Tokyo Olympic Games gold medallist in javelin throw, Neeraj Chopra, said on Monday that his achievement was for the entire nation and not just him or his near-and-dear ones.Chopra, who had dedicated the medal to the late Milkha Singh, the legendary sprinter who died of Covid-19 in June, said during a felicitation function organised by the Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur for Olympic medal winners on Monday evening that, "Thank you for supporting me. This medal is for India… it's not just mine, it's for the country."I have been carrying this medal in my pocket since the day I won it. I haven't slept or eaten properly after winning the medal; the hunger gets satiated the moment I see the medal," said Chopra, who beat a strong field in Tokyo, that included the likes of title favourite Germany's Johannes Vetter, for the gold medal.Chopra's message to the upcoming athletes was to not get overawed by the competitors or the competition. "Competitors se ghabrana nahin hai (don't get overawed by the competitors' reputation). I had two strong competitors (in the fray) in Tokyo. My world ranking was fourth. But a good qualification round gave me the confidence," said Chopra, as Thakur and former Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju nodded in appreciation."Give your 100 per cent even if you know you are not the favourite," said Chopra, dressed in an Indian T-shirt.
Chopra said that the throw which finally earned him the gold was "different". "When I made that throw, I knew it was different. The next day my elbow, waist and back were sore, but everything is Ok if you have a gold medal in your pocket," said the 23-year-old Chopra, even as the other medal winners in Tokyo clapped in appreciation.When someone asked Chopra if he had got offers to become the brand ambassador of shampoo and hair-conditioning companies, the javelin thrower smiled and said, "I had been keeping long hair since the time I was 9-10 years old. But the long hair was becoming a problem during competitions. I tried everything…tying them up, wearing a cap, but nothing seemed to work and finally I went for a manageable style…less sweaty. Style can come later, the game is first," said the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games gold medallist.Speaking about his middle-class upbringing, Chopra said, "All athletes usually come from middle-class backgrounds. The monetary struggle, the struggle for stadiums creates a fire in their belly…since we don't have it we have to work extra hard to achieve it… that creates the fire."The fun-filled evening also saw the men's hockey team being felicitated, with skipper Manpreet Singh and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh sharing a lighter moment, which left the gathering appreciating the wit of the captain and the man who defended India's goal doggedly.
Asked if he would like the share the title of the "great wall" with women's team goalkeeper, Savita, who stood rock-solid to help the Indian women's team finish fourth at the Olympics, Sreejesh said, "I will not share the title... the title belongs to Savita because of the way she defended the goalmouth."Silver medallist wrestler in 57kg Ravi Dahiya, when reminded about the struggles during his early years and the iron deficiency he had to overcome when he started competing said, "When we start at the grassroots level, there are hardly any facilities. Mitti mein khelte hain (We start with mud wrestling). But then I came to Delhi and saw the exploits of champion wrestlers like Sushi Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt at the Olympics and the respect and recognition they got. Who samman dekh ke (the kind of respect they got), I thought I could also get that same respect and recognition."Weightlifter Mirabai Chanu and shuttler PV Sindhu were not part of the ceremony as they had been felicitated on their return from Tokyo earlier this month.The women's hockey team and its coach Sjoerd Marijne were the last to take the stage amid a deafening roar and a huge round of applause. Marijne will soon depart for the Netherlands after giving the women's team the belief that they can achieve a lot with a bit of determination and hard work.