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Field Gets Tougher as Neeraj Chopra Tries to Maintain Winning Momentum in Stockholm Ahead of World Championships

Neeraj Chopra may not have to contend with Johannes Vetter at the Worlds in Eugene next month. But with six top javelin throwers in the world seemingly hitting peak, it will not be a cakewalk for the Indian Olympic champion.
Neeraj Chopra

Neeraj Chopra (file picture).

Neeraj Chopra is back in the hunt again, this time for a gold at the World Championships in Eugene, USA, next month, to add to his Olympic gold and affirm his status as the world’s best. It is not that his gold in Tokyo was a fluke, but since it came on the day Johannes Vetter -- arguably the best javelin thrower of the generation -- failed to get going, a question mark [like it or not] has always shadowed him. The Indian champ is keen to banish that and the only way possible is to beat the field in Eugene.

Going by where he stands performance wise, Chopra seems to be hitting peak at the right time. He clinched his first gold of the season at the Kuortane Games in Finland on June 18, and is in Stockholm now to take part in the Diamond League meet on June 30. At the Swedish capital, in the biggest competition before the Worlds, a strong field awaits him. The performance in Stockholm will not just boost Chopra’s confidence ahead of the Games, but will also act as a strong signal for his rivals -- a repeat of Tokyo and nothing less.

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At the Kuortane Games, Chopra, 24, beat reigning world champion Anderson Peters of Grenada for the second time this month. He had won a silver in his first competition of the season -- the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku, Finland, on June 14 -- with a new national record of 89.30m.

With a new personal best, Chopra was eyeing the 90-metre mark at Kuortane. But the conditions were treacherous for javelin at the Games with rain creating slippery conditions. Chopra had a nasty fall as well during his third attempt. His first throw of 86.64m was, however, good enough to hand him gold at the meet. Post the competition, the biggest concern was whether Chopra injured himself in competition. That was quickly ruled out and the Olympic champion stated all is on course with a brief post on social media. Chopra has more-or-less been silent in the build up to the worlds otherwise, keen to keep his focus on the competition. And understandably so.  

Olympic silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch of the Czech Republic and his compatriot Tokyo Olympics bronze winner Vitezslav Vesely will also be in action in Stockholm, alongside Peters, who is reeling from indifferent form at the moment. This will be the first time all the three medal winners from Tokyo come together for a meet this season.

Vadlejch, who was sixth at Paavo Nurmi Games with 83.91m, had skipped the Kuortane Games just like Germany's Julian Weber, who finished fifth at Paavo Nurmi with 84.02m. Finland's Oliver Helander, gold winner at the Paavo Nurmi Games with 89.83m, also skipped Kuortane Games. 

Chopra will still have no challenge from Vetter who has been sidelined with an injury. But the competition is deeper and with six top throwers in the world seemingly on the verge of peaking, Eugene will be a tough challenge for the Olympic champ. Stockholm will indeed give us a preview of what to expect.

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