Exclusive! Thomas Rohler: Why you need to be in crocodile mode

The Rio 2016 Olympic javelin gold medallist explains why he's finding lockdown "very relaxing", and how the magic 100m barrier might be broken.

By Rory Jiwani

The global fight against COVID-19 means Thomas Rohler will have to wait an extra year to defend his Olympic javelin crown.

But the German is determined to take the positives from the situation, and stay relaxed with the help of his two cats.

"It's lovely to have pets. It's a nice calm-down thing. They're not super active.

"It's nice to be at home to get things done. There's always something to work on in the house or the garden. You can enjoy more time preparing food.

"I'm never home for three weeks. This is something very relaxing to me at the moment." - Thomas Rohler

As you can see, Rohler certainly makes a fine smoothie (scroll down to the end for the recipe).

Speaking to Olympic Channel's Ash Tulloch, the 28-year-old talks about coming to terms with the postponement of Tokyo 2020, and how he is in 'Crocodile Mode' waiting for competition to resume. He has not competed since the Doha World Championships in October 2019.

"Crocodiles can hang out for quite some time, not even moving much, but they're waiting for their food. They can be super patient.

"But at the same time, they need to have a high fitness level so that the next hunt is very successful. That's the same with sports. We're all sitting waiting, and then we have to be ready." - Thomas Rohler

Olympic Channel: Hi Thomas, how are you and where are you?

Thomas Rohler: I'm good, thank you. I live in Jena, right in the middle of Germany. This is the place I grew up, and it's also a special place for javelin. Some might know that the world record (by Jan Zelezny in 1996) was actually thrown here.

OC: Is that something you think about often?

TR: I think when I was younger, when it was developing in the sport, I was thinking about the world record quite often. These days, the focus has shifted more towards individual thought about my own technique because now I'm in the mode of attacking the world record hopefully by myself. Yeah.

OC: You're third in the all-time rankings on 93.90m. You said that throwing over 100 metres is like running a marathon in under two hours. Of course, Eliud Kipchoge was able to do that last year. Do you think anyone will be able to break the 100m-mark soon?

TR: Of course, it's super tough. The 100 has been thrown before with the old rules javelin (Uwe Hohn's 104.80m in Berlin in 1984). With the new rules javelin, the world record is at 98 metres (98.48m).

The average to win a normal competition these days is around 90 metres depending on the conditions and the competitors. So we are quite far away still from the hundred. But from the physical point of view it's just a little, small, small, small bit of speed, a little bit more efficiency in the flight of the javelin and soon it goes that way. So it's tough to say who and when we'll do it, but I'm very sure that it's going to happen one day.

OC: How much do you think technology can progress to enable you to get to that 100m mark?

TR: We are working and developing and I'm also involved. But there's a huge but. The rules for javelins are super strict. So there's almost nothing you can do. The biggest advantage that you can get is a perfectly engineered tip because there's a lot of aerodynamics involved in the javelin and depending on different conditions, you have the headwind, you have the tailwind, you can use different types of tips that help you with the aerodynamics. That makes, let's say, three to four metres.

Then there is personal taste. The diameter of the grip can be changed. One could say, "OK, it makes sense to make it as slim as possible so there's less air resistance." But then you can apply the force here because we have our fingers behind the grip. And we need to apply all the force on the grip. So there is also the perfect point. And the point that people usually do not expect is the lacquer. The varnish that's on top of the javelin is like talking about golf ball surface. That makes the biggest difference.

I like the technical details, I like the physics behind it, because I think once you understand the physics behind the sports you're doing. It's easier for you to actually change things, to understand coaching and also to understand these things. The good thing is, if athletes are involved in development, there is this 'feeling thing' that all computers, all scientists can't find out. We have very, very good scientists, but still they have no number and no word for this feeling that the athlete has grabbing a javelin for the first time.

OC: The world is an interesting place at the moment. How are you personally feeling?

TR: Oh, it's it's a crazy situation. It's a new situation, but it's the same situation for almost everybody around the world. I know so many athletes from so many different countries, from so many different continents, and they all have the same thing to deal with. This is something that unites people around the world. It's definitely a challenge. It's a huge challenge for sports. Olympic Games are postponed for the first time. And I'm one of the athletes that actually live in these times, being as an active Olympian with the chance to win medals, so it's a special situation.

We are all still sitting home or close to our homes. Very many restrictions and life's shifted from the gyms to the homes. It's shifted from training camps again, back to homes to the families. So it's a new situation. I'm actually not used to being home for three weeks in a row.

