Neeraj Chopra is a beacon of hope to many traversing less-trodden paths

You don’t want to miss out on how the javelin thrower rose from obscurity to incredible fame in a short span of time. Read on.

India's Neeraj Chopra celebrates placing first in the javelin throw at the 22nd Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar. Photo credit: AFP

Neeraj Chopra isn’t yet 20 and, even if he does not mean to be teaching lessons, he underlines some home truths for those in sport at all levels – recreational and competitive. In winning gold at the recent Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar, the Haryana lad showed that pressure can be channelised to deliver optimum performance; and it is never over until it is actually over.

Unlike some throwers whose performances have been inconsistent, Neeraj has not wavered. He had just returned from his maiden IAAF Diamond League competition in Paris where he threw the javelin 84.67m for a creditable fifth place. A month earlier, he had punched turf at 85.63m in the Federation Cup in Patiala. And that had created expectation among connoisseurs and fans alike in Bhubaneswar.

The stocky lad soaked up the pressure of expectation as if he were an uncomplaining sponge, focusing on his skill sets, inspired by the intense competition, and riding on the massive support that he got from the full house. It was a veritable treatise in the ability to deal with pressure, making it a fuel for evolution rather than an impediment to progress.

It did not matter to him that he started the competition with a foul and trailed in sixth place after three rounds with a best attempt of 78.59m. He responded with a fourth throw of 83.06m to rise to third place behind Qatar’s Ahmed Bader Magour and his own team-mate Davinder Singh Kang. He unleashed another 80-plus throw in the fifth round but was still in third place.

He summoned all the physical and emotional resources at his disposal and delivered his best effort of the night. He ran up the track, generating pace and holding the spear as far back as his right arm could stretch. The crossover steps and the delivery step were all close to perfection. He sent the javelin high in the night sky, powering it with energy that moved from his hips to shoulders.

The Junior Commissioned Officer in the Indian Army, who now trains at the Sports Authority of India Centre in Bengaluru, tumbled on his follow-through but did well not to cross the foul line. The distance of 85.23m won him gold with a meet record.

The sacrifices that he had made in the six years since he was taken to the Sports Authority of India Centre in Panipat to discover a sport that could help him shed some puppy fat have begun to pay dividends. Neeraj, son of a farmer, had demonstrated that enormous mental strength was just as necessary as natural talent and honed skill sets to weave together telling performances.

Back in the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, the teen from Khandra village, a half-hour away from Panipat, reiterated that in sport (and life) it is never over until it is over. In the span of a few weeks, the IAAF World Junior Champion won the Federation Cup gold after a stirring contest, experienced world class competition in the Diamond League and claimed the Asian crown.

He has also shown that he could handle the effect of inter-continental travel as well. Neeraj now has to make that push to remain in the top rung of world’s javelin throwers. There is reason to believe that, with a mature head on his young shoulders, he will do all it takes to achieve his goals. If he irons out some technical issues he can break into the stratospheric 90m bracket.

From mentor Jaiveer Singh, who introduced him to the basics, to Naseem Ahmed, who arranged for his stay in Panchkula, to his erstwhile coach Australian Garry Calvert, and others, he has a range of well-wishers to draw from. For someone who was throwing in the region of 75m as junior ranks, he had graduated to the senior ranks seamlessly.

There is no doubt that while his own education in the art and science of javelin throws continues – and it is a very technical sport that calls for wonderful coordination of several joints that are moving in different planes – the career of the boy-man who will be 20 on Christmas Eve this year already offers life lessons to anyone who is prepared to learn.

your comments