The latest edition of the World Athletics Podcast brings together three legends of the javelin, with Neeraj Chopra and Julius Yego joined by host Steve Backley.
Since 2015, there have been men’s javelin winners from four different continents at the five global senior championships, demonstrating the diversity in the event. Two of those champions – India’s Olympic champion Chopra and Kenya’s world gold medallist Yego – recently came together virtually with Great Britain’s three-time Olympic and two-time world medallist Backley to talk everything about the discipline.
With his victory in Tokyo last year, Chopra became India’s first ever Olympic champion in athletics. Although he had previously made history for his nation when breaking the world U20 record to win India’s first gold medal at the World U20 Championships in 2016, his win in Tokyo launched him to superstardom.
“India has not really ever had such an achievement in athletics or the javelin, so it has been huge, a very warm reception,” explained Chopra, speaking from Delhi. “And, of course, India has a lot of people, so the following on social media has also been quite high because of that.”
Yego’s win at the 2015 World Athletics Championships in Beijing was also monumental and, reflecting on that success and his journey to becoming a javelin thrower in a country that is renowned for distance running, the 33-year-old said: “This is the talent I have. It’s a God-given talent and I needed to do it.
“The turning point was in 2004 during the Olympics when I watched Andreas (Thorkildsen) beat the world record-holder, Jan Zelezny, and I had the feeling that ‘I can do it as well’. I was in high school and that was the year that I started focusing on the javelin.”
Chopra also had great belief in his ability from the moment he picked up the implement.
“When I first threw the javelin, it left my hand and I felt at one with the javelin,” he added. “I knew it was what I wanted to do. At that time, I didn’t think about becoming a professional athlete or an Olympic champion, I just really enjoyed doing it.”
Both were inspired by the performances of javelin greats before them, and videos of Backley were among those they would watch.
“I like the elasticity you had,” Yego told Backley, from his base in Eldoret. “You are tall, yes, and I am short, but that elasticity of the hand, the flexibility of the shoulders and the hips. The movement of the hips was really interesting to me and I wanted to do that.
“I was watching YouTube videos of the javelin greats and that is where it started. I still watch my YouTube videos.”
With the World Championships taking place in Oregon later this year, Chopra and Yego will have the chance to go head-to-head on the global stage. Adding a medal from that event to his collection is a big motivation for 24-year-old Chopra.
“It is a big year, with the World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games,” he said. “I am waiting to get back to full fitness and I am going to be working on my training with that in mind.”
So what advice does Yego have for the newly-crowned Olympic champion Chopra, having the experience of winning his global gold back in 2015?
“Focus is the main thing,” he said. “After a major championship like that, don’t let it get into your head.
“I told him in Tokyo, in the final when you are feeling ok – throw far, that is the only way to win the major championships!”
“That is the soundbite that I am going to remember for a long time: when you feel good, throw far,” replied Backley with a smile.
“Keep it simple, that is the challenge of this event. It becomes your life, but it’s about keeping it simple.”
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