Name: Neeraj Chopra
Sport: Javelin throw
Past Commonwealth Games performance: Will be making his debut
Best performance: Gold at IAAF World Under-20 Championships
Those putting their bets on the Sushil Kumars and PV Sindhus to win gold medals for India in Gold Coast, at the upcoming Commonwealth Games, need to pencil in one more name. Yes, he is not just a medal prospect, but a gold medal prospect, no less. He is Neeraj Chopra, the 20-year-old javelin-thrower from Panipat, Haryana, who has already proven that he can excel not just at the regional level, but at the world level as well.
The star javelin-thrower made people sit up and take notice by winning gold at the IAAF World Under-20 Athletics Championships at Bydgoszcz, Poland in 2016, and did so with a world record throw of 86.48 metres. It was India's first-ever world record and gold medal in any world championship in athletics, an area where the country has never had a significant presence.
The expectations on Chopra mounted manifold after his stellar performance in the Federation Cup National Senior Athletics Championships in Patiala earlier this month. He achieved a distance of 85.94 metres in his final attempt, not just winning gold, but doing it in style with his second-best career distance and the highest recorded on Indian soil.
"Although I had already qualified for the CWG, I wanted to make a mark at the Federation Cup. That is why I was trying so hard. I will look to improve on this at the Commonwealth Games," Chopra said.
What now makes every Indian look up to him for a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games is the fact that his Federation Cup effort is the best so far this season among javelin-throwers from the Commonwealth nations, distinctly ahead of the 83.63 metres set by Australia's Hamish Peacock.
Chopra will be making his debut at the Commonwealth Games and will be doing so with a string of top drawer performances under his belt. Before his Federation Cup feat, he had won silver at the international javelin meet at Offenburg, Germany in February this year, with a throw of 82.8 metres.
Last year, he had clinched gold at the Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneshwar with a championship record throw of 85.23 metres, after looking listless in the first few attempts. What came out from his performance at this event was that he can raise his game anytime and raise it to such a level that he can leave all his competitors behind.
It is a quality that will stand him in good stead in Gold Coast. A few days prior to the Asian Athletics Championships, he had sent the spear soaring to a distance of 84.67 metres at the prestigious Diamond League in Paris.
He had won gold at the South Asian Games in 2016 too, with a throw of 82.23 metres, equalling the national record in the process, but still failed to make it to the Rio Olympics as he could not achieve the Olympic qualification target of 83 metres before the cut-off date. Had he qualified for the mega event, India could well have equalled its Beijing Games kitty.
But what Chopra now should focus on is to make his Commonwealth Games debut memorable. This is not a small platform and a strong performance here could just be the start of his preparation in earnest for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics two years down the road, because you don't just wake up one fine morning and land at the Olympics and win a medal, it is a result of a series of successes at major events, reaching a climax with an Olympic medal.
What Chopra will, however, have to be wary of is the mountain of expectations on him. He must ensure that he doesn't wilt under the pressure.
Updated Date: Mar 22, 2018 18:53 PM