As Indias ace javelin thrower and Tokyo 2020 gold medallist Neeraj Chopra aims to make history in the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, US, on Sunday, the 24-year-old will also be looking to corner glory at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, which will commence less than a week after the global event.
A gold medal at the World Championships will be historic for the country, much like the champion thrower’s top-podium finish at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Chopra will also be more than keen to corner glory in Birmingham, given that the 2018 edition of the Games in Gold Coast virtually confirmed his status as the future of India in track and field.
Before making his debut at the CWG in 2018, the Panipat native was already a junior world champion and had begun to make a name for himself in the senior circuit. His knack of making history was on full display at Gold Coast where he hurled the spear to 86.47 metres, just one centimetre short of then-personal best, to win gold.
While his goal certainly would be to win the elusive title at the World Championships on Monday and aim to become the first Indian male athlete to clinch a medal at the biggest athletics event on earth, Chopra would be equally keen to retain the CWG title in Birmingham, given the Games’ historic significance and the fact that multi-discipline events generate a massive wave of interest in the country.
The stars are shining for the champion athlete as he continues to bag one medal after the other in international competitions and shattering national records with impunity.
A recent social media post from Chopra that he always goes for gold is enough indication that he is motivated enough for the Worlds and the CWG alike, even though only 12 days separate the two events.
“I don’t fight to win, I fight for excellence, I fight to get better. Gold is the goal, so I put in the hard work consistently and focus on getting better,” Chopra had said recently.
The same fight he had shown at the Tokyo Olympics where he trashed the pre-season predictions to beat Germany’s Johannes Vetter, Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch and the likes with a golden throw of 87.58 metres.
Come to think of it, the Olympic glory came less than five years after his exploits at the U-20 World Championships in 2016, where Chopra broke the junior world record with a massive throw of 86.48 metres on way to the title. Since that day in Bydgoszcz, Poland, nothing, not even a prolonged Covid-19 lockdown or a debilitating injury followed by an elbow surgery, have been able to stop Chopra in his pursuit.
Indeed, Chopra has gone through a lot in the last few years, especially in 2019, as he was out of action for eight months following an elbow surgery to remove bone fragments. The injury had struck just when the-then 23-year-old naib subedar in the Indian Army had established himself among the top javelin throwers in the world and was on the verge of crossing the 90-metre mark.
Even as athletics gurus dismissed his chances of a comeback, his tough village grounding and farming background was the key ingredient that brought him back to where he belonged, stronger and more determined than before.
Born in Khandra village in Panipat district of Haryana, Chopra first came into limelight when he won gold in the 2016 South Asian Games in Guwahati, equalling the national record with a throw of 82.23. Just 19-years at that time, Chopra set a junior world record on the way to winning gold in the World U-20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
He could not qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics because his efforts came after the qualifying period had ended. But then he hurled the spear to a season-best distance of 86.47 metres to win gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. A few months later, he went on to win gold at the Asian Games in Jakarta, rewriting his own national record.
The year has started remarkably well for the athlete, with the 24-year-old improving his personal best and national record twice, and coming within sniffing distance of the magical 90-metre mark. Chopra made an impressive return to competition after Tokyo 2020, breaking the national record with an 89.30m throw to clinch the silver at Paavo Nurmi Games before claiming gold at the Kuortane Games with an 86.69m throw.
Continuing his brilliant form, he broke the national record again with a throw of 89.94m to finish second in the Stockholm Diamond League 2022 in Sweden recently.
That same determination will, hopefully, fuel his desire to win the World Championships medal in Eugene on Sunday and then aim for his second successive Commonwealth Games gold when the showpiece event commences in Birmingham on July 29.
After all, Chopra will be literally spearheading India’s challenge in track and field at Birmingham.