Cold sweat, clammy hands: How the Neeraj Chopra Moment stunned us all

Talking Tokyo: Neeraj and Bajrang cap off a memorable last day for India (5:39)

Aparna Popat and Sharda Ugra on a day to remember for India at Tokyo 2020 (5:39)

A cold sweat. Clammy hands, fingers shaking so much they can't find the right letters on the keyboard. A scrambled mind, unable to process the enormity of what was taking place on the screen.

This wasn't supposed to happen to me - my career on the newsdesk had seen me handle stories through epochal events from the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi to Scud missiles hitting Israel to the start of the Kargil conflict to, in a happier context, Dhoni's six at the Wankhede and even, from pitchside, Zidane's headbutt and red card in a World Cup final.

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But nothing had had this effect. Nothing had left me so unable to even compose my thoughts into coherent, logical sentences as I had trained myself to do through all those years of detached news management. News is news, whatever has happened shouldn't affect you. Process it and serve it up to the reader - that is my job. Whether India win or lose, we have to be first with the story. We don't have the luxury of celebrating or mourning. Recognise and record the emotion but don't be part of it.

I was the one who had shocked younger colleagues by insisting on keeping obituaries ready for elderly or ailing sports personalities - it was not ghoulish, it was our job, it's what journalists do. We are the ones who must have this special relationship with triumph and disaster - treat them as the same in personal terms, yet imagine their impact on the reader and act accordingly.

So what was different about Saturday evening and this floppy-haired boy from Panipat with a javelin in his hand? What about it made me forget years of training, of being impassive to the emotion and getting the news out?

Such was the scale of Neeraj Chopra's achievement - it was making history in a manner that was as unexpected as it was unprecedented. Historic. We use this word fairly loosely in our work, it turns up in copy and though I try and edit it out on sight, it slips through on stray occasions. Those are imposters. Every "first" is not historic, it is usually more a statistical entry.

This was the real thing - an event the likes of which had never taken place before. Not just what Chopra did but, as Sharda Ugra has described, the manner in which he did it. He created history almost as though that history didn't matter to him. It's a sense of insouciance I've seen in only two other athletes, Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni. Neither created history on this scale but they had some pretty amazing firsts, and each time they treated it as though (and this is only what we see, this is possibly not their inner emotion) it was just another feat.

Earlier on Saturday morning, exactly 24 hours ago as I type this, we witnessed another youngster almost making history. Aditi Ashok - coincidentally, at 23, the same age as Neeraj Chopra - finished fourth in the golf event by a stroke but that doesn't even begin to signify the scale of her achievement. For four days, over 72 holes, she went toe to toe with some of the world's best golfers and held her own. On the final day, she was in the last grouping - the one reserved for the three at the top of the leaderboard. With Ashok, ranked 200 in the world, were Nelly Korda, the world's No. 1 golfer and Lydia Ko, a former No. 1, currently No. 11.

For all we say about golf being a rich person's game, it requires nerves of steel and a steady hand. A bit like archery or shooting, you are in direct competition, stroke for stroke, each move scrutinised in excruciating detail, each tic visible to thousands of viewers (millions if it's the last day of the Olympics event). Unlike other sports, though, it's over four days, around 20 hours of play. One second's lapse of concentration in those 20 hours, one putt half a centimetre too wide, could be the difference between bronze and no medal. Between history and, well, not quite history. In the cruel world of headline management, whether in a newspaper or on a website, it's the difference between breaking news/leading the site and a slot further down the page.

For most of those 20 hours, for 70 holes, Ashok kept her nerve. Her putting drew praise from her rivals and from the commentators on TV. Her driving, hampered by a recent bout of Covid-19, had lost power but not precision. And then on the 71st hole, as she hit par, Ko raised her game and moved ahead. Game over.

When, at approximately 5:38 p.m., Jakub Vadlejch's last throw registered as a foul, meaning Chopra had won the gold, the mind went blank, the images on the screen were a blur. It's the fate of sports journalists - especially those on the desk - to never be able to fully savour historic moments because they need to change headlines, write intro paragraphs, record and document whatever is happening. Eventually, it seemed like ages, instinct kicked in again and it was business as usual.

Those two events bookended an extraordinary - and extraordinarily long - day for Indian sports and ended a rollercoaster of a fortnight. There were ups, even beyond the medals; there were downs, especially in that long first week after weightlifter Mirabai Chanu's silver medal. We'd experienced that before, that comes with being a sports fan. But history? Unambiguous, factual, unexaggerated, the word used as it should be? That doesn't happen very often. This is the moment we will look back on years from now and say, 'Yes, I remember it.' And if your hands start shaking and you break into a cold sweat, don't worry, that's just the power of history.