When Neeraj Chopra threw 81.04m (a then junior world record) in 2015, he was only the fifth Indian javelin thrower to cross 80m. It was also the second-best ever throw by an Indian.
In 2022, Indian javelin has a very different outlook. Chopra, of course, is Olympic Champion and has broken the national record 25 times. His best now stands at 88.07m. While he remains an outlier for Indian track and field, there's a promising uptick in his sport. This very year, in fact, three young Indians have crossed the 80m mark, a quite unprecedented feat.
Who are these youngsters?
Yashvir Singh, 20, is the latest to pass the 80m mark, throwing 82.13 at the Indian Grand Prix (IGP) IV in Bhubaneshwar on Tuesday (24 May). Yashvir had made headlines when he broke Chopra's meet record at the Junior Federation Cup in January 2021 with a throw of 78.68m, prompting a call from his hero, Neeraj Chopra, who had told him 'this is only the start.'
DP Manu, 22, recorded the best throw by an Indian this year (Neeraj is yet to start competition this year), with an 82.43m at IGP 1 in Thiruvananthapuram in March. That took him to fifth-best in the all-time best list of Indian javelin throws. Manu had taken to javelin after watching a clip of Chopra's winning throw at the Junior World Championships in 2016. He has since been training under one of Chopra's first coaches, Kashinath Naik, (since 2019).
And then there is Rohit Yadav, who won the Federation Cup in April with a throw of 81.83m. Rohit had begun training with a self-made bamboo javelin in 2014 and got his first professional javelin only in 2019.
Last year, another youngster crossed the 80m mark too. Haryana's Sahil Silwal threw 80.65m at the 2021 Federation Cup (an event where Chopra set the current NR). Silwal has not been as prolific this season but is under the tutelage of Klaus Bartonietz - the best in the business. The German bio-mechanics expert played an instrumental role in Chopra's path to that historic Olympic gold.
Who is India's #2?
Four young Indians crossing the 80m mark, three of whom did it within a month of each other, is a commendable feat. The only others, currently active, to hit that mark are Shivpal Singh (best: 86.23m) and Davinder Singh Kang (best: 84.22m) - both of whom have had trysts with bans.
Shivpal reportedly failed a dope test late last year. He has since been excluded from the camp and provisionally suspended. Davinder served a one-year ban and was cleared to return to competitions last year. Neither of them has participated in any events this year, which opens up a slot for the four youngsters.
80m is good, but how good?
Manu, Yashvir and Rohit have achieved the Commonwealth Games qualification mark of 81m. Manu's PB (82.43m) would have been enough for him to medal at continental events such as the silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games and a bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. But he's still far from the global standard - his PB is not enough to qualify for the upcoming World Championships.
The Worlds mark is set at 85m, while the world leading mark this year was set by the defending world champion Anderson Peters, who threw a monstrous 93.07m at the Diamond League event in Doha earlier this month. Czech Republic's Jakub Vadlejch, who won silver at Tokyo, finished second in that event with 90.88m and Julian Webber got bronze with 86.09m.
So while the feat is commendable, it perhaps brings with it a need for a revision of targets. Yes, Neeraj is the Olympic champion and among the best throwers in the world. But for the next crop to emulate his success, the benchmark has to be raised. Beating the 80m mark will help India better its record at continental meets, but it needs to be pushed further to establish a crew that can actually compete with the global stars. Perhaps that's 85m and beyond.