Sun. May 26th, 2024

Homecoming hero Neeraj Chopra takes the accolade and applause at federation cup

Neeraj Chopra

Indian javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, the nation’s pride and Olympic gold medalist, recently stole the show at the Federation Cup. As he arrived at the practice ground accompanied by his entourage, he became the undeniable focal point, receiving the loudest applause from fans and fellow athletes alike.

Neeraj Chopra

Chopra’s homecoming was a celebration of his stellar achievements and an acknowledgment of his status as a sports icon in India. His presence at the Federation Cup was highly anticipated, and he did not disappoint, drawing immense attention and admiration from the crowd. This event further solidified his reputation as a beloved and inspiring figure in the world of athletics.

 

There was a brief roar soon after the release but no ‘both arms raised with the fingers pointing towards the sky as he turns his back while the javelin is yet to land’ gesture followed.

It was never really about his performance but more about celebrating the presence of a star who had won everything in athletics by adding the Olympic, Diamond League and World Championship titles to his collection since his last domestic meet in 2021.

 

Yet, an unfazed Neeraj Chopra clinched the gold medal on the final day of the 27th Federation Cup at the Kalinga Stadium. From the moment Neeraj arrived with his entourage at the practice ground on a humid evening at 5 PM, two hours before his event, he was the centre of attention.

 

Wearing a black-and-pink t-shirt and black track pants with a black cap covering a portion of his shoulder-length hair, the 26-year-old had a light training session under the watchful eye of his coach, Dr. Klaus Bartonietz.

Despite the humid conditions, Neeraj remained focused and composed, drawing admiration from fans and fellow athletes for his dedication and poise. His presence and performance at the Federation Cup not only highlighted his exceptional talent but also his ability to remain calm and collected under pressure, further solidifying his status as a top-tier athlete.

 

He began with a few stretching exercises, monitored by physiotherapist Ishaan Marwaha, before moving on to short sprints. Unlike his usual training sessions abroad, clips of which he shares on social media, every moment here was being captured by scores of photographers from the media.

Athletes, coaches, and officials frequently approached Neeraj, and he obliged every time with a friendly greeting.

 

Triple jumpers Abdulla Aboobacker and Praveen Chithravel, who had their final an hour before Neeraj’s event, received warm embraces from the Olympic champion.

Neeraj Chopra

Even the volunteers got their selfies, showcasing Neeraj’s approachable and humble nature despite his star status. His ability to balance his rigorous training with engaging warmly with those around him was a testament to his admirable character and widespread popularity.

 

The two thousand-odd spectators got their first glimpse of Neeraj at half-past six as the 12 javelin throw finalists walked along the periphery of the track adjacent to the triple jump sandpit to reach the runway.

The applause and cheers began when many in the stands mistook his ‘practice throw’ for his competition opener. The support only got louder from there on.

 

Bhubaneswar has always been a special place for Neeraj. He had changed his training base from Patiala to Bhubaneswar in 2020 due to the warmer conditions, which were more suitable for his preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.

In 2017, as the then junior world champion, Neeraj demonstrated his prowess at the continental level by winning the gold medal at the Asian Athletics Championships with the last throw of the competition. Coincidentally, it was also the last time he competed in Bhubaneswar before this Federation Cup, making his return to the Odisha capital a memorable and sentimental occasion.

 

On Wednesday, however, the athlete from Haryana settled the affair well before the final throw. Neeraj Chopra had already qualified for the Paris Olympics during his historic gold medal-winning performance at last year’s World Championships in Budapest. He opened this season with an impressive 88.36m, less than a week ago, at the Doha Diamond League.  Neeraj Chopra

 

Neeraj, who usually gets exemptions from domestic meets, decided to participate in the Federation Cup as he wanted to compete on home soil. His participation was particularly significant because next month’s National Inter-State Championships are too close to the Olympics and fall in the middle of a series of major events abroad. By competing at the Federation Cup, Neeraj not only delighted his fans but also reinforced his commitment to Indian athletics.

 

After Karnataka’s Manu DP opened the competition with an impressive throw of 82.06m, it was Neeraj’s turn for his first attempt. He meticulously adjusted his shoes, performed a last-minute stretch, pulled up the right-shoulder sleeve, and then swiftly made his way down the runway. With precision and power, he released the javelin, marking a distance of 82 meters.

 

Turning towards the spectators, Neeraj gestured for more applause as he prepared for his second throw. In response to his request, the crowd erupted with chants of “Neeraj! Neeraj!” and enthusiastic whistles. Before assuming his position for the next attempt, he graciously acknowledged the support with a humble bow.  Neeraj Chopra

However, feeling unsatisfied with his performance, he deliberately fouled his second attempt. This pattern persisted leading up to his third throw, which culminated in a distance of 81.29m.

 

Meanwhile, Kishore Jena, the other Indian javelin thrower with a confirmed spot for the Summer Games, struggled with his technique, having a challenging night amidst the backdrop of Neeraj’s performance.  Neeraj Chopra

 

Before the fourth round began, Neeraj went for a brief chat with coach Bartonietz, who had been observing the action from behind a fence, offering insights and guidance.

 

As the competition resumed with the bottom four eliminated and the order reset, Neeraj prepared for his throw just before Manu. Adjusting his jersey, loosening and tightening the lumbar belt, and shaking off any excess powder from the hand holding the spear, he took off down the runway. With focus and determination, he unleashed his best and final throw of the night – a remarkable distance of 82.27m, further solidifying his dominance and securing his victory at the Federation Cup.

 

Manu, aiming to join Neeraj and Jena by achieving the Olympic qualifying standard of 85.50m, could only manage an effort of 81.47m in the fourth round and a foul in the fifth. Recognizing his position, Neeraj opted to skip his penultimate attempt. When Manu fouled in the last round, Neeraj understandably chose not to take his final attempt either. Neeraj Chopra

 

After joining the rest of the finalists for a group photo, Neeraj proceeded to the mixed zone where he urged the journalists to focus on the 400m men’s final before addressing his own performance. “When I realized my body wasn’t up for it, I decided to skip the last two attempts,” he stated candidly before graciously acknowledging his competitor’s challenges, “I thought Manu would surpass me today, but he couldn’t execute properly as his javelin was landing early.”

Neeraj’s humility and sportsmanship shone through as he reflected on his performance and recognized the efforts of his fellow athletes, demonstrating the spirit of camaraderie and respect within the sporting community. Neeraj Chopra

For India’s lone Olympic gold medalist in track and field, there wasn’t as much hype surrounding his participation at the event. While there was a comparatively decent turnout considering the usual attendance at domestic meets, eventually, more than half of the 15,000-capacity stadium remained vacant. Despite this, Neeraj graciously acknowledged those who showed up with a heartfelt “Thank you for supporting the athletes” after the medal ceremony.  Neeraj Chopra

What could have been a warm homecoming to celebrate all he has achieved so far and a grand send-off ceremony for Paris did not materialize into either. The subdued atmosphere perhaps didn’t fully capture the magnitude of Neeraj’s accomplishments and his significance to Indian athletics. Nevertheless, his performance on the field and his gracious acknowledgment of the support he did receive exemplified his humility and dedication to the sport. Neeraj Chopra

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