Tokyo Olympics 2020: From Panipat to Japan, Neeraj Chopra carrying a billion dreams
No Indian since Abhinav Bindra in 2008 has won an Individual Olympic gold medal. 13 years later, a young and promising athlete in Neeraj Chopra has a chance of creating history at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
The wait for India's second individual Olympic gold medallist continues. Shooter Abhinav Bindra was the first to do it at the 2008 Beijing Olympics; when he denied Henri Hakkinen with a final shot of 9.7 in the men's 10-meter air rifle event to clinch top honors. Since August 11, 2008, a couple of athletes have come close but none have managed to go all the way. 13 years later, a young and promising athlete in Neeraj Chopra has a chance of creating history at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
But how did India's javelin sensation Chopra become a huge medal contender for the country?
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The journey began with the Haryana-born javelin thrower bursting onto the scene in 2016. He bagged gold in the 2016 South Asian Games with a throw of 82.23m and with that, he also equaled the Indian national record. As it turned out, 2016 proved to be a really successful year for him as he went on to set a new world junior record by winning the IAAF World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
In 2017, at the Asian Athletic Championships, he clinched another gold medal with a throw of 85.23m. A year later at the Commonwealth Games, Chopra scripted more history as he pocketed the gold medal with a season-best throw of 86.57m, joining an elite list of Indian athletes to win a gold medal on their CWG debut.
In 2016, he equalled the national record and finally managed to get the monkey off his back in May, 2018, as he threw the rod 87.43m at the Doha Diamond League.
A few months later in August, Neeraj threw a distance of 88.06 m to win gold in the Men's javelin throw at the 2018 Asian Games and set a new Indian national record, bettering his own previous record. He began the event as the flag-bearer at the opening ceremony and ended it with the highest prize.
As they say, no success story is complete without setbacks and struggles. Chopra's career path is no different as he suffered a major shoulder injury in 2019 and had to undergo surgery in May that year. He was out of action for the remainder of six months, forcing him to miss the entire season.
However, upon his return to action, he didn't waste any time in leaving a mark and reminding everyone of his pedigree as he threw 87.86m at his first competition after an elbow injury guaranteed a ticket to Tokyo.
The pandemic-enforced halt has only allowed the 23-year-old allowed him to compete in a handful of competitions in the lead-up to his Olympics debut. In March 2021, he threw 88.07m in the Indian GP, setting a new National record. Earlier in the year, he competed in Portugal and secured a gold medal with an 83.13m throw.
Chopra, who is currently being coached by German bio-mechanics expert Klaus Bartonietz, most recently took part in the Kourtane Games in Finland. Chopra's best throw measured 86.79m which he came in his second attempt.
With long locks and strength in his arms, Chopra heads into his first-ever Summer Games carrying a billion hope. A lot is expected of a 110-plus-athlete contingent travelling to Tokyo but if one was to place the weight of expectations on athletes in descending order, Chopra would be at the top of the list. The only question is: Can he get the job done?