New Delhi: Some were emotional and some jubilant in anticipation of a new beginning as the legends of Indian athletics on Saturday extolled star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra's gold medal winning feat at the Olympic Games, terming it a “defining” and “watershed” moment in country's sports history.
Chopra on Saturday became only the second Indian to win an individual gold in the Olympics, out-performing the field by some distance to immortalise himself as the first track-and-field medal winner from the country.
The 23-year-old, son of a farmer from Khandra village near Panipat in Haryana, produced a second round throw of 87.58m in the finals to stun the athletics world and end India's 100-year wait for a track and field medal in the Olympics.
“I became emotional just after Neeraj won the gold. It is a historic moment and of course a defining one in our athletics history,” track legend PT Usha said from her home in Kerala.
Asked if she got emotional because she missed out on a bronze in the 1984 Olympics, Usha said, “Today, it was a happy moment and we should enjoy this.
“I feel this gold will take Indian athletics to another level. We could not give our athletics fans an athletics medal in Olympics. I think we have redeemed ourselves with this gold from Neeraj.”
She, however, said she was not expecting a gold initially from Chopra but realised after his second throw that he is going to grab the yellow metal.
India's lone medallist in world championships, Anju Bobby George agreed with Usha and said, it should only be the beginning of many good things in Indian athletics.
“It is not easy to win medal in Olympics. It is as tough in World Championships but Olympics medal is special.
“So, it is a watershed moment for Indian athletics. My medal in World Championships (in 2003) brought a lot of changes in Indian athletics for the better. We started winning medals in Commonwealth Games. The same we hope from the gold from Neeraj.”
Talking about the 23-year-old Chopra, Anju, also a senior vice president of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), said, “He is still young and we can expect a lot from him in the coming events and Olympics.”
Commonwealth Games gold medallist discus thrower Krishna Poonia lauded Chopra for his discipline and single-minded approach to achieving his goal.
“He is such a humble athlete and at the same time he is very discipline in his approach. He was confidence personified today in the final. He was not taking any pressure,” she said.
“So, I was confident that he would win a gold today. Moreover, it was not the day for Johannes Vetter who was struggling in the qualification round also,” said Poonia who finished sixth in the 2012 Olympics.
Legendary athletes Sriram Singh and Gurbachan Singh Randhawa also hailed Chopra's gold as a watershed moment in Indian athletics.
“We have not been given a single Olympic medal in athletics to our one billion people. So, it is watershed moment,” two-time Asian Games gold medallist Sriram, who finished seventh in 800m final in the 1976 Olympics, said.
Randhawa, who finished fifth in 110m hurdles in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, said it was one of the greatest sporting achievements by an Indian.
AFI President Adille Sumariealla said the gold medal won by Chopra has “brought immense pride to the Indian sports fraternity, to the AFI, to me personally and of course for Neeraj and his family”.