Neeraj has potential to become a star as big as Bolt: Eaton

Ashton Eaton is two-time Olympic champion in decathlon in London (2012) and in Rio (2016)

It has been six years since Usain Bolt hung up his golden shoes, but the world of athletics is still searching for the next mega star who can take the sport to newer heights like the eight-time Olympic champion did.

Many have suggested that six-time world champion Noah Lyles could be the star track and field is searching for — he runs the same events as Bolt, has a magnetic personality and the closest anyone has come to matching the Jamaican’s world records. But two-time Olympic champion in decathlon Ashton Eaton feels that India’s Neeraj Chopra and not Lyles could be that celebrity.

"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.”

Eaton knows a thing or two about defending an Olympic crown. He is one of those rare athletes who won successive Olympic gold medals at London 2012 and Rio 2016. Next year, Chopra will be in the same spot as he will be defending his javelin gold in Paris.

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