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Book Review: The Neeraj Chopra Story – An earnest attempt to document history

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The Man Who Made History: The Neeraj Chopra Story by Norris Pritam encapsulates the fascinating journey of India’s first-ever Olympic gold medallist in track and field.

It is the tale of a teenager in Khandra, a village in Haryana, who, teased by his peers for being overweight, begins working on his fitness and, in the process, discovers the discipline of javelin throw at Shivaji Stadium in Panipat. Pritam paints this picture for the reader through personal accounts from Neeraj’s family, friends, former and current coaches, fellow athletes, rivals, and the subject himself.

The author makes it clear that Neeraj isn’t the first Indian athlete with the potential to win a gold medal at the Summer Games. On some occasions, the prospect wasn’t motivated and incentivised enough, while in other cases, a lack of foreign exposure and proper knowledge of injury management prevented the nation from standing on the top of the podium in athletics.

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When it came to Neeraj, apart from the initial financial struggles, everything fell into place. Whether it was being scouted by JSW Group at the National Junior Athletics Championships in 2012 at the age of 15, support from the army — his employer — participation in international competitions under the guidance of local as well as foreign coaches, or surgery by Mumbai’s renowned arthroscopy surgeon Dr. Dinshaw Pardiwala for an elbow injury before the Tokyo Olympics, the pieces of the puzzle were placed perfectly.

The book also presents a behind-the-scenes view of how things unfolded once Neeraj reached the Japanese capital and discusses in detail whether it was the Indian’s luck or just poor execution from Germany’s Johannes Vetter, a huge favourite for the gold medal, who could not even make it to the Top 8 in the final.

Despite Neeraj’s historic achievement, the author stresses the need for better talent scouting and media coverage to further raise the profile of athletics in the country.

Factual errors

While the author does well to debunk wrong reporting on claims that Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem tampered with Neeraj’s javelin during the final in Tokyo, he also makes two glaring factual errors in the book.

In chapter seven, he mentions that Neeraj won gold at the Doha Diamond League in 2023 before going on to correct himself in the next paragraph that athletes are awarded points and not medals in the Diamond League meetings.

In chapter 13, while listing Indian medallists in men’s javelin throw at the Asian Games, Kishore Jena is said to have clinched a bronze medal at Hangzhou 2023, when in reality, the athlete from Odisha had won silver.

From the tome

As the country erupted in joy with Neeraj’s golden performance in Tokyo, his teammate and roommate on several tours, Shivpal Singh, also deserved a big ‘thank you’. Not many know that it was Shivpal who carried the winning javelin to Tokyo from India for his personal use but left it for Neeraj to use in the final. Once Shivpal was eliminated in the qualifying round, he had to vacate the room in the Games Village within twenty-four hours and return to India. But because the final was on August 7, Shivpal could not take his favourite Valhalla Javelin back from the organisers. So, he requested that Neeraj bring it back. Neeraj did so, after having a golden toss with it!

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