Neeraj wins historic javelin gold at CWG, Johnson sets national record in 1500m
(Eds: Updating with Jinson Johnson's 1500m national record)
By Poonam Mehra
Gold Coast, Apr 14 (PTI) Neeraj Chopra today scripted history by becoming the first Indian javelin thrower to claim a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games with a season's best effort of 86.47m in the final while Jinson Johnson smashed the long-standing 1500m national record while finishing fifth in the finals here.
However, there was heartbreak for the men's 4x400m relay team and 2014 Glasgow medallist triple jumper Arpinder Singh who missed the podium this time.
The 20-year-old Neeraj, a former junior world champion, had made the final after achieving the qualifying mark in his very first throw yesterday and today again, he was leaps ahead of the field with his very first throw.
"It is a very important medal for me, I wanted to touch my personal best but I missed it by a centimetere. In my desperation for that, I tried so hard that I tumbled over in my last two attempts. But I am very happy and I have lot of competitions this year to achieve the personal best," Neeraj said after his triumph.
Neeraj was the favourite for gold here after his 85.94m throw during the Federation Cup National Championships last month.
The CWG field had been depleted after 2016 Olympics silver-medallist Julius Yego of Kenya failed to qualify for final round, while 2012 Olympics champion and Rio Games bronze-winner Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad opted out of the Gold Coast Games.
Neeraj thus became only the second Indian javelin thrower to claim a CWG medal -- the first being Kashinath Naik, who fetched a bronze in the 2010 Delhi Games.
"The competition was very good here, the world champion was here but he could not qualify. It was still quite tough but I was very sure of myself," Neeraj said.
Overall, Neeraj's medal is only the fifth track and field gold for India in the quadrennial event -- the other four being sprinter Milkha Singh (1958), discus thrower Krishna Poonia (2010), the women's 4x400m relay quartet of Manjeet Kaur, Sini Jose, Ashwini Akkunji and Mandeep Kaur (2010) and shot-putter Vikas Gowda (2014).
Neeraj, a gold-medallist at the Asian Championships last year, simply destroyed the competition with his very first attempt today which was 85.50m.
None in the field could surpass that till the very end and it was left to Neeraj to up the ante, which he did with a season's best 86.47m in his fourth attempt. He consistently crossed the 82m mark in the final, fouling two attempts in all.
"It makes a a lot of difference when you manage to get a first throw like that. It builds pressure on others. As for me, I was not under any pressure or nerves, I was well-prepared," he said.
The fun-loving youngster laughed when asked how he would celebrate the momentous occasion but did speak about the importance of letting one's hair down once in a while to escape stress.
"One shouldn't be too serious in life, it's good to be disciplined but you should not overdo food restrictions. A bit of enjoyment always works. One should have faith that their training is good enough. It's not healthy to just lock yourself in a room before a big competition," he advised.
His compatriot Vipin Kashana finished fifth with a best effort of 77.87m.
Johnson, meanwhile, clocked 3 minutes and 37.86 seconds to finish fifth in the 12-man field. In the process, he bettered the earlier 23-year-old national record of 3:38.00 set by Bahadur Prasd in 1995.
However, there was disappointment elsewhere with Arpinder Singh -- last edition bronze medallist -- finishing an agonising fourth in the men's triple jump event. Cameroon's Marcel Mayack II produced a personal best of 16.80m to put the Indian out of medal contention. Arpinder's best effort was a 16.46m jump.
In the men's 4x400m relay, the Indian team had to pull out midway through the race after Amoj Jacob pulled a hamstring. Because of this, the quartet of A Dharun, Jacob, Muhammed Anas and Rajiv Arokia could not even complete one lap during the race.
The women's 4x400m relay team of Sonia Baishya, M Poovamma Raju, Laxmanbhai Gayakwad Saritaben and Hima Das finished seventh in their event.
Indian track and field athletes thus ended their Gold Coast CWG campaign with 1 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze, the same number and colour of medals as in the last Games in Glasgow in 2014