Neeraj Chopra won Gold in the Men’s Javelin Throw final to win India’s first medal in Athletics on 7 August. Neeraj Chopra’s victory is also our second-ever individual Gold medal at the Olympics, after Abhinav Bindra in 2008.
— Olympics (@Olympics) August 7, 2021
Neeraj’s journey as a track star has covered just as big a distance. As a young boy, this farmer’s son from Khandra village of Panipat had never imagined himself making history on the sports fields of Tokyo. Neeraj comes from a humble family of 16 that survived on mediocre jobs and agriculture. Consistent training and owning practice equipment meant digging into family pockets, which were shallow at best. But this never deterred Chopra, as his family was a constant support system.
Interestingly, he began his tryst with sports to shed a few extra kilos off his body. This was a boy who hated physical activity. An indulgent lifestyle meant that young Neeraj was carrying a weight of 90 kilos at 12 years of age. It took nudging and urging from his family for him to hit the gym and attain a basic level of fitness.
But a forced morning jog session at Shivaji Stadium proved fruitful when it landed him a chance meeting with javelin thrower Jai Choudhary. This was where the making of history would begin.
Jai recalled in an interview with India Times, “One evening at the stadium, I just asked him to throw the javelin. It travelled about 35-40m, which was pretty impressive for a first-timer. What I liked more was the way he threw it. Neeraj used to be overweight those days. But his body was pretty flexible.”
Throws of success
A few years later, Neeraj was breaking world records at the 2016 World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. “My target was to qualify for the Olympics, but I did not make it. My other goal was to win at the World Under-20 Championships,” he had revealed to Economic Times back then.
In 2021, he broke his own national record by an attempt of 88.07m at the Indian Grand Prix 3 at the National Institute of Sports (NIS), Patiala.
Chopra has also bagged gold medals at the Asian Athletic Championships, the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2018 Asian Games.
The level of precision that lands a Haryana local in the global sports arena might seem unfathomable to many. But talking to The Indian Express, Neeraj shared how this is exactly what drives him. “Everyone thinks about winning a medal all the time. But when I am competing, I aim to nail a near-perfect throw. Once I complete that, I take everything, even medals, as a bonus.”
The complexities behind a fine sports career
On his journey to sports stardom, he has trained under Australian coach Garry Calvert at the Olympic Training Centre as a beneficiary of the JSW Sports Excellence Program. Despite defying the odds to reach the top tier of sportsmen, this humble javelin thrower has attributed his success to this support system. “Garry sir has been a huge source of knowledge and help. JSW has provided excellent support and my parents have always backed me to push myself to be the best in whatever it is that I do.”
Today, nothing seems to deter the collected approach with which Neeraj faces each challenge to move one step forward towards his goal. But his confidence was high even before he made history. Speaking with First Post, before the finals, he said, “I am at my first Olympic Games, and I feel very good. During warm-up, my performance wasn’t so good, but then (in the qualifying round) my first throw had a good angle, and was a perfect throw.”
Watch the legendary moment that got India’s finest javelin thrower into the Olympic finals:
Olympic debutant and promising athlete #NeerajChopra qualifies for Men’s Javelin throw finals after throwing an impressive distance of 86.65 metres in his first attempt in Group A of qualification round. #TokyoOlympics #Cheer4Indiapic.twitter.com/ELF8PfU5yK
— All India Radio News (@airnewsalerts) August 4, 2021
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Edited by Divya Sethu
Feature Image Source: Twitter