75 years of independence, 75 iconic moments from Indian sports: No 75 - Neeraj Chopra wins historic gold at Tokyo Olympics

India will complete 75 years of Independence this year. Here is a series acknowledging 75 great sporting achievements by Indian athletes.

Published : Aug 14, 2022 08:51 IST

India will complete 75 years of Independence this year. Here is a series acknowledging 75 great sporting achievements by Indian athletes.  Sportstar will present one iconic sporting achievement each day, leading up to August 15, 2022.

August 7, 2021: Neeraj Chopra wins gold in Tokyo

It was a historic day for the nation as Neeraj Chopra’s javelin pierced the Tokyo night sky to herald a new dawn for Indian sports. August 7 of 2021, dateline Tokyo, will be etched in Indian hearts for eternity as the 23-year-old from Haryana won India’s first track and field gold medal at the Olympics.  

This was also India’s first gold medal since Abhinav Bindra’s won the 10m air rifle gold in 2008. With Neeraj’s gold on the penultimate day, India ended its campaign at the XXXII Olympiad with seven medals – the country’s best performance at the Summer Games.

Neeraj dropped the javelin ahead of his first throw, as he tried to fix his throwing belt at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium. But that was the only false step he took this evening, as he sent the javelin soaring, a minute later, to a distance of 87.03m.

His throw thrust him into an early lead. He managed 87.58m with his second attempt. He knew this was special and raised his hands in celebration as soon as he released the javelin. No one bettered his mark, though two Czech Republic athletes gave him and India a few anxious moments.

Neeraj’s coach Klaus Bartonietz said the athlete’s ability to bend his body like a dhanush (bow), transfer his body elasticity and weight into the javelin, and release the spear at 34-36 degrees was the secret of his success. As technical as it sounds, this is what helped Neeraj perfect his release angle and get distance on his throws.

The gold medal-favourite, Germany’s Johannes Vetter endured a tough start and managed a best of 82.52m. Vetter was eliminated from the competition after three throws and finished ninth.

Neeraj had a third throw of 76.79m and he fouled on the next two attempts, but it did not matter.

The last word of advice Neeraj got from coach Bartonietz was: “Maje karo (have fun).” 

Neeraj, though, was barely able to sit down as the competition moved into the last three throws. He shadow-practised throughout in a corner, cheered on by the 20-odd Indian contingent in the stands. 

But by 8.45 JST, the field had thinned out and only the two Czech Republic throwers – Jakub Vadlejch (86.67m) and Vitezslav Vesely (85.44) – remained. 

“These guys had me frightened until the very last throw,” Neeraj said later, flanked by the two Czech throwers at the press meet. His last throw of 84.24m was not his best of the night, but he had sealed the best moment of his life.

Made with Flourish

The bandana-wearing athlete from Panipat in Haryana gave 1.3 billion people a reason to celebrate, a reason to cry, and a reason to unite. Wearing the medal, which many in India have yearned for, Neeraj remembered the legendary Milkha Singh, who finished fourth in the 1960 Rome Olympics.   

Neeraj dedicated his medal to Milkha, who passed away in June. “When we were in Kourtane, Milkha Singh ji passed away and I felt very bad. I did not meet him when he was alive, and I wanted to meet him with an Olympic medal. Sadly, he’s not among us but I hope he’s seeing us from above and is happy (medal) that his dream has come true. Even other athletes like PT Usha and others who missed out on a medal by centimetres - I hope they’re all happy.”

The legends and the entire nation were indeed happy as Neeraj flew the tricolour high.

The article was first published on August 7, 2021

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