It was quite a moment at the Asian Games when Indian gold-medallist Neeraj Chopra stood flanked by a Chinese and a Pakistani on the podium but ask the star javelin thrower about it and he says it didn’t even strike him as he was consumed by the national anthem.
Chopra broke the national record with a throw of 88.06m, while China’s Liu Qizhen (82.22m) and bronze to Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem (80.75m) were distant second and third respectively in Jakarta.
At the medal ceremony, it made for a moment given the often volatile diplomatic dynamics between the three countries.
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The picture of Chopra shaking hands with Nadeem on the podium went viral on social media with tennis star Sania Mirza tweeting that it showed why sports is the “best education you can provide your child with.”
“Teaches you sportsmanship, equality, respect and most importantly humanity! If only some people can learn this from our champion athletes too,” she said.
Chopra said during the ceremony, he was only focussed on the national anthem.
“I did not realise (at that moment) that I was standing with them. Seeing the tri-colour and with the rendering of the national anthem, I was becoming emotional, remembering the struggle and hard work I have done to reach to this stage,” Chopra told PTI from Czech Republic, where he is training.
The 20-year-old became the first Indian to win a javelin throw gold in the Asian Games, adding another feather to his cap after the top finish at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in a phenomenal season.
He, however, hastened to add that sports should unite people rather than generating “hatred”.
“Sports always teaches us to unite people, to be good towards your competitors. Sports is not meant to show hatred to others,” he said.
Nadeem had later claimed that Chopra was not particularly forthcoming when he tried to reach out to him through WhatsApp messages.
Asked about this, Chopra said, “I am not aware of any face to face approach from him (Nadeem). If somebody tries to speak or wants to ask something behind my back, I would not know. If he had sent some messages on my phone, I would not know. I don’t see so many messages.”
The 88.06m throw in Jakarta has taken him closer to his aim of going beyond the magical 90m mark but Chopra said the gold medal is as significant as the one he fetched in the Gold Coast CWG.
“I cannot choose between the two, both are significant and I am happy about that. The CWG effort was also a national record of that time, it was more than my junior world record throw for the first time and also the first gold of a major multi-sporting event.
“In Jakarta, it was a bigger throw of over 88m and I am really happy to have done that distance. But I will not choose one over the other.”
In the prestigious Diamond League Final in Zurich where he completed three days after the Asian Games campaign, Chopra missed the bronze by a whisker as reigning Olympic champion Thomas Roehler of Germany pipped him by a mere three centimetres with his final throw.
“I was about to win the bronze as I was third till the final round but Roehler pushed me down to fourth with his last throw. He is an Olympic champion and a big shot in javelin world,” said Chopra who had a best throw of 85.73m.
“It’s all right, I will work harder and try to win next time. I was competing with the best in the world and I am satisfied with that fourth-place finish.
“I am happy that I have been consistent the whole season, throwing over 85m in almost all events. I will now work harder to improve my performance,” said Chopra, who will wind up his international season after taking part in the IAAF Continental Cup at Ostrava in Czech Republic on September 8 and 9.
He will compete along with six other Indians, as part of Asia-Pacific team. Europe, Americas and Africa are the other teams.
(With PTI Inputs)