Neeraj Chopra’s javelin gold medal seals India’s greatest ever Olympics

Army officer Neeraj Chopra has achieved Indian sporting immortality after winning the country’s first ever athletics gold medal with victory in the men’s javelin in Tokyo.

Chopra’s historic triumph means India has racked up its best-ever Olympic medal haul of seven and caps a resurgence of national pride amid the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 427,000 Indians.

India was already riding high on a strong performance by the men’s and women’s hockey teams after decades in the doldrums.

But Chopra’s victory in the javelin with a throw of 87.58m was something that none of his 1.38 billion compatriots have ever seen before.

“It feels unbelievable,” he said. “This is our first Olympic medal for a very long time, and in athletics it is the first time we have gold, so it’s a proud moment for me and my country.”

India’s only previous athletics medals came in 1900 – two silvers won by Norman Pritchard, son of a British colonial family, in the 200m and the 200m hurdles. And despite a record number of hockey team golds, the nation’s only previous individual gold was won by shooter Abhinav Bindra in 2012.

The prime minister, Narendra Modi, led a flurry of congratulations for Chopra from the great and the good.

After speaking to the gold-medal winner by telephone, Modi tweeted that Chopra “personifies the best of sporting talent and sportsman spirit”.

He added: “History has been scripted at Tokyo! What Neeraj Chopra has achieved today will be remembered forever. The young Neeraj has done exceptionally well. He played with remarkable passion and showed unparalleled grit. Congratulations to him for winning the gold.”

Cricket is the all-consuming sport in India, and all of its powerbrokers were watching.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India announced a cash reward for the Olympic medal winners. Military leaders chimed in, too.

Chopra, a junior officer in the Indian army with the Rajputana Rifles, made his first mark on international athletics with a world junior title in 2016. Two years later, he became the first Indian athlete to win the javelin at the Asian Games and at the Commonwealth Games.

There were also congratulations for wrestler Bajrang Punia, who won a bronze medal in the men’s freestyle wrestling 65kg final on Saturday.

It follows a bronze medal for the men’s hockey team after they defeated Germany in the third-place playoff on Thursday. It was India’s first hockey medal since 1980 and was complemented by the women’s team, who went down fighting in the bronze medal match against Great Britain.