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Neeraj Chopra is the crown prince of javelin & Indians should be excited about his future

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Chopra’s gold medal winning performance at the Jakarta Asiad is even more heartening because of the distances he’s already achieving at the age of 20.

New Delhi: India has traditionally never been a powerhouse in track-and-field events, even at the Asian level. But this time around at the Asian Games in Indonesia, Indian athletes have shone, winning two gold and six silver medals as of 28 August.

Even among those performances, there are some that have stood out as positive signs for the future — the men’s shot put gold won by Tajinder Pal Singh Toor, the women’s 400m silver won by Hima Das, and Dutee Chand’s silver in the women’s 100m sprint. But the one that shines brightest is 20-year-old Neeraj Chopra’s gold in the men’s javelin, won Monday with a throw of 88.06 m.

Also read: P.V. Sindhu gets silver at Asian games in year’s third major final loss

What is javelin?

The sport of javelin evolved from the everyday use of spears. In 708 BC, it was played as part of the pentathlon in the ancient Greek Olympic games.

Illustration by Soham Sen
Illustration by Soham Sen

In 1896, Sweden conducted the first national championship of javelin. The game was incorporated in the Olympics for men at London 1908, and for women at Los Angeles 1932.

The rules and regulations are laid down by the International Association of Athletics Federations. The men’s javelin is about 2.6 m in length, and weighs 800 grams. Its centre of gravity is located at around 0.9 to 1.06 m from the tip. The women’s javelin is about 2.2 m long and weighs 600 grams, with the centre of gravity 0.8 to 0.92 m from its tip.

Illustration by Soham Sen
Illustration by Soham Sen

Although javelins could be made of wood or metal in the past, current IAAF rules recommend javelins made of metal only.

Who is Neeraj Chopra?

Chopra hails from Khandra village in Panipat district, Haryana. He shot into the limelight with gold at the South Asian Games in 2016, before going on to win the gold at that year’s IAAF World Under-20 Championships in Poland. At this event, he set a world record in this age group— of 86.48 m — and became the first Indian at any level to win a world championship in athletics.

In April 2018, he won the Commonwealth Games gold at Gold Coast, Australia with a throw of 86.47 m, and followed it up with gold medals at the Sotteville Athletics Meet in France and the Savo Games in Finland.

His throw of 88.06 m at the Asian Games broke his own previous national record of 87.43 m, set at the Doha Diamond League in 2017.

India’s track record in javelin throw

India has won six medals in javelin throw at the Asian Games before Chopra’s feat. Parsa Singh had won silver in the men’s javelin at the inaugural Asiad in New Delhi in 1951, while Barbara Webster won a bronze in the women’s event. At the Tokyo Asian Games in 1958, Elizabeth Davenport won a silver, following it up with a bronze at Jakarta 1962. Gurtej Singh won bronze at the New Delhi Asiad in 1982, while Gurmeet Kaur won bronze at Bangkok 1998.

Significance of Chopra’s performance

An East German athlete called Uwe Hohn, in 1984, had become the first and only person to throw the javelin over a hundred metres — he posted a mark of 104.80 m in Berlin. This sort of distance put the audience and fellow track athletes at risk, so the IAAF changed the rules for javelin in 1986, redesigning the spear to reduce throwing distances.

The current world champion, Johannes Vetter from Germany, holds the world record of 94.44 m. Another German, Thomas Rohler, won gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016 with a throw of 90.30 m; his personal best of 93.90 m came at the Doha Diamond League in 2017.

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However, both these athletes are in their mid-20s, and by the time the Tokyo Olympics roll around in 2020, Chopra might pose a significant challenge to them, given his terrific progression so far. Neither German athlete had been able to breach the 80 m mark in their teens, like Chopra has.

Incidentally, Chopra has trained under Uwe Hohn in Finland. Hohn was also appointed India’s foreign coach for javelin, but was locked in a pay dispute with the Athletics Federation of India.

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