Neeraj Chopra couldn’t believe what he had done. A medal was never in question but the gold medal that he could feel safely nestled in his pocket, was as unexpected a feeling as there could be. So much so that Chopra would absent-mindedly pull his medal out and take a look at it, just to reassure himself that he indeed did do the impossible. He had indeed won a gold medal in javelin over a much-fancied field of competitors.
The feeling of shock dissipated as the loud dhol of the drums welcomed him at Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport. “I had trained for a medal but I couldn’t believe it when I won gold,” said Chopra at an Athletics Federation of India-hosted event yesterday in New Delhi, playing every bit the part of a global athlete.
Be it his comment on wanting Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem to win a medal as well (‘Asia ka naam ho jata’), his casual take on winning the gold, (‘I don’t say this just as an Indian athlete, but it is every athlete’s dream to win a medal’) or his fending off Johannes Vetter (‘He has six-seven 90m plus throws this year and his best was near the world record of Jan Zelezny. I respect him a lot and I asked my countrymen to respect him’), the 23-year-old has already begun trying to stretch and learn the extent of his oncoming star power.
He is a Nike Global athlete, and according to a Financial Express article from 2018, was netting a cool $50,000 a year + apparel from the American sportswear giants. After the gold medal, Chopra’s Instagram handle jumped exponentially, going from 1,43,000 followers to 3.2 million followers in the space of a few days.
His fame skyrocketing has followed the same path of a career that six years ago was just beginning. Back then Chopra would train in Panchkula while having to make his own meals and use javelins that were not up to the mark. It was only after the national camp beckoned that Chopra’s career truly took off.
“We did have good training but the facilities, equipment, and diet were not that good. But once I joined the national camp everything changed. I got better facilities, better diet and equipment. And the most important thing is the feeling that I am training along with the best javelin throwers of this country. That is a different feeling,” said Chopra yesterday.
That life was a far contrast to the Olympics where Chopra’s two 87m+ throws came through the Nordic Valhalla – a carbon fibre javelin specifically engineered for technical javelin throwers. It was a change that he was eyeing for a few months before the Olympics and was the javelin that he used to create the 88.07m national record at Patiala.
Eye on the world
The current Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and Olympic champion has now got his eyes set on the World Championship. Sitting on the dais with Anju Bobby George, India’s lone athletics world champion medallist and the current AFI vice president. Chopra’s determination at not be just a single-Olympic medallist, came to the fore.
“World Championships is a big competition and sometimes tougher than the Olympics. I am not going to be content with this Olympic gold and sit on this laurel. I would like to do even better and win gold again in Asian Games, CWG and again in Olympics. That is the medal which is with Anju madam and I want to win it,” said the Haryana-native.
It is easier said than done. While Chopra was always a favorite to win a medal at the Olympics this year, it was Vetter who was a lock for the gold medal. The German has amassed 90m+ throws across the world and the Olympics and its fast track was the slip up that the 28-year-old never expected. Whether a repeat business happens when the World Championships take place next year in the USA is a tough ask. But Chopra himself has his own goals to achieve, one of which is to breach the 90m mark.
“The 90m mark is my dream and I will have to work with my coach to achieve that. I wanted to do it this year but Olympic gold is there, the most important thing,” said Chopra yesterday.