Neeraj Chopra Learned Javelin on YouTube, Won an Asian Games Gold
Neeraj Chopra became the first Indian javelin thrower to win an Asian Games gold medal as he shattered his own national record by clearing a distance of 88.06m in Jakarta on Monday. The 20-year-old's winning throw came in his third attempt.
Chopra's gold is India's only second medal in javelin throw in Asian Games history after Gurtej Singh won a bronze in 1982 in New Delhi.
Liu Qizhen of China was a distant second with a best throw of 82.22m while Pakistan's Arshad Nadeem won the bronze with a 80.75m effort.
The Commonwealth Games and reigning Asian champion completely dominated the competition as he bettered his own national record of 87.43m, which he had achieved in Doha during the first leg of the Diamond League series in May. None of the competitors in the field had a 85m-plus throw this season.
Born into a farming family in Khandra near Panipat in Haryana, and inspired by the sight of some javelin-throwing seniors in the village, Neeraj honed his skills at the Sports Authority of India Centre in Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkula for four years starting 2011. He served notice of his innate potential by creating records in age-group meets at various levels.
The gold medal at the IAAF World U20 Athletics Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in July 2016 with a junior world record to boot, was the first time that India celebrated him. A year later, he won the Asian Athletics Championships gold in dramatic style, nailing the title with his final throw on a humid night in the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
In April 2018, he became the first Indian to win the Commonwealth Games javelin gold. In fact, he is only the fourth track and field athlete from the country to win a Commonwealth Games gold after Milkha Singh (440 yards, Cardiff, 1958), Krishna Poonia (women’s discus, Delhi, 2010) and Vikas Gowda (discus, Glasgow, 2014).
There can be no doubt that Neeraj’s mental make-up is one of his greatest strengths. For several weeks, he was seen as a gold medal certainty at CWG. The fact that Trinidad and Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott, an Olympic bronze medallist, had not travelled to Gold Coast and Kenya’s Julius Yego did not even qualify for the final only upped the pressure on the young Indian.
Blessed with a level-headed approach, the 20-year-old was a picture of serenity at the Commonwealth Games when he threw down the gauntlet with an opening effort that seemed beyond his rivals. The 85.50m told the competition that it was fighting for the lesser medals. In fact, each of his four throws was over 83.48m, a mark that the other 11 throwers found beyond them on the day.
Clearly, his nerves are made of steel and he responded brilliantly to pressure as if he is ignorant of what it can do to the best. With a smooth run-up and his mind focused sharply on the task on hand, he sent the spear soaring into the sky with raw power. Back in India, everyone watching him on television willed the javelin to go far before it punched turf.
Importantly, he has learnt to deal with failure.
Not making the final in the IAAF World Athletics Championships in London in August 2017 would have rankled him for a while. With 83.00m set as the mark for automatic qualification, Neeraj Chopra managed 82.26m and sat out, watching compatriot Davinder Singh Kang steal his thunder by becoming the first Indian to qualify for the World Championship javelin final.
Clearly, his road ahead will have to be plotted carefully. He will have to sit down with the Athletics Federation of India, set goals and choose the best training base and competitions to take part in so that he remains fresh and ready to make an impact at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.
To keep a step ahead of his competitors, he will need to progress closer to the 90m mark. If he believes – and is able to convince the Federation – that he should continue his training with Werner Daniels in Offenburg, Germany, rather than in the National camps, he must be encouraged to make that his base over the next two years.
It is tough to forget that the lad taught himself the art of throwing a javelin by watching YouTube videos of Jan Zelezny and has already had more coaches that he would have liked. He trained with Australian Garry Calvert, including in Spala, Poland. Later, Neeraj Chopra has journeyed to Germany seeking improvement. It may not make sense to tamper with his technique now.
Yes, indeed, this pride of India has a mature head on his young shoulders. It is this quality that endears him to everyone, even his competitors.
(G Rajaraman is a Delhi-based student of sport who has been writing and commenting for 35 years. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)