Olympic Men’s Javelin — India’s First-Ever Track Gold

Neeraj Chopra’s 287-4 heave had great historical significance for his homeland. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

FOR A COUNTRY with a massive population of 1.4 billion — second only to China — and a potentially limitless pool of talent, India has historically underperformed in track & field but at least it can now claim to have an Olympic gold medalist of its own thanks to Neeraj Chopra.

At a Games with more than its fair share of upsets, Chopra stepped up and took the title as Germany’s prohibitive favorite Johannes Vetter — who had been unbeaten in more than a year, and 19 straight outings including a record seven consecutive 90m-plus (295-3) meets — faltered with the spotlight on him and failed to throw farther than 270-9 (82.52), eventually finishing 9th.

Chopra had looked like a medal prospect from the qualifiers, which he led with 284-3 (86.65) and confirmed that impression in the first stanza when, second to throw in the initial rotation, he launched his spear out to 285-7 (87.03).

In the still, suffocating air, it was obvious this was a fine effort in conditions that were unconducive to really big throws, but would it be good enough for gold?

The next best in the opening round was Germany’s Julian Weber with 279-10 (85.30), while it was clear that his compatriot Vetter was not 100% as he only reached 270-9 (82.52).

As it happened neither of the Germans would improve but Chopra did, reaching 287-4 (87.58) in the second round, which would prove to be the gold medal performance on a day when the formchart went out the window.

Upon seeing his javelin fly out to more than 87m again Chopra raised both his arms skywards as if to suggest that only the gods could beat him now.

Behind Chopra — who is coached by East German legend Uwe Hohn — the battle for silver and bronze continued through the final four rounds.

In round 3, with 3-time gold medalist Jan Zelezný looking on from the stands, Czech Republic’s ’13 WC winner and ’12 OG bronze medalist Vítězslav Veselý produced his best throw for 6 years when he reached 280-4 (85.44) to move into 2nd.

In turn, he was overtaken by his fellow Czech and ’17 WC silver medalist Jakub Vadlejch, who moved up from 6th to 2nd in round 5 when he threw 284-4 (86.67).

It narrowed the gap between Chopra and the best of the rest to less than a meter. But in the final round neither of the Czechs, nor anyone else, could improve to challenge Chopra, and the 23-year-old Indian — who holds the World Junior (U20) Record with 283-9 (86.48) and was also the ’18 Asian Games champion so certainly no neophyte — secured himself an even more prominent place in his country’s sporting history.

“This feels awesome. My training leading into this competition was good. We were very ready for the Olympics. After the qualifying round, I felt very good,” he reflected.

“I feel a bit bad about Vetter, he’s a great thrower,” added Chopra, who is good friends with the German. “But I also had to focus on my throws. I can’t explain it, it’s an awesome feeling. It is the first time India has won a gold in athletics, and we have won just one other gold in other sports [in Tokyo] so it’s a proud moment for me and my country.”

The U.S. medal drought since Bill Schmidt’s bronze in ’76 continued as Curtis Thompson, with a best of 256-7 (78.20) and Michael Shuey, who registered 3 fouls, could not progress beyond the qualifiers.

However, the U.S. pair were in good company as a host of well-known names, including no less than half of our formchart picks, failed to make the final, for which 270-4 (82.40) was needed.

Among those that fell by the wayside early were Trinidad’s ’12 Olympic champ Keshorn Walcott, Kenya’s ’15 WC gold medalist Julius Yego, Grenada’s ’19 WC winner Anderson Peters and Poland’s Marcin Krukowski, who has thrown 293-9 (89.55) this year and was T&FN’s No. 2 pick.

(Post-Games there was significant grumbling — notably from Vetter and Krukowski — about the runway conditions. See “Last Lap” for more.)


MEN’S JAVELIN RESULTS

(August 07) (temperature 82F/28C; humidity 81–84%)

1. Neeraj Chopra (Ind) 287-4 (87.58)

(285-6, 287-4, 251-11, f, f, 276-4) (87.03, 87.58, 76.79, f, f, 84.24);

2. Jakub Vadlejch (CzR) 284-4 (86.67)

(275-6, f, f, 271-10, 284-4, f) (83.98, f, f, 82.86, 86.67, f);

3. Vítězslav Veselý (CzR) 280-4 (85.44)

(261-7, 263-5, 280-4, f, 278-10, f) (79.73, 80.30, 85.44, f, 84.98, f);

