Sporting stars with long hair have made headlines in India in the past. Neeraj Chopra was one among them. When the teenager won the World Junior Championships in 2016, he flaunted his hairstyle. On the top step of the podium at the Asian Games in Jakarta, the gold medal was hanging around Neeraj’s neck with the long hair falling on it.
In the past, Neeraj did not want to let go of his long hair, saying it looked good on him. However, ahead of Tokyo Olympics, the biggest event of his nascent yet decorated career, Neeraj decided to chop off his long hair.
The long hair was gone as Neeraj Chopra blew away the field in Tokyo. He topped the qualification with a single throw and won a historic gold medal for India by getting out a best throw of 87.58m in the much-anticipated final.
The long hair was gone but the swag that Neeraj is known for was evident. Neeraj knew he had done enough when he threw the spear beyond the 87m-mark on a humid evening in Tokyo on August 7. The 23-year-old, a reflection of the confidence of the new-age athletes, raised his arms in delight.
No one was able to overtake Neeraj’s best throw of 87.58 as the Indian ended the country’s long wait for an Olympic gold in track and field.
Why Neeraj gave up on long hair
Speaking at India Today Conclave 2021 on Friday, Neeraj Chopra revealed why he let go off his long hair ahead of the Olympics.
“It kept falling on my eyes, the hairstyle definitely didn’t help. That’s why I cut it off. If something unfortunate had happened, people would have pointed fingers at my long hair,” Neeraj Chopra said.
“I tried wearing a cap and even covering my head. But nothing worked at the competition. When I felt for the final brake, the hair used to fall forward. Even sweat was dripping on my face.
“50 per cent of my concentration went on handling my hair.”
Well, giving up on his long hair wasn’t the only sacrifice Neeraj did en route to the historic Olympic gold medal. Stressing that he never missed out on his coach’s instructions, Neeraj said he felt tremendously guilty even if he missed one repetition during his workouts.
“I used to follow whatever my coach said to the tee. If the coach asked me to do something, for example, say I missed one repetition during my workout, I felt so guilty. I never gave up on working out,” he said.
Commonwealth Games champion, an Asian Games champion and now, an Olympic Champion. Neeraj Chopra is only 23 and yet, he has already become one of the greatest Indian Olympians of all time. However, there was a brief period of time, particularly in 2019, where there were doubts about whether Neeraj would be able to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics at all.
However, the reality was that in November 2018, just a month after the Asian Games, Neeraj started feeling discomfort in the elbow of his throwing arm. This was followed by a painful inflammation of the joint leading to Neeraj only being able to do short and light throws.
Eventually, Neeraj had surgery in May 2019 after which he went through a lengthy, and lonely, period of rehabilitation, first in Mumbai and then at JSW’s Inspire Institute of Sport campus in Bellary, Karnataka. Hand movements were restricted in this period and the only place where he could challenge himself was while he was doing fitness exercises and rehabilitation.