Neeraj Chopra's gold a huge step forward for Indian athletics

Neeraj Chopra
Neeraj Chopra celebrates with the tricolour. Photo: AFP

Neeraj Chopra has done it! The 23-year-old from Panipat in Haryana has become the first Indian to win an Olympics medal in track and field events. Chopra won the gold medal in javelin throw with an effort of 87.58m in Tokyo on Saturday night. He also joined shooter Abhinav Bindra as the only other Indian to have won an individual Olympics gold.

After the near misses of Milkha Singh at the 1960 Rome Olympics and P T Usha in the 1984 edition in Los Angeles, India have finally broken the jinx.

Anju Bobby George's bronze medal at the 2003 Paris World Championships was India's lone medal in athletics on the global stage.

Chopra ending the medal drought in Olympics is not a big surprise. He was destined for bigger things ever since he won the world U-20 title in 2016. 

Chopra, who failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics in 2016, took it in his stride. He made the transition to the senior level rather easily.

Neeraj Chopra
Neeraj Chopra in action in the final. Photo: AFP

In 2018 he became the first Indian to win the javelin gold at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Chopra followed it up with a gold at the Jakarta Asian Games in the same year. He clinched the gold with a personal best of 88.06 in the Indonesian capital.

Indian sprint queen Usha had commented during the Jakarta Asian Games that Chopra reminded her of her younger days. “He's so focussed and always trying out some workouts. I used to be like that,” Usha had said.

Chopra's then personal coach and current national javelin coach Uwe Hohn had exuded confidence of him clearing the 90m mark soon. But an elbow injury kept him on the sidelines for the whole of 2019.

Though Chopra bettered his own national record with a throw of 88.07m at the Indian GP in Patiala earlier this year, the COVID-19 pandemic meant he could not compete in many events in the run-up to the Olympics. But Chopra made it clear that he meant business with a throw of 86.65m in his first attempt in Tokyo to qualify for the final.

And on Saturday, he delivered when it mattered most to put Indian athletics on the Olympic stage. Chopra was in spectacular form in the final as he started with 87.03m and bettered it with 87.58m in his second attempt which eventually won him the gold. German Johannes Vetter, who was the favourite, failed to even make it to the top eight.

At 23, Chopra's best is yet to come. He could easily break the 90m barrier and win medals consistently in the major events. Chopra is a rare talent and greater glory beckons him.

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