4. Julian Weber (Ger) 279-10 (85.30)

(279-10, 255-7, 255-11, 272-8, 279-4, 248-5) (85.30, 77.90, 78.00, 83.10, 85.15, 75.72);

5. Arshad Nadeem (Pak) 277-7 (84.62)

(270-4, f, 277-7, 272-0, 268-11, f) (82.40, f, 84.62, 82.91, 81.98, f);

6. Aliaksei Katkavets (Blr) 274-7 (83.71)

(270-7, 265-10, 274-7, 260-0, f, f) (82.49, 81.03, 83.71, 79.24, f, f);

7. Andrian Mardare (Mol) 273-3 (83.30)

(266-3, 268-1, 271-9, 268-8, 273-3, 266-0) (81.16, 81.73, 82.84, 81.90, 83.30, 81.09);

8. Lassi Etelätalo (Fin) 273-3 (83.28)

(257-3, 251-3, 273-3, 259-10, 262-5, 272-5) (78.43, 76.59, 83.28, 79.20, 79.99, 83.05);

9. Johannes Vetter (Ger) 270-9 (82.52)

(270-9, f, f) (82.52, f, f);

10. Pavel Mialeshka (Blr) 269-11 (82.28)

(269-11, 260-4, 256-4) (82.28, 79.34, 78.13);

11. Kim Amb (Swe) 261-5 (79.69)

(253-4, 256-11, 261-5) (77.22, 78.31, 79.69);

12. Alexandru Novac (Rom) 260-1 (79.29)

(252-8, 260-1, f) (77.03, 79.29, f).

first 3 rounds
* = progression of the leading throw; ¶ = athlete’s best of the day
Mardare 81.16* 81.73 82.84
Chopra 87.03* 87.58¶ 76.79
Amb 77.22 78.31 79.69¶
Novac 77.03 79.29¶ f
Veselý 79.73 80.30 85.44¶
Weber 85.30¶ 77.90 78.00
Etelätalo 78.43 76.59 83.28¶
Vetter 82.52¶ f f
Nadeem 82.40 f 84.62¶
Mialeshka 82.28¶ 79.34 78.13
Vadlejch 83.98 f f
Katkavets 82.49 81.03 83.71¶
rounds 4–5
Mardare 81.90 83.30¶
Etelätalo 79.20 79.99
Katkavets 79.24 f
Vadlejch 82.86 86.67¶
Nadeem 82.91 81.98
Weber 83.10 85.15
Veselý f 84.98
Chopra f f
final round
Etelätalo 83.05
Mardare 81.09
Katkavets f
Nadeem f
Weber 75.72
Veselý f
Vadlejch f

QUALIFYING (August 04; auto-qualifier 273-11/83.50)

Qualifiers: Chopra 284-3 (86.65), Vetter 281-0 (85.64), Nadeem 279-5 (85.16), Vadlejch 278-7 (84.93), Etelätalo 277-3 (84.50), Weber 276-11 (84.41), Novac 273-2 (83.27), Veselý 272-5 (83.04), Katkavets 271-5 (82.72), Mardare 271-4 (82.70), Mialeshka 271-1 (82.64), Amb 270-4 (82.40);

Non-qualifiers: Ihab Abdelrahman (Egy) 268-9 (81.92), Edis Matusevičius (Lit) 266-6 (81.24), Anderson Peters (Grn) 263-10 (80.42), Keshorn Walcott (Tri) 260-3 (79.33), Oliver Helander (Fin) 258-6 (78.81), Gatis Čakšs (Lat) 258-3 (78.73), Takuto Kominami (Jpn) 257-2 (78.39), Cyprian Mrzygłód (Pol) 257-0 (78.33), Curtis Thompson (US) 256-7 (78.20), Norbert Rivasz-Tóth (Hun) 255-1 (77.76), Rocco van Rooyen (SA) 253-11 (77.41), Julius Yego (Ken) 253-9 (77.34), Shih-Feng Huang (Tai) 253-2 (77.16), Toni Kuusela (Fin) 252-6 (76.96), Shivpal Singh (Ind) 250-8 (76.40), Marcin Krukowski (Pol) 244-11 (74.65), Odel Jainaga (Spa) 239-10 (73.11), Chao-Tsun Cheng (Tai) 233-7 (71.20), Bernhard Seifert (Ger) 224-1 (68.30);… 3f—Michael Shuey (US). ◻︎

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