Neeraj Chopra ushered in a new era in Indian athletics with his colossal gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics which earned him super star status in the country which has been waiting for such spectacular success in track and field events for over of a century. (More sports news)
Son of a farmer, the sturdy Neeraj, who celebrated his 24th birthday on Friday, immortalized his name in the history of Indian sport with his gold medal throw of 87.58m on August 7, the penultimate day of the master piece.
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It wasn’t even his personal best effort, but it didn’t matter as Chopra only became the second Indian to win an individual gold at the Olympics after shooter Abhinav Bindra.
Short of top-level competition in the run-up to the Olympics, Chopra was not even a surefire contender for a medal, but he outperformed the peloton by far to enter Indian sporting folklore.
Bursting with confidence, showing hardly any nerves, Chopra literally owned the pitch with his bossy throw, which was ranked as one of World Athletics’ 10 Magic Moments in Athletics at the Tokyo Games.
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Who would have thought that a plump kid who took to track and field to lose weight would end up being India’s first Olympic track and field gold medalist.
It was India’s first gold medal in 13 years and the second after the 1980 Games in Moscow.
âIt’s amazing. It’s a proud moment for me and my country. This moment will live with me forever,â said Chopra after winning historic gold.
While Chopra’s golden moment is a new start in Indian athletics, the year also saw the end of an era with the passing of the legendary Milkha Singh, one of the greatest sporting icons in India. Independent India which missed an Olympic bronze medal in the 400m with a mustache in the 1960s. Rome Games.
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The 91-year-old “Flying Sikh” died in Chandigarh, just months before Chopra’s historic feat.
Chopra dedicated his inspiring achievement to Milkha who dreamed of seeing an Indian win an Olympic gold in athletics before his death.
“Milkha Singh wanted to hear the national anthem in a stadium. He is no longer with us but his dream has been realized,” said Chopra.
It was also the hour of redemption for Indian athletics, long mired in doping controversies. The sport ultimately ditched the tag to prove it can win medals beyond the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.
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Discus thrower Kamalpreet Singh was also briefly in the limelight after finishing second in the qualifying round. She finally finished in sixth position in the final.
The 25-year-old has made rapid progress in recent years advancing over 4m to set a national record (65.06m) at Patiala ahead of the Olympics.
The men’s 4x400m relay team broke the Asian record but still failed to advance to the final, highlighting how tough the competition is at the Olympics.
Avinash Sable was the other Indian who broke his national record in the men’s 3000m steeplechase but failed to advance to the final as sprinter Dutee Chand disappointed. Hima Das did not even qualify for the Games.
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With the sports world turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, no one was sure of a medal in the men’s javelin throw except Johannes Vetter of Germany who entered the Games Olympic after making seven monstrous throws over 90m.
In contrast, Chopra has participated in only three international events. Both were minor events with local competitors in Europe and Vetter had claimed it would be difficult for the Indian to beat him.
But Chopra had the final say in easily winning the qualifying round while Vetter struggled to make it to the final round.
Vetter was knocked out after three throws in the final while a confident and calm Chopra won the gold with a second round attempt.
The frenzy in the country was such during the congratulatory events reserved for him that Chopra had to leave such a function halfway due to exhaustion.
His social media followers reached millions overnight and his brand value skyrocketed. He finally joined the camp two months after his Olympic exploits and moved to the United States for off-season training.
The year also saw young Indians succeed at the World Junior Championships in Kenya with long jumper Shaili Singh, a protÃ©gÃ© of Anju Bobby George, and 10,000m walker Amit Khatri each winning a silver medal.
Belarusian middle and long distance coach Nikolai Snesarev died at NIS Patiala hours before a competition while another former athlete, 1951 Asiad medalist and 1952 Olympics marathoner Surat Singh Mathur died of COVID- 19.
Legendary trainer OM Nambiar, who made sprint legend PT Usha a world-class athlete, has also died after receiving Padma Shree at the start of the year.