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A journey which started just to lose weight turns into a dream run with an Olympic gold medal for Neeraj Chopra

Neeraj Chopra, who won a gold medal for India in the javelin throw competition, had arrived in Tokyo for the Olympics full of confidence after training in Europe for months (Image courtesy: Twitter/@AFIIndia)

The moment India had waited for several decades finally arrived on a hot and humid evening in Tokyo on Saturday. Much before his disqualified throws, 23-year-old Neeraj Chopra had already sealed a gold medal for the country, India's first-ever in athletics since independence, with his second throw of 87.58 metres in the javelin competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games. It was also the second individual Olympic gold by an Indian ever after shooter Abhinav Bindra's top podium finish at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  

Approximately 90 minutes before Chopra rewrote history books and triggered wild celebrations in a nation of 1.3 billion plus people, wrestler Bajrang Punia had added a bronze to India's kitty. Thus, India ended its campaign at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with a haul of seven medals, their best ever showing at the Games.

As Chopra wrapped the Indian flag around his shoulders at Tokyo's Olympic Stadium, several hundred people who were watching the history unfold on a big screen in his village Khandra near Panipat back home, erupted in joy. And so did the millions all over the country with many remembering legendary Milkha Singh, who had passed away recently waiting to see an Indian win an Olympic gold in athletics.  

Chopra has already won a gold in the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast (86.47m) and also at the Asian Games in Jakarta (88.06m).

Making his Olympic debut, the youngster from Haryana had earlier in the week topped the qualification round with a massive throw of 86.65m to cruise to the final.

It also caps a dream run which began just to lose weight.

"My javelin career started when I went to the stadium in the nearby city of Panipat to try and lose some weight. I had grown up in the village of Khandra with my extended family of 17 people and I had played a little sport such as kabaddi and volleyball for fun but back then I was fat (90kg at the age of 12). I was sent to the stadium for fitness and while there I noticed the seniors throwing the javelin. I liked the way it flew through the air and one day I tried it, and it went well," Chopra told World Athletics about his javelin journey. 

In October 2012, Chopra threw the spear to a distance of 68.46m, a national Under-16 record, to realise that he indeed had a bright future in the sport. The young gun never looked back, winning the World Junior Athletics Championships in Bydgoszcz back in 2016. Battling injuries, Chopra secured qualification for Tokyo with a throw of 87.86m in the ACNW League Meeting 1 in Potchefstroom, South Africa, to mark his return to competition after 16 months in rehabilitation. He improved his own National Record to 88.07m in the Indian Grand Prix 1 in Patiala on March 5, 2021. Subsequently, he had thrown 86.79m in the Kuortane Games in Finland on June 27, 2021.

He arrived in Tokyo full of confidence after training in Europe for months. And, also to settle some scores.

Just before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, Germany's star javelin thrower Johannes Vetter – nicknamed 'the Usain Bolt of the javelin' – had said that Chopra will find it difficult to beat him at the world's biggest sporting extravaganza.

"He (Chopra) threw good throws twice this year. Above 86m in Finland (86.79m at the Kuortane Games). If he is healthy and if he is in the right shape, especially in his technique, he can throw far. But he has to fight with me. I am looking to throw over 90m in Tokyo, so it will be tough for him to beat me," Vetter had said in a media interaction organised by World Athletics.

However, Chopra got the better of German champion not only in the qualification round on Wednesday but also left him way behind in today's final. Vetter, who had breached the 90-metre mark seven times this year alone, was eliminated after the first round.

Earlier in the day, golfer Aditi Ashok missed out on an Olympic medal narrowly and an opportunity to join the other Indians – Mirabai Chanu and Ravi Dahiya (Silver) and PV Sindhu, Lovlina Borgohain and the Indian men’s hockey team (Bronze) — in the list of medal winners at Tokyo Olympic Games.However, Chopra made sure that India, which had started its campaign in Tokyo with Chanu's silver on the very first day, ends the Games on a historic high. 

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