Despite the country’s huge population, India had never won an Olympic athletics gold medal but that all changed after Neeraj Chopra emerged victorious from a fascinating men’s javelin contest in Tokyo.

The major shock did not surround the 23-year-old’s win itself – an 88.07m PB put him high up among the contenders pre Games – but rather the fact that world champion Johannes Vetter, who had thrown 96.29m this year and was a huge favourite, could only finish ninth as he fell over 15 metres short of his 97.72m PB.

The Indian Commonwealth Games and Asian Games champion had failed to get through the 2017 world qualifying and did not compete in Doha in 2019 but he started sensationally with a 87.03m throw.

That distance would have been enough for gold but he improved that to 87.58m for his second throw. He did not reach that distance again but did manage a 84.24m final attempt which came when he already knew he was Olympic champion. It was one of India’s greatest ever sporting performances.

The other medals went to the Czech Republic, another outcome which would never have been anticipated.

Silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch was not a total shock, as he was the 2017 world silver medallist behind Vetter, but he went into Tokyo ranked well outside the top 20 with an 82.03m season’s best.

He threw 84.93m in qualifying but was back in fifth with an 83.98m opener until he produced a timely season’s best of 86.67m in the fifth round to go within a metre of Chopra.

The identity of the bronze medal winner was more of a shock as that prize went to 38-year-old Vitezslav Vesely. The 2013 world champion was competing in his fourth Olympics and had a previous record of 12th, third and seventh in the Games, with the latter more of an expected position at his age.

He went in ranked outside the top 20 but an 85.44m season’s best put him second until he was overtaken late on by his compatriot as both kept the great Czech javelin throwing record going for world record-holder and multi global champion Jan Zelezny, who has helped both the athletes.

Julian Weber was actually the leading German rather than Vetter and a 85.30m opener held a medal position until the fifth round, when he also produced a solid 85.15m.

The greatest rivalry in cricket is not England v Australia but India v Pakistan and Arshad Nadeem showed there could be javelin rivalry between the two Asian nations in the future as he threw 84.62m to finish a fighting fifth.

“It feels unbelievable,” said the winner. “It is the first time India has won a gold in athletics, so I feel very good. We have just one gold here in other sports.”

Vetter started with an 82.52m throw but then seemed to injure himself in a fall and his two no throws in the second and third rounds meant he fell 32cm short of qualifying for the last three rounds.

“Tough competition,” said Vetter. “If you watch the throws again, you can see it’s not the right surface for me. It’s a good surface for all the runners, for all the nice world records and Olympic records on the track, but not for a javelin thrower like me. So it really makes me sad.”

Source: AW