Neeraj Chopra's Olympic gold working magic on juniors

AFI president Adille Sumariwalla says the last few weeks have shown the emergence of a new India.

Priya H. Mohan, the country's fastest quartermiler this year, said Neeraj's gold has made athletes stronger.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

He has been watching some of the major developments in Indian sport, including cricket's Indian Premier League, over the years and Sebastian Coe is excited that the country is now excelling in athletics too.

For India, with its massive population, offers immense potential for athletics to get bigger and more popular.

“I love watching you guys perform and this is a sport and a country that is really making great progress,” said Coe, the president of World Athletics and a middle distance legend, when he met the Indian 4x400m mixed relay that won the bronze at the under-20 Worlds in Nairobi.

“You had a great triumph in Tokyo (Olympics), so this is your moment to shine on the stage.”

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Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra's stunning Olympic gold has already begun to work its magic on Indian athletes, it has made them bolder. “Before Neeraj's show, we used to think that Indians can't do well (at the world level) but now we are confident of showing that we are a lot better than many other countries,” said Bharath Sridhar, the mixed team's lead-leg runner from Villupuram in Tamil Nadu who bounced back from a ligament injury to on his left ankle to help the country produce a memorable bronze on Wednesday.

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Bengaluru's Priya H. Mohan, the country's fastest quartermiler this year, felt Neeraj's gold has made athletes stronger.“When Neeraj won, we also thought we have to follow in his steps and win many more medals so that athletics becomes a main sport in India which will bring a lot more support,” said Priya who also entered the individual 400m final apart from sparkling in the bronze medal show.

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The last few weeks have shown the emergence of a new India, said Adille Sumariwalla.

“What we are seeing now is a new India, a confident India and Neeraj has done the trick,” said the president of the Athletics Federation of India.

'As good as our seniors'

“The (under-20 mixed relay team's) 3:20.60s is nearly as fast as our seniors ran (3:19.93) in Tokyo. This goes to show the depth of our junior program, our inter-district programme, and that our juniors are capable of competing with seniors and it's just a matter of time that we will be getting more and more medals,” said Sumariwalla.

“And our job as a federation is to create enough bench strength so that any point we can change runners, we can substitute runners. If somebody gets injured, we can seamlessly substitute them and that is most important for me.”

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