Neeraj Chopra: How a chubby kid from Haryana turned into ‘Golden Boy’ | Athletics News

For someone who was persuaded to exercise to lose weight, Neeraj Chopra's rise to stardom from a village in Haryana was nothing short of spectacular, and at 25 he is already part of the elite club of India's greatest sporting icons. Two years ago, his javelin shot high into the Tokyo sky as he became the country's first Olympic track and field gold medalist. He was only 23 years old as he became only the second Indian, after legendary shooter Abhinav Bindra, to win an individual gold medal at the Olympics. A star was born overnight in a country that has long yearned for ultimate success on the sport's biggest platform.

Before Bindra, who won the gold medal in the 10-meter air rifle at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, India's eight other gold medals at the Games came from ice hockey, a team sport.

Chopra's legend continued to grow with his gold medal at Sunday's World Championships.

He is now only the second Indian – again after Bindra – to hold the Olympic and World Championship titles at the same time. Bindra won the world title at 23 and Olympic gold at 25.

Chopra will surely find more success as he ages if he stays fit. Before he turns 30 he will compete in two Olympic Games and two World Championships.

Superstar after Tokyo gold Triumph at the 2016 World Junior Championships heralded Chopra's ascension on the world stage, but it was the gold medal at Tokyo 2021 that etched his name into Indian sporting history.

The admiration shown to him was unprecedented; It was on par with some of cricket's icons, if not better.

He was the star of the nation and after attending so many congratulatory programs once, exhaustion and fever forced him to leave a welcome event near his village.

He later revealed that he had gained weight after missing out on training due to the numerous congratulatory events he attended following the historic success in Tokyo.

Chopra was among the most searched Indian personalities online, ranking ahead of the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma in Google searches in India. After his triumph in Tokyo, Chopra's brand value skyrocketed as top brand sponsors lined up for him.

His brand value was compared to Kohli's and his Instagram and Twitter followers grew immediately.

In December of last year, Chopra ousted legendary sprint world record holder Usain Bolt as the world's “most visible” and “best known” athlete.

Indian Athletics Federation President Adille Sumariwalla recently said that Chopra's gold at the Tokyo Olympics made parents believe there is a career beyond cricket in India.

Sumariwalla may not be wrong as more than half a dozen Indians are currently capable of throwing the javelin over 80m and three Indians including Chopra featured in Sunday's men's javelin final of the World Championships.

August 7, the day Chopra won gold in Tokyo, is now celebrated as National Javelin Day.

Consistency is key for Chopra

Consistency has been Chopra's forte since his Tokyo triumph, as he has thrown over 86m in all competitions he has competed in over the past two years. Of course he hasn't competed in too many competitions – only two this year before the World Championships – but his performance hasn't slowed down.

The shortest distance he has covered since winning gold in Tokyo was 86.69m when he won the Kuortane Games title in Finland last June. His personal best is 89.94m, which also earned him second place in the Stockholm Diamond League in June last year.

In comparison, his closest competitors such as Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Jakub Vadlejch of the Czech Republic have thrown under 85m many times. Of course, Vadlejch has entered more than 20 competitions in the last two years, more than twice as many as Chopra.

It's a similar story with Julian Weber of Germany, who finished fourth in Tokyo and also at the 2022 World Cup.

Grenada's Anderson Peters has suffered a dip in form after winning gold at the 2022 World Championships – his second triumph since the 2019 edition – and he couldn't even reach 80m in the qualifying round here on Friday to be eliminated early.

Down to earth and advocate for people

Chopra may not be as articulate as the likes of Bindra, but his “I can't hurt or disappoint anyone” attitude can blow anyone's mind. He would love to oblige fans in India and abroad for selfies and autographs. He will not say no to the scribes who want to talk to him.

Undoubtedly, success at the Tokyo Olympics has brought with it certain limitations in terms of access, but he remains as down-to-earth as ever.

Chopra speaks from the heart and not in nuance. He even openly informed the scribes that medals would not be awarded at certain events.

The mischievous, chubby boy persuaded him to get rid of his love handles

But many years before he achieved greatness, Chopra was under intense pressure from his family of 17 to lose weight.

At that point, he was only 13 years old and had grown into a mischievous boy, often fiddling with the beehives on village trees and trying to pull buffalo by their tails.

His father, Satish Kumar Chopra, wanted something to be done to discipline the boy. After much persuasion, Chopra Jr. finally agreed to run to get rid of the love handles.

His uncle took him to Shivaji Stadium in Panipat – about 15 km from his village.

Chopra had no interest in running and fell in love with the javelin throw almost instantly when he saw a couple of seniors train at the stadium.

He decided to try his luck and as the saying goes, the rest is history.

(Except for the headline, this article was not edited by NDTV staff and is published via a syndicated feed.)

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