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Tokyo Olympics: Meet Neeraj Chopra, the 23-year-old who made this India’s best Olympics ever

Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra bagged the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, ending India’s 100-year wait for an elusive athletics medal at the world’s top sporting stage.

Chopra has done what no Indian athlete has ever managed to do before – win an athletics gold medal at the Olympics.

A pre-tournament medal contender, the 23-year-old Chopra had fuelled country’s expectations by topping the qualification round with a stunning first round throw of 86.59m.

Brimming with confidence with hardly any nerves on display, Chopra walked in like a rockstar to make the Tokyo Games India’s best ever Olympic outing in what was the country’s final competitive outing at the ongoing edition.

His was the country’s seventh medal and first gold in this Olympics and he joined shooter Abhinav Bindra (2008 Beijing Games) in an elite and very hard-to-reach club of India’s individual gold winners in the showpiece.

Three track and field athletes were part of the five-member Indian team at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium — the other two being wrestlers. Since then, no Indian had won a medal in athletics.

The International Olympic Committee still credits Norman Pritchard’s 200m and 200m hurdles silver medals in the 1900 Paris Olympics to India though various research, including the records of then IAAF (now World Athletics), showed that he had competed for Great Britain.

The enormity of this achievement will take some time to sink in for everyone. The 23 year old Neeraj began with a bang. His first throw was 87.03m. That was followed by a throw of 87.58m. His third attempt saw Neeraj throw the javelin 76.79m. With this he topped the standings out of 12 throwers and made the cut for the final 8, who threw thrice again.

Neeraj’s fourth throw was a no throw. This was followed by another no throw, but he still held on to the lead. By the time he came out for his 6th throw, he already had the gold medal in the bag. He still took the throw and registered a distance of 84.24m.

The gold medal winning throw was his second throw of 87.58m. Though, no one else went past the 87m mark, which Neeraj had crossed with his first throw.

What an incredible way for India to end their Tokyo Olympics campaign – saving the best for last.

Athletics is not a category where Indian athletes are counted amongst the big contenders. But Neeraj went into the Tokyo Olympics as a very big contender. And he has shown just why.

Here’s everything you need to know about new Indian Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra:

  • Date of Birth: December 24, 1997
  • Age: 23
  • Birth Place: Panipat, Haryana
  • Sport/Event(s): Javelin throw
  • Personal Best: 88.07m (national record)

Major achievements:

  • Gold medal in Tokyo Olympics
  • 2018 Asian Games gold medal
  • 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal
  • 2016 World Junior champion
  • Junior world record holder

A farmer’s son from Khandra village near Panipat in Haryana who took up athletics to shed flab, Chopra scripted history by winning the elusive medal, which the likes of late Milkha Singh and P T Usha let it slip from their grasp in 1964 and 1984 editions.

Chopra has established himself as the one of the brightest track and field stars from India in recent times. Chopra came into the limelight with a stunning gold medal at the 2016 Junior World Championships in Poland.

He broke the junior world record with a throw of 86.48m, which was even farther than the distance thrown to win the bronze medal a month later at the Rio Olympics.

The 23-year old made strides with gold medal winning efforts at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2018. At the Asiad in Indonesia (2018), he established a new national record with a throw of 88.06m.

In May 2019, he underwent elbow surgery on his throwing arm, missing the IAAF World Championships, the Diamond League and the Asian Championships.

Neeraj though made an impressive comeback, qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics with a throw of 87.86m at the ACNE League meeting in South Africa in January 2020.

Like all athletes the world over, Chopra too missed quality competitions due to the Covid-19 pandemic for more than a year. But he broke his own National record this year in March, throwing a distance of 88.07m in Patiala, which was also his season’s best throw.

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