India’s young javelin throwers show promise, but how important is this step?

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When Neeraj Chopra threw 81.04m (a then-junior world record) in 2015, he was only the fifth Indian javelin thrower to clear 80m. It was also the second best pitch ever by an Indian.

In 2022, the Indian javelin has a very different vision. Chopra, of course, is an Olympic champion and has broken the national record 25 times. His record now stands at 88.07m. Although he remains an outlier for Indian athletics, there is a promising upside in his sport. That same year, in fact, three young Indians crossed the 80m mark, a completely unprecedented feat.

Who are these young people?

Yashvir Singh, 20, is the latest to break the 80m mark, throwing 82.13 at the Indian Grand Prix (IGP) IV in Bhubaneshwar on Tuesday May 24. Yashvir had made headlines when he broke Chopra’s record at the Junior Federation Cup in January 2021 with a throw of 78.68m, prompting a call from his hero, Neeraj Chopra, who told him “This is just the beginning”.

DP Manu, 22, recorded the best throw by an Indian this year (Neeraj has yet to start the competition this year), with an 82.43m at IGP 1 in Thiruvananthapuram in March. This took him to number five in the all-time best Indian javelin throwers list. Manu had taken up the javelin after watching a clip of Chopra’s winning throw at the World Junior Championships in 2016. Since then, he has been training with one of Chopra’s first coaches, Kashinath Naik (since 2019).

And then there’s Rohit Yadav, who won the Federation Cup in April with a throw of 81.83m. Rohit had started training with a self-made bamboo javelin in 2014 and didn’t get his first professional javelin until 2019.

Last year, another youngster also broke the 80m mark. Haryana’s Sahil Silwal threw 80.65m in the 2021 Federation Cup (an event where Chopra set the current NR). Silwal hasn’t been as prolific this season but is under the tutelage of Klaus Bartonietz – the best in the business. The German biomechanics expert was instrumental in Chopra’s journey to that historic Olympic gold medal.

Who is India’s number 2?

Four young Indians breaking the 80m mark, three of whom did so less than a month apart, is a commendable feat. The only others, currently active, to have reached this mark are Shivpal Singh (best: 86.23m) and Davinder Singh Kang (best: 84.22m) – both of whom have had appointments with bans.

Shivpal reportedly failed a doping test late last year. He has since been expelled from the camp and provisionally suspended. Davidder served a one-year ban and was cleared to return to competition last year. None of them have participated in events this year, which opens a place for the four youngsters.

80m is good, but how much?

Manu, Yashvir and Rohit reached the Commonwealth Games qualifying mark of 81m. Manu’s PB (82.43m) would have been enough for him to win medals in continental events such as the silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games and a bronze medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. But he is still far from the world standard – his PB is not enough to qualify for the next world championships.

The world mark is set at 85m, while the best world mark this year was set by reigning world champion Anderson Peters, who threw a monstrous 93.07m at the Diamond League event in Doha earlier this month. Czech Jakub Vadlejch, who won silver in Tokyo, finished second in the event with 90.88m and Julian Webber took bronze with 86.09m.

So, while the feat is laudable, perhaps it comes with a need for revising the goals. Yes, Neeraj is the Olympic champion and among the best throwers in the world. But for the next crop to emulate its success, the benchmark must be raised. Breaking the 80m mark will help India improve their record at continental competitions, but it needs to be pushed further to establish a crew that can truly compete with world stars. It may be 85m and beyond.

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