At the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last year Johannes Vetter shed tears of frustration as he missed out on the bronze medal by 6cm in fourth place. Twelve months on, in the London Stadium on the penultimate night of action at the IAAF World Championships London 2017, the 24-year-old German cried tears of unbridled joy as he stepped up to gold medal status.
In doing so, courtesy of a first round throw of 89.89m, Vetter – who followed up with throws of 89.78m, 87.22m, a fifth round foul and 82.25m – maintained the trend of fourth-place throwers graduating to gold at the next global championship.
It started at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow with victory for Vitezslav Vesely, who had been fourth at the Olympic Games in London the year before. Fourth in Moscow, Kenya’s Julius Yego, took the world title in Beijing in 2015. Then, in Rio last year, it was the turn of Thomas Rohler.
This time, it was Rohler, Vetter’s great German team-mate and rival, who missed out in fourth. The 25-year-old held second place behind Jan Zelezny in the world all-time list with his 93.30m throw at the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of the season in Doha in May before being knocked down to third by Vetter’s 94.44m in Lucerne last month.
Tonight the Olympic champion held the silver medal spot with 87.08m at the end of the first round, improved to 88.26m with his second effort but was knocked down to third in the same round when Jakub Vadlejch, the 2016 IAAF Diamond Trophy winner, nailed a lifetime best of 89.73m – a tantalising 16cm shy of Vetter’s lead.
Vetter held on to third place all of the way to the final round. Vadlejch’s Czech team-mate Petr Frydrych, a training partner under the direction of three-time world champion Zelezny, had been knocking on the door for the bronze medal, stringing together a series of 80m-plus throws: 84.31m, 80.48m, 82.94m, 87.93m. Then, when it mattered most, the 2009 European Under 23 silver medallist launched a lifetime best: 88.32m.
The deflated Rohler could only manage 86.40m. Zelezny and his Czechs could celebrate silver and bronze. And Vetter cried his joyful tears as he stepped on to the runway to deliver the final throw of the competition: 87.71m.
Then he bolted off to trackside to embrace Boris Obergfoll, a two-time bronze medallist at IAAF World Championships. He had not quite hit the heights of his 91.20m qualifying round throw, the best qualifying mark in the history of the championships, but then he did not need to.
“It was amazing for me,” said Vetter. “It was very emotional at the end of the competition because of the pressure in the last few weeks and days. But the main reason is because I am so thankful for the team around me.
“I changed three years ago to a new coach, Boris Obergfoll. He is the key to my success.
“After Thomas and Jakob were done, I was shaking until my last attempt because I had used all of my energy in the first two throws.
“Technically, they were not perfect. I thought I could throw farther. It does not matter how far you throw. I threw enough for a gold medal.”
Vadlejch reflected: "When my coach Jan Zelezny saw my throws, he was not satisfied and saw many mistakes. The main thing is that I managed to improve my PB. That was my main goal for tonight.
"Vetter was really the best so it is not a disappointment for me to be second. I was dreaming about this medal but now, it is a mixed feeling - happiness mixed with a bitter feeling that there were these 16cm missing for gold.
"But I will always remember this unforgettable atmosphere at the stadium where you cannot even hear what you are saying. Now, some more competitions and then I am getting ready for my wedding in October."
Frydrych was happy with his bronze. "I think I was lucky today,” he said. “I was still expecting Rohler to throw farther and to attack the podium. I was not sure until the very end and felt relieved.
"I am 29 and I still believe there is a lot in front of me, many good competitions and long throws. Today, it was not technically 100 per cent. But I knew that after so much disappointment in the past there was something big coming up for me."
It was of little consolation to Rohler that his 88.26m was the best ever throw never to earn a world championship medal – or that the quality of the competition continued all of the way down to eighth place, where Germany’s third man, Andreas Hoffman threw 83.98m, a record distance for that position.
In between, Finland’s 2007 world champion Tero Pitkamaki threw 86.94m for fifth, Ioannis Kiriazis 84.52m for sixth, and Trinidad’s Keshorn Walcott 84.48m for seventh in the stadium where he struck Olympic gold in 2012.
Simon Turnbull for the IAAF