As javelin thrower Kishore Kumar Jena uncorked an 86.77m in his third attempt at the recent Asian Games in Hangzhou, a shiver ran through the millions who were closely following the action.
Perhaps, Jena felt that shiver too.
Will he beat Neeraj Chopra? That was the big question on everybody’s mind.
Chopra, the Olympic gold medallist and World Champion was trailing Jena by more than two metres at the halfway mark in the Asiad final.
And if he was rattled, he did not show it. Chopra calmly produced a season-best 88.88m in his next attempt that turned out to be the gold medal throw while Jena improved his personal best to 87.54 for a sparkling silver.
The 28-year-old Jena has had a magical rise. Three years ago, he had not even crossed 70m (68.97m, 2020), the next year he moved to 76.41 and last year his best was 78.05.
This year, though he could not win the two domestic majors (fourth in Federation Cup, 76.17m; second in Inter-State Nationals, 82.87m), Jena was a transformed man, especially in the last month or so, finishing an impressive fifth at the World Championships 2023 in Budapest on August 27 (84.77m) and hitting another high in Hangzhou.
Jena vs Chopra – a new rivalry?
A farmer’s son from Kothasahi Village in Odisha’s Puri District, Jena improved his personal best by an eye-popping 9.5m from last year with his Asiad show.
That makes him the fifth-best javelin thrower in the 2023 world list and the No. 2 in India’s all-time list, behind Chopra (89.94m).
The road to next year’s Paris Olympics – both Chopra and Jena have made the entry standard – now promises to be dramatic. And then, there’s also the uncomfortable question that keeps popping up.
Will Jena jolt Chopra somewhere on the way to Paris?
Great rivalries have a tendency to light up the sport and if Jena maintains his magical progression, that will set up an exciting battle with Chopra which will be closely watched the world over.
Perhaps, it will push Chopra faster to 90m. And with D.P. Manu and Rohit Yadav also promising to fling the spear far, the javelin battle should be intense.
Better days ahead for Indian athletics
Kerala long jumper Ancy Sojan, who had been living in Shaili Singh’s shadow for the last couple of years, also threw enough hints that her rivalry with the latter could raise Indian athletics’ volume in the years to come with a very impressive 6.63m for the Asiad silver.
Jeswin Aldrin and Asiad silver medallist M. Sreeshankar, long jump’s World No. 1 and 2 a few weeks ago, the men’s triple jumpers and the male and female quarter-milers have all been raising the profile of the sport with their close contests.
For sure, these are exciting days.