It's As Impressive As it is Dangerous - The Event
You are a warrior and your life is in danger. You stand on one end of a soccer field, your enemy approaches at the other. You can’t rush him; he’s prepared for hand-to-hand combat. And you can’t run away, your spirit won’t allow it.
But you have your spear. If you’ve also got perfect coordination with the ability to move multiple joints in different planes of motion at speeds matching the kick of a professional soccer player and the accuracy of an expert marksman – you just might live.
This is the plight of the javelin thrower (ok, minus the life and death dramatization). Nonetheless, aiming to heave a spear close to 300 feet (90 meters) carries great risk of bodily harm and requires the physical prowess of a soldier.
Using a run-up of six to 10 steps, followed by two or three “crossover” steps, the thrower must generate speed, multiply it using the chain of power in their body and transfer it into the javelin. While the average run-up speed of an elite thrower is about 12mph (20km/h), the release speed of the javelin approaches 62mph (100km/h).
The transfer is where the warrior steps in. In the final step before the implement is launched, momentum travels like a whip from the hip to the shoulder to the elbow and into the javelin.
Landing on their back foot with both arms stretched long and straight, the thrower brings the javelin in-line with their eye. To contain the forward momentum, the thrower must plant their front leg with the aim of minimizing the bend of the knee. Holding a force of six to eight times their weight on this plant leg prevents the built-up energy from escaping the throw.
Then the chain of power is unleashed. As the hip reaches the end of its range of motion and decelerates, the next joint in the chain – the shoulder, then elbow - fire the momentum up and out of the body and into the javelin.
Controlling the Momentum
After the above feats are accomplished, the thrower must control any remaining momentum, coming to a complete stop before the foul line. This is like slamming on the brakes of your bike on a speeding descent – except your brakes are the muscles, joints and tendons in your legs.
While harnessing all this speed, the thrower must control the angle of release and account for the prevailing wind. A difference of just a few degrees will either send the javelin too high or too low to reach the longest potential distance. It has to be just right.
As with discus, each athlete gets three initial attempts and those who throw the farthest get another three. The thrower who sends their javelin the longest distance within bounds climbs to the top of the podium. The remaining soldiers ready their spears for the next battle.
Men’s Javelin Olympic Record
297 feet, 1 inch - 90.57 meters
Andreas Thorkildsen, Norway, 2008
In 2008, the men’s javelin throw was boring. None of the major contenders were making consistent marks and during the entire season nobody had thrown 297 feet (90m).
Andreas Thorkildsen chose a perfect time to change that.
At the Beijing games, Thorkildsen took the lead with his first throw and was never headed. Bringing spark to the event, the Norwegian thrower unleashed his Olympic record throw. And just like that, the Javelin was back.
Women’s Javelin Olympic Record
234 feet, 8 inches - 71.53 meters
Osleidys Menendez, Cuba, 2004
Sometimes it’s cool to see an athlete so on top of their game that nobody can match them. That was Osleidys Menendez in 2004.
In her very first throw, she launched her mighty Olympic record, besting the previous holder by 3’3” (1m). The competition was over before the first round was even complete.
Osleidys opening throw was four meters farther than the lifetime best of anyone else in the final. She didn’t even bother throwing her sixth attempt; she was already being draped with the Cuban flag for the celebratory lap around the stadium. Throw, Set, Title.