Neeraj Chopra has lost count of the number of interviews he has done since winning his historic gold medal in athletics at Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.
Perhaps 100. But he knows exactly how much sleep he has got since then. 2.5 hours. It’s one thing he is looking forward to the most apart from his mother’s Choorma with Ghee when he lands in India on Monday.
He looks visibly tired in his zoom interviews, but the boyish smile never leaves his face. His Golden Javelin, with scant respect for past baggage, has not just pierced a 101-year old record for India, it has also announced the nation’s arrival into the Gold Standard club.
The 23-year-old won India’s first ever athletic gold in Olympics with a throw of 87.58m in his second attempt. He dominated the event and remained at the top of the field throughout the finale.
Subedar Neeraj Chopra from the Rajputana Rifle, has won 1.4 billion Indian hearts. And maybe some Pakistani fans as well.
On being asked about Arshad Nadeem, the Pakistani Javelin star who ended on 5th spot with a best effort of 84.62m, Neeraj told CNN-News18 that it would have been “good to have Nadeem on the podium too. Asia ka naam ho jata.“
Before the finals the muqabala had got an Indo-Pak billing as Arshad, a year older than Neeraj, stunned the Qualification Group B with a throw of 85.16 m – a little less than Neeraj’s 86.65m in Group A but topping his group nevertheless.
He was Pakistan’s biggest medal hope but the sporting stars didn’t align for Arshad in the finals. He finished 5th.
Neeraj wasn’t exactly thrilled with the hype over the Indo-Pak contest. “Cricket mei chal jata hai, 7-8 countries hoti hai, par Olympic mei ye sab karna theek nahi hai (It’s okay to do the comparisons in cricket where 7-8 countries are taking part but not fair in Olympics),” he said.
A day after Neeraj’s historic gold, the Indian and Paksitani stars met at the dining hall right ahead of the closing ceremony. They shook hands and showed us why the spirit of sportsmanship is sometimes more important than the sport itself.
What did they talk about ? “He congratulated me with a big smile. I told him that he is looking tagra (strong) in his national costume. He did well and I wished him all the best for the future,” Neeraj revealed.
A conversation that may not ease tensions at the LOC, but one that has gladdened the hearts of sports fans on both the sides.