Can Neeraj Chopra’s gold in Olympics be the catalyst for the rise of Athletics in India?

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Neeraj Chopra came into the limelight after he grabbed a gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Before this Neeraj was an overweight boy with lots of mischief under his belt. He hailed from a north Indian village where only two sports were popular in the form of Kabaddi and Wrestling.

Neeraj lived in a joint family and was the eldest child and the most loved one as well. He was sent to a gym in a nearby town to lose some weight. This is when the young boy got introduced to the sport of javelin throw and rest is history.

Neeraj Chopra and the growth of javelin throw after Olympics

In India, Javelin throw was never regarded as a sport that can lead to athletics. However, over the last 10 years or so, the sport has grown massively. In the meantime, Neeraj has set and broken his national record.

He became the first Indian to win Gold in the U20 World Championship and also set the world record at the U20 level. His achievements did not stop there as he won both the Asian and Commonwealth Games Gold medals.

After his heroic performance in the Olympics, Neeraj Chopra got many endorsement deals and had a huge social media following. This was only something common with the cricket and movie stars of India. He is a young handsome man with great hair. It’s astonishing to see an athlete get so popular.

Now the perception of Javelin and Athletics is changed. Surely, Indian athletes have also changed the way they see themselves. Neeraj is the second individual Gold medalist of India and the first in track and field events. In the past, India had the likes of Milkha Singh, P.T Usha and many more but all failed to deliver a medal for India in the Olympics.

After the 23-year-old scripted history by winning the gold medal, P.T Usha tweeted,

“Realised my unfinished dream today after 37 years. Thank you, my son.”

But sadly Milkha Singh’s demise took place just 2 months before the event due to covid complications.

Optimistic about the growth of track and field sports

According to Adille Sumariwalla, President of the Athletics Federation of India,

“While winning a medal in any sport is great, a country is believed to have reached somewhere when you get a medal in athletics. Neeraj has broken that glass ceiling and he has shown Indians that ‘yes, we can’ – ‘yes, we can also win, we are in no way inferior to anyone else’. That mental block has gone. And therefore, I think we will now be looking at a new set of athletes in how they think – and their confidence.”

Abhinav Bindra, India’s first Individual Olympic Gold medalist said to Neeraj that,

“The impact your victory will create on promoting your sport amongst the country’s youth is immeasurable. You have crossed the first barrier; the gates are now firmly open. Budding Olympians will now look up to you as they set out to fulfil their dreams of bringing glory to the nation.”

The fact that Neeraj won the gold medal is not an event that happened by chance. It was completely Neeraj’s talent and his hard work which made this possible.

Initiatives taken by the government

The Target Olympic Podium Scheme was introduced in 2014 by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. It was to support medal prospects of the country with all the needed support and allowance. Moreover, some of the private sector along with the government have come together to enhance the growth of Athletics in India.

Neeraj’s performance is what the Athletics Federation of India is excited about. As the head organization wants this success to work as the ladder which will help in giving more such athletes in the future.

According to Sumariwalla,

“It is the bench strength that pushes the No.1. Today 10 people are throwing over 80m, which is why Neeraj is throwing 88m.”

AFI also announced a decision to,

“redesign and strengthen the junior programme to be able to build on the gains of Neeraj Chopra’s Olympic Games gold medal and the U20 Championships.”

Until now, AFI has propped up the National Inter-District Junior Athletics Meet, which had its 18th Edition in 2021, as the ‘world’s largest talent search program’ and ‘the largest grassroots program in the world’.

AFI gives the credit to athletes like Neeraj Chopra, sprinters like Hima Das and Dutee Chand, after their performance in the Olympics. The Sports Governing body is trying to provide all necessary infrastructure and scout more talent from the remotest places of the country. 

The work and effort which is put in to develop athletics are great. This for certain makes India one of the Powerhouses in the Olympic Games in near future.

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