Tokyo Olympics: Neeraj Chopra enters javelin throw final after topping qualification

Does Neeraj Chopra have a genuine chance of a podium finish? (2:13)

ESPN's Jonathan Selvaraj believes on why the Javelin thrower is in with good chance of a podium finish (2:13)

India's Neeraj Chopra became the first Indian javelin thrower in history to qualify for the final at the Olympics after hurling the javelin to a distance of 86.65m on his very first throw in the qualification round. Chopra became the first Indian ever to qualify for the final after topping the qualification round at the Olympics. The previous best was Kamalpreet Kaur's second-placed finish at this Olympics in the women's discus throw event qualification round.

The automatic qualification mark was set at 83.50m. Chopra went 15th in Group A and was one of only two throwers to breach the automatic qualification mark with their first throw in Group A.

"I am at my first Olympic Games, and I feel very good. In warm-up, my performance wasn't so good, but then (in the qualifying round) my first throw had a good angle, and was a perfect throw," Chopra said after his event.

Chopra said that he was looking at improving his performance in the final. "It will be a different feeling (in the finals), since it is my first time in the Olympics. Physically we (all) train hard, and are ready, but I also need to prepare mentally.

"I will need to focus on the throw, and try to repeat this (performance) with a higher score," he said.

Finland's Lassi Etelatalo was the other thrower to qualify with his only throw with an effort of 84.50m. The only other athlete to breach the automatic qualification mark was former world champion Johannes Vetter, who managed a distance of 85.64m on his third and final attempt.

Chopra is the reigning Commonwealth Games and Asian Games Champion and the only Indian in history to win gold in a field event in athletics at both those events. India's Shivpal Singh failed to advance to the final after registering a best throw of 76.40m in the qualification round. Shivpal finished in 27th place in his maiden Olympics.

Chopra will next be in action in the final on Saturday, August 7th at 4:30 pm.

Chopra rose to prominence when he equaled the national record with a throw of 82.23m in the 2016 South Asian Games (where he won gold), aged just 19. A few months later, he would smash that mark en-route creating a world junior record in the IAAF World U20 Championships in Poland with a throw of 86.48m -- which would have been enough to qualify him for the Rio Olympics, but the event had been held past the cut-off date for qualification. He was, though, the first Indian ever to win a track and field gold at an IAAF World U20 championships.

Neeraj's gold-winning exploits would continue - to the Asian Champions, the Commonwealth Games (first Indian to medal in the event, and just the fourth Indian individual athletics gold medallist), and the Asian Games (smashing his own national record in the process, and throwing it a whole six metres further than the silver medalist).

He suffered a major injury to his right elbow in 2019, causing him to miss the entire year, but returned in time to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympic qualification mark. Neeraj would once again break the national record in March 2021, shaking off the rust of a pandemic-enforced locked down year.

His unusual throwing technique -- where he flings himself onto the ground on release -- and confidence mark him out within the contingent. With his medals and his flowing locks and his muscular frame, Neeraj is now the poster boy for Indian athletics and is India's great hope for a track and field medal at the Olympics.