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

If Neeraj Chopra is getting tired of the 90m question, the javelin thrower is not showing it. Four years ago, the then national record of 88.06m at the Jakarta Asian Games had for the first time fueled Chopra’s hopes of achieving the gold standard distance in the javelin throw. Most recently he came within centimeters of joining an elite club when he broke the national record twice; 89.30m in Turku two weeks ago and 89.94m on Thursday night in Stockholm.

After the Diamond League in the Swedish capital, Chopra spoke of being eager to cross the hurdle when Grenada’s Andersen Peters produced 90.31m in the third round to push Chopra into second. Chopra tried but the fusion of a perfect technique and a ready body didn’t materialise.

“When Anderson Peters crossed 90 metres, I wanted to do the same. But everything has to be perfect for such a long throw. The technique should be such that the alignment of the spear is correct. And in between we work very hard for every throw, the body also gets tired. But the competition was good and I thought all my throws were good.”

Chopra’s series of throws in 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 85m in eight of his 10 legal throws, a sign of consistency in his strengths. He has his third best throw in the world this year with only Peters’ 93.07m and Czech Republic’s Jakob Vadlage’s special effort (90.88) at the Doha Diamond League in May.

In less than three weeks from now, Chopra will be expected to win a medal at the World Championships. A 90m throw would be a cherry on the cake. However, over the years, in the major finals – the Olympics and the World Championships – distances over 90 meters have been few and far between. The most recent example is Chopra’s gold medal winning throw at the Tokyo Olympics, which measures 87.58 metres.

In the 16 major finals (Summer Games and Worlds) since the turn of the millennium, only seven of the 48 medalists have covered more than 90 metres. In the last six Olympics, Sydney has won only three of the 15 medalists since 2000. Of those who finished on the podium in the last 10 world championships, only four have touched the 90s.

The clock has to be wound back in 2001 to find 1-2 with 90-metres plus throws. At the Edmonton World Championships, Czech great Jan Zelezny won the gold (92.80m) and Finland’s Aki Parvienen won the silver (91.31m), while Greece’s Kostas Gatsiodis narrowly missed out on 89.95.

Tail wind and head wind, angle of release, weather conditions, closed or open stadia can all affect the flight of the very precise art of javelin throw. Even the slightest variation in an athlete’s throwing technique can result in a drop not only of centimeters but also metres. How a thrower feels on the runway can upset the rhythm. On the big day the athlete who handles nerves better rather than in-form may walk away with gold, although the winning distance may be equal.

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

Vetter, a German who was the most influential thrower of the era before his recent decline in form, spoke of the 90m being the new normal last year. The waiter had reason to seem optimistic. He had crossed this figure seven times in an Olympic year. The waiter’s legend soared after Poland recorded a second best throw of 97.76m in September 2020. At the time, it looked like it was only a matter of time before Zhelezny’s world record of 98.48m was set. 1988, will fall.

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

The waiter is an example of how the game can be humble even at the best. They qualified for the final and did not advance after the first three rounds. This season he competed in just one competition without coming close to his best.

It mattered when Chopra saw the waiter flop. With just a few days left for the World Championships, what is working for the Indian is unlikely to change.

90-plus in the final

World: Julius Yego (92.72m, 2015); Tero Pitakamaki (90.33m, 2007); Jan Zhelezny (92.80 m, 2001); Aki Parveenen (91.31m, 2001)

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

“I’ll try to keep up with what I’m doing in training. Every competition is different. As I was saying, only when I start competing will I know if there was any pressure to be an Olympic champion. But now I am not feeling anything like that. I am participating with a free mind and doing well,” said Chopra.

Asked if he was looking forward to winning only a second medal for the country at the Senior World Championships, Chopra played it well. “At the moment I don’t feel any pressure.”

Chopra has beaten her competitors when it matters most. A World Championship gold to go along with the one from Tokyo would make him one of the greatest. There’s excitement about the potential 90m throw, but he may not even need one to enter the cult of greats.

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