It was meant to be Anderson Peters vs Neeraj Chopra. That was the headline clash within the men's javelin event at the Commonwealth Games, World Champion vs Olympic Champion. Chopra was injured and had to miss out but another South Asian picked up the javelin, threw down the gauntlet and eventually, after an enthralling battle with a couple of late twists, Pakistan's Arshad Nadeem claimed gold.
And as it turned out, Chopra was there, in the post-event conversation with the medallists. "I missed my friend Neeraj, of course!" Nadeem said with a laugh before wishing the Olympic champion a speedy recovery and hoping that they could go out and do battle yet again. "We're going to have a lot of fun in the next competition [between us]."
Peters spoke about just how much fun it was to have such good competition through the year: "For me, in all of javelin history, this is the best crop of throwers ever. We have now, what, seven guys [throwing] over 89m? That's crazy!"
The camaraderie among the top throwers isn't just words, and exists even in the heat of competition. When Nadeem had started cheering up the crowd ahead of his CWG-record-breaking fifth attempt, Peters had led the claps. When Nadeem's gold was sealed, it was Peters who hugged him first.
Arshad Nadeem's monster 90.18 throw that earned Pakistan their first track and field gold after 60 years ��
- ESPN India (@ESPNIndia) August 7, 2022
"I'm really happy for Nadeem," Peters said later. "Three PBs in back-to-back throws? That's such really good throwing. I'm really happy for Pakistan."
Nadeem became the first Pakistani to win a javelin throw gold in Commonwealth Games history. He's the first Pakistani to win a track and field event at the Games since 1962. And he did it in style, bettering his personal best thrice, the final time by almost four metres; setting a Games record; holding his nerve against the best thrower in the world at the moment. "I had had an injury right after the Tokyo Olympics and I'd only made my comeback recently, at the World Championships," Nadeem said. "When I threw 88 at first, I was happy, but when Peters threw it [further], I somehow felt that I had it in me [to throw even further], that I could do it. And look, by the grace of God, it happened"
Nadeem had set the early pace in the contest, leading comfortably in the first four rounds of throwing. His first throw had been a personal best at 86.81m. His third even better, at 88m flat. In all the while Peters had not crossed 82.74m. In fact, the closest anyone had come had been former world champion and CWG gold medalist, Julius Yego with his 85.70.
Then, on his fifth try, Peters threw 88.64m and took the lead. Game on.
Over to Nadeem. First, a bit about his throwing. Where you can sense the latent explosiveness of most elite javelin throwers - from Peters to Neeraj Chopra, the sense of a spring releasing coiled up energy is plainly evident - there's none of that with Nadeem. A short run up, a few steps taken at what looks a very moderate pace and he's at the throwing stage. No cross-step, no leap, no fall. Once at the release point, he releases the javelin with a simple fling and just stands there, frowning into the sky. He throws it like how you and I would a pebble over a pond. Almost as if defying physics, though, the javelin leaves his hand and goes and goes and goes. It's almost as if it's all in the pure power of his bull-like shoulders and arms.
This time, on throw 5, the javelin went and went and went... all the way to 90.18m. The first man from South Asia to ever hit the hallowed ninety-metre mark (Neeraj Chopra's closest has been 89.94m.) The gold position was his again. And along with it a new CWG record.
Stunned, Peters couldn't match up on his final attempt. The man from Grenada had had six 90m throws this year alone, including three in one of the all-time great world championship finals a fortnight ago. There was nothing he could do on the day, though, as Nadeem stepped up like never before.
Nadeem has now set his eyes on a bigger mark. "Now, the hope is that I can go for the world record [which stands at an incredible 98.48m, set by the great Jan Zelezny in 1996]," he said. Zelezny's mark has stood like a tantalising dream for athletes through the years. Germany's Johannes Vetter is the one who has come closest: 97.76m in 2020.
But first, it's time for celebration. "I was told that the whole country had been staying awake to watch me. That makes me so happy, so proud. Now 14th August [Pakistan's Independence Day] is coming and we can celebrate that together with this gold medal."