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Arshad Nadeem hoping for Olympics 1-2 with Chopra

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BUDAPEST: Having been pipped to gold by India’s Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra at the World Athletics Champio­nships on Sunday night, Pakistan’s javelin marvel Arshad Nadeem was left hoping that the friendly rivalry between the duo continues till next year’s Games in Paris.

Arshad produced his season’s best effort of 87.82 metres but it wasn’t enough to stop Chopra, who claimed the title with an 88.17-metre throw. The 26-year-old nonetheless created history for Pakistan, delivering the country’s first medal at track and field’s premier event.

“So happy for Neeraj,” he told reporters after the final. “India and Pakistan are top two in the world. Hopefully, we will be 1-2 at the Olympics as well.”

India and Pakistan may have a heated rivalry in cricket but on a warm night in Budapest, all eyes were on two athletes competing for javelin gold.

The flamboyant Chopra — one of three Indians to reach the final — needed only one attempt in the qualification round to lead the field with a season-best 88.77 metres.

The Indian was unhappy with his first effort in the final, deliberately stepping over the line for a foul. Under pressure, the 25-year-old then soared into the lead on his second attempt, turning his back and celebrating in trademark fashion with his arms aloft while pointing at the sky immediately after his throw, knowing it was good.

Arshad, coming back from elbow surgery and a knee injury, was competing in his first event of the year and as soon as the javelin landed on his third attempt, he broke into a wide grin as he moved up to second.

But that was as close as the 2022 Commonwealth Games champion got to Chopra, who fell to the ground after his final throw and kissed the surface before charging towards the crowd.

“It is a very satisfying achievement for me to get a distance of 87.82 metres as I returned to international competition after nearly a year due to my elbow surgery,” he said.

“Neeraj and I have a very healthy competition and we respect each other a lot. There is no Pakistan-India rivalry in a bad way. When we talk we are just happy that both of us have come to the fore in a competition usually dominated by Europeans.”

Chopra shared similar emotions.

“I met Arshad after the event and we were happy that both our countries are making serious strides in the sporting arena,” he said at a press conference.

“We were also happy to have prevailed over our European counterparts, who are stronger and very competitive. The rivalry between our two nations in sports will always be there.

“I feel the win here will raise the expectations of fans going into the Asian Games. We will meet again in Hangzhou. I feel at the Asian Games there will be more talk about India versus Pakistan, but I am just going to stay relaxed and healthy.”

Chopra leads Arshad 9-0 in the head-to-head record but the latter has the better personal best throw with his 90.18m effort seeing him win last year’s Commonwealth Games, where his Indian rival was absent.

Chopra admitted later on that he was looking to cross the 90m mark for the first time in his career.

“I just wanted to throw further,” he said. “This is brilliant for the national team but it was my dream to win gold at the world championships.

“This has been a great championships for India and I am proud to bring another title to my country. I don’t think I am the best thrower here. I wanted to throw more tonight.

“I wanted to throw more than 90m tonight but it needs all parts of the puzzle to be there. I couldn’t put it all together this evening. Maybe next time.”

Arshad’s biggest desire is to win Olympic gold and he said he will be gunning for it against Chopra in a year’s time in Paris.

“I want to win an Olympic gold for my country,” he said. “It will require a lot of hard work, training and the best equipment but now I know I am capable of doing well against the best.”

Elsewhere on Sunday, high jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh delivered an emotional end to the championships by securing war-afflicted Ukraine’s first gold medal of the event. She jumped 2.01 metres to close out a riveting evening.

An engrossing final night also saw Mary Moraa of Kenya end American Athing Mu’s run of global titles in the women’s 800m while Jakob Ingebrigtsen showed huge character to retain his 5,000m title.

Just as Ingebrigtsen showed mettle after the crushing disappointment of being pipped to silver in the 1,500m for the second world championships in a row, so did the Netherlands’ Femke Bol.

Just over a week after she fell with the line and gold beckoning in the mixed 4x400m relay, she produced a jaw-dropping final leg to pass the British and Jamaican runners and secure the title for the Dutch women’s 4x400m team.

Bahrain’s Kenya-born Winfred Mutile Yavi cantered to victory in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase, beating two of her former compatriots.

The US men won the 4×400 relay to give the Americans their 29th medal of the championships, 12 of them gold. However, it was the French team that celebrated hardest as a silver medal ensured next year’s Olympic hosts got their only medal in Budapest.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2023

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