Neeraj Chopra grows into a colossus of elusive Olympic gold

Neeraj Chopra ushered in a new era in Indian athletics with his colossal Olympic gold in Tokyo, earning him superstar status in the country that had waited more than a century for such spectacular success at athletics events. The son of a farmer, a sturdy Neeraj, who turned 24 on Friday, immortalized his name in Indian sports history with his gold prize of 87.58 m on August 7, the penultimate day of the showpiece. It wasn’t even his personal best, but it didn’t matter as Chopra was only the second Indian to win an individual gold medal in the Olympics after shooter Abhinav Bindra.

With no high-profile competition leading up to the Olympics, Chopra wasn’t even a sure-fire contender for medals, but he outperformed the field to enter Indian sports folklore. Confident, barely showing any nerves, Chopra literally owned the field with his imperious throw that World Athletics listed as one of the 10 magical moments in athletics at the Tokyo Games. Who would have thought that a fat kid entering athletics to lose weight would become India’s first Olympic athletics champion. It was India’s first gold in 13 years and the second after the 1980 Moscow Games. “It feels incredible. It is a proud moment for me and my country. This moment will be with me forever,” said Chopra after winning the historical gold.

Chopra’s golden moment may be a fresh start in Indian athletics, but the year also saw the end of an era with the death of the legendary Milkha Singh – one of the greatest sports icons of independent India, who almost won an Olympic 400-meter bronze in 1960 missed Rome games. The ‘Flying Sikh’ died in Chandigarh at the age of 91, just months before Chopra’s historic achievement. Chopra dedicated his inspiring performance to Milkha, who had dreamed of seeing an Indian win Olympic gold in athletics before he died. “Milkha Singh wanted to hear the national anthem in a stadium. He is no longer with us, but his dream has come true,” said Chopra. It was also the time of redemption for Indian athletics, which has long been mired in doping controversy.

The sport eventually lost the label to prove it could win medals beyond the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. Discus thrower Kamalpreet Singh was also in the spotlight shortly after her second place in qualification. In the final, she finally ended up in sixth place. The 25-year-old has made rapid progress in recent years as she improved by more than 4m and set a national record (65.06m) in Patiala before the Olympic Games. The men’s 4×400 meter relay broke the Asian record, but still did not make it to the final, which underscores the tough competition at the Olympic Games. Avinash Sable was the other Indian to break his national record in the men’s 3000m steeplechase but failed to make the cut to the final while disappointing sprinters like Dutee Chand. Hima Das didn’t even qualify for the games.

The sports world was messed up by the COVID-19 pandemic, no one was sure of a medal in the men’s javelin, except Johannes Vetter from Germany, who turned out to be extremely confident – who turned out to be overconfident – who was going to the Olympics after seven monstrous Throws over 90 m. In contrast, Chopra only took part in three international events. The two were smaller events with local competitors in Europe and Vetter was known to have claimed that it would be difficult for the Indian to beat him. But Chopra had the last laugh as he easily led the qualifying round while Vetter struggled to get into the finals at all. Vetter was eliminated in the final after three litters, while a self-confident and calm Chopra won gold with a second round attempt.

The excitement in the country with the upcoming congratulations was so great that Chopra had to give up such an event in the middle due to exhaustion. Its social media followers skyrocketed to millions overnight and its brand equity skyrocketed. He eventually entered camp two months after his Olympics and traveled to the United States to train out of season. This year, Indian youngsters also did well at the Junior World Championships in Kenya, with the long jumper Shaili Singh, a protégé of Anju Bobby George, and the 10,000m walker Amit Khatri each taking silver.

Belarusian middle and long distance coach Nikolai Snesarev died at NIS Patiala hours before a competition, while another former athlete, 1951 Asiad medalist and 1952 Olympic marathon runner Surat Singh Mathur died of COVID-19. Legendary trainer OM Nambiar, who made sprinting legend PT Usha a world-class athlete, has also died after being awarded Padma Shree earlier this year

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