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Ending a 100-year wait, will Neeraj Chopra and his javelin become immortal?

Until now, Neeraj Chopra has represented hope. Now, it is his time and his opportunity to turn it into history at the Tokyo Olympics.

Javelin Thrower Neeraj Chopra

Neeraj Chopra (Source: Getty Images)


Saketh Ayyagari

Updated: 7 Aug 2021 1:12 PM GMT

When Neeraj Chopra, all of 23 years, steps on the track at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, there will be more eyes on him than ever before. Not because he will be the last Indian athlete in contention for a medal at these Olympics. It will also not be because of India's slim chances to add another individual gold medal after Abhinav Bindra lie in his arms.

Instead, the spotlight will be on Neeraj for what could possibly happen.

India's pride in their Olympic medals is well-documented, from the incredible hockey exploits several decades ago to the plodding rise in sports like shooting and wrestling at the turn of this century. The Indian contingent continues to get larger at every Olympics but the medal tally always seems to move at a snail's pace.

Over the last three-four Olympics, India have shown substantiated promise in sports like badminton, boxing, shooting and wrestling, winning a few medals too. However, the thirst for a medal in athletics, arguably the biggest and most popular attraction at any Olympics, still persists.

Norman Pritchard did win a couple of medals in athletics back in 1900 but they never really felt like "ours". The legendary Milkha Singh came close to winning one in 1960, the Payyoli Express PT Usha missed by a whisker in 1984 and Anju Bobby George's giant leap in 2004 was not enough either.

Every near-miss only added the burden to the next medal-hopeful stepping up. Ask Sachin Tendulkar how much he endured as an entire country pinned their hopes of another World Cup on him for close to two decades. Every tournament India exited raised more doubts, added some more baggage until it all lifted in 2011.

Milkha Singh was not so lucky. His wish to see India win a medal in his lifetime never materialised. However, in the same year when the legend breathed his last, India has a new ray of hope and it feels different.

When Neeraj speared into the limelight back in 2016, breaking the World U-20 Record, he turned heads. It was not normal in Indian athletics. His journey since then until the Tokyo Olympics always carried only one question - can he?

Neeraj Chopra at the 2016 IAAF World Championships

The Commonwealth Games and Asian Games golds added heft to his rising popularity. After getting sidelined with elbow problems followed by a lengthy rehab, when he threw 88.07m this March, the century-long yearning was rekindled.

So, when the heart-warming effort of Kamalpreet Kaur in discus throw once again ended in more pain, the onus shifted towards Neeraj and his golden arm. And he did not disappoint. His only throw of 86.65m to top qualification, not only lifted spirits but also brought back the same question - can he?

Thus, there will be more than just India's population watching him when he runs today in the final. All the pain and anguish of athletes who tried and failed before will be strung to his javelin. His golden arm, trained by some of the best coaches in the world, will be trusted to shatter the glass ceiling and bring home a medal.

The colour of the metal does not really matter, as long as it rests on his neck after the event. Until now, Neeraj Chopra represented hope. Now, it is his time and his opportunity to turn it into history. So, can he? HE CAN.

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