After two throws – 82.22m and 82.14m, Davinder Singh Kang was staring down the abyss. He prowled around the throwing arena with his mind racing. He needed a good throw. Kang hadn’t come all this way to the World Championship to throw three times and pack his bags.
The shoulder felt sore. In the afternoon, he had taped it up. Then again in the evening before his group walked into the Olympic Park. Sitting on the bench was Sri Lankan thrower and his close friend Waruna Rankoth Pedige whose first throw was a poor 73.16 and the second and third a no-throw. Kang went over to him and asked him to press his sore shoulder. Waruna pulled Kang’s shoulder a little wide, releasing tension and freeing the tightly-bound muscles.
Feeling better, Kang picked up the javelin and was back on the runway. This time the run was smoother and the momentum unlike the previous two had more rhythm as Kang bounded in and leaning slightly to the left let it rip. The spear had a good trajectory and for a second, looked like it would dip earlier, ahead of the magical 83m qualification mark. But the speed of the release had been better – Bang – Kang had thrown 84.22m. For the first time in the history of Indian athletics, a javelin thrower had made it to the final of the event. “The first thing I did was say thank you to him (Waruna),” said an elated Davinder.
India’s campaign in the javelin was to pitch-fork it’s two throwers into the final, creating a sort of record in Indian athletics. And when Germany’s 24-year-old Johannes Vetter threw a monster of an opening effort of 91.20m, it felt that the other throwers now had a marker. India’s Neeraj Chopra, introduced to the crowds as the Junior World Champion loves a challenge and Vetter’s throw was the ideal potion for both Chopra and Davinder Singh Kang who was to come in later in Group B.
Vetter broke a record that dated back to 2001 when Jan Zelezny had thrown 90.76m in qualifying. “I am quite pleased by throwing 91m, “said Vetter, who had finished 4th at the 2016 Rio Olympics. “I cannot go into qualification only throwing 80 percent. I did not have any tactics. I just gave it my all.”
Neeraj Chopra, tipped by many to be a future podium finisher at the Olympics and World Championships couldn’t quite pick up rhythm. His first throw of 82.26 gave the impression of being tantalisingly close to the qualifying mark but physically he wasn’t moving well. And the second throw was poor – the release speed plus the 8-10 steps taken for final release didn’t quite match-up. Just before the release line, Chopra stuttered, killing the trajectory. It was a no-throw. Chopra kept muttering to himself that it was only 83m and that he should do it quite easily, he would say later. The third throw a poor 80.54m pushed him to 7th in Group A. Chopra’s fate now hung in the balance and depended on the ‘poor form’ of the throwers in Group B.
Meanwhile, after Vetter, Tero Pitkamaki of Finland, Ahmed Bader Bagaour of Qatar and Kenyan Julius Yego wrapped up their work with a single qualifying throw. Apart from Vetter’s 91m plus, two throws went beyond 86m, two more than 85m, another two crossed the 84m mark and then six of them made it to 83m and more.
Chopra looked gutted when he couldn’t piece the reason for the below-par performance. “The conditions were all okay,” he said. “But there was an issue technically which I can’t put my finger on.” He seemed puzzled and unable to comprehend what had gone wrong. Even the Indian camp under deputy chief coach RK Nair had unabashedly plumped for Chopra over Kang. “We believe that there is a possibility of Chopra being on the podium while both can be in the final,” said Nair, a day before the qualifying rounds.