Neeraj Chopra surges ahead to become the GOAT of Indian athletics

Sports |  IANS  | Published :

Mumbai, Sep 3 (IANS) "Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the greatest Indian track and field athlete ever?"

Till a few years back, as an answer to this question, some would have said Milkha Singh. Some others might have taken the name of Sriram Singh, some would have said P.T. Usha and some may have said Anju Bobby George.

All of them are legends of Indian track and field who have scripted golden chapters in the history of Indian sports.

But in the last few years, there is one athlete who has surged ahead in the race.

Ever since he won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra has taken the lead in the poll.

And, after winning the gold medal at the World Championships in Budapest on August 27, Chopra has clearly established himself as the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T), because the 25-year-old army man from Haryana has achieved feats that his peers had come close to, but failed to do.

Chopra is the first Indian to win a gold medal in athletics and the second Indian ever to win an Olympic gold medal. Chopra achieved that by hurling the spear to 87.58 metres to win the men's javelin throw gold, sealing victory with his first two throws in Tokyo.

He is the first Indian javelin thrower to top the field in a Diamond League meet and is also the first Indian to win the Diamond League finals.

The 25-year-old Subedar posted with 4 Rajputana Rifles brought more laurels to the country in the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, last week when he made history by becoming the first Indian to win a gold medal in the prestigious event.

Neeraj threw the javelin to 88.17 metres in the final on his second attempt and thus established himself as the front-runner for the medal. Three days later, Chopra won a silver medal at the Zurich Diamond League despite struggling with a minor injury.

This was Chopra's second medal in the World Championships, after having won a silver in Eugene, USA, last year. What made his achievement greater was the fact that Chopra topped the field in Budapest on return from a muscle strain he suffered in May because of which he missed a few meets.

Earlier, he had suffered from a groin strain, which he picked during his historic silver medal-winning performance a the World Championship in Eugene.

In 2019, he had to undergo surgery after developing spurs in his right elbow, which forced him to miss the World Championships in Doha in 2019.

Coached by Uwe Hohn of Germany from 2018 to 2021 and then by German Klaus Bartonietz from 2021 till now, Chopra is the only Indian athlete to hold both the Olympic and World Championships gold at the same time.

Born on December 24, 1997, at Khandra village in Haryana, Chopra came into the limelight when he won the gold in the World Junior Athletics Championships in 2016, with a junior world record to the boot.

He won gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, followed by gold in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta -- the first gold in javelin throw by an Indian in the Asian Games. He holds the Indian national record in javelin throw with a gigantic throw of 89.94 metres at the Stockholm Diamond League in 2022.

All these achievements would look even more challenging as Chopra took to javelin throw a bit late, having taken to the sport as an overweight 13-year-old who wanted to reduce his weight and gain confidence. He comes from a family of middle-class farmers for whom sports is not a first-choice vocation.

The hallmarks of Chopra's performance are his consistency and capacity to work hard. He is humble and does not get distracted from his goals easily, despite earning huge monies since winning the gold medal in Oregon.

Honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2018 and the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award, Padma Shri in 2022 and Param Vishisht Seva Medal in 2022, Chopra has won all the top titles and medals on offer in the sport.

Besides his achievements in the field, Chopra is also a big influence on fellow athletes as Indian youngsters like Murali Sreeshankar, Kishore Kumar Jena and many others take inspiration from him and have started doing well on the international stage.

Jena and D.P Manu, finished fifth and sixth in the World Championships in Budapest, respectively.

"Chao-Tsun Cheng of Chinese Taipei has been doing well for the last few years. We Indians are doing well. On the female side, there are some good throwers from Japan and China, and some Sri Lankans are also doing well. Last year, Anderson Peters won the title, so it's becoming more of a global sport and a lot of athletes are doing well," said Chopra after his World Championships triumph.

Chopra's relationship with Pakistani javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem too has made a great impression on many people across the two countries. There is a friendly rivalry between them and not only Chopra, but even his mother has good things to say about the Pakistani athlete.

"There is no doubt that Arshad has achieved so much for Pakistan -- to win a medal in athletics for Pakistan in the World Championships is a big achievement, considering how he had struggled because of lack of facilities and support. That is the reason why I got him to pose with me on the podium," said Chopra after his World Championships triumph.
Truly a hallmark of a G.O.A.T considering that Chopra is just 25 now and has many more years of competitions ahead of him.

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