The flamboyant star of Indian athletics is all set to compete later this month in the World Championships in Budapest.
Twenty five year old Neeraj Chopra, javelin thrower par excellence, is a national icon, a decorated officer of Indian Army with a PVSM and a role model for an entire generation. The precision and power behind his throws are matched only by the machine he rides, a Harley Davidson. His zeal for life and passion for adventure is so infectious that Swiss Tourism has made him their brand ambassador.
Modest and soft spoken, he lets his javelin do the talking. But when he does talk, his message resonates. Like when he did a ‘bajrangi bhaijaan’ after the Tokyo Olympics to silence rumors that his fellow finalist from Pakistan, Arshad Nadeem had tampered with his javelin to deny him the title.
When Neeraj was a child, his father noticed the precision and force with which he threw stones at bee-hives in his backyard. The skill fetched him his first locally made javelin. Soon his target practice shifted from his backyard to nearby stadiums and domestic competitions and subsequent selection for training in state and national camps. That was the start of his tryst that will take him around the globe and into the hearts of millions of his fans.
Like a fairy tale, in 2016, at the age of 18, he won the Under-20 World Championship in Poland with a new world record. The year 2018 heralded his ‘coming of age’ in great style; Gold medal in Commonwealth Games in Australia and another Gold in the Asian Games in Jakarta.
Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021 were held amidst the gloom and doom of the pandemic. Neeraj Chopra’s training had also suffered due to a nagging elbow injury that required surgical intervention and rehabilitation. With the start list showing the intimidating presence of Johannes Vetter and Julian Weber of Germany and Jakub Vadlejch and Vilezslav Vasely of Chez republic, Neeraj went into the competition as an underdog. By late evening on that fateful day, the 7th August 2021, he had emerged as a lion taking a victory lap with tricolor wrapped around his shoulder. His Javelin had soared to an incredible 87.58 M sending his home country into euphoric celebrations.
Neeraj has not rested on his laurels. As Budapest hosts the World Championship later this month, Neeraj has firmly set his sight on the crown of a world champion; an honor that has eluded Indian athletes so far.
After an initial training stint with German legend Uwe Hohn, Neeraj Chopra now trains in Lausanne with another renowned coach and bio-mechanics expert, Klaus Bartonietz from Germany.
Competing frequently in IAAF events is providing him the avenue to achieve peak performance at the World Championship. His Gold medal finish in two recent diamond league events in Doha and Lausanne have raised hopes that he could throw the spear beyond 90M in Budapest.
His training and competition plan has been meticulously worked out by an expert group working under Dr Lalit Bhanot, Chairman Planning Committee of Athletic Federation of India in conjunction with the ‘Olympic Podium Finish’ project of the Sports Ministry.
Dr Bhanot is hopeful of a few other Indian athletes making it to the finals of World Championship. M. Sreeshankar and Jeswin Aldrin in Long Jump, Avinash Sable in Steeplechase, Walk and Relay teams are showing promise.
In the last week of August, as India prays for a perfect moon landing of Chandrayan, its athletics fraternity will hope for a perfect landing of Neeraj Chopra’s javelin in the National Sports Stadium in Budapest. God willing, inshallah, India may have its first world champion in athletics that week.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
V K Verma is a former President, Badminton Association of India and a former Commercial Director, Air India.