This is India’s first Olympic medal in athletics.
Neeraj Chopra is the new poster boy of Indian sports. The javelin thrower is now the toast of the entire nation after winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday. This is only the second time in the country’s history that an individual athlete has clinched a gold medal at the Olympic Games. As such, it is a historic moment and an achievement for the ages.
The 23-year-old athlete helped India finish their Tokyo 2020 campaign on a memorable note. Infact, this is the country’s best-ever Olympics campaign, having won a total of seven medals.
Let’s take a look at why Neeraj Chopra’s remarkable feat can be considered as the greatest achievement in Indian sporting history:
Athletics medal drought
Over the years, India’s performance in athletics at the Olympic Games hasn’t been up to the mark. India came mightily close to winning a medal on the grandest stage on three different occasions. At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Milkha Singh finished in fourth place in the 400m final. The legendary athlete missed out on a medal by 0.1 seconds.
24 years later in Los Angeles, it was P.T. Usha who came agonizingly close. She competed in the 400m hurdles in 1984 and missed out on a podium place by a heart-wrenching 0.01 seconds. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, another star Indian athlete Anju Bobby George finished in fifth place in the women’s long jump event. As such, winning a medal in athletics has always proved to be extremely tough for the Indian contingent.
The only athletics medals came way back in the 1900 Olympics when Norman Pritchard bagged two silver medals in Paris. Despite the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) recognizing his achievements and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) crediting these medals to India, it remains a very debatable topic.
However, there can be no debate about the fact that Neeraj Chopra’s gold medal in Tokyo is independent India’s first athletics medal. In addition, no matter which theory you believe in, Neeraj Chopra’s medal is also the first gold medal in athletics.
Track and field competition of the highest level
The track and field events at the Olympic Games are of the highest level possible. Unlike other sports such as men’s football, the best athletes from across the world participate in the Olympic Games. Despite various prestigious athletics events such as the World Athletics Championships or Diamond League, the Olympic Games remain the pinnacle of the track and field events.
The global television audience for the Olympic athletics events is one of the highest amongst all sports. The track and field events have created some of the greatest Olympic legends of all-time such as Usain Bolt, Allyson Felix, Carl Lewis, Jesse Owens and many others.
Winning a gold medal in track and field at the Olympic Games is one of the toughest things in sports. It is the absolute pinnacle of the sporting world. This is where Neeraj Chopra’s gold medal stands out. Indians do not have the best infrastructure compared to many other nations. Despite various difficulties, Chopra overcame all obstacles to claim glory on the grandest stage of them all.
Career threatening elbow injury
Neeraj Chopra had suffered a career-threatening elbow injury in the year 2019. Chopra had developed spurs in his elbow, which forced him to miss the World Athletics Championships in Doha. The injury was in his right elbow, which is his throwing arm. He was in severe pain because of his hurting elbow. The javelin thrower’s elbow was in a locked position and was stuck.
With his dreams of an Olympic medal seemingly slipping away, Chopra went to his close friends, the Phogat sisters for help. The famous Phogat sisters (Geeta and Babita) after knowing the issue referred Chopra to Dinshaw Pardiwala. Pardiwala is a famous orthopaedic surgeon based in Mumbai. He had treated various sportspersons in the past, including the Phogat sisters.
Chopra underwent critical surgery where his tissues had to be removed and repaired. The Olympic Games getting postponed by a year has been advantageous to him in many ways. It gave him more time to recover. Winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games within two years of a career-threatening injury is a remarkable feat, indeed. It is a testament to the amount of work Neeraj Chopra has put in after his recovery and that he never stopped believing in himself, despite the odds being stacked against him.
Medal under toughest circumstances
We are now living in unusual times. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone and more so the athletes. The Indian athlete had not taken part in any international competition since qualifying for the Olympics at an event in Potchefstroom, South Africa in January last year. As such, Chopra was worried about the situation.
However, he finally managed to get some game-time under his belt after travelling to Europe prior to the Olympics. The javelin thrower produced good performances in events in Lisbon, Kuortane and Karlstad. More importantly, it gave him much-needed confidence ahead of the mega event. Chopra then stayed back in Europe and trained in Uppsala, Sweden.
Therefore, the mental challenges that have come owing to the pandemic cannot be ignored. Neeraj Chopra overcame all sorts of uncertainties and delivered on the Olympic stage. His achievement under the toughest of circumstances deserves special plaudits.
Achievement at such a young age
The fact that Neeraj Chopra won an Olympic gold medal at the age of just 23 is simply remarkable. In doing so, he also became one of the youngest Olympic medalists in the country’s history. These were also his maiden Olympic Games. Infact, Chopra qualified for the final with his very first throw in his very first Olympic Games. That is stunning!
It is widely considered that the peak age of an athlete is when he/she is in their mid-twenties. Having won Olympic gold, one would think that Chopra has already reached his prime. However, now 23, Chopra’s best days are yet to come. With the Paris Olympics just three years away, the boy from Panipat has every possibility of replicating his success in the French capital.
Winning an Olympic gold medal is the greatest moment in an athlete’s career. Winning it at your maiden Olympic Games makes it even sweeter. Hail Neeraj Chopra, the Golden Boy of Indian Athletics.