Not his usual one-and-done jobs. Neeraj Chopra had to dig deep to dig out silver at World Championships

He had fans chewing their nails in stressful moods from Eugene halfway around the world on Sunday morning. A country that had won only one medal in three decades of the World Championships dreamed of gold in the men’s javelin throw at the World Championships. But Neeraj Chopra had a rare off day in a grand finale.

For about an hour, what seemed like a very long day, Chopra kept everyone waiting. It wasn’t his usual one-time routine. Not the victory march from start to finish like the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. Suddenly it hit: Forgotten gold, did Chopra even medal?

After round 2 Chopra was in fourth place. Anderson Peters, the defending champion, had opened with a 90.54 metre. Chopra would have to improve his personal best and break the 90m barrier to add the World Cup gold to his Olympic gold.

Chopra, who had made a mistake in his first round throw, threw an 82.39m in his second. On his third attempt, he scored 86.37 meters. The Czech Jakub Vadlejch and the German Julian Webber were provisionally 2nd and 3rd at that time.

Chopra has never had to catch up or fight for a podium finish in recent years. Chopra faced the biggest test since becoming India’s only track and field medalist at the Olympics.

Those in his inner circle would not have given up hope. The 24-year-old turns on what they call ‘The Neeraj Chopra in the stadium button’. Chopra enters the lofty space called the zone once he is in the throwing arena, his physio Ishaan Marwaha says. In the zone, in the stream, in a bubble. Now he rarely even glanced at his coach Dr. Klaus Bartonitz. Halfway through, the German biomechanics expert was expressionless.

Chopra had yet to utter his signature roar. Forget dreams of breaking the 90-meter barrier, even 88 eluded him despite all his experience and talent. The commentators started talking about his extensive celebrations in India after the Olympics. They quoted him saying he was not in his best shape. However, he had one thing in his arsenal: the increased arm speed. Could he fix it now?

There are now only three attempts left. Pakistani Arshad Nadeem produces a blast to get one spot behind Chopra.

In his fourth attempt, the legs, hips, shoulder, blocking leg and throwing arm helped Chopra throw the 800 gram ball to 88.13 meters. Above all, it was his mental strength to fight back to win a World Cup silver that stood out.

Gold medalist Anderson Peters, of Grenada, center, stands with silver medalist Neeraj Chopra, of India, left, and bronze medalist Jakub Vadlejch, of the Czech Republic, at a medal ceremony for the Men’s Javelin Final at the World Athletics Championships. (AP)

Even in the low season, hard work was rewarded. Chopra is not an outright powerhouse, but relies on flexibility. He has improved his lockout (front leg landing before release), increased his arm speed, improved hip mobility and increased his ankle strength. The result is finer technique and in turn more energy to keep him through the six laps.

“In the first games he got tired very quickly. This year he is not as exhausted as before (at the end of a match). The reason for that is that his throw is more efficient and his body flows well,” physiotherapist Ishaan Marwaha told The Indian Express.

Peters produced three 90-yard throws in the final, the best being a 90.54 on lap 6. Chopra had enough in the tank to work his way into second on lap four.

He burst out smiling when the cameras were on him, but waved his hands at the millions watching TV so as not to celebrate too early. He walked away with a silver but for a country that used to return empty-handed, his right arm is still gold.

The country’s obsession with finding the next Neeraj Chopra will weigh heavily on the shoulders of the next generation of pitchers. But that quest is still a few years away. For now there is no one like Chopra in Indian sport.

Neeraj Chopra, from India, competes in the men’s javelin throw final at the World Athletics Championships. (AP)

Indians googled crossover steps, block, arm speed, weight of the javelin when Chopra turned javelin throwing into a national obsession by winning the Olympic gold. Now the country is full of armchair experts, and this number of self-proclaimed experts will no doubt increase after Chopra’s Sunday morning performance. Next time they may feel disappointed if he doesn’t win gold. An ode to his achievements. Sports stores have already spoken of a triple jump in javelin sales after the last Olympics. Chopra should pay them a tax on every sale.

His full set of medals is an astonishing achievement. Gold at the World Junior Championships, gold at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, the historic Olympic gold and now the World Cup silver.

Chopra has not only put India on the javelin map of the world, but also planted the flag of Asia. He was the first male javelin thrower from Asia to win Olympic gold. Today he became the first man from Asia to win a World Cup medal in the javelin throw. He had everyone on the edge of their seats and wanted to win him a medal on Sunday morning. By the end of a nerve-wracking hour, he made history.

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