On Saturday, star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra became only the second Indian to win an individual gold in the Olympics, out-performing the field by some distance to immortalise himself as the first track-and-field games medal-winner for the country.
The 23-year-old son of a farmer from the Khandra village near Panipat, Haryana, produced a second-round throw of 87.58m in the finals to stun the athletics world and end India’s 100-year wait for a track and field medal in the Olympics.
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.
With this, the country surpassed the previous best haul of six medals achieved in the 2012 London Games. Besides Chopra’s gold, India has won two silver and four bronze medals.
Czech Republic throwers Jakub Vadlejch (86.67m) and Vitezslav Vesely (85.44m) took the silver and bronze, respectively.
Neeraj Chopra (Image: Twitter)
After topping the qualification round on Wednesday, Chopra came into the final as a medal contender with a stunning first-round throw of 86.59m.
But few would have thought that he would bludgeon his way to gold in such a dominant fashion at the grandest of the stage.
Just like in the qualification round three days back, Chopra began with a bang by sending the spear to a distance of 87.03m and then improved it to 87.58m — his best of the day which none in the field could match.
His third throw was a poor 76.76m, he then fouled his next two attempts before a final effort of 84.24m.
By the time the Nordic javelin left his right hand in his second attempt, he knew that it was going the farthest among all, and he raised both his arms in jubilation, confident that the job had been done.
After the end of the event, Chopra ran towards the Indian contingent in the stands with raised fists and wrapped himself with the tri-colour to run a short lap of honour.
Season leader and pre-tournament gold favourite Johannes Vetter of Germany, who had thrown the spear to 90m plus distances seven times between April and June, was shockingly eliminated after the first three throws as he was placed ninth with a best effort of 82.52m.
After the first three throws, the top eight get three more attempts while the remaining four in the 12-man final are eliminated.
When he came out for his attempt, Chopra even clapped for Vetter, who is his friend off the field, but it was just not the day for the German.
Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem finished fifth with a best throw of 84.62m.
With his fifth career-best throw, Chopra has done what the likes of late Milkha Singh and P T Usha could not do in 1960 and 1984 editions.
“Today is truly a momentous day for Indian athletics and for the country. Nothing is bigger than an Olympic medal, that too a gold. We have waited for a long but finally achieved our goal,” said Athletics Federation of India President Adille Sumariwalla.
“I hope Neeraj’s gold will change the landscape and profile of athletics in the country and our standing in the world,” he added.
Neeraj Chopra (Image: Twitter)
No Indian has won a medal in athletics since the country started taking part in the Games in 1920 in Antwerp, Belgium.
Three track and field athletes were part of the five-member team — the other two being wrestlers — in that Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee still credits Norman Pritchard’s 200m and 200m hurdles silver medals in the 1900 Paris Olympics to India though various researches, including the records of then IAAF (now World Athletics), showed that he had competed for Great Britain.
Pritchard was not an Indian, and the country’s first Olympic participation under a national Olympic body was in 1920.
Since then, track and field athletes have been an integral part of Indian contingents in almost all the editions of the Games.