Feature

Neeraj Chopra: India’s Olympic javelin hope

The youngster won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth as well as Asian Games.

By Saurabh Shankar ·

In Haryana’s Khandra village, an overweight 12-year-old boy was constantly coaxed by his family members to take up sports. He ultimately gave in to all the badgering and began training at the Shivaji Stadium in Panipat. Running never piqued his interest back then, as the young boy was more inclined towards cricket.

That was until he saw a few seniors throwing javelins at the stadium and decided to try his luck at javelin throw. Fortunately for him, that sport truly captured his fancy as he began training rigorously to get into better shape. Fortunately, for his village and for India alike, that boy grew up to become Neeraj Chopra — India’s first ever javelin thrower to win a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2018 Asian Games.

Neeraj Chopra: Tackling obesity

“At the age of 11, I weighed 80 kilos. To get into shape, I visited the Panipat Stadium during vacations. Although I was running to shed weight, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. I used to stand at some distance and watch my senior Jaiveer, who has represented Haryana in javelin, practice. One day, at his behest, I tried the javelin. I discovered I could throw it far and the realisation helped me regain my self-esteem,” revealed Chopra in an interview to the Hindustan Times.

Apart from training hard, Chopra, for the first time in his life, also began focusing on his diet. Being the eldest son of the family, he was often the pampered one, showered with extra rotis and ghee, which augmented his calorie intake in his early teens. Cutting down on those fatty foods, especially deep fried items and sweets, was a challenge for the young Chopra. However, he was determined to get into shape and do well in his newfound sporting endeavour.

Panipat’s Shivaji Stadium (where Neeraj Chopra began his training) didn’t have the best of facilities, coaches or tracks. Therefore, he shifted base as a 14-year-old and moved to the Athletics Nursery at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkula, which had a synthetic track and was frequented by many national-level javelin throwers.

One of Chopra’s first-ever domestic competitions was the National Junior Athletics Championship in 2012, where he managed a record throw of 68.46 metres to win the gold medal, paving the way for many more glorious years in the sport.

Neeraj's historic achievements

In 2013, Neeraj Chopra participated in the IAAF World Youth Championships which were played in Donetsk, Ukraine as a 16-year-old. He failed to make it past qualification in that tournament as he finished in 19th place, but managed to get a season’s best throw of 66.75 metres.

His gradually bettered his performance in subsequent tournaments, as he finished in ninth place at the 2015 Asian Athletics Championships in Wuhan, China with a throw of 70.5 metres. The next season was when Chopra really announced himself on the world stage, as he won gold at the South Asian Games and bagged a silver at the Asian Junior Championships.

The icing on the cake that season though was the gold at the IAAF World U20 Championships, where he managed a junior record throw distance of 86.48 metres. That spectacular performance made Chopra the first-ever world-champion of the country, and helped put India on the map for javelin throw.

Neeraj Chopra created the world junior record at the IAAF World U20 Championship

A couple of years later, Neeraj Chopra augmented his stature in the track and field fraternity, as he won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth as well as Asian Games. His distances increased each time too, as he bettered his Commonwealth Games performance of 86.47 metres with a throw of 88.06 metres at the Asian Games. His effort at the Asian Games remains a national record for javelin throw even today.

He even performed admirably at the IAAF Diamond League of 2018, where he finished in fourth place, which was a big improvement from the previous season’s IAAF Diamond League, where he finished in seventh place.

Injury problems for Chopra

At the end of the 2018 season, Neeraj Chopra suffered an elbow injury which kept him out of the circuit for the next few months. In May, 2019, it was revealed that he was to undergo elbow surgery which caused him to miss the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships and the National Open Athletics Championships.

Chopra is now back in training and has the Olympics in Tokyo firmly in his sights.

At his first competitive event back from injury in January, the Indian successfully achieved the qualifying mark for Tokyo 2020.

The young star is making up for lost time: with 2020 is set to be the biggest year yet for Neeraj Chopra.