Why Chopra may not have to throw 90 meters to finish on the podium at the World Championships


If Neeraj Chopra is tired of the question of 90 meters, the brilliant javelin thrower does not show it. 88.06 meters, a national record at the time, at the Asian Games in Jakarta four years ago had initially raised hopes that Chopra would achieve what is widely considered a benchmark distance in the javelin throw. Recently, he fell inches short of joining an elite club when he broke the national record twice. 89.30 meters in Turku just over two weeks ago and 89.94m on Thursday evening in Stockholm.

After the Diamond League in the Swedish capital, Chopra said he wanted to break the barrier when Anderson Peters of Granada produced 90.31m in the third round to propel Chopra into second place. Chopra tried but the fusion of perfect technique and strong willed body did not materialize.

“When Anderson Peters went 90 yards, I wanted to do that too. But everything has to be perfect for such a long cast. The technique must be such that the alignment of the javelin is correct. And in the meantime, we make a big effort with each throw, the body also gets tired. But the competition was good and I felt all my throws were good,” Chopra said.

Chopra’s throwing streak in Stockholm was 89.34, 84.37, 87.46, 84.77, 86.67 and 86.84. In his first three competitions this season, Chopra has thrown over 85 yards in eight of his 10 legal throws, a sign of consistency being his strength. He has the third best throw in the world this year with just 93.07 meters from Peters at the Doha Diamond League in May and the special effort of Jakub Vadlejch of the Czech Republic (90.88) at the same event ahead on the list.

In less than three weeks, Chopra is expected to medal at the World Championships. A throw of 90 meters will be the icing on the cake. Over the years, however, in the big finals – the Olympics and world championships – distances over 90 meters have been rare. The most recent example is Chopra’s gold medal winning throw at the Tokyo Olympics measured at 87.58 meters.

In 16 major finals (Summer Games and Worlds) since the early 2000s, of the 48 medalists, only seven have thrown more than 90 meters. In the last six Olympics, only three of the 15 medalists have passed the bar since Sydney 2000. Only four of those who have finished on the podium in the last 10 world championships have touched the 90s.

You have to go back in time to 2001 to find a 1-2 with more than 90 meters thrown. At the World Championships in Edmonton, Czech great Jan Zelezny won gold (92.80 meters) and Finland’s Aki Parviainen took silver (91.31 meters) while Greek Kostas Gatsioudis missed it. down to 89.95.

Downwind and headwinds, release angle, weather conditions, closed or open stadiums can all affect the flight of the very precise art of javelin throwing. Even the slightest variation in an athlete’s throwing technique can cause not just centimeters but meters to fall. How a pitcher feels on the track can upset the rhythm. On the big day, the athlete who manages his nerves better than the fit one can walk away with the gold even though the winning distance may be less than normal.

At the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Peters won the title with 86.89 meters. He was followed by Magnus Kirt (86.21) and Johannes Vetter 85.37.

Vetter, a German, who had been the most dominant thrower of that era before a recent dip in form, spoke of 90 yards being the new normal last year. Vetter had reason to sound optimistic. During the Olympic year, he had crossed the bar seven times. Vetter’s legend grew when he recorded the second-best throw ever – 97.76m in Poland – in September 2020. At that time, it seemed like it was just a matter of time before Zelezny’s world record of 98.48 meters, set back in 1988, would fall.

“For me, throwing 90m is like riding a bicycle,” Vetter told the newspaper on the eve of the javelin competition in Tokyo. “Normal. Really easy.”

Vetter is an example of how sport can humble even the best. He pretty much qualified for the final and did not advance after the first three rounds. This season, he has only participated in one competition without getting closer to his best level.

Chopra saw Vetter fail when it mattered. The Indian is unlikely to change what has worked for him just days away from the World Championships.

90+ in finals

Worlds: Julius Yego (92.72m, 2015); Tero Pitkamaki (90.33m, 2007); Jan Zelezny (92.80m, 2001); Aki Parviainen (91.31m, 2001)

Olympic Games: Thomas Rohler (90.30m, 2016); Andreas Thorkildsen (90.57m, 2008); Jan Zelezny (90.17m, 2000)

“I will try to maintain what I have done in training. Every competition is different. Like I said, it’s only when I start competing that I will know if there is any pressure to be Olympic champion. But now nothing like I feel. I participate with a free spirit and perform well,” Chopra said.

When asked if the anticipation that he won only the second senior World Championships medal for the country got to him, Chopra played it cool. “Right now, I don’t feel any pressure.”

Chopra has beaten rivals when it matters most. A gold medal at the World Championships to accompany that in Tokyo will make him one of the greatest of all time. There’s excitement about a potential 90-yard throw, but he might not even need that to enter the pantheon of greats.

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