JAVELIN THROW | Athletics

Spearheading a change | The Neeraj Chopra effect on Indian javelin throwers

Inching closer: Neeraj Chopra is just 6 cm shy of the magical 90m mark after the 89.94m effort at the Stockholm Diamond League.

Inching closer: Neeraj Chopra is just 6 cm shy of the magical 90m mark after the 89.94m effort at the Stockholm Diamond League. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

The World Athletics Championships begins in about a week’s time at Oregon, USA, but almost all of the planet’s big spearmen appear to be rather quiet.

German Johannes Vetter, the second best javelin thrower in history with his 97.76m in 2020, made the biggest noise last year with a series of 90-plus throws, including a season-best 96.29. But he is down with a shoulder problem, having managed only 85.64m in his lone competition this year, and has pulled out of the Worlds.

Germans occupy two of the top three rungs, and four of the top 10, in javelin’s all-time list, but the silver and bronze medals in their national championship recently went for just 77.35 and 76.33m.

Personal bests

Surprisingly, Indians came up with much bigger throws for the equivalent medals — Rohit Yadav (silver, 82.54m), Yashvir Singh (bronze, 78.62) in the recent inter-State Nationals in Chennai, with D.P. Manu (84.35) taking gold. All three have achieved their personal bests in the last couple of months.

Even Grenada’s Anderson Peters, the defending World champion and this year’s world leader, has been inconsistent this season, producing a personal best 93.07m one day (May 13) and then hitting a horrible low of 71.94 a month later.

Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra, however, has thrown up one pleasant surprise after another. Just as many wondered how he would start the year after taking a long break and skipping many prominent meets after the Tokyo stunner, he bettered his national record twice in a fortnight in June, moving very close to the magical 90m mark with an 89.94m effort at the Stockholm Diamond League. With this, he is No. 3 on the world list this season.

Personal best: Rohit Yadav’s effort of 82.54m won him the silver at the inter-State Nationals in Chennai recently.

Personal best: Rohit Yadav’s effort of 82.54m won him the silver at the inter-State Nationals in Chennai recently. | Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES

And it looks like the world has changed magically in a year’s time. For the first time in history, an Indian will begin as hot favourite for the gold at an athletics Worlds! With his cool calm and quiet confidence, the 24-year-old from Khandra village in Haryana’s Panipat has transformed the way the world looks at Indians in the sport.

He has also made Indian athletics think big.

“We expect that Neeraj will be between 90 and 92m at the Worlds and in the Commonwealth Games [in Birmingham, from July 28],” says chief national coach Radhakrishnan Nair. “Of course, we have only a few days’ gap between the Worlds and the Commonwealth.”

The postponement of the Asian Games, earlier scheduled to be held in Hangzhou, China, in September, to next year has been a blessing. Athletes will not have to peak thrice this year.

“Earlier, we had block periodisation with multiple peaking. But now, with the Asian Games postponed, we have immediately changed to double periodisation, or double peaking,” said the chief coach.

Poised for gold: Manu finished on top of the podium with an effort of 84.35m at the inter-State Nationals in Chennai recently.

Poised for gold: Manu finished on top of the podium with an effort of 84.35m at the inter-State Nationals in Chennai recently. | Photo Credit: VELANKANNI RAJ

“Klaus’ [Bartonietz, Chopra’s coach from Germany] planning is very good. He started his training in February, so he didn’t want Neeraj to start competing in May [in the Doha Diamond League]. Had he gone to Doha, the general preparation period would have been very less.”

In the spotlight

With Chopra hitting new highs, javelin throw is in the spotlight now. And Radhakrishnan feels that there is a nice group getting ready to follow in his footsteps.

“We have a very good javelin bunch. In the coming years, you will find one like the 400m. Eleven ran below 47s in the men’s 400 [at the recent inter-State Nationals], only eight could get into the final,” said Radhakrishnan.

“You can just rewind about five years when even 47.5 and 48s quartermilers used to qualify for the final.

“In the next few years, you will find only javelin throwers crossing 80m qualifying for the final. Now we have three youngsters — D.P. Manu (84.35m), Rohit Yadav (82.54) and Yashvir Singh (82.13) doing 80-plus.”

All three have entered India’s all-time top-10 list. A fourth youngster, Sahil Silwal (now recovering from an oblique muscle tear), is also in the top 10 with last year’s 80.65m.

New high: Yashvir Singh took the bronze with a career-best 78.62m at the inter-State Nationals in Chennai recently.

New high: Yashvir Singh took the bronze with a career-best 78.62m at the inter-State Nationals in Chennai recently. | Photo Credit: A.M. FARUQUI

However only two, Chopra and Rohit, have made it to the Oregon Worlds. Manu — the best Indian thrower behind Chopra this year and No. 13 in the world list — was unlucky to miss the Worlds after ending up on the 35th rung in the ‘Road to Oregon’ rankings (only 32 can make it), but his coach Kashinath Naik feels he will start producing the big throws soon.

Main target

“The main target is 85m in the Commonwealth Games. Next year, we will be targeting 85-plus consistently in all competitions. And in the 2024 Olympics, Manu’s goal will be to throw more than 90m and target a medal,” said Naik, the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games javelin bronze medallist, who feels that India should offer more international competitions for its young throwers and also host an international javelin throw league every year with the world’s best competing here.

While all that sounds very exciting, the stunning progress has also raised eyebrows. For, javelin throw, just like the quartermile and the relays, has a tainted past in India.

Five of the country’s all-time top-10 — No. 2 and Asian silver medallist Shivpal Singh (personal best 86.23m), No. 3 Davinder Singh Kang (PB 84.57, finalist at the 2017 Worlds), No. 5 Rohit Yadav (82.54), No. 6 Vipin Kasana (82.51) and No. 7 Rajender Singh (82.23, national record holder before Chopra) — have all failed dope tests at some point in their career.

Is it possible that India’s javelin throwers are trying illegal means to get close to Chopra? “I have no comments on that,” said Radhakrishnan.

Still, the going looks good, but the Worlds and the Commonwealth Games will give an inkling of how good it really is.


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Printable version | Sep 11, 2022 5:27:50 am | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/athletics/spearheading-a-change/article65617987.ece