As India turns 70, we celebrate Eight For Eighty - the eight sportspersons who we feel will carry the torch for the next decade.
The story so far
It must have been a strange feeling for Neeraj Chopra last week when he failed to make the final of the javelin throw event at the World Athletics Championships in London. The result was the first real stumble for the Indian national record holder over the past couple of years. In July last year, Chopra had become the first Indian athlete to secure a gold medal at a world-level competition when he won the Youth World Championships at Bydgoszcz, Poland. His winning throw of 86.48m is still the national record and a junior world record. Chopra's form had continued this year too. He would go on to win gold in the javelin throw at the Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar last month.
Still only 19, Chopra's graph is set to rise.
Former India coach Garry Calvert had high hopes of Chopra, whom he called a "once-in-a-generation talent". "At 19, he is ranked among the elite athletes. With good training, he can definitely achieve the 90m mark," Calvert had predicted.
But while Chopra retains his immense potential, there are worrying signs -- none of his own doing. Ever since Calvert resigned from his contract with the Sports Authority of India in April, Chopra has been training without a coach. While former world record holder Uwe Hohn has been roped in as the new India coach, he will only be taking over in September.
It is an absence that has had an impact. After missing out at the World Championships, Chopra admitted as much. "Had there been a coach, it would have been different," he was quoted as saying after the event.
The next year will be crucial for Chopra as he prepares to make his debut in the Commonwealth and Asian Games. Neither competition will be an easy one. The Commonwealth Games, in particular, will be a stern challenge, with the likely presence of an Olympic gold and silver medallist in Keshorn Walcott and Julius Yego, respectively.
It is a challenge Chopra is up for. "I need some time to do that, to improve my technique," he said on his return from London. "I have been taking part in competitions continuously for the last four-five months. Now I want some time for training to prepare myself for future events. There is something lacking in my throwing. I don't know now whether it's a technical issue or some other factor. I have to find out and rectify it and come back stronger."
"He is the most promising young Indian athlete today. He needs to be groomed well. He still has many years to improve. His best performances are yet to come."
--Anju Bobby George, former World Championships bronze medallist