Everyone knows Neeraj Chopra; Then again, no one really does!

Neeraj Chopra, 25, has won every major title in javelin throwing, single-handedly changing the perception of Indians in global sports. 

Updated - August 29, 2023 02:15 pm IST

Published - August 28, 2023 11:19 pm IST

Men’s javelin throw gold medallist India’s Neeraj Chopra poses for portraits during a studio photo session on the sidelines of the World Athletics Championships in Budapest.

Men’s javelin throw gold medallist India’s Neeraj Chopra poses for portraits during a studio photo session on the sidelines of the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. | Photo Credit: AFP

How can anyone in a nation starved for genuine sporting heroes and success on the biggest stages know a man who, at 25, has won everything there is on offer? Who has single-handedly changed the perception of Indians not being good enough in the most global of sports?

Last year, after silver at the 2022 edition of the World Championships, he was asked what was left and he had mentioned ‘gold at the worlds, maybe’. On August 27 night – early hours of August 28 in India with the time difference – a nation stayed awake to watch him tick that one remaining box and was rewarded with the familiar roar, the raised finger to signal the big prize was his and the genial smile.

He also took an uncharacteristic, ever-so-slight look back to confirm what his mind already knew; he admitted during a special media interaction that continued into the first morning light back home that he was cautious of the adductor strain that had kept him out of action earlier; he mentioned pressure in the context of the massively hyped contest with Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem.

“I was confident till the last throw that I can get a good mark but I was also being cautious, the injury was on my mind. But I am happy with the gold and hopefully in the next competitions it will be better and will train harder for Paris (Olympics),” Chopra said.

“Last year also, I had to wait till the 4th throw. And when others manage a good throw early, yes there is pressure. But I think the most important thing for all athletes is to have the belief that you can do it till the end,” he added.

He still doesn’t see himself as the greatest – Zelezny remains on that pedestal for him – and accepts his rivalry with Nadeem will be hyped -- “I know it will blow up even more at the Asian Games but I try to take it positively.”

Gold medalist Neeraj Chopra, of India, and silver medalist Arshad Nadeem, of Pakistan, right, pose after finishing the Men’s javelin throw final during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest.

Gold medalist Neeraj Chopra, of India, and silver medalist Arshad Nadeem, of Pakistan, right, pose after finishing the Men’s javelin throw final during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. | Photo Credit: AP

He pre-empts any questions on the 90m mark with his trademark laugh -- “it is there on my mind but now I’ve realised it is more important to win. Now I don’t think much about it because I know it will happen one day, hopefully soon.” He manages to find a reason to keep going -- “throwers don’t have a finish line” -- and besting himself.

Even in his hour of glory, he mentions the other two Indians in competition – DP Manu and Kishore Jena finished in the top-six, the latter getting a personal best in his first major international outing.

He compliments the 4x400m relay team and steeplechaser Parul Chaudhary on their performances and speaks of Avinash Sable and Murali Sreeshankar as world-class, only needing to motivate themselves from their disappointments.

Up next will be the Asian Games but Paris is already on the radar. Can India dream of a double Olympic gold-medalist? Who knows. In Chopra’s world, only he knows himself.

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