Neeraj Chopra’s gold medal-winning feat at the Tokyo Olympics might have pitchforked javelin throw into the spotlight in India, but the origins of the sport can be traced back to 708 BC.
Inspired by the act of hunting animals by throwing a spear or soldiers using it to impale enemies, the Greeks incorporated javelin throw into the Ancient Olympics.
Although spears are no longer used in hunting and warfare, the sport of javelin throw remains fiercely competitive and demands great physical effort.
It is a very technical sport that requires a synergy of muscles and joints to throw the 800g, 2.5m long spear the farthest.
Neeraj Chopra threw the javelin 87.58m to win the gold in Tokyo. And for those who are wondering how you throw a javelin so far, here’s a quick guide.
How to throw a javelin?
Throwing a javelin can be divided into three major parts – the run-up, the transition and the delivery.
The run-up is the process of picking up a javelin and sprinting with it to generate momentum. A thrower begins the run-up by lifting the javelin above the shoulder (close to the head), with the pointed metal tip facing the direction of the throw. A corded grip is provided to hold the pole.
The runway is between 30m and 36.50m long and 4m wide. Athletes cannot go outside the runway at any point in time during the throw.
Depending on their comfort, athletes use three kinds of grips to hold the javelin – the American grip, the Finnish grip and the V grip. The position of the fingers and the javelin varies in all three grips.
The straight run-up is usually a 10 to 15-step sprint, followed by three to four crossover steps, during which the athlete continues running but the body turns to the side in position to slingshot the javelin.
The crossover steps allow the thrower to transition into the throwing position by extending the arm that carries the javelin behind and facing the palm towards the sky.
The last crossover step is slightly longer, shifting the weight of the athlete to the back foot and prepping for the launch. All this while, the sideways strides continue.
As soon as the front foot hits the ground in the last step, the delivery begins. The torso is moved forward, the arm that was fully extended behind, begins the explosive throwing action and the javelin is quickly released.
However, for a throw to be deemed legal, the athlete must not cross the foul line – the line from which the distance is calculated. The sheer force that the athletes generate during the run-up and the throw makes it difficult to decelerate so quickly.
“Because javelin is a technical event, make sure you have somebody with you like a good coach or an experienced mentor who can guide you and show you that you are going the right way,” recommended Neeraj Chopra in an interview with World Athletics.
The Olympic record for javelin throw is held by Norway’s Andreas Thorkildsen (90.57m) among men and Cuba’s Osleidys Menendez (71.53m) in the women’s event.