Since Sydney Games 2000, India has had many athletes on whom the country had pinned their hopes for an Olympic medal, but few have succeeded in pulling it off at the grandest stage. For a country that refuses to give up on hope, it is Neeraj Chopra this time who is carrying the dreams of 1.3 billion people on his shoulders.
Neeraj Chopra is India's finest javelin thrower. As a 12-year-old kid, he was grossly overweight, weighing 90kg. Born in Khandra village in Panipat, Haryana, Neeraj had not even seen a javelin, let alone dream about being the pioneer in Indian athletics.
A Young Sensation
Neeraj Chopra burst onto the scene in 2016 and became famous overnight. Back then, the18-year-old Neeraj threw the 800-gram spear at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships in Poland. The javelin landed 86.48m away in his second attempt, and with it, Neeraj brought home India's first-ever gold medal at a world-level competition, as per Times of India. The throw also rewrote the U20 world record. 2016 proved to be a fruitful year for him. That year he also bagged gold in South Asian Championship with a throw of 82.23m, equalling the national record.
In 2017, Neeraj Chopra clinched another gold medal with a throw of 85.23m at the Asian Athletic Championships. A year later, at the Commonwealth Games, he won yet another gold medal with a season-best throw of 86.57m, cementing his name among the elite list of athletes who have won gold at their CWG debuts. The same year, at the Asian Games in Jakarta, Chopra had the privilege of being India's flag bearer, but he meant business at the Asiad. Chopra not only won gold at the Asian Games 2018, but he also established a national record of 88.06m. 2018 was a gold-laden year for the athlete as he also bagged the winner's medal at the Sotteville Athletics Meet in France and the Savo Games in Finland.
The javelin thrower from Haryana faced his setback in 2019 when he suffered a significant shoulder injury and had to undergo surgery in May 2019, reported Hindustan Times. The injury kept him sidelined for six months, and he missed the entire season that year. On his return from the injury, the Indian record holder threw 87.86m at his first competition, which guaranteed him a ticket to Tokyo. Like every other athlete in the country, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted Chopra's Olympic preparation and prohibited him from participating in tournaments, missing out on a handful of them last year. However, Neeraj's best-ever throw came earlier this year in March at the third leg of the Indian Grand Prix in Patiala. He threw 88.07m, setting yet another national record.
Face-off With The Rivals Before The Games
Recently, he took part in the Kourtane Games in Finland, which was the first in a long time he had to face the other top-most javelin throwers, namely Germany's Johannes Vetter and Trinidad's Keshorn Walcott. Neeraj finished third with an 86.79m throw, while Vetter secured the first position with a massive 93.59m throw, and Walcott finished second with an 89.12m throw.
The Man Carrying A Billion Hopes
India's hope for the second individual Olympic gold medal has not been fulfilled since Abhinav Bindra bagged the gold in shooting at the Beijing Olympics 2008. If the 13 years wait comes to an end with a gold medal hanging from Neeraj's neck, it would be independent India's first-ever gold in athletics. For sure, Chopra has the blessings of 1.3 billion people with him. All eyes will be on the men's javelin throw, which will take place on August 4 and August 7.