Neeraj Chopra created history by becoming the first Indian to win an athletics gold medal at the Olympics by winning the men's javelin throw at Tokyo 2020 with a best throw of 87.58 on Saturday. Chopra is only the second Indian ever to win an individual gold -- shooter Abhinav Bindra finished on top of the podium in 2008. Chopra is also the first Indian since independence to win an athletics medal at the Olympics.
Just like he had in the qualifying round, Chopra led from the time he completed his first throw till the finish. Chopra was the second to throw in the 12-man final and he got off to a fine start with a throw of 87.03m. He then bettered it with 87.58 on his second and 76.79m on his third. In fact, the two biggest throws in the final belonged to Chopra. The biggest shock of the tournament was world No.1 and pre-tournament favourite Johannes Vetter failing to make the top eight from a field of 12 finalists. The German had a poor start, only managing 82.52m with his best effort from the first three attempts, which was just below the cutoff.
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Czech Republic's Jakub Vadlejch won silver with 86.67, while his countryman Vitezslav Vesely won bronze with 85.44.
On Wednesday, Chopra had become the first Indian javelin thrower in history to qualify for the final at the Olympics after with a throw of 86.65m in his very first attempt, to top the qualification round.
This is now India's best-ever medal haul at the Olympics, surpassing the six medals (2 silvers and 4 bronzes) they won in London 2012. While PV Sindhu (badminton), Lovlina Borgohain (boxing), the men's hockey team and Bajrang Punia (wrestling) won bronze medals, Mirabai Chanu (weightlifting) and Ravi Kumar Dahiya (wrestling) won silver medals earlier.
Chopra rose to prominence when he equalled the national record with a throw of 82.23m in the 2016 South Asian Games (where he won gold), aged just 19. A few months later, he would smash that mark en-route creating a world junior record in the IAAF World U20 Championships in Poland with a throw of 86.48m -- the throw would have been enough to qualify him for the Rio Olympics, but the event had been held past the cut-off date for qualification. He was, though, the first Indian ever to win a track and field gold at an IAAF World U20 championships.
His gold-winning exploits would continue - to the Asian Championships, the Commonwealth Games (first Indian to medal in the event, and just the fourth Indian individual athletics gold medalist), and the Asian Games (smashing his own national record in the process, and throwing it a whole six metres further than the silver medalist).
He suffered a major injury to his right elbow in 2019, causing him to miss the entire year, but returned in time to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympic qualification mark. Neeraj would once again break the national record in March 2021, shaking off the rust of a pandemic-enforced locked down year. His unusual throwing technique -- where he flings himself onto the ground on release -- and calm confidence mark him out within the contingent. With his medals and his flowing locks and his muscular frame, Chopra is now the poster boy for Indian athletics, and now has a track and field Olympics gold medal to show for it.