The Champ Outdoes himself

Twenty-five-year-old Neeraj Chopra yet again made India proud on Sunday with his historic feat. He thus became the first Indian athlete to win the World Athletics Champions gold medal during the men’s javelin throw final event in Budapest. Chopra’s second attempt in the final saw him launch the javelin to a distance of 88.17 meters, which remained the highest in the event. This accomplishment also established consistency as well as improvement from the earlier 2022 edition event, where he got a silver.The reigning Olympic gold medalist didn’t have the desired start in the final, reaching a distance of just 79m; Neeraj was not happy with the throw and decided not to register the score at all, as he stepped the line to force a foul. However, he saved his best for the second attempt in the final; riding on a humongous crowd support, Chopra took his run and in typical style, began to celebrate even before the javelin could land. Chopra’s compatriot from Pakistan, Arshad Nadeem finished second as he finished marginally behind the Indian gold medalist at 87.82m. The Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch took the bronze in 86.67m.

Neeraj Chopra, born on December 24, 1997, stormed on to the Indian track and field athletics, and remained a reigning Olympic Champion, World Champion and the Diamond League champion in the javelin throw. Moreover, he is the first Asian athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in this event and the first such Asian to win gold at the World Championship. A Junior Commissioned Officer Subedar (JCO) in the Indian Army, Chopra is the first track and field athlete to win a gold medal for India at the Olympics. He is also the first track and field athlete from India to win at the World Under-20 Championships, where in 2016 he achieved a world U20 record throw of 86.48 m, becoming the first Indian athlete to set a world record. Since then he never looked back as he participated in the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2018 Asian Games, serving as the flag-bearer in the latter and winning gold medals in both. As of 2021, he is one of only two Indians to have won an individual Olympic gold medal (the other being Abhinav Bindra), the youngest-ever Indian Olympic gold medalist in an individual event and the only individual to have won gold in his Olympic debut. His silver medal later in the 2022 World Championships made him the second Indian to win a medal at a World Athletics Championship. Fouji Chopra subsequently won the first gold for India at the 2023 World Athletic Championships.

Chopra entered his first international competition in 2013 by representing India in the World Youth Championships in Ukraine, where he won his first international medal in 2014, a silver at the Youth Olympics Qualification in Bangkok. He achieved his first throw of over 70 meters at the 2014 senior national. In 2015, Chopra broke the previous world record in the junior category, throwing 81.04 meters in the 2015 All India Inter-University Athletics meet; this was his first throw of over 80 meters. He finished fifth at the 2015 National Games in Kerala and received a call back for the national-level training camp as a result of leaving Panchkula in 2016 to train at Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports, Patiala. He admits that his inclusion in the national camp proved a turning point in his career, as he received better facilities, a better quality diet, and an improved standard of training from that available at Panchkula. He also later began training under Australian coach Gary Calvert that month.  That helped him win a gold medal in the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland and set a world junior record of 86.48 m, becoming the first Indian athlete to achieve a world record, at the same time setting a new national record. Unfortunately, his preparations for Rio were hampered due to a back injury he sustained in April 2016 during the Federation Cup in New Delhi, which noticeably affected his performance in the competition.

However, he bounced back to win gold in the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships with a throw of 85.23 meters He then went to London in August for the World Championships, but was eliminated before reaching the finals He also suffered a significant groin injury in the finals of the Zurich Diamond League, on August 24 sustaining the same during his third attempted throw, in which he attained a distance of 83.39 meters; owing to the injury, he fouled his fourth attempt and skipped his last two allowed attempts. His first and best throw of 83.80 meters gave him a seventh-place finish that year. As a result of his injury, he withdrew from competition for the remainder of 2017 After recovering from his injury, which he partly attributed to a heavy competition schedule and the lack of a proper diet and rest, Chopra spent a month at the Joint Services Wing sports institute in Vijayanagar He then left for Offenburg, Germany in November to train for three months with Werner Daniels, whom he had briefly worked with before the 2017 World Championships. His former coach Calvert had left India in May due to disputes over his contract. During his stay in Offenburg, Chopra focused on strength training and honed his technique with Daniels’ guidance, adjusting his stance and improving his range by keeping his hand raised higher during throws. Yet, he missed the 2019 World Championships in Doha due to bone spurs in his right elbow, undergoing surgery in Mumbai on 3 May 2019, the day after the qualifying competitions for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had begun. After a period of recuperation, involving meditation and rehabilitative training in Patiala and the Inspire Institute of Sport at Vijayanagar, he traveled to South Africa in November 2019 for training under German biomechanics expert Klaus Bartoneitz. Earlier, he had been coached by Gary Calver and Werner Daniels After a 16-month hiatus, Chopra returned to international competition in January 2020 with a winning throw of 87.86 meters in the Athletics Central North West League Meeting in Potchefstroom, South Africa, as a distance of over 85 meters qualified him for the Tokyo Olympiad.  Such ups and downs may be common in any athlete’s illustrious career, yet in case of Chopra, it looks different. He clearly worked with a determination ‘never say give up’ and strove to keep winning the medals to flutter the Indian flag at various international events, which is no mean achievement. That too, wins back to back in major tournaments matters a lot! And, undoubtedly his army training might have given that kind of ‘will power’ that one can find in every Indian soldier’s determination to fly the trio-color flag high. Yes, he has become our ‘golden boy’ in athletics.