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A week of medal delirium for India consummated by Neerajmania

Praggnanandhaa and Prannoy could not attain the gold medal that the Indians craved. For that crowing glory, Indians needed to turn towards their most trusted athlete, Neeraj Chopra.

A week of medal delirium for India consummated by Neerajmania

R Praggnanandhaa, Neeraj Chopra and HS Prannoy have dominated the headlines this week (August 21-28). 


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 28 Aug 2023 1:15 PM GMT

A week to remember. We have three medallists from three different sports, marking a healthy sign for India's sports environs. While two players came close to achieving the holy grail of their sports, the other finished India's so-near yet so-far story with a much-awaited top-of-the-podium finish. It also completed a perfect blend of silver, bronze and gold.

Heading to the week, we have R Praggnanandhaa forcing two tie-breakers before settling for a silver in the FIDE World Cup and HS Prannoy beating two former world champions. But the moment of outright elation eluded the Indians.

As we reached the business end of the week, the golden boy of Indian athletics, Neeraj Chopra, would wash away the pain of those near finishes by clinching the long-awaited gold medal with a thumping 88.17m effort in the javelin throw final at the World Athletics Championships.

While the ISSF Shooting World Championships interposed between these pomps, this week gave Indians many reasons to celebrate their sportspersons. The Indian shooters won six gold but also secured four Paris Olympics quota places, taking India's total tally in next year's Games to six in shooting.

But among all, the three events that caught the attention of one and all were chess, badminton and athletics. They were the cynosure of all eyes, with top Indian names stepping into the events as serious medal contenders, splitting the world in an outstanding display of grit, technique and fitness.

Praggnanandhaa's emergence as Anand's heir

18-year-old chess prodigy Praggnanandhaa won the battle of mind games over the gameboard, forcing tie-breakers in the quarterfinal and semifinals before effecting another in the final against world no. 1 Magnus Carlsen. In the summit clash, a 65-minute battle followed over two classical games. While Praggnanandhaa won the last two matches from an identical situation, he had to settle for a runner-up finish against Carlsen in the brainstorming final.

But irrespective of the result of the final, he appeared as a true heir of Viswanathan Anand. He outclassed world no. 2 Hikaru Nakamura, fellow Indian Arjun Erigaisi and world no. 3 Fabiano Caruana to become the youngest World Cup finalist.

In the process, Praggnanandhaa also qualified for the elite eight-player Candidates tournament, where the winner would get a chance to challenge the reigning world champion, Ding Liren. Meanwhile, four Indians, including Praggnanandhaa, made it to the quarterfinals, portraying a bright sight of Indian chess.

He emulated the Indian chess legend Anand by becoming the first Indian to reach the FIDE World Cup final in 21 years. Praggnanandhaa, of course, missed out on a chance to win the World Cup, but given his age, tenacity and skills, he will have many more opportunities to fulfil that dream, portraying a happy sight of chess in the country.

Prannoy's moment of reckoning

While India was glued to Praggnanandhaa and his compatriots for a better part of the week, the discussion would switch to the BWF World Championships held in Copenhagen, Denmark, mid-week. But India had more disappointments than success at the Worlds, with top names such as PV Sindhu, a five-time World Championships medallist, Lakshya Sen and title favourite Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty making early exits, denying India the chance to win back the gold medal last won in 2019.

But while they had entered the tournament with the baggage of expectations and wilted under pressure, one shuttler who stood out was HS Prannoy. For years, he maintained a dubious record. But Prannoy, in a late comeback, stormed the world in the last two years by appearing as India's most consistent men's singles player. His form would eventually come to a crescendo at the World Championships, with him finally winning the much-craved medal.

But more than the bronze medal, what impressed the fans about Prannoy was his ability to bring the best out of him against two former world champions - Loh Kean Yew and Viktor Axelsen, the most consistent and most successful player in the field in recent times.

Following his proven pattern of a comeback and redesigned game, studded with surprising strokes and twists and turns, Prannoy kept India's medal spree intact in the Championships. His victory against Axelsen, the regaining world and Olympic champion, in the quarterfinal, coming from a game deficit, stunned the home fans like anything. But this victory came at a cost; playing two back-to-back three-setters would leave the Indian worn out before the semifinals.

Neeraj Chopra's a fairytale finish

Prannoy could not attain the gold that Indians were yearning for. But every lost opportunity is an opportunity to begin again. Prannoy may want to make an amend at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, but for this week's crowing glory, Indians needed to turn towards their most trusted athlete - Neeraj Chopra, the Olympic, Commonwealth and Asian Games champion - again. Neeraj is the man of many firsts. On Sunday, the 25-year-old, staying true to his abilities, delivered again, winning the World Athletics Championships gold medal. He needed his second throw (88.17m) to etch his name in the pages of history.

The Indian Army Subedar would pull the sprint with the eight-foot aluminium spear in his right hand and release it with sublime technique. It would fly high before blinking in the Budapest sky and then land before the 90m arc.

Neeraj would roar without looking at the spear and do a fist pump before raising his hands, basking in the adulation from the spectators at the National Athletics Centre. He clinched the gold medal. Accompanying Neeraj, Kishore Kumar Jena and DP Manu finished in the Top 8, making India only the fourth country ever to have three finalists. It boosted the whole nation's spirit again. India was waiting for a fairytale finish to a week, which was marked by the success of Chandrayaan-3's soft landing on the Moon. And Neeraj did exactly what everyone craved by unfurling the tricolour of a burgeoning nation on the world stage.

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