Neeraj Chopra’s era has begun

Neeraj Chopra’s era has begun

Throwing the javelin is as raw, as primitive, and as relatable a sporting activity as there can ever be. It’s not about mastering the intricacies of swing in the air or angle off the pitch, or about controlling the interplay between action and reaction across a court, or the link between humans and equipment on a range or a circuit. It is what sport was before anything else existed. Two people on a pasture in a time long forgotten, competing on who can run faster, jump higher, throw longer — true sport, stripped of concepts such as rules, formats, and records.

India’s Neeraj Chopra celebrates on the podium.(Reuters)

On Sunday night in Budapest, when Neeraj Chopra ran down the tarmac, hurled his spear into the horizon, and turned his back towards it exultantly even before it had landed, he achieved something more extraordinary than a World Championships gold. For the first time, India got an athlete not just at the cusp of becoming synonymous with a track and field discipline in the country, but across the world.

Once in a while, athletics throws up champions who personify their event in a certain time and space. So, if the pole vault evolved from Sergey Bubka to Armand Duplantis, the 100m men’s sprint from Jesse Owens to Carl Lewis to Usain Bolt, and if the middle-distance races were defined over the years by Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek, Seb Coe, Haile Gebrselassie and Mo Farah, an Indian athlete’s face is now the first one that pops up when the world thinks of the javelin throw. Neeraj Chopra’s victory at the Tokyo Olympics last year sealed his place in the Indian sporting firmament for what it meant for a country starved of gold medals, and the Budapest triumph has now placed him on a rare global pedestal.

This is a nuclear event for Indian sport — it could trigger a chain reaction that could alter India’s sporting culture, and reshape the context in which sport is viewed by the country. Two others from India made it to the javelin final on Sunday night, finishing fifth and sixth. Never before could such an occurrence have been fathomed. But get used to it; Neeraj Chopra, now firmly the man to beat at Paris 2024, is single-handedly hurling Indian sport into an age of never-befores.

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