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On return, Neeraj Chopra breaks national record

When he threw the javelin on a muggy night in Tokyo 10 months ago, Neeraj Chopra was convinced the throw that earned him Olympic gold was a national record.

On his much-anticipated return to international competition Tuesday in Turku, Chopra let out a similar yell as the javelin shot through the sunny skies of the Finnish city, thought to be the spiritual home of javelin throwing. And just like his throw in Tokyo, he raised both arms in celebration.

This time it was actually a national record.

In just his second throw in an international competition since the historic night in Tokyo, Chopra hit 89.30m, beating his own national record by more than a meter.

After incapacitating more than all of his competitors for nearly 10 months, he looked fit and ready to compete. The gigantic throw helped him finish second on the podium at the Paavo Nurmi Games behind home favorite Oliver Helander, who hit a personal best throw of 89.93m. World champion Anderson Peters of Grenada was third with a throw of 86.60m .

Chopra, whose first throw covered a distance of 86.92 m, failed to make a legal throw on his third, fourth, and fifth attempts before finishing with a throw of 85.85 m. Still, the result will give a huge boost ahead of next month’s World Championships and will also be confirmation that he is on track to break the sacred 90m mark.

Chopra’s 89.30 meters on Tuesday was the fifth-best throw by an athlete this year.

After the Tokyo Olympics, the 24-year-old was away from the sport for months to attend congratulations, film commercials and grace talk shows before returning to where he feels most comfortable: the sports field. He only returned to the basics in November, when he traveled to the USA to the Chula Vista training center. Chopra reduced his weight to 14kg to get back into competition shape and has not been to India to prepare for the competition since the beginning of the year. The competition in Turku was in many ways a perfect precursor to the World Championships. It was a star-studded field that included four of the year’s top five pitchers, including Peters, Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch, Germany’s Julian Weber and Trinidad’s Keshorn Walcott. But like Tokyo, Chopra has held its own.

Chopra said in a pre-contest interaction that his coach, Klaus Bartonietz, planned to open his season with throws of about 86-87-88m. The goal, Chopra added, is in line with his current fitness level. Getting close to 90m would please the athlete and his coach.
After transitioning into competitive mode with a throw of 86m, Chopra put on a performance better than the one that earned him the gold medal in Tokyo. His throw at the time was 87.58 m, making him India’s first track and field gold medalist.

However, he has held the national record in the men’s javelin throw since 2016. His first shot at the national mark came during the 2016 South Asian Games in Guwahati, where he equaled Rajinder Singh’s performance of 82.23m en route to gold.

At the U20 World Championships later that year, he took sole responsibility for the record with a throw of 86.48m, which also made him the first Indian athlete to set the U20 world record. His best attempt before Tuesday came at the Indian Grand Prix in Patiala in March 2021, where he hit a throw of 88.07m.

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On Tuesday he improved that with ease. Chopra’s next goal will be to break the 90-meter mark, which will elevate him to a select group of athletes to have achieved that.

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