As a memorable 2022 draws to end, ESPN India picks ten images that tell the story of the most extraordinary Indian sports moments witnessed over the year. Our 10th and final pick features Neeraj Chopra with his silver medal at the 2022 IAAF World Championships.
"Yeah, but this one isn't gold."
Neeraj Chopra stood atop the podium, intently gazing at the silver medal dangling by his neck. His long mop of hair flowing over his ears, his lips pursed, eyes fixated on the metal held up by his throwing arm.
He'd gone where no Indian male athlete had: he'd just become the first Indian man to win a medal at the IAAF World Championships. But there seemed to be a tinge of disappointment on his face..."this one wasn't gold."
Neeraj was beaten only by a wonder show from Andersen Peters, the reigning world champion. Andersen went past the coveted 90m mark thrice, in his first two attempts and his last, while Neeraj got off to his worst start of the year. And the fact that Neeraj was yet to scale Mount 90m would've played on his mind.
But it's Neeraj we're talking about. He, who flung his Valhalla javelin and Indian athletics onto the world map by winning the Tokyo Olympics last year. He, who had re-written the national record twice in the weeks leading up to the World Championships.
Attempt number four: Neeraj strides along the track, arches his body to resemble a bow and releases his javelin into the evening sky. It sailed high and far, powered by Neeraj's trademark roar, and landed 88.13m. Mission accomplished. Kind of.
He'd pulled away from Olympic silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch and assured himself of yet another slice of history. There was plenty to celebrate...he'd done better than Anju Bobby George's bronze in 2003, won silver at the biggest stage for global athletics after the Olympics and he'd made it this far for the first time after missing out in 2017 and 2019. "Yeah, but this one isn't gold."
And it's maybe okay for Neeraj to feel that way...this does come off as a loss for him.
"I learnt a lot today. I now have a greater hunger to change the colour of this medal to gold at next year's World Championships," he'd say.
Neeraj, one of Indian sports' GOATs, was right in his way to feel sad. But that didn't stop the party back home. Neeraj might not realize the impact he's had on the general Indian population and the country's up-and-coming athletes. The sale of javelins have shot up, a genuine interest in Indian athletics is cropping up and young athletes dare to dream. Because of this man's heroics.
So what if this one wasn't gold? It's a medal for Panipat. It's a medal for Haryana. It's a medal for all of India.