Neeraj Chopra on Saturday became only the second Indian to win an individual gold in the Olympics, out-performing the javelin field to notch up the first track-and-field Games medal for the country.
The 23-year-old farmer’s son from Khandra village near Panipat, Haryana, produced a second round throw of 87.58m in the finals to stun the athletics world and end India’s 100-year wait for a track and field medal in the Olympics.
Chopra won the country’s seventh medal and first gold in this Olympics and joined shooter Abhinav Bindra (2008 Beijing Games) as India’s individual gold winners in the showpiece.
With this, the country surpassed the previous best haul of six medal achieved in the 2012 London Games.
Czech Republic throwers Jakub Vadlejch (86.67m) and Vitezslav Vesely (85.44m) took the silver and bronze, respectively.
Chopra came into the final as a medal contender after topping the qualification round on Wednesday with a stunning first round throw of 86.59m. But few would have thought he would bludgeon his way to gold in such a dominant fashion at the grandest of the stage.
Season leader and pre-tournament gold favourite Johannes Vetter of Germany, who had thrown the javelin to 90m plus distances seven times between April and June, was eliminated after the first three throws as he was placed ninth with a best effort of 82.52m.
Top eight after the first three throws get three more attempts while the remaining four in the 12-man final are eliminated.
With his fifth career best throw, Chopra has done something that the likes of late Milkha Singh and P. T. Usha could not do in 1960 and 1984 editions. No Indian has won a medal in athletics since the country started taking part in the Games in 1920 in Antwerp, Belgium.
Three track and field athletes were part of the five-member team – the other two being wrestlers – in that Games. The International Olympic Committee still credits Norman Pritchard’s 200m and 200m hurdles silver medals in the 1900 Paris Olympics to India though various researches, including the records of then IAAF (now World Athletics), showed that he had competed for Great Britain.
In any case, Pritchard was not an Indian and the country’s first Olympic participation under a national Olympic body was in 1920. Since then, track and field athletes have been an integral part of Indian contingents in almost all the editions of the Games.