[This is a guest post from Subash Mathi. Subash is a Level-1 Badminton coach and holds a certification with the National Institute of Sports in India. He is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Sports Biomechanics and Kinesiology and participating in Athletic Lab internship program.]
‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ – Greek known for ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’- Neeraj Chopra embodied the Olympic Motto.
What Neeraj has achieved has taken years of sweat and hard work. Hailing from the small village of Khandra in Haryana’s Panipat district, he strode along many uneven paths to etch his name into the history books .
“He used to travel by bus to reach the stadium for practices as there weren’t enough facilities in the village,” his father Satish Kumar said just moments before Neeraj took the first steps towards his target in Tokyo on August 7, 2021. The 23-year-old Olympian graduated from DAV College in Chandigarh and was appointed as a Junior Commissioned Officer in the Indian Army in 2016, with the rank of Naib Subedar.
However, his brilliant performances in athletics across the world soon brought him accolades as well as a promotion in the Indian military. At the start of the 2021 season, Subedar Neeraj was one of India’s biggest bets for a Gold Medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The young lads roared into the finals and screamed into the medal tally with a powerful throw, far enough to make him a star.
“It feels unbelievable. It is the first time India has won gold in athletics, so I feel very good. I didn’t know it would be gold but I am very happy,” the humble 23-year-old said after scripting his own history.
At the start of the 2021 season, Subedar Neeraj was one of India’s biggest bets for a Gold Medal at the Tokyo Olympics 2020The young lad roared into the finals and screamed into the medals tally with a powerful throw, far enough to make him a star.
The making of a champion:
Neeraj Chopra VSM (born 24 December 1997) is an Indian track and field athlete who competes in the javelin throw. As of August 2021, he is ranked second internationally by World Athletics. A Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) in the Indian Army, Chopra is the first track and field athlete to win a gold medal for India at the Olympics . He is also the first track and field athlete from India to win at the IAAF World U20 Championships, where in 2016 he achieved a world under-20 record throw of 86.48m, becoming the first Indian athlete to set a world record.
When a Norwegian reporter asked him at the press conference organised by theInternational Olympic Committee (IOC) what made him take up the javelin—a sport without much of a tradition in India—Neeraj looked at me to ask if he could answer in Hindi. I translated his query for the IOC venue manager and was asked if I could serve as an interpreter for the journalists who wanted to know his story. “Main bahut mota tha ji. Isliye, ek din gaon mein khelne chala gaya aur wahan pe sab sport tha. Javelin bhi tha. Mujhe javelin dekh ke achha laga aur maine utha liya. Main yeh nahin jaanta tha ki yahi javelin mujhe yahaan tak le aayega.” In English: “I was very fat, sir. Because of that, one day in the village, I went to play some sports. There were javelins there also—I liked it, so I picked it up. I didn’t know that one day, javelins would bring me this far.”
“In 2018, I went to Germany to train with Uwe Hohn,” continued Neeraj, a subject of much interest for the media for all the controversy around Hohn. Neeraj, very humbly, settled the debate: “Mera technique unse match nahin kar raha tha. Sab theek nahin ho raha tha, aur isliye maine Klaus (Bartonietz) ko chuna. Wohi mere coach hain ab. Woh meri body ke mutabik mera training arrange karte hain (My technique did not match Hohn’s training. It wasn’t going well, which is why I chose Klaus Bartonietz as my coach. He arranged my training to suit my body type).” It’s not always about the world’s best coach or the best known coach; it’s about finding a coach who understands the athlete, and is able to craft a training regimen that suits him.
Neeraj, on the other hand, was all about scientific training. Despite a serious injury two years ago, he bounced back in time, based on a well-crafted recovery plan. He did not hesitate in changing his coach when things weren’t going right, and much as Uwe Hohn criticised the Indian set-up, Neeraj didn’t lose focus.
Advances in sensors and modeling feeding into physical training routines have also contributed to the bars of success moving higher. Anna Kiesenhofer, the Austrian mathematician who won gold in the women’s individual cycling race at the Tokyo games, tweeted (and then deleted) about how she used a sensor to monitor her core body temperature during training.
Movement Application:- In 2011, SportsRec published an article describing the sequence of muscle movements involved in throwing a javelin – from ‘carrying’ it to launch:
Not many of us throw spears to kill animals these days – but those who throw javelins at the Olympics need to follow some rules defined by a body called World Athletics (formerly International Amateur Athletic Federation).
Phases and Movement Pattern:
Your biceps contract to flex your elbow during the carrying phase. Your deltoids, or shoulders, flex to lift your arm up so the javelin can be held higher and raised to your forehead. During the withdrawal phase, your back muscles contract as you bring the javelin back. The non-throwing arm is extended forward as your throwing arm is brought back. This movement stretches your pectoral, or chest, muscles. From there, a stretch reflex, an involuntary contraction of your chest, helps bring your throwing arm forward with increased force. The front foot is planted with a braced straight leg with the aim of “blocking” and minimizing the bend of the knee, so that the thrower’s right side quickly moves around the left. A force six to eight times the athlete’s body weight is created at front foot contact. A bent or “soft” knee will result in a loss of energy transfer, so it’s important for javelin throwers to develop the leg and ankle strength to handle these large forces. During the delivery phase, your shoulder initiates the movement, transferring movement through your triceps, wrists and fingers to extend your throwing arm forward to release the javelin.
