TOKYO–Neeraj Chopra won the men’s javelin on Saturday with a best throw of 87.58 meters to claim an historic first Olympic athletics gold medal for India.
The Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch won silver with 86.67 meters and Vitezslav Vesely claimed the bronze with 85.44.
Chopra, the 2018 Commonwealth champion, seized the lead with a throw of 87.03 on his first attempt, a distance no other competitor achieved during the final, winning India’s first gold of the Tokyo Games as his overjoyed team mates and coaches watched from the stands.
With medals assured, Vadlejch and Vesely attempted to reach the top of the podium on their final throws but each fouled.
“It feels unbelievable,” said Chopra. “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 a best throw of 86.65 in his qualifying round, Chopra knew his Games were on the right track this week but never considered the gold a sure thing.
“In the qualification round I threw very well so I knew I could do better in the final. I didn’t know it would be gold but I am very happy,” he said.
Chopra became only the second Indian to win an individual Olympic gold medal after Abhinav Bindra won the 10-meter air rifle event at the 2008 Games.
“Your performance has further elevated what has been evident throughout the Games— that our athletes are not only capable of going toe to toe with the best, but are firmly establishing ourselves as the favorites,” Bindra wrote on Twitter.
“Our first individual gold might have taken over a century to come, but the comparatively miniscule time taken for you to bring home the second is a solid indication that we, as a sporting nation, are on the rise.”
Chopra’s win prompted celebration among his compatriots—including India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“History has been scripted at Tokyo!” Modi wrote on Twitter. “The young Neeraj has done exceptionally well. He played with remarkable passion and showed unparalleled grit.”
The evening was a disappointment for Germany’s Johannes Vetter, a favorite for the podium as the only competitor in the final to have thrown over 90 meters. He finished ninth with 82.52.
By Amy Tennery