Asian Games 2018: Neeraj Chopra strikes gold with monk-like composure; PV Sindhu, Indian paddlers create history

Through the evening at the Asian Games, the monk in Neeraj Chopra was in evidence. The Indian star was so intent on internalising everything that he was palpably shut off to everything else, perhaps even to his compatriot javelin thrower Shivpal Singh who occupied the next seat on the athlete’s bench at the GBK Athletics Stadium on Monday.

From picking his spear from its perch to walking deliberately to the edge of his run-up, from finding the pace to hurling the javelin into the night sky with power, he so stuck to routine that a machine would have been proud of such repeats. He was awake to possibilities and hunted his goal down relentlessly – India’s first Asian Games javelin gold, with a National record of 88.06m.

It was a Monday on which history was made a few times by Indian athletes. Be it PV Sindhu becoming the first badminton player from the country to make it to the Asian Games singles final to the men’s table tennis team accomplishing the dream of gaining a maiden medal in the quadrennial continental festival with a stunning 3-1 win against Japan, the theme was recurring.

Sathiyan Gnansekaran was the toast of the Indian paddlers in the quarter-finals against Japan, beating Jin Ueda in straight games and returning to defeat Kenta Matsudaira over four games. The seasoned Sharath Kamal delivered a crucial point as India waited for the battle between the two Koreas to find out out who it would play in the semi-finals.

Neeraj Chopra became the first Indian to win a gold medal in javelin throw at the Asian Games. AFP

Neeraj Chopra became the first Indian to win a gold medal in javelin throw at the Asian Games. AFP

Back in the GBK Athletics Stadium, it did not matter to Neeraj Chopra what distances the others were throwing. It is a good wager that he did not once consciously or otherwise look up the scoreboard on the field. He knew he was in a league of his own, his preparation and determination would help him hurl the spear the farthest on a humid evening.

He was monk-like in his focus, and child-like in expressing himself after each throw.

For the record, the closest anyone came to his shortest recorded throw – 83.25m on his fourth attempt – was more than a metre short. China’s baby-faced Liu Qizhen’s personal best of 82.22m was good for silver and only the fifth best throw of the evening. Pakistan’s Nadeem Arshad (80.75m) and the other Chinese Ma Qun (80.46) were the only others who went past the 80m mark.

After Anu Raghavan’s fastest time this season (56.77 seconds) and Jauna Murmu’s second fastest (57.48) gave them the fourth and fifth places in the women’s 400m hurdles, Ayyasamy Dharun opened India’s account in the men’s 400m hurdles with a fine dash over the last 50m or so to take silver ahead of Japan’s Abe Takatoshi, Chinese Taipei’s Chen Chief and his team-mate Sathosh Kumar. It earned him the National record with a time of 48.96 seconds.

Sudha Singh, women’s 3000m steeplechase gold medallist In Guangzhou in 2010, ran a brave race, first tailing Sri Lanka’s Nilani Rathnayake and then running shoulder to shoulder with Bahrain teenager Winfred Yavi.

The Indian concedes 13 years to the Kenya-born Yavi who finished eighth in the world championship. Sudha Singh finished the grueling event in 9:40.03, just over three seconds behind the Bahrain athlete who opened a small gap only after the water jump on the final lap.

Neena Pinto – as Neena Varakil is now known – strung together a series of jumps that she can be quite proud of. She hovered between 6.40m and 6.51m, with her best effort coming off the fourth attempt. Vietnam’s Bui Thi Thu Thao had opened the field with a 6.55m

The Indian wound herself up for one last try, sprinting hard, taking off well and kicking to gain distance but she got to 6.50 and settled for silver. Nayana James, a favourite of some Athletics Federation of India selectors, logged 6.08m, 6.14m and a foul to finish 10th out of 11 jumpers.

Late in the night, with the Indian contingent showering all its attention on Neeraj Chopra, India’s premier 800m runner Jinson Johnson led the two-lappers home in 1:47.39, edging Qatar’s Jamal Hairane and pulling Sri Lankan Indunil Herath and Japan’s Sho Kawaoto to quick times. Manjit Singh also made it to the final with a time of 1:48.64.

It is not as if only the three track and field silver medallists would not cede Neeraj Chopra the centerstage but also the likes of PV Sindhu who created history by becoming the first Indian to secure a place in the badminton singles final by beating Akana Yamaguchi in three games in the semi-finals after Saina Nehwal lost to Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying.

Sindhu has lost five matches in-a-row since beating the top Chinese Taipei in the Olympic Games. That must be key. If she can get her adrenaline flowing like she did in the last multi-discipline Games that she was part of, she may well stun Tai Tzu Ying. She exuded confidence on Monday and suggested he has a plan up her sleeves.

Given the nature of their sport, the men and women’s Compound Archery teams do not need as much analysis and planning. They just need to keep their focus and shoot their best every single time in their gold medal matches against the redoubtable Korea. They will have to believe that the Koreans can be beaten to be able to add to India’s gold haul.

The women’s hockey team continued its winning streak with a 5-0 verdict against Thailand and India’s pugilists delivered better results with Amit (49kg), Dheeraj (64kg) and Vikas Krishan (75kg) winning their preliminary bouts a day after Manoj Kumar and Shiva Thapa were sent packing.

Yet, Monday was all about India’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony – Neeraj Chopra. After a series of silvers, it needed the contingent’s captain to break the run and strike gold. Having bottled up all emotions, including perhaps being unaware that steeplechaser Sudha Singh was running past him on every lap, he uncorked a guttural scream as soon as he wrapped the Tricolour around him.

Finally, the monk had given way to the child in him.


Updated Date: Aug 27, 2018 22:46 PM

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