compete. But when he stepped onto the track at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, he had one goal — to let that javelin soar and qualify for the final of the event.
Twenty strides, a leap, and a grunt later, he booked his spot in the javelin throw final of the Tokyo Olympics. Neeraj unleashed his best in his very first attempt in Group A to set a qualification high of 86.65m. He comfortably went past the automatic qualification mark of 83.50m and that was it. Done in about 12 seconds.
“The idea was to do well in warm-up throws and then qualify in the first throw itself,” he said. “My first warm-up throw was not good, but the next one felt better. There was a slightly different feeling in my throws, but I knew that I would be able to hit the mark today,” he said, and paused to watch Johannes Vetter’s final throw. Germany’s Vetter, the favourite for the gold medal, threw a best of 85.64m. He did not get past the automatic qualifying mark in his first two throws (82.04m and 82.08m).
“I was wondering what the problem was when I saw Vetter, who’s a world-class thrower, struggling a bit,” said Neeraj. Both of throwers felt that the weather conditions added an extra element of difficulty.
Release angle crucial
Neeraj said he was focusing on releasing his javelin at a flatter angle to get a proper flight.
“I don’t understand all the technical nuances, but I was told that when the stadium is closed (has a roof) you shouldn’t give too much height as the wind creates issues. There’s no wind around the track, but there’s wind above and that causes a problem. That’s why I tried to throw it flat, and it clicked today.”
He was pleased with his release angle and follow through — the two key ingredients for a powerful throw. “My coach told me this morning that I need to have a follow-through on my throws. In warm-ups, my body was going sideways after throwing. That was diluting my power. That’s why my coach asked me to follow the angle of the javelin,” he said.
Sporting a fresh haircut, Neeraj also shared why he cut his flowing, long hair before the Olympics. “I had gone to Switzerland but did not compete because I felt I had not recovered well enough and did not want to take a risk before the Olympics. So, I went and got a haircut there. I still felt it was too long and cut my hair again in Sweden,” he said with a grin.
“I liked my long hair, and it will always grow back, but the Olympics will come again only three years later. Having longer hair meant I was sweating more, and it kept falling on my face. I had to focus more on my hair and how to manage it. I cut it off because I did not want my game to be affected by it.”
Neeraj topped the qualification, but his compatriot Shivpal Singh threw a best of 76.40m (Group B) and did not make it to the final. Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem threw 85.16m in Group B and made the final.
In a field of celebrated throwers, the 2012 gold medallist and 2016 silver medallist Keshorn Walcott and world champion Anderson Peters failed to make it to the final in a qualification round that threw up some unusually low distances.
The final will be held on August 7.