It was not a gold medal. But a silver medal on the world stage is also an achievement.
In the javelin final at the World Championships in Athletics in Eugene, Oregon on Saturday (Sunday morning IST), Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra was battling hamstring pain and windy conditions.
He was chasing a monstrous goal over 90m set by Anderson Peters of Granada.
And yet, Neeraj found extra speed to throw 88.13m on his fourth attempt to finish on the podium. He became the first Indian athlete to win a Worlds medal since long jumper Anju George won bronze in 2003.
From a sports marketing perspective, there was irony in Neeraj’s participation in Eugene. The 24-year-old was a Nike customer, but recently signed with Under Armour.
Eugene and Oregon, meanwhile, are the birthplace of Nike.
In the 1960s, across Eugene and Beaverton, two towns in Oregon, and Portland, Phil Knight and trainer Bill Bowerman began working on shoes for runners. This small company, with insoles made on the Bowerman kitchen waffle iron, went on to become Nike, a billion-dollar sportswear and footwear giant.
Nike’s world headquarters near Beaverton is just over 100 miles from Eugene.
However, there was no acrimony or drama when Nike and Neeraj parted ways, points out Mustafa Ghouse, CEO of JSW Sports, who has managed Neeraj’s career for several years.
“The deal with Nike was over before Tokyo (last year’s Olympics). The Under Armor deal had been going on for a while, but there was no conflict,” Ghouse told Outlook. India on Sunday.
When asked if Nike was ready to renew the contract last year, Ghouse said: “There were a few conversations with Nike, but we felt this (Under Armour) was a better opportunity for us. ”
In the final, at beautiful Hayward Field, surrounded by the region’s iconic evergreens, Neeraj was slow to get into the medal count. On the other hand, Peters, the future champion, crushed him. His first two throws cross 90m and put pressure on his rivals.
For a while, Neeraj appeared out of the medal hunt, but he was strong enough to step up when it mattered.
As the greatest Indian athlete of all time, Neeraj demands a fee of up to Rs 4 crore per endorsement. After his performance at the Worlds, this amount could well increase.