Chopra leads Indian challenge

Chopra leads Indian challenge

Neeraj Chopra

Neeraj Chopra has the potential to win gold in javelin throw. AFP File Photo

As the sun dipped beyond the gigantic Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Neeraj Chopra cast his eyes far into the horizon and remarked: “There is no pressure on me but the focus is to do well, to give your 100 percent, to ensure there are no shortcomings on my side.” 

His entire season has been focused on the Asian Games and when the athletics events of the Games begin on Saturday, Neeraj is well aware of the weight of expectations on his shoulders. The strapping javelin thrower is India’s best bet for a gold medal from track and field at these Games but one thing he doesn’t want to do is to think too much about his destination. 

“If you feel pressure, it will affect your performance, you won’t be able to give your 100 percent. Your mind will be affected. So the attempt will be to compete with a free mind, fair mind and give your 100 percent.”

At 20, Neeraj has been climbing the ladder at a fast clip. The former world junior champion won the Commonwealth Games gold medal this year and with a season’s best of 87.43, he is among a clutch of Indians heading the Asian charts this season. However, like all those athletes, Neeraj too will have to overcome some hard opposition.

Chinese Taipei’s Cheng Chao Tsun, who threw an Asian record of 91.36m last year, will be the main man trying to prevent Neeraj from becoming the first Indian ever to win a javelin gold in Asiad. Cheng, who was troubled by an injury in March, has a best of 84.60 this season. “Pyschologically, physically, I am in good shape, I do not know who will be first or second, but I will have a good rival from your country who is a good friend too,” said Cheng.

While the Cheng-Neeraj battle will be one of the highlights of these Games, India have a few gold hopefuls in other events, notably men’s shot put, 800m and 1500m, the women’s 4x400 relay as also the mixed relay, making its debut here. The challenge in front of all of them will be to match or improve their shows this season.

Tajinder Pal Singh Toor, the Asian leader with a 20.24m way back in March, can kickstart India’s charge with a shot put gold but Iran’s Shahin Mehrdelan (season’s best of 19.92) can topple the Indian while in the 800 and 1500, Jinson Johnson, with his double national records, should be the favourite if he can maintain his form.

A Qatari challenge in the form of Haroun Abdalelah (SB: 44.07) looms for Mohammad Anas in the 400M. Anas has lowered the national mark to 45.24 this season and his main threat was expected to come from another Qatari, Abderrahmane Samba but he has been shifted to 400M hurdles.

In the women’s events, world junior champion Hima Das (PB: 51.13) will be the cynosure in the 400M as she looks to become India’s first winner in this event since P T Usha in 1986. But the presence of Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser, who has a best of 49.08, tempers the expectations.

In the relays, India need to get the combination right and the exchanges right to come through while P U Chitra gives hopes in the women’s 1500M. Minor medals can come in the men’s distance races where the Bahraini imports from Africa will have the major say.

India had won two gold four silver and seven bronze medals from Incheon 2014. If the planning and preparation are anything to go by, they should better that tally.