OC: What are the things that you're enjoying about being at home?

TR: I think first and foremost, it's definitely the time for family. As I said, three weeks in a row is something special for a top athlete. Usually we are travelling for competitions, for training, we're somewhere. So it's nice to be at home to get things done. There's always something to work on in the house or the garden. There's more time, you can enjoy more time preparing food. You can enjoy more time just going outdoors, having a hike. And of course, what many people forget, we're still professional athletes so we invest quite some time to training, even though it's in another setup.

OC: I've seen from your social media that you've got a cat.

TR: We have two. It's lovely to have pets. I like pets. It's a nice calm down thing. They're not super active so they help me to come down off training.

OC: You mentioned food and cooking. What do you like doing in the kitchen?

TR: Oh, especially preparing fresh food. So whenever we have the time and gardening season is just starting here in Germany, when I can pick something fresh and then prepare something that's fun. I also go fishing if I have the time. So fish with vegetables is just fine. Something pasta. It's a big variety. So if you love travelling, I think many people love a big variety of food as well.

I like taking the time together with my father to prepare the food. It's relaxing.

OC: I read recently that you were saying you're trying to stay stress free. Can you go into that?

TR: Staying stress free is super important. It's super important while you're competing, while you're travelling. But I think also these days for many people out there, I know many young kids, families, also friends and athletes struggling to kind of accept and adapt to the situation we are all in. And it helps to really calm down, to stay positive, because there's nothing we can do.

Every single one can just listen to the to the ministries, to the health authorities, this is all we can do. The rest should be positive. There's still a lot that we can do and this is actually active, positive, good things back home.

OC: Tell us one thing that you're making sure to do every day to try and keep calm?

TR: For me, it is definitely outdoor activity. It's tough for me to stay indoors all day no matter what, whether it is me. I'm coming from an outdoor sport, we are always, always active, we're always outside. Of course, we are in lockdown. In some countries, they can't even go outside and this is definitely tough. But I'm trying to have these outdoor activities, breathe fresh air, have a bit of stretching. Of course, this is something... mobility training. It's something that's a routine and it's happening every day, and it helps me to keep my body in balance.

OC: I've read that you've referred to being in 'Crocodile Mode'. What do you mean by that?

TR: I invented 'Crocodile Mode' when I had a clinic with younger javelin throwers some years ago. So at that time, it had nothing at all to do with the COVID-19 situation. But these days it's so true that I still see myself in 'Crocodile Mode' because crocodiles, they can hang out for quite some time, not even moving much, but they're waiting for their food. They're predators.

They can be super patient. But at the same time, they need to have a high fitness level so that the next hunt is very successful. And that's the same with sports. We're all sitting now. We're all sitting waiting, but we know that there is this certain day that will come and then competitions are back up on schedule and then we have to be ready. This is the mode I'm in at the moment. So I'm trying to stay calm, to accept the situation. It's not lazy, but it's a positive waiting mode.

Thomas Rohler says he is in 'Crocodile Mode' waiting for competition to get started again

OC: We can see one of your javelins. Do you have any good stories about trying to transport your javelins anywhere?

TR: You get a lot of stupid questions about what it could be. We are travelling with a large tube with all the javelins packed in. Usually people ask if it's vaulting poles and then I'm in a lucky position. They say that the vaulting poles are even double the size and then usually the other travellers are very surprised, "How is it possible to travel with these long things?"

In some countries they're declared a weapon so we need to make sure to have some type of document with us that says, "Yes, I'm using this thing just for sports, it's an Olympic sport."

They break from time to time. When I was travelling to China last year for Diamond League, I broke six javelins. That was sad, it's like your work being destroyed.

And if you go to a hotel, not all elevators are large enough to hold the javelins. So you sometimes need to take the stairs and some hotels have quite a lot of floors.

OC: Would you want to do a live javelin competition at home similar to what Sam Kendricks and Mondo Duplantis did with the pole vault?

TR: We have been talking about this already. The thing is that the countries where most javelin throwers are have so many different regulations. For javelin throwing, of course, we do need a very safe area that is about 100 metres long. We were thinking about adapting something, some type of target game, whatever. But we have so many different, let's say, regulations and government measurements at the moment to deal with so I'm actually not allowed to enter any field here. I know many athletes that have the same problem. And of course, it's not possible to throw a javelin in the garden.

Maybe we'll just do a smoothie making competition, matchstick throwing, I don't know. We will find something!

