Neeraj Returns to the Paavo Nurmi Games

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India’s world-beating Javelin thrower returns to competition today at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku, Finland, to take on some of his biggest rivals heading into the Olympics. It will be Neeraj’s first competition in over a month, after pulling out of the Ostrava Golden Spike as a precautionary measure to avoid risk of an adductor muscle injury. A wise decision, as there is only one competition that matters to him this year, and it will be in Paris on 8th August. Everything else is merely a step on the journey towards that goal. It is encouraging to see him back in action, and the most important thing to look out for is a smooth return to fitness for Neeraj. But this will also be a key test of his form this season, up against likely challengers to his Olympic title, especially Anderson Peters (GRN).


The Competition

Neeraj Chopra is the reigning World and Olympic Champion, but this is despite the fact that he is rarely the thrower with the best PB going into a meet. Rather, what sets him apart is that he wins. A lot.

He produces his best when it matters most, which means he usually enters the big championships with the upper hand of having beaten his competitors, in spite of their better PBs. With the world class field in Turku today, a win would similarly be a big confidence boost for Neeraj heading into the Olympics. Neeraj opened his season with a very strong 88.36m in the Doha Diamond League in May, but he still came in 2nd to Jakub Vadlejch (CZE) by a mere 2cm. That is a ‘loss’ that Neeraj will want to bounce back from. Today’s field does not feature Vadlejch, but it does have the only other 2 men to have beaten Neeraj since the Tokyo Olympics: Anderson Peters (GRN) and Oliver Helander
(FIN). Helander is the home favourite who beat Neeraj the last time he came to this event in 2022 – the only time he has ever beaten Neeraj. Helander is in decent form after a Bronze at the European Champs last week, but he finished 4th behind Chopra’s 2nd at the Doha DL. In between
the two in Doha was Anderson Peters in 3rd place. The 2022 World Champion from Grenada has not been the same since he was attacked and thrown off a boat in 2022 and he struggled last season. But his 86.79m throw in Doha could signal a long-awaited return to form. If so, he will be one to watch come Paris. At the 2022 World Championships, not only did he win Gold ahead of Neeraj, he also produced one of the best ever Javelin series, with 3 throws over 90m. Hopefully, we will get see another good contest between a healthy-again Peters and a healthy-again Chopra
today in Finland.

When the lineup was announced a couple of months ago, there was a lot of buzz around 19-yearold Max Dehning (GER) who began his year with a massive 90.20m throw. However, the youngster has failed to replicate that performance, going only as far as 81.78m since then. He struggled at
the recent European Champs, only managing a 76.16m throw in the final. On the other end of his career is 2012 Olympic Champion Keshorn Walcott (TTO). A 90m+ thrower at his best, he seems past his prime having rarely crossed 85m in the last 3 years. Both Walcott and Dehning could perhaps cause an upset if either can produce a monster throw. But with Julian Weber (GER) and Arshad Nadeem (PAK) both withdrawing from the meet, Helander and Peters will certainly be the main competitors for Chopra.

Neeraj Chopra

The Elusive 90
The other target that Neeraj might have in the back of his mind today is a 90m throw. The 90m mark is the holy grail of javelin throw – an elite club with just 24 members for only the best of the best. What baffles many fans and perhaps even Neeraj himself, is that he is not part of it. Despite
having won everything there is to win in the event, he has never produced a 90m throw in competition. Given his recent admission that the last throw he was satisfied with was his World U20 Record from 2016, it is clearly something that bothers him. As the U20 WR-holder, he may feel he is yet to fulfil his potential as a senior, in terms of distance. He is certainly capable, having reached just 6cm short, but crossing 90m is perhaps the last milestone he is yet to achieve. But to the fans thinking about it and to Neeraj I say, do not fret. It is better to throw 88m and win (as
Neeraj has many times) than to throw 90m but miss out when it matters most. Especially in the buildup to Paris, the 90m mark is not one I will fuss over. Other than Dehning’s throw (that seems the exception rather than the norm for him), no one else has thrown further than Neeraj’s 88.88m.

In the last 12 months. Can Neeraj reach 90m? Absolutely. Does he need to? Maybe not. That mark has been crossed only thrice in Olympic competition, with Golds usually decided by who is the best competitor rather than who has the strongest arm. And as he demonstrated in Tokyo,
Neeraj excels at just that sort of contest. Over 90 meters or not, Neeraj Chopra is a joy to watch whenever he competes. So his return to competition today is not something you want to miss, particularly as he faces off against the likes of Peters and Helander. The most important thing to look out for is not a gold medal or a 90m throw, but just a healthy Neeraj Chopra. The Paavo Nurmi Games should be watchable on Sport
18 and JioCinema from 7:40pm onwards, with the Javelin competition starting at 9:45pm IST. Live results can be followed at the Games’ website.


Written by Aaryan (X: @thesportsniche)

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