NEW DELHI: Neeraj Chopra‘s remarkable journey from a Haryana village, where he was initially persuaded to embrace sports for weight loss, has evolved into a truly spectacular narrative. At the age of 25, he is poised to etch his name as one of India’s most revered sporting figures.
A mere two years ago, Neeraj’s javelin soared majestically into the Tokyo sky, securing him the distinction of being the first Indian track and field athlete to clinch an Olympic gold medal.

Remarkably, at just 23 years old, he joined the exclusive ranks of individuals like the legendary shooter Abhinav Bindra, standing tall as only the second Indian to seize an individual Olympic gold.

Before Bindra, who won the 10m air rifle gold in 2008 Beijing Olympics, India’s eight other yellow metals at the Games had come from hockey, a team game.
Adding yet another chapter to his illustrious saga, Neeraj solidified his legacy with a resounding gold medal at the World Championships. With every triumph, his stature continues to ascend, captivating the hearts and imaginations of people across the country.

He is now only the second Indian — again after Bindra — to simultaneously hold the Olympics and World Championships titles. Bindra won the World Championships title when he was 23, and the Olympics gold at 25.
With age on his side, Chopra is bound to achieve more success if he stays fit. He will have two Olympics and two World Championships before he turns 30.

Superstardom after Tokyo gold
The world junior championships triumph in 2016 heralded Chopra’s rise on the world stage but it was the gold in Tokyo in 2021 that etched his name in Indian sporting history.
The adulation showered on him was unprecedented; it was at par with if not more than some of the cricket icons.

He was the toast of the nation and having attended so many felicitation programmes on one occasion exhaustion and fever forced him to leave a welcome function near his village. He later revealed that he had put on weight after missing training due to the many felicitation functions he had attended after the historic success in Tokyo.
Chopra found himself among the most-searched Indian personalities online and ranked above the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma in Google searches in India. After his Tokyo triumph, Chopra’s brand value skyrocketed with top brand sponsors lining up for him.
His brand value was compered with people like Kohli and his Instagram and Twitter followers swelled instantly.
In December last year, Chopra dislodged the iconic world record holder sprinter Usain Bolt as the ‘most visible’ and ‘written-about’ athlete in the world.


Neeraj Chopra wins gold medal in Men’s Javelin at the World Athletics Championship 2023

Chopra led a star-studded field in terms of media coverage with 812 articles published in his name, followed by Jamaican sprint trio of Elaine Thompson-Herah (751), Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce (698) and Shericka Jackson (679).
Athletics Federation of India president Adille Sumariwalla said recently that Chopra’s Tokyo Olympics gold has made parents think that there is a career beyond cricket in India.
Sumariwalla may not be off the mark as more than half a dozen Indians are currently capable of hurling the spear above 80m and three Indians, including Chopra, featured in the World Championships men’s javelin final on Sunday.
August 7, the day Chopra won gold in Tokyo, is now being celebrated as National Javelin Day.
Consistency is the key for Chopra
Consistency has been Chopra’s forte since his Tokyo triumph as he has thrown above 86m in all the events he has taken part in the last two years. Of course, he has not competed in too many competitions — just two this year before the World Championships — but there has not been any drop in his performance.
The least distance he has cleared since the Tokyo gold was the 86.69m while winning the Kuortane Games title in Finland in June last year. His best is the 89.94m which fetched him a second place at the Stockholm Diamond League, also in June last year.
Compared to this, his closest competitors such as Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch of Czech Republic has thrown below 85m many times. Of course, Vadlejch has featured in more than 20 competitions in the last two years, more than twice as that of Chopra.
It’s almost the same in case of Julian Weber of Germany, who was fourth in Tokyo and also in the 2022 World Championships.
Anderson Peters of Grenada suffered a dip in form after winning gold in the 2022 World Championships — his second after 2019 edition triumph — and he could not even touch 80m in the qualification round here on Friday to make an early exit.
Ultimate down-to-earth and people’s champion
Chopra may not be as articulate as the likes of Bindra but his ‘I can’t hurt or disappoint anybody’ mindset can floor anyone. He would readily oblige fans in India and abroad for selfies and autographs. He will not say no to scribes wanting to talk to him.
No doubt, the Tokyo Olympics success brought certain restrictions as far as access to him is concerned with ‘guards’ surrounding him often, but he remains down to earth as before. He is still accessible in the playing arena.
Chopra speaks from the heart and not in a nuanced way. He would even candidly tell scribes that medals are not awarded in certain events.
Mischievous chubby kid cajoled to shed flab
But many years before he achieved greatness, Chopra was under tremendous pressure from his joint family of 17 to lose weight.
He was all of 13 at that point and had become a mischievous boy, often fiddling with the bee hives on village trees and trying to pull buffaloes by their tails.
His father Satish Kumar Chopra wanted something to be done to discipline the boy. So, after a lot of cajoling, the child finally agreed to do some running to shed the flab.
His uncle took him to Shivaji Stadium in Panipat — around 15km from his village.
Chopra wasn’t interested in running and almost instantly fell in love with javelin throw when he saw a few seniors practising at the stadium.
He decided to try his luck and, as they say, the rest is history, which would now probably make its way into school textbooks.
(With PTI Inputs)

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