Another week, another world record was seriously threatened
With the likes of Karsten Warholm, Mondo Duplantis and Ryan Crouser having crept closer to the top of the world all-time lists in their respective events over the past few weeks, at yesterday’s World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting in Silesia, it was Johannes Vetter’s turn to take a crack at breaking a world record.
The German javelin thrower hadn’t necessarily targeted Jan Zelezny’s long-standing mark of 98.48m, set back in 1996, but Vetter has been in terrific form all season. The 2017 world champion had thrown beyond 90 metres at the Continental Tour meetings in Turku (91.49m) and Chorzow (90.86m) and headed to Poland last weekend with a string of six victories.
His two opening throws at the Skolimowska Memorial – 83.77m and 86.41m – hadn’t really hinted that a bigger throw was in the offing, but then he unleashed his monster effort in the third round.
As is his trademark, and such is the force with which he throws, Vetter fell to the ground upon release of his javelin. But there was also a glint in his eye; the look of an athlete who realises that they may have done something special.
Still roaring, Vetter stood up quickly and watched as his javelin sailed out across the Silesian Stadium, seemingly defying gravity. After what felt like an age – in javelin-throwing terms, at least – the implement finally landed at the other end of the infield, way beyond the 90-metre line and almost within the shot put sector at the opposite end of the green.
Moments later, the measurement appeared: 97.76m. The second-best throw in history and just 72 centimetres – about a quarter the length of an average javelin – shy of Zelezny’s world record.
Race to the next world record
Although 2020 has been far from a normal season, several athletes have been in record-breaking shape.
At last month's Wanda Diamond League meeting in Monaco, Uganda's Joshua Cheptegei broke Kenenisa Bekele's long-standing world record for 5000m, running 12:35.36. Just last week at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Brussels, Sifan Hassan and Mo Farah set world one-hour records on the track. The next morning in Prague, Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya broke the women-only world record for the half marathon, clocking 1:05:34.
With Warholm, Duplantis and Crouser all in peak form, the race is now on to become the next athlete to break a world record.
Warholm has had a short but impressive outdoor campaign. After clocking a world best over 300m hurdles in Oslo, he went on to win the 400m hurdles in Monaco in 47.10 and then went even faster in Stockholm, running 46.87 – the second-fastest time in history – despite clattering the final barrier. For good measure, he went on to win the 400m flat later that afternoon in 45.05.
Warholm will race at tomorrow’s Continental Tour Gold meeting in Ostrava, where he will once again target Kevin Young’s 46.78 world record from the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Duplantis broke the world pole vault record twice during the indoor season earlier this year and then carried that momentum through to the outdoor season. Undefeated in all 13 of his competitions in 2020, the young Swede scaled 6.07m with room to spare in Lausanne before having an attempt at 6.15m – what would have been the best ever outdoor vault in history – but the lack of light made vaulting too difficult and so he called it a night.
The 20-year-old’s next competition will be at the Continental Tour Silver meeting in Berlin on Sunday (13) when he will be up against the two men with whom he shared a podium at last year’s World Championships: gold medallist Sam Kendricks and bronze medallist Piotr Lisek. After that, he intends on competing at the Wanda Diamond League meetings in Rome and Doha.
Crouser – like Vetter, Warholm and Duplantis – is also undefeated this year. The Olympic shot put champion set a PB of 22.91m in July to move to equal third on the world all-time list. He followed it with 22.56m and 22.72m victories in Des Moines in late August and last weekend won in Silesia with a Polish all-comers’ record of 22.70m.
Already the most prolific 22-metre thrower in history, the 27-year-old will next compete at the Continental Tour Gold meetings in Ostrava on Tuesday and Zagreb next week. The meeting records of 22.27m (Ostrava) and 22.28m (Zagreb) seem to be a realistic target, while the world record of 23.12m looks to be living on borrowed time.
Vetter, meanwhile, will be in action on Tuesday (8) at the Continental Tour Bronze meeting in Dessau, a more open venue that has previously played host to several 90-metre performances, and then at the ISTAF meeting in Berlin on Sunday.
