A World Championships gold is the only medal missing in Neeraj Chopra’s decorated cabinet and the superstar Indian javelin thrower will fancy his chances as no clear-cut favourite has emerged ahead of the showpiece beginning in Budapest on August 19
He won a silver in the 2022 World Championships in USA and he would be one of the gold medal contenders this time here.
If Chopra wins a gold, he will become only the second Indian after shooter Abhinav Bindra to win a yellow metal each in the Olympics and World Championships in individual sport.
Bindra, the first Indian individual event Olympic gold winner in 2008, had also achieved a World Championships top podium finish in 10m air rifle in 2006 in Zagreb.
Going by the current form of the top javelin throwers, there is no hot favourite to stand on the top of the podium after the August 27 final. The qualification round will be held two days earlier.
Chopra competed in only two top class competitions this season, winning gold in both of them — Doha and Lausanne Diamond League Meetings on May 5 and June 30 respectively. He had an injury lay-off of one month in between the two events after straining his muscles while training.
With nearly two months of rest and training, Chopra said he’s ready for the big event, which is of identical stature as the Olympics.
“Competing and being consistent at the highest level against the world’s best athletes is definitely challenging. I want to give it my best, and if that happens, I will come back better than before,” said Chopra ahead of the showpiece.
“I got injured which led me to skip a few competitions. After that, I returned and participated in the Lausanne Diamond League, where my performance was good. Since then, everything has gotten better, and I am happy with my performance and training.” Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch, who won silver behind Chopra in Tokyo and bronze in 2022 World Championships, Germany’s Julian Weber and defending champion Anderson Peters, would be among the gold medal contenders.
Chopra’s winning throw of 88.67m in Lausanne puts him third on the world list but he enters the World Championships with an unbeaten record. He has also beaten the trio of his rivals — Vadlejch, Weber and Peters — in both Doha and Lausanne.
The 32-year-old Vadlejch has been in top form this season and he is the world leader thanks to a 89.51m throw at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku on June 13. He also boasts the year’s fourth and fifth best throws of 88.63m and 88.38m.
He finished his preparations for his sixth World Championships with a victory in the Monaco Diamond League meeting on July 21.
Weber stands second on the world list with the 88.72m throw that won him the German title in Kassel on July 8. He had beaten Vadlejch in Lausanne, finishing runner-up to Chopra.
Peters will be chasing his third title on the trot but he has had an inconsistent season with a best of 85.88m while finishing third in Doha Diamond League on May 5 — where Chopra won gold — and a low of 74.11m at the Ostrava Golden Spike meet on June 27.
He is entering the World Championships with throws of 78.17m and 79.70m in his last two events in July.
Moreover, he is not completely fit by his own admission, after an injury lay-off.
“I’m 75% back but over the next few days I’ll work … so I can be at least 85 to 90% by the time I compete, better yet 100%,” he said ahead of the showpiece.
Aldrin, Sreeshankar lead world list
DP Manu and Kishore Jena are the other two Indians in the fray in men’s javelin throw. Jena’s visa was cancelled by the Hungarian embassy in New Delhi on August 17 but he got clearance on August 18.
In other events featuring Indians, a medal from men’s long jump cannot be ruled out altogether as Jeswin Aldrin (8.42m) and Murali Sreeshankar (8.41m) lead the world list this season.
Aldrin achieved his spectacular leap in Bellary in early March but since then he has been struggling to touch the 8m mark as he also faced fitness issues. His most recent outing was at the CITIUS Meeting in Bern, Switzerland which he won with 8.22m.
Sreeshankar has been more consistent than Aldrin. He achieved his personal best of 8.41m in Bhubaneswar in June and is entering the World Championships with his silver-winning jump of 8.37m in Bangkok in the Asian Championships.
He was also placed third in the Paris Diamond League on June 9 with 8.09m to become only the third Indian to finish in top-three in the prestigious event.
Olympic champion Miltiadis Tentoglou (SB: 8.38m) of Greece, who has consistently jumped beyond 8m-mark this season, will set his sights on upgrading his silver from 2022 edition to gold in Budapest.
Other medal contenders would be defending champion Wang Jianan (SB: 8.26m) of China, Taipei’s Lin Yu-Tang (SB: 8.40m), Jamaica’s Carey McLeod (SB: 8.26m) and Wayne Pinnock (SB: 8.37m) and last edition bronze medal winner Simon Ehammer (SB: 8.32m) of Switzerland.
Sable hopes for top class performance
In men’s 3000m steeplechase, national record holder Avinash Sable will be hoping for a top class performance in a field studded with star performers. Sable will be in action on August 19 in the heats.
Lamecha Girma of Ethiopia would be looking to add the world title to his world record (7 minute and 52.11 seconds), having claimed silver medals at the 2019 and 2022 editions of the World Championships, as well as the Tokyo Olympics.
Olympic and defending world champion Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco is expected to fight it out with Girma for the gold with his personal best of 7:56.68 at the Rabat Diamond League, the second fastest time this year.
India’s campaign will start with three men’s 20km race walkers — Akashdeep Singh, Vikash Singh and Paramjeet Singh — on Saturday, but they are not expected to be in the medal bracket.
The country will not have any competitor in women’s 20km race walk after Bhawna Jat has been called back home due to “whereabouts failure”.
The opening day will also see Shaili Singh competing in women’s long jump, Ajay Kumar Saroj in men’s 1500m heats and men’s triple jump qualification round where three Indians — Praveen Chithravel, Abdulla Aboobacker and Eldhose Paul — will be competing.