IMAGE: Neeraj Chopra will look to defend his title at the Diamond League Final and throw a distance of 90m for the first time. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images from the Rediff Archives
A World Championships gold was the crowning glory of this season but superstar javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra has a title to defend as he takes the field against familiar rivals at the prestigious Diamond League finals in Eugene, Oregon, USA, on Saturday.
The 25-year-old Chopra lifted the Diamond League champion’s trophy in Zurich last year and would look to do an encore after dominating the season which saw him win his maiden World Championships title in Budapest in August.
If Chopra holds the trophy and pockets the US$30,000 prize money at the Prefontaine Classic, he will become only the third man to defend the DL overall title, though the format changed in 2017.
The Diamond League began in 2010 but the format of having a winner-takes-all grand finale, competed among top six (top eight earlier) on the basis of accumulated points in individual legs, was introduced in 2017. Before that points of all meeting series were added with the grand finale carrying two times of that of individual legs.
Vitezslav Vesely of Czech Republic was DL champion in 2012 and 2013, while compatriot Jakub Vadlejch, who is Chopra’s current closest rival, did the same in 2016 and 2017.
Chopra, who has a personal best of 89.94m, won two individual DL meetings in Doha on May 5 and Lausanne on June 30 before clinching a historic gold in the World Championships.
In between Doha and Lausanne, he suffered a groin strain while training and that kept him out of competition for nearly one month.
Chopra had become only the third javelin thrower in history to hold both the Olympic and World Championships crowns after winning the worlds title in Budapest with a throw of 88.17m.
Just a few days after winning the World Championships title, he competed in the Zurich DL leg on August 31 when he finished second behind Vadlejch, the first time Chopra could not finish in top spot this season.
Defending Diamond League champion, world champion and Olympic champion Chopra has a season’s best of 88.77m in the qualifying round in Budapest, the second best distance on the world list this year.
Besides defending his title, he would also be looking to throw 90m for the first time, a distance which has eluded him so far. The Indian will be returning to Hayward Field where he won silver in the 2022 World Championships behind Anderson Peters of Grenada who will also be in action on Saturday.
Vadlejch, who won bronze in Budapest Worlds and silver in Tokyo Olympics behind Chopra, has been a consistent campaigner on the global stage and owns the world season lead at 89.51m.
With a personal best of 90.88m, he would be looking to turn the tables on Chopra who had beaten him in the DL finals last year.
He will come in with a lot of confidence having beaten Chopra in Zurich leg of DL on August 31. He will be seeking his third DL trophy after 2016 and 2017.
Peters has had a tumultuous season but he will return to the arena where he had won his second World Championships title in 2022. He has been struggling since then and will be hoping to end the season with a memorable show.
Long jumper Murali Sreeshankar and 3000m steeplechaser Avinash Sable had also qualified for the DL finals in their respective events but decided to pull out to focus on the upcoming Hangzhou Asian Games.