Neeraj Chopra made history as the country’s first gold medalist in 13 years

They used to call Neeraj the village headman in Khandra, near Panipat, before he won the country’s first-ever track and field medal. What began off as a joke ended up being prophetic. It’s one of Neeraj’s stories that his uncle Bhim Chopra never gets tired of telling.

Naseem Ahmad, the javelin coach, recalls a chubby 13-year-old called Neeraj Chopra arriving at the Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex in Panchkula in 2011. The adolescent travelled nearly four hours from his home in Khandra village, near Panipat, to inquire about the admissions procedure at the sports academy, which at the time boasted one of only two synthetic tracks in Haryana.

That was a significant step forward in the youngster’s nascent sports career. A bigger one, the biggest yet, came on Saturday, when he threw a javelin 87.58 metres in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, becoming the country’s second individual gold medalist at the Games.

Neeraj Chopra not only won a gold medal in Tokyo by throwing the javelin a record-breaking 87.58 metres, but he also cemented his place in history books and the consciousness of a medal-hungry nation. It would go down in Indian Olympic history as the most historic of medals. Perhaps the most historic sporting event in the country’s history.

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