Neeraj Chopra made Indian athletics history on Saturday (July 23) by winning gold in the javelin at the IAAF World Under-20 Championships in Poland.
The 18-year-old prospect became the first from his country to hold a world track and field title at any level after his mammoth all-time junior best throw of 86.48m secured victory.
The news sent shockwaves around the sport as the mark was better than Keshorn Walcott’s 2012 Olympic Games-winning 84.58m. The Trinidian’s best this year is only 86.35m.
“When the spear left my hand, I had a feeling it was a special throw. I didn’t expect it to go over 86 metres but I have worked hard on my fitness and technique, and it all paid off,” Chopra said afterwards.
“I missed out on qualifying for the Olympics this year and that was a motivating factor for me here. I wanted to return home with nothing but gold.
“I am going to train harder from now onwards with my coach. My aim is to win a medal for the country in the 2020 Olympics (in Tokyo).”
Chopra broke the U-20 world record held by Latvian Zigismunds Sirmais and bettered his own senior national record (82.33m), set at the South Asian Games in Guwahati this year.
His throw is the eighth best among all throwers, including the senior category, in 2016.
The Olympic qualification mark was 83m, and though Chopra’s throw at the world juniors eclipsed that, the qualifying cut-off date was July 11. At the time of Eastern Eye going to press, Indian athletics officials had written to the world governing body IAAF to consider Chopra for a wild card spot for next month’s Rio Olympics.
Chopra’s first attempt in Bydgoszcz was 79.66m. South Africa’s Johan Grobler, who took the silver, clocked 80.59m on his opening try before the Indian shattered the record. Anderson Peters of Granada won bronze with 79.65m.
In previous years, Indian women discus throwers Seema Antil (2002) and Navjeet Kaur Dhillon (2014) won bronze medals at the World Junior Championships. In the senior Worlds, long jumper Anju Bobby George’s scooped bronze in 2003, India’s only major medal.
Prime minister Narendra Modi congratulated the Haryana lad, who took up the sport to beat obesity, tweeting: “Congratulations Neeraj Chopra for the outstanding sporting accomplishment. We are proud of you.”
Sports minister Vijay Goel, announcing a cash award, also tweeted: “Congratulations Neeraj Chopra to become first Indian world champion in athletics. Kudos!! You have made India proud.”