• Saturday, July 20, 2024

ATHLETICS

Neeraj Chopra most popular athlete after Usain Bolt at Budapest World Championships

With 6.2 million followers on Instagram, the Indian javelin thrower beats Americans Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Fred Kerley

By: Chandrashekar Bhat

INDIA’S ace javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is the most popular athlete participating in the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, beginning on Saturday (19).

With 6.2 million followers on Instagram, he is the most followed track-and-field star on the social media platform behind only the retired Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt who has 13m followers.

Leading American athletes like Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone (1.1m) and Fred Kerley (1m) and Norway’s middle-distance runner Jakob Ingebrigtsen (500,000) trail Chopra by far in terms of their presence on Instagram.

Chopra, 25, who trains at Loughborough University, became an overnight sensation in India after he won the javelin gold in Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

“In one night, I put on two or three million Instagram followers,” Chopra told the Times.

His popularity has been growing since and he has become ambassador for several brands.

In 2022, he topped the list of the most written about athletes, eclipsing Bolt, who still holds the world records in 100 metre and 200m sprinting despite retiring in 2017.

But Chopra’s presence on social media fades compared to India’s cricketing superstars like Virat Kohli who has 257m followers on Instagram and Rohit Sharm who is followed by 29.6m people. MS Dhoni, another cricketing ace who has retired from his international career, has 45.1m followers on the platform.

On X, formerly known as Twitter, Chopra has 924.8k followers and Kohli 57.3m.

Chopra who also won gold in Asian Games and Commonwealth Games 2018 and silver in the World Championships last year is now focussed on the Budapest event.

If he wins a gold there, he will become only the second Indian after shooter Abhinav Bindra to win top honour each in the Olympics and World Championships in individual sport.

Chopra’s success has helped javelin throwing get more attention in his cricket-crazy country.

“But people are really getting into the sport more generally. Indians are not just following me on social media, they are now following some of my rivals. They know about Anderson Peters [of Grenada], they know about Julian Weber [of Germany] and some of the other guys,” he said.

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