Neeraj, Jena throw a fight, secure gold and silver medals- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

HANGZHOU: As the final night of the athletics programme finished at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium, the heat was almost incendiary from an Indian perspective. On the track, a bunch of Indian athletes in multiple disciplines were celebrating with the national flag. The relay quartet (Muhammed Anas, Amoj Jacob whose stunning second leg secured the gold, Muhammed Ajmal and Rajesh Ramesh) were celebrating with Neeraj Chopra and Kishore Jena, who had finished one-two in the men’s javelin.  

In one of the most bizarre athletics finals in recent Asian Games history — this one even outdid the women’s 100m hurdles — officials lost sight of Chopra’s first throw without recording his mark. The event had to be stopped for 10 minutes to sort out the confusion (refer to the explainer). They red-flagged a Jena throw despite it being legal and only reversed that decision after Chopra intervened. Chopra decided to not carry forward his protest because he felt for other athletes. Even before Chopra and Jena had stopped celebrating on the end of a raucous night, the Athletes Federation of India (AFI) started a conspiracy theory.

In the middle of all this, Jena was a revelation. He set a new personal best twice, qualified for Paris and forced Chopra to find a higher gear. “Thank you, Jena,” Chopra said after the event. “Your throw pushed me to do well.”In all honesty, Chopra’s first throw — the second throw of the final — was well over 88m and would have reduced the final into a non-event. After the officials mucked around, Chopra had to refocus and recalibrate. A throw of 82.38m was okay but it wasn’t going to be enough; not even close.

One of his great strengths is in frontloading events so this was going to be a genuine challenge. In the absence of Arshad Nadeem, this was expected to be a walk in the field; turn up and be crowned. Instead, he had a headache to deal with. In his second attempt, he pushed it ever so slightly to 84.49m. He has had no problems with consistency but for someone whose postcode is 85m and beyond, this would have been uncomfortable.

And, so, it showed. Twenty minutes later, Jena, who is from Puri in Odisha, hurled the spear to 86.77m. A new personal best and, more importantly, a question asked. Was his senior going to be up for the challenge? Lesser athletes might have folded but the 25-year-old, as un-Indian as they come in handling pressure and being clutch, roused himself up and sent his carbon fibre spear soaring across the night sky to a distance of 88.88m. A new season best (the officials measured it this time).     

Jena, who was a handy volleyball player before his college coach asked him to try javelin because of his height, though, wasn’t about to buckle down. When he boarded the flight, he had one thing on his mind — to punch a Paris ticket. With that secure, a weight was off his shoulder. Now, he wanted to have some fun. Seconds after Chopra’s season best, Jena responded with a personal best. 87.54m; it wasn’t enough to beat Chopra on the night but it revealed both the depth and the growth story of the sport at the continental level.
“Once I did the personal best, I was motivated to do even better,” Jena said. “Paris qualification was the first thought, I knew if I did that, then a medal would also come.”

Tried for a new record: Jacob

The men’s relay team, who had set an Asian record at the World Championships in Budapest, were expected to win gold and they delivered on that. It could have so easily been lost had Jacob not stepped on the after-burners after Anas handed over the baton fifth. After working his way through traffic, he drove around the bend before establishing a substantial lead. Ramesh, in the anchor leg, did what was required to bring home the gold in 3:01.58.“It feels good that we have gold,” Jacob, who’s called captain in the team, said. “We tried for a new record but gold without a record is also fine. The aim is fulfilled for the season.

Official protest against officials: Anju

Anju Bobby George, senior vice president of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), listed out at least five instances where she felt Indian athletes were undone. “Annu’s (Annu Rani in the women’s javelin) first throw wasn’t measured either,” she told the media. “They measured it after five minutes. Same thing happened with Jyothi, same happened with walking (Manju was served two warnings for technical violation in the last kilometre). I felt M Sreeshankar jumped much better than 8.19m. On one of his jumps they raised a red flag, which I think was not a foul. I don’t know what’s wrong with their officiating.

“We told Neeraj to protest there itself. Jena’s throw was given a foul but his foot was one feet behind. Don’t know what’s going on here? Neeraj had to throw an extra throw. The measuring officials knew exactly what was happening. Such things can happen once or twice but can’t happen continuously. That’s why we used to say winning in China is very difficult. We are officially lodging the complaint against the officials tonight itself. The landing was pretty clear. We don’t know what they were looking for. This is the Asian Games, it’s a big deal. It was deliberate. They are targeting Indians.”

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