Neeraj Chopra Stepped Up In Elite Sport And Made The World His Village
VOGUE India|November 2021
This year, a quick throw transformed this village boy from obscurity into a phenomenon. But stardom falls lightly on his brawny shoulders—the javelin star’s real victory is in seizing his Olympics win to turn his little-known sport into a focus for India, finds Sharda Ugra
Sharda Ugra

Ever since his Olympic gold medal, Neeraj Chopra has been seen everywhere. In cavalcades and on stages, alongside the mighty, amidst the throng of the com-moner, on TV and video, responding to the sublime and the ridiculous. However dizzy the pedestal he’s elevated onto, the more Chopra has shone—with his medal and his 1,000-megawatt grin, always with the reminder that he wants to be more than just that medal. “When I started competing internationally, I understood about Abhinav Bindraji… I realised that this—to win an Olympic gold—was a very unique thing for India. That only one person had won it,” says Chopra, who is now only the second Indian to have clinched an individual Olympic gold in Tokyo.

He reassures me, “I’m the same person that I was.” And continues, “Of course, it’s good that people know and appreciate you, but what’s bigger is that now everyone acknowledges my sport. Earlier you told them about it and still they wouldn’t understand. Now everyone in India knows what a javelin is. I’m most happy about that.” The delirious aftermath of Tokyo has also reminded him about the importance of protecting his sport and with it, himself. “Javelin ke bina,” he says, “mujhe lagta hai Neeraj hai hi nahin.”

A STAR IS BORN

In an eight-and-a-half foot, 800gm streamlined carbon fibre flying object, Chopra has found a version of himself that no one would have dreamt of when his family stuck a 13-year-old on a bus heading out of Khandra—population 2,153 (2011 census)—towards a stadium in Panipat. He was heading there on the insistence of an uncle who wanted the chubby teenager to get fit. Yet of the many sports on offer at the stadium, it is as if the javelin found him. When the then novice tried out the javelin, his earliest coaches were taken aback at the ease of throw and flexibility of limb. It’s as if the athlete inside Chopra was waiting to be set free by the javelin. “It is a part of me,” he says. “It is attached to my name— javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is my pehchaan. I am connected to it.” It’s always been this way. Before the medals, the fame, this win.

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