Who would’ve thought that an overweight 13 year old kid from Haryana who took up sports in order to feel more confident about himself would go on and become India’s first athlete to win a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in javelin.
What this 24 year old Indian Army Subedar has done in his short but staggering career till now is just mesmerising. Before him, only Norman Pritchard had won two silvers in athletics for India at the 1900 Olympics.
The accomplishment was enormous, but there was no joyous celebration. Subedar Neeraj Chopra exuded understated swagger. Simple, down-to-earth, and humble- are some of the adjectives used by his teammates, seniors, officials, and coaches to describe the golden boy. Adille Sumariwalla, president of the Athletics Federation of India, describes him as “a dedicated, well-behaved athlete totally focused on his game.”
This was evident when Neeraj returned to the track after a period of rigorous training camps in order to compete in the Paavo Nurmi Games 2022 in Finland on June 14, 2022. Neeraj Chopra then added
his best attempt to date, a personal best of 89.30m, which broke his own national record at the event.
Chopra is now the national record holder, reigning Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Olympic gold medallist.
“What makes him different from other javelin throwers in India is his athleticism,” his coach Klaus Bartonietz said from Germany. “What he does in the gym, he does with speed. He is well coordinated on the rope floor, high bar, parallel bars; you cannot compare with gymnasts, of course, but what is key is athleticism. This is what we need in javelin throw, all-round preparation.”
Chopra is serious about his sport, committed to it, and delves deeply into it. But, like many young people, he enjoys wearing branded clothing too. He also enjoys his long, flowing hair, but had to cut it off while training in Sweden, several weeks before the showdown at Tokyo. He enjoys chicken and fish, particularly grilled salmon, and he adores fruit juices.
Chopra’s talent was recognised long before he won the world junior championship in 2016. He was a member of the Mittal Champions Trust until 2012, but when it folded in 2014, he was absorbed into JSW Sports’ Olympic/high performance programme.
Said Manisha Malhotra, head of sports excellence and scouting, JSW Sports: “He is a hard worker, never shies from training harder. If you
ask him to do certain things more times, he will always do so. He is very young but takes considered decisions when it comes to his sport—he will listen to all views and then decide what to do. He is very mature for his age. He is, in fact, an ideal athlete to work with.”
SAI had paid for Chopra’s travel, training, and competitions, as well as his personal foreign coaches Gary Calvert (who died in 2018), Uwe Hohn, and Bartonietz, through its Target Olympic Podium Scheme. JSW Sports assisted in finding the right coach, bringing in physiologist Ishaan Marwaha, and guiding Chopra through surgery, rehab, and recovery.
Said Bartonietz: “The effort [put in] post his surgery was more mental than physical. It was very tricky to increase the training load after surgery; the physio needed a lot of knowledge. Marwaha did a very good job; there is trust between the two. That is why we could increase the load week by week from basic exercises to lifting [weights]. [The progress in] such a relatively short time was amazing.”
The kind of dedication, motivation and fighting spirit Neeraj is showing at such an early age, shows how much of a potential this young Indian has got in him. He eats, lives and trains like a true champion and for him the sky’s the limit.