Neeraj not disappointed to miss Rio Olympics

Tokyo 2020 is too far away but if the lanky youngster can achieve the goals he has set for himself over the next couple of years, he could well be considered as India’s prime contender for an individual medal in the next Olympics.

Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra participates in a social campaign in Thane, Mumbai.   -  PTI

On July 23, when most of India’s Rio-bound athletes were going through their final phase of preparations, a teenager from a town in Haryana etched his name in the history with a sterling show in Bydgoszcz, a city in northern Poland.

Neeraj Chopra, an 18-year-old hailing from a joint family in Panipat, recorded an astonishing javelin throw of 86.48 to not only win the gold medal in the IAAF World U-20 Championships, but also set a junior world record in the same category. In fact, Chopra’s mark was better than the season’s best of virtually every athlete who will vie for the javelin throw gold in Rio de Janeiro later this week.

However, since the mark was registered after the July 11 deadline for Rio qualification, Chopra couldn’t take the flight to Brazil. But the jovial teenager has no qualms about missing on what could have been his maiden Olympics. “I would have loved to be part of the Indian team in Rio but I am not disappointed, as I have the World Championships next year and then there are the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games to win medals for India,” Chopra says, on the sidelines of a half-marathon in Thane, the adjoining city of Mumbai.

Tokyo 2020 is too far away but if the lanky youngster can achieve the goals he has set for himself over the next couple of years, he could well be considered as India’s prime contender for an individual medal in the next Olympics. In fact, had it not been for a back injury, he could well have crossed the 83-metre qualification mark for Rio.

After creating a national record of 82.23 metres during the SAF Games in Guwahati in February, Chopra was hoping to make the cut for Olympic. “But I suffered from back pain soon after the SAF Games, which hampered my performance in the next couple of tournaments and then I had to take a good break before getting back to my best for the World Junior Championship,” he says.

The injury break also helped him fine-tune his technique, which resulted in him “feeling so good that day in Poland” where he thought “it was a perfect throw”. In fact, it was another injury break almost four years ago that made Chopra realise he was a special javelin thrower.

Soon after winning the gold medal in the junior national championship in Lucknow in 2012, Chopra fractured his right hand, the throwing hand. “I was playing basketball and fell down on the hand. It resulted in a plastered hand for almost three to four months. That left me with barely a month to prepare for the next Nationals. Even with little preparation, when I matched my earlier best, I realised I was special and had to take the sport seriously.”

Till then, javelin throw was something that he enjoyed playing by watching a senior practise. Growing up in a joint family of four siblings in Panipat, the ancient and historical town in Haryana, Shivaji Stadium was his favourite place as a schoolkid. “A senior athlete, Jaiveer, used to train there and I picked up javelin throw by watching him train,” recalls Chopra. “Once I took it seriously and started travelling, I started picking nuances of the sport. And once I started attending camps in Patiala and then training camps overseas, I discovered myself as a proper javelin thrower.”

It would be too early to bill Chopra as the next big thing in athletics from the nation that has struggled to produce great athletes. However, if he continues in the same vein, he could well finally place India prominently on the global sporting map.

Support Sportstar


Dear Reader,

Support our journalism — where text and pictures intermingle so seamlessly — and help us scale up your experience as the world changes around us. Your contribution is vital to our brand of uninfluenced, boots-on-the-ground reportage that’s worth your while. Clickbait sensationalism is not for us, but editorial independence is — we owe it to you.