Keen to stress the nuances of the event, Vetter himself said in Silesia: “Last week I threw 84 metres, this week I threw 97. Those little things make a big difference.” But provided he finds the right elements to tweak before Tuesday’s competition, he could once again challenge the world record.
Born: Dresden, 26 March 1993. Coach: Boris Obergfoll.
Ever since his late teens, Johannes Vetter had shown promise as a javelin thrower.
In 2011, at the age of 18, he earned selection to represent Germany at the European U20 Championships in Tallinn, his first major international event. He set a PB of 71.60m in qualifying but was unable to match that mark in the final and eventually finished 12th.
Injury prevented him from having a full season in his last year as an U20 athlete, but he returned to top form in 2013 and started to improve again, throwing 76.58m and then 79.75m one year later.
Keen to break through to 80-metre territory and address his inconsistency, Vetter relocated from Dresden to Offenburg – a journey of about 600km – to be coached by Boris Obergfoll, the two-time world bronze medallist.
“I was impressed not only by his technical knowledge, but also his approach to the mental side of competition,” says Vetter. "On top of that, he was also a world-class thrower and understands what it is like to perform at the highest level.”
Anticipating a punishing training schedule in order to push through to the next level, Vetter was surprised when he saw Obergfoll’s plan. “I was used to a very rigorous regime, so I asked Boris, ‘are you sure we train enough?’ Yet for him his training is all about looking after an athlete. It is a smart approach which includes a lot of physio treatment and making sure the body is in the best possible shape. I’ve also made many technical changes since being with Boris.”
The move paid off, and in just his second competition of the 2015 season, Vetter smashed through the 80-metre barrier with a PB of 82.13m. By the end of that season, he had improved to 85.40m and placed seventh in the World Championships final.
His progress continued in 2016. Although he finished fourth at the high-quality German Championships, he had impressed earlier in the season with a PB of 87.11m and then improved to 88.23m just one week after the German Championships, performances which eventually led to his selection for the Olympic Games.
He finished fourth in the Olympic final, just six centimetres shy of bronze and 64 centimetres down on his mark from the qualifying round. But, determined to end his year on a high, he rebounded at Berlin’s ISTAF meeting and won with a PB of 89.57m, beating compatriot and Olympic champion Thomas Rohler in the process.
The combination of Olympic disappointment and PB elation proved the perfect cocktail heading into 2017. He consistently produced big throws and top-three finishes on the international circuit, but he sent shockwaves through the athletics world on 11 July 2017 in Luzern when he unleashed an almighty 94.44m, breaking the German record.
Tipped to take gold at the World Championships in London one month later, Vetter lived up to expectation and was victorious with 89.89m.
Vetter’s 2018 season started well, throwing beyond 90 metres in three of his first four competitions, but he struggled to find his rhythm at the European Championships on home soil in Berlin and finished fifth.
His 2019 campaign was hampered slightly by injury struggles, but he managed to salvage a 90.03m season’s best before going on to take the bronze medal at the World Championships in Doha.
With those injuries now behind him, Vetter has been unstoppable in 2020 with a string of seven victories, three competitions beyond 90 metres, and a national record of 97.76m.
2009: 58.10m (700g)
2010: 68.73m (700g), 51.77m
World javelin all-time list
98.48m Jan Zelezny (CZE) Jena 1996
97.76m Johannes Vetter (GER) Silesia 2020
93.90m Thomas Rohler (GER) Doha 2017
93.09m Aki Parviainen (FIN) Kuortane 1999
92.72m Julius Yego (KEN) Beijing 2015
92.61m Sergey Makarov (RUS) Sheffield 2002
92.60m Raymond Hecht (GER) Oslo 1995
92.06m Andreas Hofmann (GER) Offenburg 2018
91.69m Konstantinos Gatsioudis (GER) Kuortane 2000
91.59m Andreas Thorkildsen (NOR) Oslo 2006
Most prolific 90-metre throwers
53 Jan Zelezny
16 Johannes Vetter
9 Thomas Rohler
8 Andreas Thorkildsen
8 Aki Parviainen
6 Sergey Makarov
6 Raymond Hecht
6 Tero Pitkamaki
5 Andreas Hofmann
3 Vadims Vasilevskis
3 Konstantinos Gatsioudis
(including ancillary marks)