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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Cricket-loving fast bowler Anderson Peters beats Neeraj Chopra to take javelin gold

For someone who wanted to bowl so fast that batsmen couldn’t see the ball, for someone who wanted to be the next Bolt, Peters has done pretty well for himself as a javelin thrower. 

Written by Nihal Koshie |
Updated: July 25, 2022 7:00:15 am
Gold medalist Anderson Peters, of Grenada, celebrates after the men's javelin throw final at the World Athletics Championships. (AP)

The Grenadian Anderson Peters, who awed the world with three javelin throws over 90m to take gold in the World Championships in a competition when even Neeraj Chopra struggled with the head wind, was a cricket-crazy kid once. Usain Bolt would intervene to snatch that love with his world record feats and turn Peters into a sprinter first before injuries turned him towards javelin. 

“I liked cricket. We had two seasons: cricket and track-and-field in Grenada. I would do both. I was a fast bowler. I just liked the idea of throwing the ball, I felt I could bowl it so fast that the batsman can’t even see it. I would always aim to throw a 90 mph ball even though I couldn’t as a kid,” he tells the world athletics podcast. 

Then Usain Bolt intervened. “That was the year he got the world record. I wanted to be a sprinter.” Injuries then put him on to javelin, where he has now started a rivalry with India’s Chopra. 

The 2016 Under-20 World Championships in Poland is where Neeraj Chopra and Grenada’s Anderson Peters had their first big showdown. This was two years before Peters, who has studied in the United States since 2017, threw 81.95 metres to break the Mississippi State’s freshman record. At the Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak Stadium, Chopra became the junior world champion and an overnight star. His 86.48 metres was a world junior record. Johan Grobler (80.59m) of South Africa was second and third, almost unnoticed in the frenzy in India, was Peters (79.65m). Peters had set a national under-20 mark but back then Chopra was anointed as the future star.

Of the three podium finishers from the U20 championships from four years ago two – Chopra and Peters fought it out for the gold in the men’s javelin throw final on Sunday morning.

Grobler was in Group A of qualifying, the same one as Chopra, but finished seventh with a lowly 76.30 metres. Chopra had the second best throw of 88.39 metres in qualifying on Friday while Peters topped with 89.91 metres.

Peters has been one of the best in the world. He is the defending champion at the World Championships and though he failed to reach the final of the Tokyo Olympics, he has found his range this season. A 93.07 metres in the Doha Diamond League and a 90.31 at the Stockholm Diamond League, where he pushed Chopra to second place, is a testament to his form despite a nagging back injury.

Neeraj Chopra Gold medalist Anderson Peters, of Grenada, center, stands with silver medalist Neeraj Chopra, of India, left, and bronze medalist Jakub Vadlejch, of the Czech Republic, during a medal ceremony for the men’s javelin throw final at the World Athletics Championships on Saturday, July 23, 2022, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

What makes Peters a formidable opponent is his ability to produce a big throw even towards the end of the competition. Chopra on the other hand has set the tone in the big events by producing his best in the first two-three attempts and the others have failed to match him. Chopra’s coach Dr Klaus Bartonietz is aware of the threat posed by Peters. “There’s (Anderson) Peters and (Keshron) Walcott. They are able to fight until the end. Neeraj has not been forced to do that so far. In the Olympics his first throw was good enough and then he did better in the second,” Bartonietz had said ahead of the Worlds.

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Though that would change in the final, with Chopra playing catch-up though Peters kept shifting goalposts with ever-increasing throws. His best came in his last attempt. 

Interesting initiation

A young and overweight Chopra was asked by his family to head to an athletics ground in Panipat to lose weight as a youngster. He saw javelin throwers in action, got hooked and picked up technique by watching YouTube videos. Peters also has an interesting story on how his arm got used to throwing.

Anderson Peters, of Grenada, competes in the men’s javelin throw final at the World Athletics Championships. (AP)

But it was not by using a javelin.

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He took stones to aim at mangos and apples on trees as a youngster in Grenada. “To me it was always a natural thing to throw. As kids, we used to regularly throw a rock to get mangoes and golden apples. Our mango trees were really high,” Peters was quoted as saying by World Athletics.

His aim was pretty good and he first started throwing with a javelin at the age of 10 and set a school record.

But his attention got diverted to the sprints soon.  A fellow Caribbean from Jamaica was scorching the tracks. Peters was fascinated by the greatest ever sprinter Usain Bolt.  

Gold medalist Anderson Peters, of Grenada, celebrates after the men’s javelin throw final at the World Athletics Championships on Saturday. (AP)

“Usain Bolt was also on the scene at that time, so I wanted to be a sprinter,” Peters said. He ran a wind-assisted sub-11 in the 100 metres when he was 20 and also was a member of the 4x100m relay team for Grenada at the Carifta Games in 2016. But injuries forced him to get back to throwing.

“But in Form Two I picked up a few injuries so in form three and I returned to javelin.”

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Peters’ other great inspiration was Walcott, the 2012 Olympic champion from Trinidad and Tobago. As a young javelin thrower, Peters used to study the distances Walcott threw to see how much more he had to improve. Seeing someone from another island, just 30 minutes away from his, become an Olympic champion pushed Peters to focus on becoming a top javelin thrower. 

However, the facilities in Grenada weren’t up to scratch and equipment was not easy to come by. “Coach used to joke that regularly retrieving the javelins was good fitness training,” Peters said about having only three javelins at his disposal.  

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From 79.65 metres in 2016 to 93.07 metres six years later and two World Championship gold medals in the kitty. For someone who wanted to bowl so fast that batsmen couldn’t see the ball, for someone who wanted to be the next Bolt, Peters has done pretty well for himself as a javelin thrower.

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First published on: 24-07-2022 at 11:16:58 am

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