LAUSANNE: Olympic champion javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra believes India is ''gradually'' making a mark at the global stage of track and field and foresees a bright future for the nation's athletes in prestigious events like the Diamond League.
The 24-year-old Chopra, considered the trailblazer of Indian athletics' unprecedented success in recent years, returned from an injury to become the first from the country to clinch title in a Diamond League meet by winning the Lausanne leg on Friday.
''I will be very happy to see more Indian athletes taking part in these competitions and I will be delighted to participate along with my fellow Indian athletes at a stage like this,'' Chopra said after his historic feat.
''Avinash Sable and Sreeshankar also participated in the Diamond League this year, so gradually our country is reaching this level and if we will perform better here, then it will help Indian athletics do well at bigger stages.'' Recently, long jumper Murali Sreeshankar and 3000m steeplechaser Avinash Sable participated in the Diamond League though they did not finish in top three. Sreeshankar had finished sixth in Monaco earlier this month while Sable ended fifth in Rabat, Morocco in June. ''This win is very important for our country. I feel we shouldn't be only focusing on the events that happen after four or two years. Competitions like Diamond League Meet or Continental Tour are really good opportunities for athletes.
''It happens every year, and it gives us opportunities to do well. It really helps prepare well for the major tournaments because world-class athletes participate here. Performing well in these tournaments will also help Indian athletics,'' said Chopra, who claimed the title with a first round throw of 89.08m -- his third career-best effort.
His second throw measured 85.18m before a pass, foul, another pass and 80.04m in the final round. He pocketed USD 10,000 for the win.
''I don't want to focus only on Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Championships because winning a Diamond League Trophy is also a big achievement for an athlete,'' he said.
Before Chopra, discus thrower Vikas Gowda is the only Indian to have finished in top-three in a Diamond League Meet. Gowda had finished second twice -- in New York in 2012 and in Doha in 2014 -- and third on two occasions -- Shanghai and Eugene in 2015.
Chopra had pulled out of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games due to a ''minor'' groin injury he had suffered while winning a silver during the World Championships last month. But it looked like the injury had not happened at all as he continued his vintage form.
He said he thought his season was over due to the injury but he recovered quickly after one-month rehabilitation in Germany.
''I had to skip Commonwealth Games due to groin injury, and I felt that I will have to end the season. But there wasn't much pain, so I had the belief that I will recover before the tournament.
''I made some good throws in the training and was feeling well, hence we made the decision to compete here. I did my rehab in Germany with my coach ... it went really well. I had very limited time to prepare but the proper planning in rehab helped me recover quickly,'' the athlete from Khandra near Panipat said.
Chopra qualified for the Diamond League Finals in Zurich on September 8, also becoming the first Indian to do so. Despite the win, he remained on fourth spot with 15 points -- with the addition of eight points on Friday. The top six after the Lausanne leg qualify for Zurich Finals. The winner at the finals will take home USD 30,000. Before Friday's win, his best was a second place finish in the Stockholm leg on June 30.
''Diamond League Finals in Zurich will be the season's last competition, so the plan is to continue doing the same things which I've been doing. It's only 10 days, I don't have much time to do more or train extra. The focus will be to end the season on a positive note without any injury.'' During his title-winning feat in Lausanne, Chopra also qualified for the 2023 World Championships in Budapest by breach the 85.20m qualifying markng.
''It's an advantage to qualify for World Championship much in advance as there are other tournaments like Asian Games and Asian Championships lined up as well, so next year will be very important. ''And, then the Olympics in 2024. So the World Championship qualification is already out of the picture, I can prepare well for all the competitions,'' he said.
Chopra has had a successful 2022 season, having clinched historic silver at World Championships as well as breaking the national record (with 89.94m) at Stockholm Diamond League on June 30.
''It's been a great year for me so far. I have gone over 89m thrice out of the five competitions, 88.3m in World Championship, and 86.69m in Kuortane Games despite the challenging weather,'' he said. ''So, the performance has been consistent and now the focus is on doing well in Zurich. Yes, everyone has been asking about 90m throw, it will happen when the time comes, I don't have any pressure about it as such.'' Chopra was cheered at the stands by the legendary Indian shooter Abhinav Bindra, the first from the country to win an individual gold medal in Olympics in 2008. International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach also witnessed Chopra creating history as the Diamond League leg was happening at the headquarters of the world's apex sports body.
''It was a special night, most importantly made a comeback with a very good throw. Abhinav Bindra sir, IOC President Thomas Bach sir and the crowd were cheering for me,'' Chopra said.