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Saturday, September 26, 2020

Johannes Vetter’s 97.76 metres through the eyes of 100-plus phenom Uwe Hohn

Getting close to Jan Zelezny's 1996 world record of 98.48 metres puts Johannes Vetter, the 27-year-old German, in the stratosphere of greats.

Written by Nihal Koshie | New Delhi | Updated: September 8, 2020 2:35:13 pm
Johannes Vetter's throw of 97.76m was just shy of Jan Zelezny's 98.48 set in Jena in 1196. (Source: AP)

The second-best javelin throw of all-time, recorded on Sunday, sent officials surprised and scampering further than they had originally intended to check where the spear had precisely landed. The monstrous throw at Continental Tour Gold event in Chorzow, Poland, got India’s top javelin throwers browsing through the widely-viewed video of German Johannes Vetter.

The 27-year-old’s 97.76 metre eye-popping feat had landed adjacent to the shot-put throwing area at the other end of the field.

A few minutes later Vetter wore a broad smile posing in front of the electronic display board, flexing his right bicep and holding the javelin in his left hand.

For the first time in 24 years, Jan Zelezny’s 1996 world record of 98.48 metres looked under threat. But Vetter’s mammoth hand-launched rocket was also a reminder of Zelezny’s greatness. The Czech has recorded 32 of the top 100 throws in history, including five of the top-10, breaking the 90-metre barrier 34 times. Vetter, for now, is under the spotlight as much for what he can do next as much as what he achieved on Sunday.

Uwe Hohn, India’s chief javelin coach, is impressed. Hohn, also a German, is the only one to throw over 100 metres before the aerodynamics of the javelin changed three decades ago.

Vetter’s remarkable achievement, while watching his throwing technique will no doubt be threadbared at the national camp. “Yeah, because it’s connected to his technique. Vetter showed that it is not only about throwing hard but it is important to put energy into the javelin so it stays stable. The quality of the throw will be much better if energy goes straight into the javelin. It improves release speed and also the javelin does not lose so much speed,” Hohn told The Indian Express.

Uwe Hohn, India’s chief javelin coach, (R) with Neeraj Chopra. (Source: File)

Vetter’s massive throw is a wake-up call for throwers around the world, including India’s best.

Neeraj Chopra (88.06 metres personal best) and Shivpal Singh (86.23m) who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics yet have been restricted to only training in Patiala even as competitions have begun in Europe.

Vetter rebounded after struggling with an ankle injury, that troubled him for two years. Chopra, with his share of injury-induced breaks, can take inspiration.

Three years ago, Vetter produced 94.44 at Lucerne breaking the 90-metre barrier three more times. The next 24 months were not extraordinary by the German’s high standards and he finished third at the 2019 World Championships. Yet in a year disrupted by the pandemic, as events cautiously opened up, Vetter has emerged as the man to beat.

Vetter spoke about being in the zone. “It was really close to a perfect moment. You can feel it in your body when you have a good throw,” Vetter said, after improving his personal best by over three metres.

Hohn has experienced the ‘feeling’ of near-perfection himself. “When I threw the world record it was pretty good and I was also in very good shape. That perfect feeling can help improve a few metres. I know what he means about this very good feeling,” Hohn said.

The Czech former world and Olympic champion’s mark is the hallowed one since the centre of gravity of the sphere was moved forward in 1986 to shorten distances after Hohn’s 104.80 metres two years earlier. Track and field officials felt if the throw got longer — Hohn was just 24 at that time — it could potentially hit runners on the track in a stadium. Zelenzny’s mark was set in the post-modification era and is the official world record.

Apart from the dip in throwing distance, Hohn talks about the differences between the two javelins.

“Maybe the old javelin was a bit delicate to throw. I couldn’t throw with that much power that many can these days with the new one. I could probably only use 90 per cent of power. So that is a little bit different. The body-mass point (in the new javelin) shifted four centimetres forward, so it gives the javelin a more stable flight. Even if you are not really perfect, it corrects itself a little more than the old javelin where if you didn’t get it right, it did not correct by itself,” Hohn says.

How’d Hohn fare in this field?

“Difficult to say. If I look at those throwing 90 plus now and their strengths and throwing power, I guess I’d also throw pretty far. Can’t say 100, but probably 95-plus.”

Uwe Hohn is the only one to throw over 100 metres before the aerodynamics of the javelin changed three decades ago. (Source: File)

The possibility of improving further and getting closer to Zelenzny’s record is on Vetter’s mind.

“I think that lots of people didn’t think it was possible to throw more than 95 metres in a closed stadium. I did it and I think there is a lot of space for improvement. Very small differences, tiny differences, can make a difference of many metres,” the young German said.

With the Tokyo Games less than a year away, the key to Vetter doing well is how he handles the pressure and keeps out deficiencies in technique, which can creep in for all throwers, reckons Hohn.

“I think (the confidence he has gained) will help him for the next few competitions this year. But he needs to work again to maintain his technique. Something changes a little bit and it can make a big difference. He will not probably throw 97 metres in every competition but we will see how consistent he can be in the next competitions and also next year. The pressure will be on him and we will have to see how he can manage this. Javelin throw is a delicate event and it depends how you let the javelin fly.”

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