Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra started to throw informally before he became an all-round athlete. But there were specific skills he had that help make him world-class. Dr. Klaus Bartonietz, who started working with Chopra following the latter's elbow surgery in 2019, deconstructs his student's sporting identikit to identify the specific skills that set him apart.
The most impressive thing about Neeraj is his athleticism. He can do the most crazy things of all compared to a lot of other Indian javelin throwers. On his first try, he could climb up the rope using just his arms. And also doing athletic things on the high bar and the parallel bars. In the beginning of the year (2019), we went twice a week to the gymnastics hall in Patiala.
Gymnastics is very important for the javelin throw. It aids in overall coordination and it makes high demands on your body that other exercises don't. It's like if you were running, you might not give a hundred percent unless there is a dog behind you. Gymnastics helped in the general strengthening of his shoulder and overall coordination. It also boosted his reaction time and awareness of the body. And it also forced him to be at a high level of concentration because if you don't, you will fall. Not everyone gets this right away. Neeraj is one who picks it up very quickly. For the others it takes time and that reflects on their performances.
The thought process
Not only is he a model athlete with defined muscle structure but he also knows how to use it. Some people don't have the brain to know how to use it. Athletes at the world-class level have an influence on their own training programme by specifying modifying exercises. Neeraj is always thinking: How can I do it better? How can I move my hip better? How can I block and stretch?
He does a lot of reflecting. Some athletes don't do it at all or do it at a rudimentary level. This limits their performances. If you aren't fully involved and understand what you are doing... Neeraj is doing this. He understands very well. The Chinese have a saying - the teacher opens only the door. You must enter yourself to the knowledge.
He is an excellent sprinter and jumper and so his run-up is very fast. He's been getting faster and faster over time - there's a remarkable difference between how he was at the start of his training and now. And he was really fast before the Olympics. We did once time him in training when he was running in with full power. We didn't do too much because there is a risk of hamstring strain but he covered 30m in around 3 seconds. Then when he made the three hops, each jump was about 3.20 to 3.40m. So he covered about 10m this way. He is really fast compared to the other athletes - even someone like Usain Bolt will have a peak speed of about 12m/s in his 100m sprint.
In competition Neeraj was running in really aggressively. I think at the Olympics, he was the fastest runner in the approach. He gains a lot of energy which is then released in the javelin. I informally measured him at around 10m/s (36kmph).
After that there is the way he bends his body in the way of a dhanush (bow). I've compared the javelin thrower's body to a bow and the last step before release is as if you are pre-stretching the bow. The body is a bow and the key to a good throw is to release the javelin at a high speed. That gives him an arm delay and only after that he shoots it. This moment of release is something he does very well. Some people bring the arm too early and that isn't optimal.
What I don't like about his throw
I'm not very happy when he falls forward and lands in the push up position after making his throw. I call it the 'headfirst plunge'. In one way it is understandable. When you follow through with so much effort with your upper torso, your whole body has a downward force acting upon it. It is a little tricky because you can mess up the release if it goes wrong. Magnus Kirt, the 2019 World Championship silver medallist who missed the Olympics, injured his shoulder this way or it aggravated something. With this high speed, to jump like this is risky. We advise Neeraj not to do this. And in training he doesn't do it. Even when he did the 90m throw (in Uppsala) he never does it. Because he is in training, he is often in a much better position than in competition.