Delivery and recovery:
Once the front foot is down, the motion of the upper body begins. As one joint – such as the hip – reaches the end of its range of motion and decelerates, the next joint – the shoulder, then elbow and finally the javelin – is rapidly accelerated.
The final result is a high release speed on the javelin itself. The javelin is thrown over the top of the shoulder with a bend in the thrower’s side, similar to a fast bowler. But javelin throwers, unlike fast bowlers, are required to come to a complete stop before the foul line within one or two steps of release, creating a huge amount of stress on lower body joints.
Angle of release:
The second important parameter is the angle at which the javelin is thrown. The best angle of release for a javelin is between 32º and 36º, but this is tough to achieve consistently. The flight path and distance of the javelin depends on the angle of attack.
Note: Chopra’s throws were flatter than most and it helped in the javelin travelling further. “If you see, some of the throwers threw very high. Then the javelin comes down faster, five metres more in height than five meters in length. You need to get into some body positions so you can work (release) in a more horizontal way. His angle was 36 to 34 degrees.
Injury and recovery:
Chopra missed the 2019 World Championships in Doha due to bone spurs in his right elbow; undergoing surgery in Mumbai on 3 May 2019, the day after the qualifying competitions for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had begun. After a period of recuperation, involving meditation and rehabilitative training at Patiala and the Inspire Institute of Sport at Vijayanagar, Chopra travelled to South Africa in November 2019 for training under German biomechanics expert Klaus Bartoneitz. Previously, he had been coached by Gary Calvert and Werner Daniels.
“He is not the strongest or the tallest but Neeraj Chopra’s supreme athleticism and elasticity makes him a special talent,” says Dr. Klaus Bartonietz.
After a 16-month hiatus, Chopra returned to international competition in January 2020 with a winning throw of 87.86 metres in the Athletics Central North West League Meeting in Potchefstroom, South Africa, which as a distance of over 85 meters qualified him for the Tokyo Olympiad.
On the day of his qualification for the finals of the men’s javelin event, Neeraj Chopra left the stadium early. But this was the stride and demeanor of a man who had unfinished business. He had made short work of the qualification, with a monstrous first throw of 86.65 metres (the qualifying mark being 83.50 metres), topping the qualification charts and becoming the first Indian to make the final of the men’s javelin event.
Besides, there was a man in the fray called Johannes Vetter—the German had seven 90+ metre throws under his belt in 2021 alone, and a personal best of 97.76 metres (2020). The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Germany’s Johannes Vetter lost rhythm, looked ungainly and twisted his ankle in his second throw. “We know Vetter is a great athlete and he has 90-plus throws but he faces technical problems,”
When his nearest rival—an athlete from the Czech Republic who had appeared briefly threatening with an 86+ metre effort—had completed his sixth attempt, it was time for celebration. It took a second to sink in. Neeraj still had a throw left, but there he was, pumping his fists. He was still on top of the leaderboard, and there was no one left to displace him. He was now an Olympic Champion.
Chopra won the gold medal in the final on 7 August with a throw of 87.58 m in his second attempt, becoming the first Indian Olympian to win a gold medal in athletics, and the first post-independence Indian Olympic medalist in athletics
Chopra’s medal gave India a final total of seven medals at the Games, surpassing the country’s previous best performance of six medals earned at the 2012 London Olympics. As a result of his performance in Tokyo, Chopra became the second-ranked athlete internationally in the men’s javelin throw.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has immortalized the day by announcing August 7 each year as “National Javelin Throw Day.”
- Selvaraj, Jonathan (7 August 2021). “Ice-cold Neeraj Chopra turns Olympic legend with India’s first athletics gold”. ESPN. Archived from the original on 7 August 2021. Retrieved 7 August 2021.
- Koshie, Nihal (30 November 2019). “Neeraj Chopra no longer training with high-profile coach Hohn”. The Indian Express. Archived from the original on 6 April 2020. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
- “Neeraj CHOPRA | Profile”. World Athletics. Archived from the original on 8 August 2021. Retrieved 9 August 2021.
- “Tokyo Olympics 2020: Neeraj Chopra wins historic Gold in javelin throw, India’s first athletics medal in 100 yrs”. Mirror Now. The Economic Times. 7 August 2021. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
- THE SCIENCES :-Neeraj Chopra and the Physics of Making Javelins Go Faster, Higher, Stronger
by ARNAB BHATTACHARYA AND VASUDEVAN MUKUNTH dated 13/08/2021.