About 400 Delhi NCR junior athletes, 50 Indian Athletics Federation officials, 40 Rajputana Rifles jawans and dozens of fans returned from Delhi airport disappointed after failing to spot new Olympic javelin champion Neeraj Chopra .
Terminal 3 at Indira Gandhi International Airport has never been so busy. With wrestling silver medalist Ravi Dahiya, boxing bronze medalist Lovlina Borgohain and the women’s hockey team and many other athletes landing around the same time as Neeraj, there was a carnival atmosphere. Friends and relatives of the athletes, accompanied by orchestras, were seen running around the terminal, trying to determine which door their champion would come out of.
A miscalculation by one of the AFI officials prevented some 400 children from various parts of the city from seeing their “Neeraj Bhaiyya”. But those who planned their project well caught a fleeting glimpse of Neeraj, who was rushed out of the airport by security officials as the cameramen first on foot, then in their vans, set off to their pursuit.
“It’s okay. He will come to our center tomorrow. We will meet him and congratulate him personally there,” said a colleague from Neeraj’s army who had a bouquet in his hand that he did not was unable to present to the athlete.
The frenzy even caught the attention of a few pilots who decided to hang out at the terminal even after their hours of duty. A few security officials snuck in a few selfies before Neeraj appeared at the VIP gate which was cut off from the general public. Cameras on fully extended monopods had swarmed the door hours before Neeraj stepped outside.
There were also several false alarms. “I think it’s Neeraj,” a photographer got the wrong support staff in the India jersey. And when Neeraj finally arrived, more than 20 security officials quickly took him out.
Father takes the back seat
Dahiya’s father, Rakesh, had arrived with an army of enthusiastic villagers. And when former Asian Games gold medalist Satpal – who coaches Ravi to Chhatrasal Stadium – arrived, the excitement peaked. Chants of “Mahabali Satpalji ki jai” echoed through the terminal. Rakesh decided to step aside to take a break. Ravi later hopped into an open-top SUV with Satpal as they stepped out amidst enthusiastic cheers.
Later that evening, these athletes were congratulated by Sports Minister Anurag Thakur, with his ministerial colleague Kiren Rijiju sharing the stage. “Thanks everyone for the support. This gold medal is not just for me but for the whole nation. I’ve been hanging around with this in my pocket ever since. I haven’t been able to eat or sleep properly since, but everything is fine when i watch it, ”said Neeraj, India’s first and only Olympic medalist in athletics.
“The competition was really tough, but you should never be afraid looking at your opponents. Just give your 100% and don’t be afraid of anyone, ”said the 23-year-old from Khandra village in Haryana with his proud parents seated in the audience.
It was sleepless nights not only for Neeraj, but also for his family. Uncle Bhim, the unofficial media manager of the Chopra family, has entertained supporters, local politicians and journalists since the victory. “Abhi to phursat hi nahin hai” (I have no free time now), said Bhim with the brightest smile in the congratulatory room.