Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra scripted history today by bringing home India's first gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
Only 23 years old, Chopra joined retired sharp-shooter Abhinav Bindra to become the second Indian to win individual gold at the Olympics.
Ending the country's 100-year wait for a track and field medal in the Olympics, Chopra won the Gold with an impressive throw of 87.58m in the finals, outperforming his competitors (Jakub Vadlejch (86.67m) and Vitezslav Vesely (85.44m)) by a fair margin.
Chopra, the son of a farmer, originally hails from Khandra village near Panipat in Haryana. On August 4th, he became the first Indian to ever qualify for the Olympics final of javelin-throw.
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
This also happens to be Chopra's first stint at the Olympics, since he had failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
A junior world champion, Chopra has been consistently improving his performance since 2013, and his personal best, recorded at Indian Grand Prix in 2021, stands at 88.07m!
In 2018, he won a Gold at both, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. He was only 20 at the time.
According to reports, he took up athletics to get in shape. Apparently, while his grandmother aided his love for good food, the rest of the family had other plans. Concerned for his health, they enrolled him in a gym and thus started his journey to fitness.
Javelin throwing, however, came later when he started attending a fitness center in Panipat and caught the attention of javelin thrower Jai Chaudhary.
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
- Jai Chaudhary to TOI
Chaudhary, who recognized the untapped potential in Chopra, talked to his family and convinced them to invest in their son's future.
The family pooled in their resources, even putting their own plans (of reconstructing their house) on hold, to support Chopra's journey as a javelin-thrower. And today, those efforts have paid, and how!
I am so happy that the country's dream has been fulfilled through the efforts of my son. After seeing the level of his training, we were sure of this medal: Father of Olympic gold medalist Neeraj Chopra pic.twitter.com/gI5uDvvxqb— ANI (@ANI) August 7, 2021
Chopra is also a Subedar with the Indian Army, and trains with Uwe Hohn, "one of the world’s most renowned coaches".
#Proud— ADG PI - INDIAN ARMY (@adgpi) August 7, 2021
General MM Naravane #COAS and All Ranks of #IndianArmy congratulate Subedar Neeraj Chopra on winning Nation’s first ever #GoldMedal in #Javelin in Olympics with a throw of 87.58 meters at #TokyoOlympics.#MissionOlympics#Tokyo2020 pic.twitter.com/HUotK29P4K
An Arjuna award recipient, his grit, determination, and hard work, have today made him a household name across the nation. But according to his interviews, he only dreams of the perfect throw, not the medals that come with it.
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.
- Chopra to Indian Express
He already has four international titles to his name. And his journey has clearly, just started. What a star!