Neeraj Chopra set to start high-stakes 2024 Olympic season at Doha Diamond League

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It’s that time of the year again. Neeraj Chopra is back in action and this year the stakes are even higher. India’s greatest ever athlete is set to begin his 2024 season at the Doha Diamond League on Friday night as he steps up preparations for his Olympic gold defence later this year.

Chopra will be joined by his compatriot Kishore Kumar Jena, in both of their first competitions since last year’s epic battle at the Hangzhou Asian Games, where Jena pushed Chopra right to the end before the veteran defended his title.

Quite unlike his schedule in previous years, Chopra has two events lined up in a span of just five days. After Doha, he is scheduled to compete at the Federation Cup in Bhubaneswar on May 15. With the spotlight on Paris Olympics in July-August, there will an increased focus on Chopra’s double-event start to the season.

Chopra had opened his 2023 season in Doha as well, winning last year’s meeting with an 88.67m throw, just 0.04m ahead of Jakub Vadlejch, who is once again likely to be his closest competitor. In fact, Vadlejch won the Diamond League trophy last year, beating Chopra in the final that was held in Eugene just a few days after the Indian won the World Championships gold in Budapest.

Last month, Chopra had said that his two main aims in 2024 are to defend his Olympic title and to breach the 90m mark. The latter has become a big talking point over the last few years. His personal best remains the 89.94m that he set at the Stockholm Diamond League in 2022. Although he has won every gold medal there is to win in the sport at least once, the psychological barrier posed by the 90m mark still does exist.

In the past, Doha has proven to have conducive conditions for big throws to be made. In 2022, the Grenadian Anderson Peters recorded the fifth-longest throw in history with 93.07m while Vadlejch also recorded his personal best of 90.88m on the same evening.

Chopra has always been a bit blas√© about the 90m mark, saying that he was winning competitions without it, so that would be enough. However, this year seems different. Having won the World Championships last year, there’s nothing left in this sport that he hasn’t won and now may be the time to push the boundaries and increase that personal best.

The field – who can challenge Chopra?

As always, Vadlejch will not be left too far behind. Jena will also be looking to make a strong start to his season ahead of his Olympic debut, as Indian javelin looks to continue the momentum that was built in 2023, which peaked when three Indians finished in the top 6 at the World Championships in Budapest.

The entry list for Doha doesn’t feature the young German sensation Max Dehning yet. Chopra’s first competition against Dehning is scheduled to be at next month’s Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland.

Five of the 10 athletes in the field have already competed this season, with Vadlejch having recorded an 87m throw at the ASA Athletics Grand Prix in Potchefstroom, South Africa. Peters, though, seems to have continued his form from 2023, which wasn’t encouraging at all. He only recorded a best throw of 80.69m at the Grenadian Championships in March, a far cry from the consistent 90m thrower that he had moulded himself into around 2022.

Former world champions Julius Yego and Asian Games bronze medallist Roderick Genki Dean also form part of a competitive field, which just needs to add Arshad Nadeem and a couple of the Germans to be the strongest possible in javelin at the moment.

When is Chopra’s event?

The javelin throw starts at 7:42pm local time on Friday, May 10, which is 10:12pm IST.

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