India has been swept up in a wave of euphoria after Neeraj Chopra won the country’s first ever Olympic athletics gold medal with victory in the men’s javelin in Tokyo. Chopra is a junior officer in the Indian army with the Rajputana Rifles
Chopra’s historic triumph means India has racked up its best-ever Olympic medal haul of seven and caps a resurgence of national pride amid the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 427,000 Indians.
India was already riding high on a strong performance by the men’s and women’s hockey teams after decades in the doldrums.
But Chopra’s victory in the javelin with a throw of 87.58m was something that none of his 1.38 billion compatriots have ever seen before.
“It feels unbelievable,” he said. “This is our first Olympic medal for a very long time, and in athletics it is the first time we have gold, so it’s a proud moment for me and my country.”
For a long time to come, millions of Indians will remember where they were the day Chopra won. There was hardly a household where families were not clustered to watch the moment when a nation obsessed with gold in every form – jewellery, bars, coins – could finally exult at winning a medal of gold.
“I went out for dinner later and the restaurant owner gave everyone free drinks to celebrate the win. He said he had given up ever hoping to hear the Indian national anthem played at the games,” said shop keeper Neeraj Tiwari.
At the army officer’s home village of Khandra in Haryana, ecstatic scenes broke out. The obligatory crackers were burst and farmers and their sons danced in the streets to loud drumming after watching the man who had been so badly bullied as a teenager for his obesity (at 13, he weighed 80kg) that he had to take to the gym, doing the country proud.