India’s superstar javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra made a spectacular return to competition after his historic gold in the Tokyo Olympics, a stunning throw of 89.30m shattering his national record and placing him second in a star-studded field at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku, Finland, on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old’s first competitive event after just over 10 months was nothing short of extraordinary as he nearly touched the coveted 90m mark, considered the gold standard in the world of javelin throw.
Chopra’s earlier national record was 88.07m which he had set in Patiala in March last year. He had won the Tokyo Olympics gold with a throw of 87.58m on August 7, 2021.
He opened with an impressive 86.92m before sending the spear to 89.30m. His next three attempts were fouls while he came up with 85.85m in his sixth and final throw.
Finland’s 25-year-old Oliver Helander, who has a personal best of 88.02m and season’s best of 80.36m, was the surprise gold winner with a best throw of 89.83m which he produced in his second attempt.
Chopra’s 89.30m effort will take him to fifth spot in the world season leaders’ list.
Reigning world champion Anderson Peters of Grenada, the pre-event favourite with his world leading monster throw of 93.07m while winning gold in the Doha Diamond League last month, was third with a best effort of 86.60m. This was Peters’ first defeat after seven wins on the trot this season.
2012 Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago was fourth with a best throw of 84.02m, followed by Germany’s Julian Weber (84.02m) and Czech Republic’s Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch (83.91m), who had won silver in Doha with a throw of 90.88m.
Chopra’s rival and friend Johannes Vetter of Germany, who has a maximum number of 90m-plus throws among the active javelin throwers, was set to take part in the Paavo Nurmi Games but had withdrawn.
Chopra had said in recent media interactions that he would not put himself under pressure with the thought of throwing beyond 90m and would look to build up gradually to peak during the July 15-24 World Championships in Eugene, US.
The Paavo Nurmi Games are named after the legendary Finnish middle and long distance runner. It is a World Athletics Continental Tour Gold series event, one of the most prestigious competitions outside the Diamond League Meetings.
The competition organisers have provided an extra incentive for the javelin throwers: anyone who throws beyond the Finnish record of 93.09m will win a Ford Mustang Mach-E SUV. Nobody won it on Tuesday though Peters said in a lighter vein on Monday that he would be going for it.
More than 10,000 people turned up to watch the events.
Chopra will next take part in the Kourtane Games on Saturday in Finland where he is currently based. He will feature in the Stockholm leg of the Diamond League on June 30. He had earlier trained in the US and Turkey before shifting base to Finland last month.