To fall or not to fall on follow through - Klaus Bartonietz on Neeraj Chopra’s javelin throw technique

Klaus Bartonietz is the biomechanics expert who worked with Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra. The German was with the Indian javelin thrower in Tokyo.

By Abhishek Purohit
Picture by Michael Steele

Among the three motivational phrases in three languages in Dr Klaus Bartonietz’s email signature is a saying in Hindi – boond boond se ghada bharta hai (drop by drop the pot fills). ‘Persistence leads to success’ is written under the phrase.

Klaus Bartonietz says he has been using the phrases – the other two are in Mandarin and Latin - in his email signoff for four-five years now. “The Hindi one I want to change,” Bartonietz, the veteran German biomechanics expert who has been working with athletes and coaches since 1975, tells Olympics.com.

“It is not only persistence that leads to success. You can do the wrong thing all the time and you will never succeed.

“There is a saying of an American football coach [Vince Lombardi], which goes that it is not just practice that makes one perfect, it is perfect practice that makes perfect.

“That is my favourite saying when it comes to training. So it’s not just ‘throwing throwing’, you have to do it well.”

Why could no one throw 90m in Tokyo?

Klaus Bartonietz, who coached India’s Neeraj Chopra to the men’s javelin throw gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, has a technical take on why no athlete was able to throw even close to the 90-metre mark in the Tokyo 2020 final.

Even Johannes Vetter, the German with a personal best of 97.76m, was limited to 82.52m for a ninth-place finish, despite saying earlier that he would throw 90-plus at Tokyo 2020.

“The pressure was very high to adjust your technique. Maybe they should have gone a little further back so that you can follow through much longer at the delivery; this is what you should do in training so that next time you can apply this type of throwing.

“We say that the hip goes off too early instead of staying very firm on the ground. This you can do when you are a little bit further from the line. You may think that you may lose some distance but that is not the case. You stay (further) behind from the line but you can throw more efficiently.”

Jakub Vadlejch and Vítězslav Veselý of the Czech Republic, the Tokyo 2020 silver and bronze medallists, and Germany’s Julian Weber, who finished fourth, all have personal bests better than Neeraj Chopra’s.

However, the Indian started the final with standout throws of 87.03 and 87.58, and that immediately put the rest of the field under pressure, according to Klaus Bartonietz.

Weber was the only one among the others who threw 85-plus on his first attempt (85.3). Veselý managed it on his third (85.44), and Vadlejch (86.67) on his fifth. No one else among the remaining eight threw 85.

“The qualification went well, as did the training, and that gave him (Neeraj) the confidence to do well in the final,” says Bartonietz. “But you don’t know how far the opponents will throw. It could be that 87.58 would not be enough.

“But it is more a mental thing, that the others had to throw further now and Neeraj could wait (after the first two throws).

“Everybody could have a great first throw and then everyone else would have had this problem mentally. But he was the only one who did it, and Vetter could not adjust his technique to the conditions.”

Despite the fall, Neeraj Chopra had the best technique

When asked if it could be said that Neeraj Chopra had displayed the best technique in the Tokyo 2020 final, Klaus Bartonietz agreed, but also pointed out that the winning margin wasn’t really that much.

“It can be said. Neeraj was the fastest, had a fast run-up. But 91cm is the difference with the Czech guy [Vadlejch]. That is just over 1 per cent (of the full throw). It is nothing actually. But the bottom line is that (Neeraj had) the furthest throw and the highest velocity with the optimal angle.”

Neeraj Chopra landed on his palms after his massive throws during qualification as well in the final at the Tokyo Games. One of his early coaches, Naseem Ahmad, has remarked that he would never fall like that while training in Panchkula, Haryana.

Bartonietz has this calm, thoughtful manner of explaining both sides of a point, and says that while this falling style can sometimes lead to injury, it has also produced some great throws, including the current world record of 98.48m set by Jan Železný of the Czech Republic in 1996.

“Some great throwers (who) had world records, national records, use this type of following through, very powerful with the upper body and then having the direction that you must fall on your hands. The current world record of Železný was thrown by such a style.

“But the other side is… there is no actual need to do this, as it is very tricky. You must be very sharp and have very good timing to do this.

“You want to (ideally) come from behind from a very good throwing position with a little bit of back lean with the upper body and then follow through. Then [the fall] will not happen.

“It will only happen when you are a bit more upright, you follow through and fall and touch the ground with your hand.

“Some athletes can also get injured with this, like the Estonian Magnus Kirt had a shoulder problem and could not even compete this year.”

'Controlled explosiveness’

The merits of the falling style can be debated. But Neeraj had arguably his biggest stumble in 2019 when he had to undergo surgery on his throwing elbow. The famed orthopaedic surgeon Dinshaw Pardiwala performed the operation in Mumbai.

Klaus Bartonietz says there was the option of having the surgery done in Belgium, but Neeraj chose Dr Pardiwala, after some encouragement from wrestling’s Phogat sisters.

“Neeraj was offered to do this surgery abroad in Belgium. There is a great specialist who was recommended to him and coach Uwe Hohn. But he preferred to have it in India. And you have great specialists in India too.

“When you go to such a surgery, you know the doctor before, you trust him, so you are not being anxious. You are not thinking maybe I’ll lose my arm or whatever.

“I was not with him at that time but I think he was greatly confident that this is a great specialist and he will do well. And he did, the surgery went well and so did the rehab process.”

Rehab itself was more straightforward, adds Klaus Bartonietz, as Neeraj is blessed with the gift of bursting into speed honed over the years. “He is not someone who gains a lot of strength very quickly by lifting weights. His great benefit is that his speed is explosive, and it is controlled explosiveness.

“It is not just about being explosive, but you must also control it; the timing is very important in javelin throw, because the time when you are applying all this force is a fraction of a second.

“So because we know his strengths, we could develop relatively easily. You increase the weights week by week, adapting the muscular system. The difficult thing is to develop the throwing power.”

And for that, you need perfect practice, not just ‘throwing throwing.’

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