Left with a handful of top-class competition in the run-up to the Olympics, Chopra went on to outclass an elite group of javelin throwers, including his biggest nemesis Johannes Vetter of Germany, who struggled to even make it to the final round.
As the first wave gradually receded and athletes around the globe waited with bated breath to restart preparations for the biggest sporting extravaganza, already delayed by a year in the Japanese capital, the year brought in a sense of hope. Like all athletes, Neeraj desperately wanted to test himself in some of the big ticket events.
No caption needed. https://t.co/fNCkNTo3W0
— Neeraj Chopra (@Neeraj_chopra1) 1634897016000
Three months into 2021, a spike in Covid cases in Tokyo did cast a shadow over the conduct of the Games, and in India, the Delta variant of the virus hit the nation hard, leaving thousands gasping for Oxygen and thousands falling prey to the virus. Among those who lost the battle to Covid-19, was one of independent India’s greatest sporting icons who missed an Olympic 400m bronze by a whisker in the 1960 Rome Games.
THE THROW THAT WON #IND A #GOLD MEDAL 😍#Tokyo2020 | #StrongerTogether | #UnitedByEmotion @Neeraj_chopra1 https://t.co/F6xr6yFe8J
— Olympic Khel (@OlympicKhel) 1628339151000
The virus left seasoned golfer Jeev Milkha Singh without both his parents, multiple Asian Games gold medallist Milkha Singh and his wife Nirmal Kaur, the former Indian women’s volleyball team skipper.
Milkha had always dreamt of seeing an Indian track and field athlete on the Olympic podium, during his lifetime. But as destiny would have it, the 1958 Commonwealth Games gold medallist passed away on June 18 after a prolonged battle with the virus.
Cut to August 7, Neeraj, a product of DAV College in Chandigarh got a billion Indians glued to the TV sets as he owned the Olympic stadium with his self-assured gait after throwing the spear at 87.58m, enough to fetch India’s first ever track and field gold medal and fulfill Mikha’s long-standing dream.
“Milkha Singh wanted to hear the national anthem in a stadium. He is no longer with us but his dream has been fulfilled,” Neeraj said while dedicating his gold to the iconic Milkha.
It was a great honour to meet Hon’ble Prime Minister @narendramodi at his residence. Thank you for your active supp… https://t.co/kTony86bQv
— Neeraj Chopra (@Neeraj_chopra1) 1629295659000
Chopra did not even match his personal best of 88.06m but it was enough to end the country’s 13-year wait for another individual gold after shooter Abhinav Bindra’s feat in Beijing 2008.
Very honoured to be awarded the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna alongside some outstanding sportspersons. Aap sabhi ke… https://t.co/01V7hM3rxK
— Neeraj Chopra (@Neeraj_chopra1) 1635925503000
“It feels unbelievable. It’s a proud moment for me and my country. This moment will live with me forever,” said Chopra, who took up the sport as a 14-year-old to battle obesity.
Before he landed back home to a rapturous welcome, his social media handles soared to millions of followers overnight, and his brand value skyrocketed. Such was the craze that Neeraj hardly found a moment to rejoice in peace with back-to-back felicitation events one after the other, that eventually led him to request organizers not to invite him for any more events.
The 24-year-old finally joined camp two months after his Olympics exploits and left for the United States for off-season training.
While Neeraj’s feat prompted the Athletics Federation of India to declare August 7 as the National Javelin Day, his golden throw has inspired a generation of athletes to take up the sport with hopes of finishing on the Olympic podium one day.
Neeraj now looks ahead to defend his Asian Games and Commonwealth Games crowns in the upcoming season, and hopefully breach that elusive 90m barrier.