The athlete from Panipat first burst into the limelight after breaking the world record in the Under-20 category at the IAAF World U20 Championships in 2016.
When Neeraj Chopra released his javelin on his second attempt, he didn’t bother to look where it landed. So sure was the youngster about the javelin’s trajectory that he immediately turned to his coaches and lifted his arms in celebration. While the 87.58-m throw was nowhere near his personal best, it was enough to make him an Olympic champion — the first Indian track & field athlete to achieve the feat after several near misses.
Chopra’s confidence in his abilities stems from years of hard work and a never-say-die attitude. The athlete from Panipat first burst into the limelight after breaking the world record in the Under-20 category at the IAAF World U20 Championships in 2016. While that 86.48-m attempt could have won him bronze at the Olympic Games in Rio, it was past the qualification deadline. The 23-year-old had to bide his time and wait for his moment in the sun.
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Chopra’s success at the Olympics didn’t come easy. While he was supported by the Union government under its Target Olympics Podium Scheme (TOPS) and JSW, Covid-19 and a lack of competition derailed his preparations.
His frustrations boiled over during a press meet ahead of the Olympic Games. While Covid-19 derailed preparations for all athletes over the past year, although being able to camp in the training centres did allow them the chance to remain in shape. For Chopra, however, the layoff was extra hard. He suffered an elbow injury that kept him on the sidelines in 2019 after his breakthrough season in 2018 season when he won gold in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
Speaking of a lack of competitions, he had said he often wondered why they were training when there is no target. He was begging for a chance to compete, having not had an international competition for two years. He finally managed to take part in some international competition, albeit after having to pull out of the Diamond League due to visa issues.
It was this will to compete and win that makes his Olympic gold a just reward. Following his win, a three-year old pinned tweet on his profile went viral. The Hindi tweet — translated to “When you dream of success and can’t sleep, when only labour feels good, when even tireless efforts don’t tire you. It is then you realise that history of success will be created” — highlights the sheer confidence the Panipat native had in his abilities that even injuries, lack of competition, or Covid-19 could deter him.
Speaking to the press, Chopra dedicated the gold to Milkha Singh and PT Usha, who fell agonisingly short of a track & field medal in the Olympic Games before him. He might as well have been saluting these legends when he turned around after his gold-winning throw. These legends inspired him to work hard and never give up. Maybe a few years later, another Indian athlete will point to Chopra for inspiring them with his record-breaking run in the Olympic Games.