Neeraj Chopra, India's Real-Life Superhero
Neeraj Chopra is the first Indian track and field star to win a gold medal in Olympics history.
The incredible has happened. One young man has taken the wildest imagination of a country and sailed with it into a world that we did not even know existed.
Neeraj Chopra produced the perfect antidote to the gnawing pain of a nation. After enduring a couple of heartbreaks with the Indian Women’s hockey team and Aditi Ashok sliding out of medal contention by the narrowest of margins, Chopra took Indian hearts soaring into the sky with a Gold Medal winning performance. It wasn’t just any medal, Chopra earned immortality by securing his stripes as a world class athlete.
In a country that continues to treasure the memories of PT Usha and Milkha Singh, who came within a whisker of Olympic glory before finishing with fourth place finishes, Chopra tore the envelope of expectations and set a new benchmark for Indian aspirations.
It is hard to imagine a greater accomplishment in the annals of Indian sport. Because there is hardly anything else to compare it with.
This was Chopra walking to the pinnacle of Athletics and planting our flag at a place that was too far to reach even in our wildest dreams.
Chopra was born in Khandra, a village in Panipat District. He was minted into the greatest Indian Olympic hero in the cauldron of the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. Abhinav Bindra, the gold medallist shooter was the lone individual to have accomplished the feat. While no comparison is ever worth even the slightest consideration, for Chopra to win Gold in Athletics is an accomplishment of wild importance in the history of Indian sport. It deserves to be acknowledged as a very special feat of excellence, unmatched thus far in any sphere of sport.
Etch the two throws that bring us here on monuments and museums.
They may not mean much to the world. Neither throw was an Olympic or World Record. They weren’t even the longest Chopra has thrown in his life. Yet, the 86.65m he flew to reach the final and the 87.58 he flung in the final are numbers that no Indian ought to forget till the day we mint many champions that reach the Olympics aspiring to step on the podium by the sheer weight of their presence.
Chopra was already an Asian Games and Commonwealth Games champion. But in the absence of any medals at the World Championships, the young man was always on trial in the major international competitions. No longer. Gold in Tokyo puts to rest all debate about the legacy of Chopra not only in Indian sport, but also as an elite international artist who can paint the sky with his javelin.
The transformation of Chopra from a teenager just trying to shed some excess calories to a champion that produces persistent works of excellence is nothing short of a fairy tale journey.
Much has been made of Chopra’s medicine ball throw. He bends backward into an arc, with a 4kg ball held aloft in his arms over the head, propelling himself outward only moments before he appears to touch the ground. He claims to have thrown the ball 30m, underlining the kind of fitness and strength that he has built into his body with years of effort and training.
But he really blossomed and learnt the technical nuances of the sport from Gerry Calvert, the Aussie who also trained cricketer Mitchell Johnson. And his growth as a force to reckon with in the sport has gained an edge under the tutelage of Klaus Bartonietz, who is currently training Chopra.
Only time will tell how Chopra might layer an already impressive legacy. The World Championships will certain be on his radar, besides preparing with continued intensity for Paris 2024, just three years away. If the fact that Chopra has won an Olympic Gold in Athletics is a frightening reality, that he is only beginning leaves us wondering as he continues to build the edifice of his excellence in the years ahead. Keep your eyes peeled, this story of greatness has only just begun.
Corporate India will break the bank. And as they do, one hopes that Chopra can remind them all that there is a penalty for arriving late to the party.
Remind the corporates to celebrate efforts, not just results. And if possible, have them invest some more money on the sons and daughters that are toiling outside the lights, under the Sun, mauling their muscles in search of excellence. Chopra has taught them new dreams. We can all begin to believe, not only the dream but also their diligent labour and the destination.
The 23-year-old is a movie star that does not need a second to produce a rolling somersault. Chopra is a real hero from Panipat, the stage of three gruesome battles in the history of India. Even the most ardent historian might agree now, that a better warrior may never have been minted in the folds and fissures of this rustic town in Haryana.
Neeraj Chopra. Geo-tag the name. Trademark it. It means excellence, on the edges of a universe that Indians did not dare to imagine, let alone consider visiting it.
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