A body that moulds like rubber, hair doing a merry dance over a white bandanna and once again the javelin seared. As it soared 88.17m there was a roar, it was the eye of the tiger, it was the victory dance.
Legend. The greatest Indian athlete of all times. GOAT. The epithets and the plans have been pouring in since Neeraj Chopra became the world champion. None of them though do him justice for Chopra is now more than an athlete, he is an emotion.
In a world with choices, be a Neeraj Chopra.
After the Olympics win and the Diamond League, Chopra has now added the World Championship gold, the first ever in track and field by an Indian, into his swelling and proud kitty. It is already worth its weight in gold, but he reassures us — those of the tunnel vision and pressure inducing fandom — that there are miles to go before he sleeps.
“Throwers don’t have a finish line,” he announces the most profound of things in his trademark no fuss style. But it takes a 25-year-old to point the obvious, dreams are infinite when the path is pure. The man from Haryana’s Panipat has already empowered small town India with the gift to dream big.
After his Olympics win when I interviewed him, he grinned telling me how he slept with the medal and then sobered adding, “if more Indians take to javelin, I will feel my win is worth it.” On Sunday evening in Budapest, three Indians, Neeraj Chopra, Kishore Kumar Jena, and DP Manu finished in the top eight of the Javelin events at the World Championships. Chopra has shared his success.
His legacy, although picture abhi baki hai and there will likely be many tweaks and rewrites, is to take javelin into the homes and hearts of a country that blindly idolises cricket. That it is getting crowded at the top, is his reward.
After the win, the athlete first thanked his fans for staying late into the night to watch him in action. In a world where cricketers by and large oblige us with a glance, here was a man gracefully showing us why he is a cut above the rest. His place in the pantheon of champions is made of humility, decency, hard work, and sheer brilliance, is there anyone who wears his success with more purity?
Neeraj Chopra also tells us time and again that good guys do come first.
In a world of hits, misses and possibilities, be a Neeraj Chopra
Along the way he also shows us that being soft-spoken is not a sign of weakness. Where cricketers coveted and feted, past, and present, who earned everything from sport, but a spine choose silence, he takes a stand. Neeraj Chopra spoke up in support for the wrestlers who had accused a BJP leader of sexual abuse, ‘it hurts me’ he said to see Olympians on the streets begging for justice.
The same political leaders who ignored his words are busy congratulating him, Chopra though is now a national treasure, unattainable for any narrative except his own. And, his mantra is for all to see, glory comes with responsibility and not the loss of integrity.
The man with the golden touch
The same self-belief and warmth were on display Sunday evening when he asked Pakistani thrower Arshad Nadeem who is hot on his heels and finished with a historic silver to join him in the celebrations after it was done and dusted.
The man with the golden touch also has a heart of gold and the feelings, beautiful to see, are mutual, “I am so happy for Neeraj bhai, India and Pakistan are 1 and 2 in the world,” said an equally unassuming Nadeem. There was not a troll in sight.
Inspiring, charming, talented
Chopra though knows how to put them in their place. “I would request everyone to please not use me and my comments as a medium to further your vested interests and propaganda … I am extremely disappointed to see some of the reactions from the public,” he had posted after Nadeem was trolled for picking up Chopra’s Javelin during the Tokyo Olympics.
Spread love, not hate, it is only Chopra, whose message in a javelin in the times of muscular nationalism finds no arguments. That he learns from the best, is there for everyone to see. His mother Saroj Devi shut down a reporter who tried to make her son’s win more about a defeat for Arshad, a Pakistani saying she was happy that he had won the silver.
Birth place: Khandra, Haryana, India
Alma mater: DAV College, Chandigarh
A magician of his craft who completes the sport, Neeraj Chopra inspires not just Indians; his charm is global. He acknowledges people on a street in Europe with as much compassion as he speaks for wrestlers back home and dedicates his medal to the nation.
The standing ovation he received in Budapest after his throw was just one example of how he has transcended boundaries. This is his story, and we are the characters that he templates, mostly for the better. Perhaps no one else in the country has that power.
In a world of hits, misses and possibilities, be a Neeraj Chopra.