Germany’s Thomas Rohler didn’t quite know what to expect from his season’s opener at the 2017 Diamond League in Doha.
Fresh from winning the Olympic javelin title in Rio de Janeiro the previous summer, Rohler eased off on the intensity in his training and instead placed a bigger emphasis on perfecting his technique.
But with his coach Harro Schwuchow, they had clearly struck the right balance during the off-season. Rohler memorably launched the spear out to what was at the time an almost unfathomable distance of 93.90m on this day (5) three years ago, a distance which hadn’t been reached since world record-holder Jan Zelezny from Czech Republic was at his prime.
Athletics fans still affectionately refer to 2014 as the year of the high jump and 2015 as the year of the triple jump but 2017 was the season when the men’s javelin came to life. A throw in excess of 90 metres was a rare commodity in preceding seasons but four throwers - including a triumvirate of Germans - all surpassed 91 metres in 2017.
Reflecting on that incredible performance in Doha, Rohler said: “In 2017, we tried to relieve the stresses after winning Olympic gold - we were giving the body a chance to recover by training on turf and on grass. We’ve been doing easy things but we’ve been working on a good technique. I was quite nervous going into Doha as I had no idea where I was standing. We sometimes don’t do the full run-ups in training to keep the risks low and to be mentally very much ready and excited for competition.'
Rohler, usually a rather stoic competitor, punched his fists and then the air in delight when the distance flashed up on the electronic scoreboard. He credited his competitors for their high level of throwing, including his teammate, friend but long-time competitive rival Johannes Vetter, who must have considered himself in a near unassailable position after taking the lead in the third round with a lifetime best of 89.68m.
“I didn’t expect the other guys to be quite so strong so early in the season. It was close. You are an athlete and you want to win. I didn’t come here to come second, I came here to win and I pulled out this amazing big throw,” recalled Rohler.
Rohler might not have been expecting to throw quite so far so early in the season and it also came as a surprise to the cameraperson who was positioned just on the other side of the 95-metre arc. The cameraperson thankfully left the arena unscathed, although the javelin did land within touching distance as Rohler remembers.
“Honestly, I think I only realised it at 1.00am at the airport because we travelled back right after the competition. Somebody sent me a graphic and they were pointing out the danger zone and how close I was to the cameraman - it was that close!” he said.
Rohler’s winning distance elevated him to second on the world all-time list behind Zelezny’s world record of 98.48m, surpassing the German record of 92.60m held by Raymond Hecht since 1995. But this mark only remained a national record for a little over three months as Vetter, who was improving all through the summer, bested Rohler’s world lead with 94.44m in Luzern before going on to win the world title in London.
The German javelin throwers put on another memorable show at the next edition of the Diamond League in Doha 12 months later, the traditional curtain-raiser to the summer athletics season.
Rohler prevailed once again with 91.78m ahead of Vetter (91.56m) and Andreas Hofmann (90.08m) who created history as a triumvirate. Never before had three throwers launched their implements further than 90 metres in the same competition.