Neeraj then referred to himself not in third person, but as if he were the collective. “We became Olympic champion. We are World champion now. Anything is possible,” he assured us.
“We all can do anything in all our chosen fields. All of us just keep working hard, and we can make a name in the world,” Neeraj added. Few got wind of it, though, as the TV channel, promising us the world all week, barely gave us a peep. But then that’s how champions are made, perhaps, hewn in faraway lands even as their own countrymen scramble in search of one.Neeraj proves an anomaly in the Indian context
Few got wind of it, though, as the TV channel, promising us the world all week, barely gave us a peep. But then that’s how champions are made, perhaps, hewn in faraway lands even as their own countrymen scramble in search of one. Late on Sunday, having been fervently feeding our hunger to become ‘a sporting nation’, a national desire, you could argue, without perhaps the adequate deserving, Neeraj Chopra may just have ended India’s search for its biggest sporting hero. He runs the risk of spoiling us though, because he promises us more. “You know they say, ‘Throwers have no finishing line.’ No matter how many medals you win, you can keep pushing yourselves for the next best throw. If other Indians join me on the podium next time, that will be great,”
With his unaffected ways and uncluttered words, he has also perhaps established himself as a people’s hero in a country where cricketers occupy the nation’s consciousness. Typically, Neeraj Chopra didn’t as much as replace Kohli and Co., but nudged them a bit to make a place for himself. With spear and little or no fear.
India was never prepared for a Neeraj Chopra, much less for him to invade our senses the way he has done. For those who straddled the steady 1980s, staid 1990s and the turn of the century would know that India never had a champion who showcased ease of intent, clarity of thought with such effortlessness of ability for such explosive end. It is not just a PR-manicured clean-cut image, but a quiet ferocity and a rare natural dignity that’s hard to find among today’s uber-visible heroes.
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In that, Chopra is an anomaly that post-millennials, Gen-Z, whatever the current flavour of the season is, would find hard to place in the Indian context — someone so dominant, so much in control and winning seemingly with such ease, yet with nothing to show in terms of legacy.
Legacy is what we always had. We still belonged to a time when medals were a rarity and one that harked to an age where timings, distances, run-aggregates, season averages (not strike-rates) and Elo ratings held more sway, a more authentic indicator of a sportsperson’s worth, effort and struggle. Any international success story was always a famous scrape to the finish line. Neeraj Chopra has changed all that.
Neeraj Chopra wins gold medal in Men’s Javelin at the World Athletics Championship 2023
Yet, it is his standing in the currently fragile social Indian framework that is still bigger than all of that. It is one that marks him out as a leader, not so much an appointed captain awaiting assignment. It was his gentle, but firm rebuke of trolls that picked on Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem for mistakenly picking the Indian’s javelin at Tokyo that marked out his possessing a mind of his own and being unafraid to show it.
Later, he was among the first to speak out in support of the protesting wrestlers at Jantar Mantar before it was politicised out of shape. On Sunday, he was chiding Arshad for forgetting the Pakistani flag as the javelin gold and silver winners posed trackside for photographers. Nadeem smiled sheepishly and mumbled something; Neeraj just shook his head.
Imagine what a powerful image it would have made, in these times, in these climes. Their nations’ flags spread in the stadium air, an Indian and Pakistani celebrating a one-two on the world summit in a sport no one till recently had a clue about.
To think, Neeraj Chopra is doing all that, all on his own steam, unruffled, unaffected and unperturbed. It doesn’t hurt that he wins Olympic and World championship gold medals as he does. The only noise is the roar when he knows that his javelin has been launched like he has been training for all season, the rest is just all a quiet, regular day in the life of India’s greatest sportsman. May that not change.
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