25 is when dreams start to take wings for most. For some super-special individuals, like Neeraj Chopra, by that age you conquer all that is out there to be conquered. With his maiden World Athletics Championship gold in javelin throw that he won with an attempt of 88.17m at the 2023 edition late on Sunday night in Budapest, Hungary, the Haryana-born athlete has reached a stupendous height that will be hard to match for generations to come. With his first World Championship gold medal, which was the only major missing piece in his already envious trophy cabinet, Chopra has completed a full circle.
He is the reigning Olympic champion – the first Indian sportsperson to win a gold medal at the Games in athletics (field events). Now, Chopra is the first from the country to win a gold medal at World Athletics Championship. Till now, the silver medal that he won in 2022 was India’s best return from the World Athletics Championships after Anju Bobby George’s bronze medal in the women’s long jump back in 2003 at Paris.
Chopra has an Asian Games gold medal and a Commonwealth Games gold medal. He is a Diamond League champion too. Add to it, the U20 World Championship gold medal that he won in 2016. Neeraj is truly the golden boy of Indian sport.
Chopra is now the second Indian, after Abhinav Bindra, to simultaneously hold the Olympics and World Championships title. Bindra won the World Championships title when he was 23, and the Olympics gold at 25.
To think that Chopra took up javelin almost by chance is another fascinating story. In 2011, a then 14-tear-old Chopra weighed 85kg. He was obese and his family somehow convinced his to join a gym. From his village in Khandra, Haryana, he used to go to Panipat, situated 17km away, for gym training. On his way, he would go to Shivaji Stadium, where he first threw up javelin upon the insistence of his senior Jaiveer, a national-level javelin thrower. He had found his calling and there was no looking back.
By 2015, he had breached the hallowed 80m mark. By 2016, he had set a world record at the Under-20 level. In 2017, he won the Asian Championships gold medal. In 2018, he won gold medals at the Asian Games as well as the Commonwealth Games.
Just when he was primed to be India’s favourite contender for a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, he hit a roadblock. Ahead of the 2019 World Championships, he suffered a major elbow problem due to bone spurs in his throwing arm. He had to undergo an intense two-hour surgery and then underwent a four-month rehabilitation. He ultimately came back, and came back in style.
In the summer of 2021, at his maiden Olympics, with a throw of 87.58 m, he became the first Indian to win a gold medal at the Games in athletics (field events).
Therein lies the greatness of Chopra. Though from the outside, it might seem that he is that wonder-boy who has the Midas touch, he has had his share of struggles. And every time, he was pinned down he came back stronger and he threw the javelin to a greater distance.
After the Olympics, he went to break his own national record twice in a space of just over two weeks in 2022. His current record is 89.94m. Last year, he won the Diamond League but missed the World Championship gold. He came very close to clinching that gold in 2022 with a throw of 88.13 m. However, he fell short of Grenada javelin thrower Anderson Peters’ monstrous 90.54 m throw. This time he led the field in style though he started with a false throw. However, an attempt of 88.17m was enough for him to take the gold ahead of Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem (87.82m).
And, with age on his side, he is in no mood to stop!
With PTI inputs
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