The lean muscular and sprightly Neeraj Chopra throwing the javelin before the tripping line, not even bothering to look where it lands and instantly raising his arms in a sign of victory on regaining balance has by now got etched in our popular memory. This same action got me into thinking, observing, studying, researching and finding something interesting to share with all my readers.

I rewound the clips again and again, freezing frames at the point of throw and looking for any clues or signs to decipher why the throw was soo special. This analysis is purely from a technical perspective and based on some elementary physics. So, let’s get straight to the point. To prevent things from being boring and difficult to grasp, shall be using laymen terms as much as possible.

Anything thrown is a projectile and following the laws of physics, it traces a path known as projectile trajectory. Now the distance of throw or how far a projectile lands, determines the performance in a javelin throw so shall be analyzing from that perspective.

The distance travelled by a projectile or how far a projectile lands depends on several factors or variables. These are the initial velocity, the angle of release, the height of release and acceleration due to gravity. Now, since all athletes are competing from the same location (Tokyo), gravity acts equally on all so it isn’t the factor under consideration. So, let’s focus on the other parameters viz., initial velocity, angle of release, and height of release.

Angle of release, height of release (athlete at release) explained

First, let’s discuss angle of release. Normally when released at ground level, the optimum angle is forty-five degrees for maximum distance. However, the javelin is released at a height. So, the angle of release is much less. Study has found that the optimum angle of release for a javelin is 34 to 36 degrees at a height for covering maximum distance in absence of any other external forces acting on the javelin like wind etc. As the height increases, the angle of release decreases and as the height decreases, the angle of release increases.

The initial velocity is a factor of momentum generated by the initial run by the athlete and momentum depends on the athlete’s mass and maximum velocity attained at point of throw.

The height of release as mentioned varies from athlete to athlete depending on their height and point of release.

Now, let’s understand why it’s so tough for an Indian or player from the subcontinent to compete in a decathlon event like the javelin throw.

This will be clear from the relative comparison of the top three contenders who won gold, silver and bronze ie., Neeraj Chopra, Jakub Vadlejch and Vietzslav (last two from Chezc).

Sl. No.Neeraj Chopra (India)Jakub Vadlejech (Checz)Vietzslav Vesely (Checz)
Height (cm)180190186
Mass (Kg)869494

The above chart clearly shows how European / Western athletes, here competitors of Neeraj are at a natural advantage due to their height and weight. Why advantage ? Since height is more, their height of release is also more reducing angle of release which means they need not bend their back so much as somebody of lesser height or in other words with lesser bodily contortion or stress, they can do the release.

Now, since height is more, mass (or colloquially weight ) is naturally more, meaning they can generate more momentum which transfers to greater initial velocity for the javelin. Neeraj having lesser height and body mass, he has to run faster to generate same or more momentum than his European / Western counterparts and also need to bend his body that much more to get the higher angle of release since due to lesser height his height of release is also less.

So, a player from the subcontinent where average height and mass is less than the Westerner counterparts, people need to train that much harder to overcome their natural disadvantage related to height and mass as compared to their Western counterparts. That explains why Neeraj’s throw and winning the gold is soo special – also points to the fact that he must have undergone one of the most intensive backbreaking training somebody from the subcontinent could have possibly received.

Neeraj Chopra – release angle just before releasing
Neeraj’s angle of release at point of release

Next, coming to the analysis of his winning shot by freezing frames. At the point of release, Neeraj’s angle of release was almost 39 degrees which reduces to 29.5/30 degrees right at instance of release. Since this is less than the optimum range of 34 to 36 degrees, it can be safely assumed that Neeraj was aware about the movement of wind against the direction of javelin throw. Now, if wind is blowing against the direction of throw, the angle of release has to be less which is exactly what Neeraj did – close to 30 degrees (less than required optimum 34 degrees if no wind). In the end, it was more than enough to cover the maximum distance, beating his closest competitors, both the Checzs.

So, in summary, it can be concluded that Neeraj’s throw was special since he was able to overcome his natural disadvantage of lesser height and mass as a player from the subcontinent when compared to his Western competitors. Also, he used superb judgment while throwing using a low angle of release to counter wind movement against the direction of throw, if any. This was a superlative feat on soo many counts as explained above and we must rightfully celebrate this great achievement.

Cheers Neeraj Chopra for the excellent show and also for kindling the imagination of a billion hearts with that sailing finish!

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