Ashton Eaton, a two-time Olympic decathlon champion, believes that the Neeraj Chopra, not Lyles, has the potential to equalize the Jamaican in popularity.
The world of athletics is still looking for the next big star who can elevate the sport to even greater heights like the eight-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt did, six years after he hung up his golden shoes.
Since he competes in the same disciplines as Bolt, has a captivating personality, and is the closest person to matching the Jamaican’s world records, many have speculated that six-time world champion Noah Lyles could be the breakout athlete track and field has been waiting for. However, Ashton Eaton, a two-time Olympic decathlon champion, believes that Neeraj Chopra of India, not Lyles, has the potential to be that famous.
“Neeraj is great. Bolt was the right archetype… 100m, 200m are popular events, his name is Bolt, he is flashy which captured the attention of the track and field audience in the world but maybe somebody like Neeraj can surpass him because he has got the support of one of the most populous places in the world,” said Eaton, who landed here on Thursday as the international event ambassador for the Vedanta Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday.
“Maybe there’s a way that India pushes him to that level or even beyond. Neeraj is right now more popular on social media than all the top competing track athletes on all their platforms combined. He has 7.2 million followers on Instagram. Lyles has (slightly more than) half a million. But then we look at Bolt and he has 13.5 million and he’s not even competing anymore. So, Neeraj has the potential because of the population here. Plus, he is in advertisements everywhere. He is a very busy guy.” (H/T – Hindustan Times)
Ashton Eaton is one of the select few athletes who has won gold medals in both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics. Chopra will be in the same position when he defends his gold medal in the javelin in Paris the following year.