‘Will learn from this’: Neeraj shifts focus to recovery and Asian Games after Diamond League Finals miss

Neeraj Chopra has set such lofty standards for himself that even a second-place finish in the Diamond League Finals seems like a disappointment. It wasn’t Neeraj’s day in Eugene on Saturday as he failed to retain his Diamond League title (with a best effort of 83.80m), finishing second behind Czech power thrower Jakub Vadlejch (84.24m).

Right after making his first legal throw, on the second attempt, Neeraj didn’t look very pleased. Although the throw took him to second spot, his body language suggested that it wasn’t just clicking.

“I did not feel good with any throw today even during the warm-up. Usually, I feel very good during the warm-up but today I don’t know what happened. But, it’s okay. It happened after a very long time. Otherwise, I have been very consistent but it will teach me something today. I will learn from this,” Neeraj told reporters in the mixed zone after the event.

Saturday’s second-place finish doesn’t take anything away from Neeraj’s stellar season so far. He has been one of the most consistent throwers on the global circuit and the World Championships gold medal in Budapest is just a testament to his prowess. In two weeks, Neeraj will be back in action at the Asian Games, where he will again be the red-hot favourite to bag gold and retain his title.

“The World Championship was the biggest competition this year and I was very happy to win gold there. I am not happy today with my throw. The position does not matter, I am not happy with the throw. It was 83.80m, I have one more competition left this season, the Asian Games. I will try my best there,” he said.

Vadlejch took the lead with his very first throw before finishing with an 84.24m effort as the rest of the field, including Neeraj, never threatened. The Indian’s best throw of 83.80m came in the second round. Although Neeraj would be disappointed in not retaining his Diamond League title, he took home a second-place cheque of approximately Rs 10 lakh.

Two-time world champion Anderson Peters looked like a pale shadow of himself in Eugene. The Grenada thrower has a personal best of 93.07m but could not even cross the 75m mark at the iconic Hayward Field track and field stadium, and finished last.

Neeraj’s route to the final saw him finish on top in two individual Diamond League meetings — in Doha on May 5 and Lausanne on June 30 — and second at the Zurich meet on August 31 (with Vadlejch topping). He also claimed the gold at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, bettering his silver medal from last year.

So far this season, the reigning Olympic and world champion has thrown a season’s best of 88.77m while his personal best is 89.94m, still agonisingly short of the hallowed 90m mark.

Redemption for Vadlejch

While Neeraj may not have been at his best, his main rival Vadlech surely was. He was second at the Tokyo Olympics behind Neeraj, third at the 2023 World Athletics Championships behind the Indian and Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem, third behind Peters and Neeraj at the 2022 World Athletics Championships, and second behind Johannes Vetter at the 2017 World Championships.

But on Saturday, the 32-year-old left behind his rivals to claim the prestigious title.

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“It’s always tough competing with Neeraj, but victory is very valuable for me. I’m still dreaming. I felt very good. It’s very difficult, especially at my age, I’m almost 33 years old, so it’s difficult but javelin throw is my life, so I love it,” Vadlejch, the oldest competitor in the six-man field, said in the mixed zone after the victory.

Neeraj will now head to Hangzhou for the Asian Games where he will face friendly foe Nadeem. The Haryana athlete hasn’t visited India yet after his historic Worlds gold and plans to celebrate with his loved ones after his Asiad duty.

“First, I will recover for the next competition. There has been too much travel from Europe to the USA, back to Europe and then to China. I have not been to India after my World Championship gold and will celebrate with my family and my friends,” he said.

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