TOKYO — Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra became an instant national icon after winning India’s first-ever athletics gold medal on the final night of competition at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday (7). Click here for the final results
The 23-year-old was seen as a strong medal contender entering the Games and put the rest of the field under immediate pressure with his first two throws in the final, and they turned out to be enough.
Click here to watch the video of the winning performance
After opening the competition with a throw of 87.03 meters to jump out to an early lead, Chopra extended his advantage with a second-round effort of 87.58m and it held up as the best mark of the day, resulting in him becoming the first Indian to win an Olympic gold in athletics.
Chopra also became only his country’s second individual gold medalist following shooter Abhinav Bindra victory at the Beijing Games in 2008.
Czech pair Jakub Vadlejch and Vitezslav Vesely finished with the silver and bronze medals with respective season-best marks of 86.67m and 85.44m.
“It feels unbelievable… I feel very good. It’s a proud moment for me and my country,” said Chopra.
Meanwhile, India’s only previous track and field medals in the Olympics were two silvers, coming from Norman Pritchard in the 200 meters and the 200-meter hurdles at Paris in 1900.
“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.”
With the gold medal in the bag after seeing his competitors failing to reach his lead mark, Chopra let out a big shout that was heard all over the Olympic Stadium, and of course, all those Indians watching on their televisions.
“So proud moment for India and for me because they’re supporting me a lot,” he added.
“Today they’re all in front of the TV and they’re supporting me — so thank you India.”
The biggest surprise in the final was seeing Vesely, the 2013 world championships gold medalist producing his best throw for six years to make it onto the podium, while German world leader Johannes Vetter who had won his past 19 competitions, failed to make the cut for the last three rounds and finished ninth overall.
After looking uneasy during the qualifying round earlier at the Games, Vetter struggled again in the final with his only mark of 82.52m coming in the opening round.
Although he was disappointed about his personal performance, Vetter congratulated Chopra on his victory.
“He’s a really talented guy, always really friendly,” Vetter said of Chopra. “I’m happy for him.”