Neeraj Chopra happiest to find he is no more alone at the top
Neeraj Chopra said what makes him happiest about his Asian Games gold is that he was not alone on the podium this time - it seemed like India's national games being held in China.
Hangzhou: One of the criticisms that has been directed towards the ongoing Asian Games has been on hosts China being so far ahead of the rest of the countries that it has felt like their national games, with some other countries invited. At the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium here on Wednesday night, however, it seemed like India's national games being staged in China.
"It was the Asian Games, but it felt like the National Games because it was me and Kishore Jena fighting for the gold," Neeraj Chopra told a packed press conference after celebrating his second javelin throw gold medal with silver medallist Jena and gold medallists men's 4x400 relay team by his side.
"The third podium spot would also have gone to an Indian, but the rules say that only two can be sent from a country," Neeraj said.
Neeraj said he was happiest for Jena - who increased his personal best by a good 3 metres to land the silver medal. Neeraj said that he had been left mentally disturbed by the initial technical glitch, due to which his first throw, which was around 87m, was not registered on the scoring system, but that it was Jena's energy which fired him up to recover and finally win the gold medal meant for him.
"Mazaa aa raha tha ki apna banda push kar raha hai (It felt great that a fellow Indian was pushing me). There have been years when only I was there in international competitions, now I have a partner. Jena's throw warmed me up again, I had gone a little down after the first throw. Thank you Jena bhai," Neeraj said.
As for Jena, for whom the silver medal was an unprecedented success in only his second international tournament, he said he never entertained the thought of winning gold because he knew however well he did, Neeraj would eventually surpass him.
"I knew Neeraj would overtake me, so nothing changed in my mind when I went ahead of him. It was an inevitability that Neeraj would win the gold," Jena said, throwing the packed room into peals of laughter.
But had Jena not upped his game when needed the most, even Neeraj might not have found his rhythm again. He came up with an 86.77m throw on his third attempt, following which Neeraj found his gold-medal winning throw of 88.88m on his fourth attempt. Jena broke the ceiling again with his next attempt, taking his mark to 87.54.
These three throws by the two of them would be more than five metres ahead from the rest of the field.
Neeraj has Jena's back, on and off the field
"I wish Neeraj keeps taking Indian sports forward, we are right behind him," Jena said.
"My main motivation was to achieve the Paris qualification mark. I knew the personal best and the medal would come anyway then," he added.
Neeraj interjected at this point to remind him and the rest of the room that Jena had actually increased his personal best twice in the space of one night.
Neeraj, who has been at several such packed press conferences over the last few years, seemed to have the soft-spoken Jena's back at all times. During the javelin throw final as well, it was Neeraj who led the protest when one of Jena's throws were called as foul despite there being no fault.
Jena, true to his nature, almost seemed embarrassed that his idol had to pitch in to fight the Chinese officials for him.
"I did not know while protesting that it was just a 79m throw. I just knew it was not a foul throw, but I had thought it had been much longer," the Odisha-based 28-year-old said. Among the eight combined valid throws between Jena and Neeraj on the night, this was the only attempt which was below 80 metres.
Neeraj, however, stood his ground on protesting, saying that whatever happened against Indian athletes at the Asian Games should be looked into.
"It's right to protest in such cases. It happened with me, Jena, Annu Rani, Jyothi Yarraji. We should try to find out what exactly the problem is. I don't know why my first throw was not counted. I fought with the officials for a while, because it was a good throw. They were doing something for 10 minutes, then they told me I would have to retake. I don't like these things, but it's okay, I won the gold anyway," he said.
"Neeraj's first throw had been easily over 87-88 metres. I have not seen technical glitches like this in international events before," Jena said on the controversial officiating.
But the more experienced Neeraj and coach Klaus Bartonietz reminded of an event in Portugal before the Tokyo Olympics when results had somehow been reduced by around five metres of the actual throws.
Why all three of India's javelin throwers have faced issues on officiating and faulty technology remains a question that needs an answer, but as the final result shows, even if it was an attempt at sabotage, there was no way it could have been successful.