Thomas Rohler in action at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
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Preview: men's javelin – IAAF World Championships London 2017

It promises to be a Germanic equivalent of the great Coe-Ovett rivalry of the late 1970s and early 1980s – only with spears, not middle distance mastery. The way the jousting for javelin supremacy between Johannes Vetter and Thomas Rohler has been developing this year, it may take something approaching Jan Zelezny’s outlandish world record to ultimately settle their battle for global pre-eminence.

The 24-year-old Vetter and 25-year-old Rohler have time on their side yet to get within striking range of the mighty 98.48m that Zelezny unleashed in Jena in eastern Germany in 1996. In the past four months, though, both have staked a claim on second spot on the world all-time list. 

Having been born and bred in Jena, where he competes for the LC Jena club, perhaps Rohler was destined to challenge the global mark that was established in his home city when he was a four-year-old. The frustration of missing out on a medal with a fourth-placed finish at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing helped to propel him to Olympic gold with a 90.30m effort in Rio last year – and on to a 93.30m throw in the opening IAAF Diamond League fixture of 2017 in Doha on 5 May.

The latter performance put Rohler in second place on the world all-time list – until Vetter eclipsed him with a 94.44m throw in Lucerne on 11 July. That was Vetter’s third successive victory over his German teammate but Rohler came out on top in their last duel before London, prevailing at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco with 89.17m – with Vetter down in third (85.14m), behind Zelezny’s Czech protege Jakub Vadlech (85.43m).

In all, Rohler and Vetter have met 10 times this season (three times more than Coe and Ovett did in the whole of their distinguished careers), the running tally standing at 6-4 in Rohler’s favour. Vetter, however, might be encouraged by the fact that the past four global titles in the men’s javelin have been claimed by men who finished fourth in the previous global championship. Vetter was a tantalising six centimetres shy of the bronze medal position in Rio.

Between them, Vetter and Rohler boast the eight best throws in the world this year and stand five metres clear of their closest rival. The next best just happens to be a German teammate: Andreas Hoffman, the 2009 European junior champion, who beat Vetter and Rohler with an 88.79m throw in Offenburg in May. 

No nation has ever achieved a sweep of the men’s javelin medals at an edition of the IAAF World Championships, although the Finns achieved a one-two in Tokyo in 1991, courtesy of Kimmo Kinnunen and Seppo Raty. Vadlejch, who beat Rohler at the European Team Championships in Lille, looks the man most likely to spoil a German party, though his season’s best of 88.02m stands behind those of Finland’s 2007 world champion Tero Pitkamaki (88.27m) and Poland’s Marcin Krukowski (88.09m). 

Defending champion Julius Yego of Kenya (87.97m) and Ionnis Kiriazis (88.01m), second in between Vadlejch and Rohler at the European Team Championships, could also feature in the medal mix.

Simon Turnbull for the IAAF