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Sep 3 – “Who is the greatest Indian track and field athlete of all time?” says the mirror.
Until recently, some would have responded Milkha Singh as an answer to this question. Others may have used Sriram Singh, P.T. Usha, or Anju Bobby George.
They are all Indian track and field legends who have written golden chapters in Indian sports history.
However, in recent years, one athlete has raced ahead of the pack.
Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra has held the lead in the poll since winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
And, after winning the gold medal at the World Championships in Budapest on August 27, Chopra has indisputably established himself as the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T), because the 25-year-old army man from Haryana has accomplished exploits that his colleagues have come near to, but have failed to accomplish.
Chopra is the first Indian to win an athletics gold medal and the second Indian to win an Olympic gold medal. Chopra accomplished this by flinging the spear 87.58 metres to win the men’s javelin throw gold in Tokyo, securing victory with his first two throws.
He is the first Indian javelin thrower to win the Diamond League finals and the first Indian to top the field in a Diamond League tournament.
Last week, the 25-year-old Subedar stationed with 4 Rajputana Rifles brought further accolades to the country by being the first Indian to win a gold medal in the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
Neeraj hurled the javelin to 88.17 metres on his second attempt in the final, establishing himself as the medal favourite. Despite a minor injury, Chopra won a silver medal at the Zurich Diamond League three days later.
Chopra won her second World Championship medal, following a silver in Eugene, USA, last year. Chopra’s feat was enhanced by the fact that he led the field in Budapest after returning from a muscular complaint suffered in May, which caused him to miss a few events.
Previously, he had a groyne strain that he picked up during his historic silver medal-winning effort at the World Championships in Eugene.
He had surgery in 2019 after developing spurs in his right elbow, which forced him to miss the World Championships in Doha.
Chopra is the only Indian athlete to have won both the Olympic and World Championship gold medals at the same time, having been coached by Uwe Hohn of Germany from 2018 to 2021 and then by German Klaus Bartonietz from 2021 to the present.
Chopra, who was born on December 24, 1997, in Khandra village in Haryana, rose to prominence after winning gold at the World Junior Athletics Championships in 2016, setting a junior world record in the process.
He won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, and gold at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, becoming the first Indian to win gold in javelin throw at the Asian Games. With a massive performance of 89.94 metres at the Stockholm Diamond League in 2022, he owns the Indian national record in javelin throw.
All of these accomplishments would appear much more difficult given that Chopra began javelin throwing as an overweight 13-year-old looking to lose weight and develop confidence. He hails from a middle-class farming background where athletics are not a first-choice profession.
Chopra’s performance is distinguished by his consistency and ability to work hard. Despite winning a gold medal in Oregon, he is humble and does not easily become diverted from his aspirations.
Chopra has won every major title and medal available in the sport, including the Arjuna Award in 2018 and the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award, Padma Shri in 2022, and Param Vishisht Seva Medal in 2022.
Aside from his exploits in the field, Chopra has had a significant impact on fellow athletes, as Indian youngsters such as Murali Sreeshankar, Kishore Kumar Jena, and many more have drawn inspiration from him and begun to perform well on the international arena.
Jena and D.P Manu finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the World Championships in Budapest.
“Chao-Tsun Cheng of Chinese Taipei has been doing well for the last few years. We Indians are doing well. On the female side, there are some good throwers from Japan and China, and some Sri Lankans are also doing well. Last year, Anderson Peters won the title, so it’s becoming more of a global sport and a lot of athletes are doing well,” said Chopra after his World Championships triumph.
Chopra’s friendship with Pakistani javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem has also left an influence on many people in both nations. They have a friendly rivalry, and not only Chopra, but also his mother, have positive things to say about the Pakistani athlete.
“There is no doubt that Arshad has achieved so much for Pakistan — to win a medal in athletics for Pakistan in the World Championships is a big achievement, considering how he had struggled because of lack of facilities and support. That is the reason why I got him to pose with me on the podium,” said Chopra after his World Championships triumph.
Given that Chopra is only 25 years old and has many years of competition ahead of him, this is truly a mark of a G.O.A.T.