India's Neeraj Chopra
Golden moment: India's Neeraj Chopra in action to en route to his gold medal-winning performance in Tokyo Olympics last August. Image Credit: AFP

Kolkata: The year 2021 had been an extraordinary one in Indian sport - despite it’s tryst with the Covid-19 pandemic. It saw Indian athletes record their best-ever haul in both Summer Olympics and Paralympics but Neeraj Chopra, the Spearman, was easily the most talked about performer as he ended the country’s more than 100-year wait for an athletics medal at the greatest show - that too with a gold.

Much after Chopra’s golden moment on August 7 evening at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium left a billion people stunned, the significance of the moment was yet to sink in. When it came to athletics at the Olympics, the folklore stopped with heartbreaks of Milkha Singh finishing fourth in the 1960 Rome Olympics or P.T.Usha missing the bronze just by a whisker at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in 400m hurdles - but this 23-year-old strapping junior Army officer from Punjab had other ideas.

Nearly five months down the line, Chopra’s life has certainly undergone a dramatic change - but his mission hasn’t. Life has handed him the pinnacle of glory at an young age that an athlete can aspire for but he is now back to the grind - at Chula Vista in the US since the first week of December to get back into shape again for a challenging season in the New Year.

Athletics - Chula Vista
Far from the madding crowd: The serene surrounding of Chula Vista in the US, where Chopra is back to off-season training now. Image Credit: Twitter/Neeraj Chopra

‘‘See, it’s been five months now that Tokyo happened. However, a busy year is ahead of me with three major events - World Championships, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and of course the Diamond League circuit. While the coaches will make the plan, I will have to put in my best effort and work hard to maintain the level of performance,’’ Chopra said from the US.

Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive interview facilitated by JSW Sports, Chopra admitted that life has indeed changed for him in the last four months. The trappings of stardom has followed with hundreds of media obligations, social visits and endorsements but scratch the surface and one realises the simpleton in him hasn’t really changed.

‘‘Yes, there is no doubt that more people now know me, media want to hear about me and endorsements have also some. However, it’s all a reward for ending the country’s long wait for an athletics medal in athletics. However, my satisfaction will be if I see that my achievement has kick-started a revolution in javelin and sport in general,’’ he said.


Looking back at 2021, Chopra feels that no words of appreciation are enough for the Indian athletes - who braved a setback in their preparations first with the postponement of Tokyo Olympics from 2020 and then qualifying tournaments being cancelled randomly to better their medal tally both in Tokyo 2020. While the seven medals bettered their tally of six at London 2020, the Paralympics really saw a windfall with 19 medals.

‘‘It’s been a great year for us. We finished with seven medals in Olympics and let’s not forget Paralympics - my only hope is we become a much more sports conscious country,’’ he felt.

Far from the madding crowd, what has been his life at the Chula Vista over past four weeks? ‘‘It’s started off well. My first target is to get my fitness back (he has managed to shed five kgs already) as I have been pampered a lot in the last few months. I will then look to improve on my strength and technique and work on how to be a more explosive thrower,’’ he said.

On that magical evening in Tokyo, Chopra’s clearance of 87.58 metres was good enough to earn him the gold - though it was well below his personal best of 88.7 metres. While improving the distance towards 90m will be on his agenda, Chopra admits that the pressure of expectations on him will be heavy when he steps into the competition arena now with the tag of an Olympic champion.

‘‘Yes, let’s accept that there will be expectations. However, I will not be lacking in self-belief and will try to visualise that I am throwing at the Olympic Stadium. It will surely help in handling the pressure,’’ he signed off.