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Neeraj Chopra’s gold medal at Olympics 2021 will change the face of Indian athletics

Can't believe the athletics medal dream has become a reality!
Can't believe the athletics medal dream has become a reality!
Anju Bobby George
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What Neeraj Chopra achieved on Saturday is the fulfilment of a decades-long dream.

I feel like ‘Alice in Wonderland’. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since Saturday evening, and this takes me back to my World Championships medal days. I have barely had time to eat or catch some sleep either. It all feels surreal.

I am happy and proud to have been a pathbreaker. Before me, our athletes struggled to perform on the world stage because of mental blocks, and a medal was always elusive.

After years of success that were restricted to the Asian and Commonwealth Games circuit, my 2003 Paris worlds medal changed everything. It gave our athletes the belief that we too belong on the big stage.

At 2003 World Championships
At 2003 World Championships

I lost the chance to win an Olympic medal by just over 20 cm. It was always a case of ‘so near and yet so far’. But Neeraj Chopra has managed to take that last step; he has travelled the full distance and has instilled in us the belief that we belong to the Olympic stage.

I think this gold medal will give us a huge boost; a lot of youngsters will now take up athletics without any hesitation, because Neeraj Chopra has shown that we can win.

Indian athletes are good in technical events, unlike sprints; we have an upper hand because of our skill level. We must therefore nurture athletes in these events, which would definitely give us long-term results.

Neeraj Chopra was the best by a mile

Honestly, I didn’t expect a gold medal given the field Neeraj Chopra had to contend with. He was up against Germany's Johannes Vetter, who has breached the 90m mark many times in the past.

But Neeraj proved that with the right mindset, any kind of competition can be overcome. Although Vetter wasn’t in his element, Neeraj did exceptionally well to emerge on top from a pack of world-class operators.

It all boils down to exposure, which Neeraj Chopra had. We need to participate in Grands Prix and Diamond League events, and carry the experience of competing with the best into the grand stage of the Olympics. If athletes do not get exposure, and only compete within the country, we cannot dream of more Olympic medals.

Another point where Neeraj Chopra scored is how well he analyzed the field. He knew his competitors well and had a good idea of how they were going to perform. He was aware of what to expect, and was prepared for it. Neeraj was excellent in executing his plans, and his first two throws showed that.

Was Neeraj Chopra the top athlete going into the competition? He definitely wasn’t; there were three or four others with better personal best throws. But Neeraj’s experience of competing with the best and staying toe-to-toe with them put him in good stead.

Neeraj Chopra had his share of physical issues, which he managed extremely well. He had a career-threatening injury a couple of years ago but recovered from it like a champion. That gave him the freedom to compete at the Olympics without any fear – a stark contrast from what we had experienced in earlier years.

Support from all sides

I must laud our national federations and the system for supporting the athletes during the pandemic. The sports ministry also backed them all the way. The training and competitions abroad helped Neeraj immensely.

Over the last two years, the various sporting bodies have also managed to hold competitions for athletes. This is a victory of the system. They worked well together.

An inspirational feat

Neeraj Chopra’s gold medal has thrown open many doors. We will now see scores of youngsters taking up sports, because they have someone to look up to; someone who has won World Championship and Olympic medals.

What else do we need to prove?

We are competing with the best and the toughest, which is one of the greatest things we can do for our country. It is also something that has opened the eyes of an entire generation to the possibilities in the field.

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I believe this gold medal will bring a great change in Indian sports and Indian athletics. There are a lot of changes required in the system, and we are improving by the day.

We have displayed a consistent improvement in performance too. From six medals at the 2012 London Games, we are now up to seven in Tokyo. We are slowly but surely making it to the top.

Enjoy the moment

Neeraj Chopra should enjoy the moment. After he won the medal, I was getting many calls and interview requests. That took me back to my Paris days, when it was almost exactly the same.

For two days I had sleepless nights and no food, because I never had any free time. It was extremely hectic, and I can imagine his situation there is something similar.

Celebrate, Neeraj! You deserve it.
Celebrate, Neeraj! You deserve it.

Even after returning to India, there will be a long list of programs and felicitations he will have to attend. In fact, the coming month will be very hectic for him, filled with all sorts of media and government obligations.

But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We have to enjoy each and every moment at such times, and cherish them for the rest of our lives.

I am sure Neeraj Chopra will cherish them to the fullest, just like me and the rest of the country.


Edited by Prasad Mathew
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