Neeraj Chopra on Monday became the first Indian javelin thrower to clinch an Asian Games gold as the country’s track and field athletes continued their impressive show by adding three more silver medals here.
Neena Varakil, a daily labourer’s daughter, won a silver in women’s long jump while long distance runner Sudha Singh and Dharun Ayyasamy also finished second in women’s 3000m steeplechase and men’s 400m hurdles respectively.
After the third day of athletics competition, India has won two gold and six silver from the blue-riband discipline. The 20-year-old Chopra, a farmer’s son from a village near Panipat in Haryana, shattered his own national record by clearing a distance of 88.06m in his third attempt to seal the gold.
This was the second track and field gold in the ongoing Asian Games after Tejinderpal Singh Toor’s Games record shattering performance in the men’s shot put on the first day of competitions on Saturday.
Chopra’s gold is India’s only second medal in javelin throw in Asian Games history after Gurtej Singh won a bronze in 1982 in New Delhi. Liu Qizhen of China was a distance second with a best throw of 82.22m while Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem won the bronze with a 80.75 effort.
The Commonwealth Games and reigning Asian champion completely dominated the competition as he bettered his own national record of 87.43 which he had come up with in Doha during the first leg of the Diamond League series in May. None of the competitors in the field had a 85-plus throw this season.
Chopra’s biggest rival was expected to be Chao Tsun Cheng, who last year recorded a throw of 91.36m but the Chinese Taipei thrower could manage a best of 79.81 to finish fifth.
Chopra, the world junior record holder of 86.48, has been in tremendous form this season as has consistently crossed the 85m mark.
Although, he won the gold quite easily, Chopra said the competition was tough. “It was not easy. Good throwers had come but they could not perform well. I had prepared well and wanted to create an Asian Games record but the height of javelin was an issue and that is why I could not get the desired distance,” Chopra said.
The Asian Games record is 89.15m, which Zhao Qinggang of China had set in 2014 in Incheon. “But it was still is a national record, so I am happy. I will try to better it further,” said Chopra.
Talking about his national record-breaking throw, Chopra said, “All things need to come together for a successful throw. Only when technique and speed is perfect, you get it and it happened in the third attempt.”
He said he did not have any particular target in mind, coming into the Asian Games. “I don’t take pressure by setting targets. I had a gold in World Junior Championships, Asian Championship and at the CWG, but this is my biggest medal so far. The World Championship gold was at junior level, so this is big,” he said.
Chopra will next compete in Diamond League Final in Zurich on August 30.
Meanwhile, Neena, a daughter of a daily labourer in Kerala, won her first Asian Games medal in long jump with a season-best effort of 6.51m. She finished behind Thi Thu Thao Bui of Vitenam who cleared 6.55m.
“She [Bui] has always been a tough competitor. She has beaten me a couple of times before but I am happy with this medal,” Neena, who lives in Kozhikode, said.
Ayyasamy also shattered his own national record while winning a silver in men’s 400m hurdles. He clocked 48.96 seconds to finish behind Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba who won the gold with a Games record time of 47.66. Ayyasamy’s earlier national record was 49.45 which he had come up with during the Federation Cup in March.
The 21-year-old from Tamil Nadu was fourth till the 300m mark but passed two competitors in the last 100m stretch to cross the finishing line in 48.96, his personal best mark.
It was India’s first medal in the event since Joseph Abraham won a gold in 2010. Ayyasamy hopes that his silver medal will be enough to get him a job so that he can support his stoic mother, who raised him single-handedly after the death of his father.
“My father passed away when I was eight years old. My mother has made a lot of sacrifices for me. I owe her this. She is still earning just Rs 14,000 per month as a teacher,” he said.
Also winning a silver was experienced campaigner Sudha Singh, who won her second Asian Games medal in women’s 300m steeplechase by clocking 9 minute and 40.03 seconds. She had won a gold in this event in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou.
In the men’s 800m, Jinson Johnson and Manjit Singh qualified for the final. National record holder Johnson topped heat number one by clocking 1:47.39 while Singh was second in heat number three with a timing of 1:48.87.
However, there were disappointing performances by other athletes. Anu Raghavan (56.92) and Jauna Murmu (57.48) finished fourth and sixth respectively in the women’s 400m hurdles. In men’s 3000m steeplechase,
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