OC: What changed for you after you won Olympic gold in Rio?

TR: I think immediately after Rio, it was just a media boat ride, let's say. Very, very, very stressful times. It took a while until I really became an Olympian inside myself, an Olympic champion, because it takes time. In Rio, it was a very important competition for me. I tried to stay mentally focused and clean and I was not trying to put myself in the position of, "This is the Olympics. This is the Olympics. You have to do this. You have to do that." No, it's just a competition. You do what you can do. But after that, you realised that you didn't even win for yourself, you won for a whole country. You won for the fans, you won together with a huge team. You come back home. People are super excited, of course, but they're also that much more respectful than before.

Being called an Olympic champion, it's like the biggest reference that athletes can get.

OC: Obviously, Tokyo 2020 has been postponed until next year. How have you coped with that mentally and emotionally?

TR: I was preparing for for a big, big, big project after 2016. I really understood the value of the Games when I won them, so I was concentrating a lot on the next Olympic period. But the good thing is that me and my coach usually tried to have a very open view around the world and we've been seeing the problems coming in January, February, when Asia got impacted by the virus very much. And we decided to have that kind of flexible planning because also for Rio plans changed very much because at that time we had the Zika virus. Travel, planning was changed very much. So we had to plan in, let's say February, but it was all changed in May.

The same happened this year. It's a little bigger problem, of course, but we kept training, planning flexible, and that helped us to adapt quickly. Being part of the Athletes Commission of World Athletics, I also had to deal with many athletes' opinions around the world, and the picture was super clear. Everybody said that it's the only fair and kind of 'sports-regarding' decision to postpone the Games. It's a difficult one. It's one that's been emotionally tough for many athletes out there, me included. But I think it just took a few weeks to really put myself into the new situation.

We now have a year and a little more to put in more training, to put in another precise year of training. I'm trying to use this year for technical preparations and also to find out how it's going to work with the year that it's... let's say it's a half year that's easier than years before. As I said, I'm never home for three weeks. This is something very relaxing to me at the moment.

"Looking long term, it can help a whole career. Nobody knows. I'm trying to see the 'chance' in this."

OC: How much do you think about your opposition and what they're doing at this moment in time?

TR: Of course, I know a lot of my competitors out there. Some are friends, some are just respectful athletes. I think with social media, it's so much easier to know what people are doing, what shape they're in, and this is how some athletes actually grew up. We have athletes out there that learned the sport via all the things we have: Instagram, YouTube, Twitter. Because we top athletes really love to share including myself. I like my javelin community and I like helping them. But of course, there's maybe 10 to 15 people out there that are all capable of throwing into an Olympic medal zone, let's say. And they all will make some plans for this special year.

I think it's going to be a completely new game next year and I'm very much looking forward to maybe some late-season competitions. I personally don't care too much about this year's competition, but I think next spring will be very, very exciting because there will come up some new athletes, some of the top stars will maybe struggle because it's a new situation. No coach, no athlete ever had something like this.

OC: Do you have any advice for youngsters interested in the javelin?

TR: One critical part is understanding the event. So the first question young athletes should ask themselves, "Why is the javelin flying?" It's a physical question and they should be able to answer the question.

And the second thing is patience. Patience when it comes to technique, because the javelin flies further the more patient you are. It means for javelin throwers, we just want to have a long, long wave of acceleration. But to do that, we have to be super patient and also patience on the long term. It takes many thousands of throws to really manage the technique.

OC: You were part of a really cool experience we've been doing at Olympic Channel called Olympic State of Mind. You talked about visualisation amongst other things. How much is that coming into play for you at the moment?

TR: Visualisation is super, super important these days. I was just doing a question and answer the other day where many athletes asked me how I kind of not lose focus on javelin throwing even though I'm "banned" for throwing for a long, long time because all the fields are closed. This is visualisation.

What's happening here at the moment is I see the crowd from Rio and there's something happening in my body. I feel the rhythm, I feel the timing, the technical parts.

You have to be in the zone, maybe a little more in the zone than you are for good training. Because for it to be successful, you have to really feel what you're seeing.

"This is something every athlete can do at home for hours and hours. And it's a good time at the moment because there's not too much distraction to have a good visualisation."

Thomas Rohler's Hulk Smoothie recipe


A handful of fresh spinach

Pinch of ginger

Sprig of parsley

Sprig of mint

One banana (optional)

One glass of water

One glass of juice (orange or apple or passion fruit)


Place all the ingredients in a food blender.

Blend for two minutes then drink.


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