It will be a reality check for Neeraj Chopra on early Wednesday morning when he will be taking the field on his Olympic debut while rubbing shoulders with the likes of javelin giant Johannes Vetter, a strong favourite for the gold medal, in group A of men's javelin throw qualification.
While Vetter (season-best of 96.29m) is billed to go past the 90m mark with ease, the distance remains an unprecedented one for 23-year-old Neeraj, who enters the Games with his national record throw of 88.07m (in March 2021). However, such an enormous distance will be inconsequential on the day as going past 83.50m will be enough to seal a spot in the August 7's javelin throw final.
Fellow debutant Shivpal Singh, who sealed his maiden Olympic ticket with an 85.47m throw in March 2020, will also be vying for a place in the final in group B. He will be competing in the group with medal contenders Poland's Marcin Krukowski (season-best of 89.55m) and Trinidad's Keshorn Walcott (SB 89.12m), along with world champion Andersen Peters (SB 83.46m).
If the Indian duo succeeds in breaching the qualifying mark, they will also become the first Indian javelin throwers to qualify for an Olympics final while grabbing the top two spots of best performers in the event. As per the Olympic website, the current Indian record at the Games stands at 70.86 by Jagdish Bishnoi back at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
In case, if they fail to go past the established qualifying distance in the allotted three attempts, there will be a possibility of back door entry into the final. The rules state that in case the required 12 spots are not filled up through direct qualification then the combined best performers of the two groups will grab the remaining places.
Neeraj's current form suggests that won't be necessary as he is among the favourites to grab a medal and only a sharp decline in form -- as we saw in women's javelin event with Annu Rani where she finished 29th out of 30 throwers with a sub-standard performance of 54.04m.
A glance at Neeraj's recent performance, which came during his foreign camps with coach Bartonietz Klaus in Europe before reaching Tokyo, suggests he is entering the event in good shape with an 86.79m throw late last June in Finland, which came four days after a worrying performance of 80.96m in Sweden. The national record holder, however, told the media that not to read too much into the dip leading to the Olympics.
The same can't be said about Shivpal, who remained in the Indian national camp with coach Uwe Hohn in Patiala for his Tokyo preparations, as his 77.31m effort at the National Inter-States in June suggests he is not exactly in the best shape for the Olympics.