Asian Games 2018: Gold medallist Neeraj Chopra demands attention in stop-start sport of javelin throw

Jakarta: There are some sports that look more glamorous on TV than in real life. Cricket, where you can't pick the line if you're sitting in the wrong place. Golf, where only the first line of spectators can see the ball. And, as I discovered at the GBK Stadium in Jakarta, javelin throw.

Don't get me wrong; the throw itself is a spectacle in motion. Athletes bounding up the polyurethane track, projectile in hand, flinging themselves across an imaginary point from where they let their weapon fly. Perhaps that's one of the draws, that the javelin is essentially a spear, a throwback to the Spartan origins of the Olympics. Handle with care, this hurts if it goes wrong.

But the whole event resembles a Mumbai slow local train after Borivali: throw, wait, wait, wait, (Vasai Creek), throw. In terms of space, javelin occupies both track and field. It sets aside enough time for multiple finalists with six throws each. But every few throws, the lances are holstered while races are run, the competition paused each time. Viewers are spared the worst; they don't have to wait like the athletes do as the producers toggle between events. But even for those at home, you can't watch the entire thing at a stretch.

Neeraj's warm-up routine involved launching a couple of javelins with just 40 percent effort. Image courtesy: Twitter @g_rajaraman

Neeraj's warm-up routine involved launching a couple of javelins with just 40 percent effort. Image courtesy: Twitter @g_rajaraman

Neeraj Chopra's warm-up throws on the practice arena outside were more exciting. After a lap and a few sprints, Neeraj took his time launching a couple of javelins up the field. Then he jogged up to them, coach Uwe Hohn alongside, yanked them out of the turf and threw them back again. Just about 40 to 50 per cent effort; nice and easy, with no steeplechasers splashing through.

So an event like the javelin needs an athlete like Neeraj. Once inside the GBK, when he really got down to his serious warm-up, he didn't hold back. Most finalists were throwing close to the 60m mark. Neeraj touched 80m with one of his throws and grabbed the attention of the stadium. "Look at me", he demanded. Look at me, even though my sport resembles overlapping cricket matches at Oval Maidan. Look at me.

Look we did. He thought he had won it with his first throw; the arms went up, a roar came out, but the throw itself was an 83.46. Neeraj won the gold at the Commonwealth Games with 86.47, which was shy of his then personal best of 86.48. It was a great start, but he needed to do better.

So he tried, but too hard, he said later. The second throw was all about power; he just wanted to throw it as hard as he could. But power can shove technique aside, and that's what happened. Even though it was around the 80m mark, it wasn't good enough. He fouled it, rendered it invalid, like the failed test paper you burned and never told anyone about.

Fouls are something Neeraj flirts with a lot since his technique is unorthodox. Most athletes have a stable base for the throw, followed by a step or two, at most three, in their follow through. They all must stop behind the white line. Neeraj is much more explosive in his release, holding his base position for only that fraction of a second when the javelin leaves his hand. His follow through is less braking racecar and more tumbling bulldozer. From his throw, he goes straight onto all fours; believe it or not, his follow-through involves falling down. Ishant Sharma would approve.

Look at me! Neeraj demands attention from the crowd from his first throw itself. Image courtesy: Twitter @g_rajaraman

"Look at me!" Neeraj demanded attention from the crowd from his first throw itself. Image courtesy: Twitter @g_rajaraman

So before the third throw, he speaks to his coach, who is sitting on the sidelines. Hohn advises him to throw from slightly behind. In a sport where a foot can be decisive, Neeraj was ceding one.

But Hohn knows a thing or two about the javelin. He holds an eternal world record in it, the only man to ever throw more than 100m before javelin designs were changed. By throwing from behind, Neeraj was giving himself more space. More space meant he could uncoil fully, his follow through had room, his actions were not cramped by fear of fouling. What ensued was a perfect combination of speed, power and technique; Neeraj later described the feeling as a current running through his body. The javelin lands just short of the markers protecting the games record, 89.15. With 88.06, 20-year old Neeraj blows away the field.

He throws two more 83s, but the competition is over. His top four throws are better than the 82.22 that runner-up Liu Qizhen can muster. He has effectively won gold, silver, bronze, and a fourth metal of your choice. "Look at me."

Medal, interrupted. That's probably how to best describe Neeraj's event. But on their way home, people won't remember how many times Neeraj stood aside for the runners to pass. They will remember looking up, and seeing his javelin being fast, strong, and high enough to get lost in the lights.

The author is a former India cricketer, and now a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She hosts the  YouTube Channel, Cricket With Snehal, and tweets @SnehalPradhan

Click here to view the medals tally of the 2018 Asian Games

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Updated Date: Aug 28, 2018 13:52:33 IST

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