Doha Diamond League: Neeraj Chopra opens season with world-leading throw in tough conditions, but fails to breach 90m-mark

Ahead of the Doha Diamond League, Neeraj Chopra had made his intentions clear of going after the elusive 90m, but the conditions in Doha weren’t ideal and he settled for an 88.67m throw that not only earned him first place but also put him atop the world season leaders’ list.

Czech thrower Jakub Vadlejch finished second with a best attempt that was just 4cm short of Neeraj’s mark as two-time world champion Anderson Peters managed only 85.88m to take third spot in the season-opening leg of the elite Diamond League.

With the wind blowing in his face, Chopra started off with an attempt of 88.67m but seemed disappointed to see where the javelin landed. It was a clear indicator that he meant business and wouldn’t settle for anything less than 90m. His second throw dipped to 86.04m and was followed by an 84.57m hurl in the third round. After a foul in the fourth round, he registered an 84.37m throw as the performance slumped across the rest of the field.

At the pre-competition press meet, Chopra had said that Doha was famous for 90m throws, but Friday was different. Despite the field having four throwers who have breached the 90m mark, none could come close at the Qatar Sports Club stadium.

Chopra gave faint hope of a 90m-plus throw in his last attempt as he raised his arms in his trademark celebration style, indicating that he might have landed a big one. But the spear gained more height than distance, perhaps due to the windy conditions, and landed just over the 86m mark. Even Chopra looked a bit surprised and shook his head while looking at the board. But setting aside the 90m question, with his performance in Doha, he has shown that he is competition-ready. The Indian camp would be pleased with his outing considering it is his first competition of the season after ending the 2022 one in September.

Vadlejch, who was the season leader coming into the event, was on Chopra’s heels with 88.64m in his second attempt, but reigning World Champion Peters, who has a personal best of 93.07m, posed no threat to top spot on Friday. The big man from Granada was far from his best and struggled for rhythm.

Nightmare for Eldhose

It was a night to forget for the 2022 Commonwealth Games triple jump champion Eldhose Paul, who finished 10th and failed to even breach the 16m mark. His best attempt at the elite competition was 15.84m followed by 13.65m and 14.70m. Pedro Pichardo (17.91m), Andy Diaz Hernandez (17.80m) and Hugues Fabrice Zango (17.78m) took the top three spots.

Eldhose is yet to come up with a solid performance since his career best of 17.03m at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. In his two domestic competitions this season, both in March, he struggled to land clean jumps. The youngster will have to hit the drawing board and iron out his technical flaws to stand a chance at the upcoming Asian Games.

Last year, Chopra became the first Indian to win a Diamond League title with a best attempt of 88.44m in the season-ending Zurich finals. He was a cut above the rest, registering the best three throws of the night at the Letzigrund Stadium. Zurich was his third Diamond League finals appearance after finishing second-last in 2017 and fourth the next year at Stockholm with a best effort of 85.73m.

This is a busy calendar year for athletics with the Asian Games and World Championships lined up. While Chopra was tipped to become the second Asian to breach the 90m mark, Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem came out of the blue at the Commonwealth Games and threw 90.18m for the top spot. Chopra watched the proceedings from afar after a groin injury he suffered during the Eugene World Championships ruled him out of the event.

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