Rather fittingly, what proved to be the greatest qualifying round in the 34-year history of the IAAF World Championships started with the bang of the best ever throw in qualifying.
Drawn in group A, Johannes Vetter threw down the gauntlet to his great German teammate and rival Thomas Rohler and the rest of the field with a monster opening effort of 91.20m.
The 24-year-old from Dresden, whose 94.44m effort in Lucerne on 11 July wrested second spot on the world all-time list from Rohler’s 93.30m in the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha in May, only needed to beat 83 metres to secure a place in Saturday’s final.
Wearing tights, despite the balmy conditions, Vetter looked like he was limbering up for a training ground throw but hurled his javelin out way beyond the yellow qualifying line and into Zelezny territory.
Vetter and Rohler might be some way off the 98.48m world record distance that Jan Zelezny set in Jena 21 years ago but Vetter’s 91.20m meant that the great Czech thrower no longer held the best qualifying distance at an IAAF World Championships.
That little landmark dated back to the 2001 championships in Edmonton, where Zelezny threw 90.76m in qualifying – just ahead of Vetter’s coach, Boris Henry, as he was at the time (now Boris Obergfoll, having taken his wife’s name after she won the women’s world title in Moscow in 2013).
Including qualifying rounds and finals, it was the fourth best ever throw in the 34-year history of the IAAF World Championships: behind Zelezny’s 92.80m gold medal throw in Edmonton, Finn Aki Parvianinen’s 91.31m in the Canadian city, and the 92.72m that won Kenya’s Julius Yego the title in Beijing in 2015.
“Qualifying with 91 metres… I can be pleased with that,” said Vetter, who finished tantalisingly close to a medal in fourth place in last year’s Olympic Games. “I cannot go into qualification only throwing 80 per cent. I did not have any tactics. I just gave it my all.
“Anything can happen on Saturday,” he added. “My first goal is a medal. I would be pleased with more than 90 metres. The world record is far away. One might think there are only four metres more to go, but between 94 and 98 metres, that is a really long way.
"I want Thomas Rohler and Andres Hoffmann to also be in the final and then I am dreaming of three medals for Germany.”
If nothing else, come Saturday’s final the outright championship record that Zelezny established in Edmonton, 92.80m, is likely to come under serious threat. Whether there will be a German 1-2-3, or even 1-2, also remains to be seen.
Rohler, the Olympic champion, and Hoffman both needed two attempts in group B to make the qualifying mark. Rohler’s 83.87m was only the eighth best of the combined pools; Hoffman’s 85.62m ranked him fifth.
Vetter aside, there were just four other automatic qualifiers from Vetter’s group: Finland’s 2007 world champion Tero Pitkamaki (85.97m), Qatar’s Ahmed Bader Magour (83.83m), defending champion Julius Yego from Kenya (83.57m) and Polish record-holder Marcin Krukowski (83.49m).
Having thrown 82.46m, Australia’s Commonwealth bronze medallist Hamish Peacock might have expected to have still made the top 12. Ditto India’s world U20 record-holder Neeraj Chopra, with 82.26m.
As it happened, as javelin after javelin rained down beyond the 83-metre mark in pool B, there were eight men from that group and 12 in total with the required qualifying mark before Chopra’s compatriot Davinder Singh made it a 13-man final with the final throw of the round, 84.22m.
That made Peacock’s 82.46m the farthest throw in World Championship history not to secure a final spot. The previous best had been 81.66m.
Apart from Hoffman and Rohler, the other five qualifiers from pool B were Petr Frydrych of the Czech Republic with a season’s best 86.22m, Trinidad’s 2012 Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott with 86.01m, Ioannis Kiriazis of Greece (84.60m), Czech Jakub Vadlejch (83.87m) and Estonia’s Magnus Kirt, whose 83.86m is the best ever mark for eighth place in any competition in history.
Well short of the qualifying frame was 2013 world champion Vitzslav Vesely from the Czech Republic, who managed only one valid throw: 75.50m.
Simon Turnbull for the IAAF