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

Since the start of the millennium just seven of the 48 medalists at the Olympics and Championships have crossed the barrier.

Written by Nihal Koshie |
Updated: July 2, 2022 5:58:22 pm
Neeraj ChopraWorld Athletics Championships 2022, Neeraj Chopra javelin throw event Live Streaming: This will be the second time Neeraj Chopra will be competing at the senior World Athletics Championships. (File)

If Neeraj Chopra is getting tired of the 90-metre question, the genial javelin thrower isn’t showing it. 88.06 metres, a then national record, at the Jakarta Asian Games four years ago had first raised hopes of Chopra achieving what is widely considered a gold standard distance in the javelin throw. Recently he came within centimetres of joining an elite club when he broke the national record twice; 89.30 metres in Turku just over two weeks ago and 89.94m on Thursday night in Stockholm.

After the Diamond League at the Swedish capital, Chopra spoke about being keen to get past the barrier when Grenada’s Anderson Peters produced 90.31m in the third round to push Chopra to second place. Chopra tried but the fusion of a perfect technique and a willing body didn’t materialise.

“When Anderson Peters crossed the 90 metres, I also wanted to do so. But everything needs to be perfect for such a long throw. The technique needs to be such that the alignment of the javelin is right. And in between, we put in a great effort for every throw, the body also gets tired. But the competition was good and I felt all my throws were good,” Chopra said.

Chopra’s series of throws at Stockholm were: 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 metres 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 only Peters’ 93.07 metres at the Doha Diamond League in May and Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch’s special effort of (90.88) at the same event ahead on the list.

In less than three weeks from now there will be anticipation of Chopra winning a medal at the World Championships. A 90 metre throw will be a cherry on the cake. Over the years, however, at the major finals – the Olympics and the World Championships – 90-metre-plus distances have been few and far between. The most recent example is Chopra’s gold-medal winning throw at the Tokyo Olympics measured at 87.58 metres.

In 16 major finals (Summer Games and Worlds) since the start of the millennium, of the 48 medalists only seven have thrown over 90 metres. In the last six Olympics, only three of the 15 medalists have gone over the mark since Sydney 2000. Just four of those who finished on the podium in the past 10 World Championships have touched the 90s.

The clock has to be wound back to 2001 to find a 1-2 with 90-metres plus throws. At the Edmonton World Championships, the great Czech Jan Zelezny won gold (92.80metres) and Finland’s Aki Parviainen took the silver (91.31 metres) with Greece’s Kostas Gatsioudis just missing out narrowly at 89.95.

Tail wind and head winds, angle of release, weather conditions, closed or open stadiums can all affect the flight of the very precise art of javelin throw. Even the minutest variation in the throwing technique of an athlete can result in a drop of not just centimetres but meters. How a thrower feels on the runway can upset rhythm. On the big day the athlete who handles nerves better rather than the in-form one can walk away with the gold though the winning distance can be below par.

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

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Vetter, a German, who had been the most dominant thrower of this era before a recent slump in form had spoken about 90 metres being the new normal last year. Vetter had reason to sound optimistic. In the Olympic year he had crossed the mark seven times. Vetter’s legend grew when he registered the second best-ever throw – 97.76m at Poland – in September 2020. At that point in time, it looked like it was just a matter of time before Zelezny’s world record of 98.48 metres, set way back in 1988, would fall.

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

Vetter is an example of how the sport can humble even the very best. He just about qualified for the final and didn’t advance after the first three rounds. This season he has featured in just one competition without getting close to his best.

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Chopra saw Vetter flop when it mattered. The Indian is unlikely to change what has been working for him with just days left for the World Championships.

90-plus at Finals

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

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

“I will try to maintain what I have been doing in training. Every competition is different. As I had been saying, only when I start to compete I would know if there was any pressure of being Olympic champion. But now nothing like that I feel. I am participating with a free mind and performing well,” Chopra said.

Asked if the anticipation about him winning only the second medal at a senior World Championships for the country was getting to him, Chopra played it cool. “As of now I don’t feel any pressure.”

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Chopra has aced his rivals when it matters the most. A World Championship gold to go with the one from Tokyo will make him one of the greatest ever. There is excitement about a potential 90 metre throw, but he may not even need one to enter the pantheon of greats.

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First published on: 01-07-2022 at 11:41:00 pm

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