Go for GOLD
The MAN|October 01, 2021
UNRAVELLING NEERAJ CHOPRA: THE MAN, THE ATHLETE, THE HUMAN
Dhiram Shah

THERE'S A LOT that television screens do not show you. Behind the dazzling grin and affirmative stance of India’s golden boy, Neeraj Chopra is a personality I was fortunate enough to encounter, in person. As I made my way to meet the first Olympian I have ever interviewed, his charisma shone through the distance, as he stood beside the shiny, new look Lexus ES 300h for THE MAN'S cover shoot.

Unlike those tanned by prolonged exposure to the shutterbugs, Neeraj was like a child in a park, cooperating with the team and patiently trying out new poses by the car. The ES 300h seemed to have an allure on the young star and as he got into the driver’s seat and checked out the controls, he asked permission to take the car for a spin, his modesty and mannerisms surprising everyone. He came back from the short spin with a beaming grin, reminding me that this gold medallist is just 23 years old.

When it was time to confront him for the interview, I requested Neeraj for a photograph with me. With his endearing charm, he obliged most graciously and even recommended different camera angles with which we could do our own personal photoshoot. This set a precedence for the fainthearted, modest giant of a sportsman I would be speaking to. And thus, we began.

TRACKING

NEERAJ CHOPRA

GOLD OLYMPICS 2020 TOKYO 87.58m

GOLD ASIAN GAMES 2020 JAKARTA 88.06m

GOLD COMMONWEALTH GAMES 2018 GOLD COAST 86.47m

GOLD ASIAN CHAMPIONSHIP 2017 BHUBANESHWAR 85.23m

GOLD SOUTH ASIAN GAMES 2016 GUWAHATI 82.23m

WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP BYDGOSZCZ 2016 86.48m

ASIAN JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP 2016 HO CHI MINH CITY 77.60m

TOTAL 6 GOLD, 1 SILVER PERSONAL BEST 88.07m

FROM BEGINNINGS TO BASICS

NEERAJ’S sporting appetite was built early when his father enrolled him in a local gym at Madlauda near Panipat in Haryana. He was originally admitted to the institution to battle his problem with being overweight. Neeraj has often said that this was a reason he would get bullied, and his father was determined to make the young lad fitter and more agile.

From Madlauda, Neeraj went on to seek better training at Panipat, where he was exposed to some javelin throwers in training. Under the watchful eye of Jaiveer Choudhary, also a javelin thrower, the 12-year old Neeraj picked up athletics as his perpetual pursuit and excelled.

His first international break was at the 2013 World Youth Championships in Ukraine. He went on to win his first medal in Bangkok the following year.

Not being from a sporting family did place Neeraj in slightly unfamiliar territory in his early days. As a result, he had to self-learn the basics of exercise and other disciplines that would later grant him entry into the echelons of Indian athletics.

Neeraj’s first call to train with the national squad was in 2016, where he leveraged better training facilities, nutrition, and coaching benefits. He went on to win a Gold medal at the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships and never looked back. Even after suffering a major setback in 2019, owing to bone spurs in his right elbow, he returned after a 16-month hiatus to break his own national record with a throw of 88.07m, earning him the rank of third-best, internationally.

On August 7 this year, Neeraj’s throw of 87.58m in his second attempt made him the first Indian Olympian to claim the coveted Gold medal in athletics. Before him, only shooter Abhinav Bindra had won a Gold for India, in any event. His astute determination and the discipline of being a Junior Commissioned Officer in the Indian Army have aided Neeraj in his journey of conquering the highest pedestal in the world of the javelin.

“I am still a work of progress. This is essential in the life of an athlete if they want to improve their performance,” he says.

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