Army officer Neeraj Chopra has achieved Indian sports immortality after winning the country’s first athletics gold medal with victory in the men’s javelin in Tokyo.
Chopra’s historic triumph means that India has accumulated its best Olympic medallion of seven and crowns a resurgence of national pride amid the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 427,000 Indians.
India was already on top of a solid performance from the men’s and women’s hockey teams after decades of stagnation.
But Chopra’s victory on the javelin with a throw of 87.58 meters was something none of his 1.38 billion compatriots had seen before.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “This is our first Olympic medal in a long time, and in athletics it is the first time that we have gold, so it is a proud moment for me and my country.”
India’s only previous athletic medals came in 1900: two silvers won by Norman Pritchard, the son of a British colonial family, in the 200m and 200m hurdles. And despite a record number of hockey team golds, the nation’s only previous individual gold was won by shooter Abhinav Bindra in 2012.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led a wave of congratulations for Chopra from the great and the good.
After speaking on the phone with the gold medal winner, Modi tweeted that Chopra “embodies the best of sports talent and sportsmanship.”
He added: “History has been written in Tokyo! What Neeraj Chopra has accomplished today will be forever remembered. Young Neeraj has done exceptionally well. He played with remarkable passion and showed incomparable courage. Congratulations to him for winning the gold.
Cricket is the all-consuming sport in India, and all its powerful were watching it.
The Indian Cricket Control Board announced a cash reward for Olympic medal winners. Military leaders also intervened.
Chopra, a junior officer in the Indian Army with the Rajputana rifles, made his first mark in international athletics with a junior world title in 2016. Two years later, he became the first Indian athlete to win the javelin at the Asian Games and at the Commonwealth Games.
There were also congratulations to wrestler Bajrang Punia, who won a bronze medal in the men’s 65kg wrestling final on Saturday.
It follows a bronze medal for the men’s hockey team after they defeated Germany in third place on Thursday. It was India’s first hockey medal since 1980 and was complemented by the women’s team, which fell fighting in the bronze medal match against Great Britain.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism