Neeraj Chopra didn’t even give it a second glance. The moment he released the javelin, he was so sure it would at least be his personal best that he turned to his coaches, and lifted his arms to celebrate. But Chopra was wrong. It wasn’t his personal best. The throw, which travelled 87.58 m, made him an Olympic champion.
For 100 years, Indian athletics has only been about stories of near-misses, shattered dreams and enduring heartbreaks. When the time finally came — at 9.07 pm on a muggy night at Tokyo’s National Stadium — the sport struck gold.
Chopra’s medal, which came a little more than an hour after wrestler Bajrang Punia won a bronze in the 65-kg weight class, also ensured India’s Olympic sojourn ended on a high.
Tokyo 2020 will go down as the country’s most successful campaign, with a total of seven medals — 1 gold, 2 silver and 4 bronze. The glitter of the javelin gold, India’s first since Abhinav Bindra became an Olympic champion at the 2008 Beijing Games, will endure for long.
Chopra didn’t just finish on top of the podium Saturday night. He did it with such ease, such dominance that it was very uncharacteristically Indian, especially in a sport like athletics where the country’s athletes have notoriously underperformed. It was poetic in a way that on the morning Chopra won the elusive medal, an Indian athlete fell agonisingly short of a podium finish in golf. Aditi Ashok showed incredible grit and focus to remain in contention till the very end but finished fourth, joining the heartbreak club that has some of the country’s illustrious athletes. Chopra dedicated his medal to all of them, but first and foremost to the legendary Milkha Singh, who passed away recently due to Covid-19 related complications.