Olympic Javelin Throwers Are Great Athletes, So Why Do They Deliberately Foul?


Aug. 4 2021, Published 11:11 a.m. ET

Jan Luis throwing the javelin
Source: Getty Images

Like many of the sports heavily covered during the Olympics, javelin throwing doesn't typically get much attention from sports fans. As a result, like many of the events that are part of track and field, it can be hard to totally follow for those who don't watch it regularly. Although the basic rules are quite simple (the person who throws the javelin the farthest wins), there are a few complications that viewers are confused by.

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Why do javelin throwers deliberately foul?

In general, javelin throwers compete by running up to a line and launching a javelin down a field. The farther their javelin goes, the better. Sometimes, though, javelin throwers intentionally disqualify themselves for reasons that seem confusing. The simplest way a thrower can do this is by stepping out through the front onto the field. This foul means that the throw doesn't count, and doesn't need to be measured.

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To those watching at home, this intentional disqualification seems silly, but as it turns out, there's a good reason that some athletes decide to do it. Athletes get several attempts to throw, and only their best throw will be counted. As a result, a thrower may step across the line and disqualify themselves if they know that their current throw is worse than throws they've already made. That way, it saves the officials time as they don't have to take an official measurement.

Throwers may also disqualify themselves if they know that their throw is well off of their personal best, or if they know that it won't be good enough to earn them a medal. In general, it's seen as a courtesy, and one that saves the officials from having to measure every throw even if those throws will have no impact on the outcome of the competition as a whole.

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Fouling intentionally makes less sense in the decathlon.

Although it may make sense to disqualify yourself in the individual javelin competition, it makes much less sense to do so in the decathlon. In the decathlon, javelin is just one of 10 events, and what matters most is your combined score after competing in all 10. As a result, any score in an event like the javelin is better than no score at all.

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Athletes may want to extend some courtesy to the officials, but they typically don't make those decisions at the expense of their chance to win a gold medal.

As track and field dominates coverage the late stages of the Tokyo Olympic Games, some much needed attention is being paid to field events that are usually secondary to the events on the track.

Javelin is just one of many events, which also include other throwing events and a wide range of jumps. The athleticism on display at these games comes in a wide range of forms, and it's worth acknowledging all of those forms, even if some of them appear to be flashier than others. Javelin throwers may not seem like they're doing anything that hard, but that's because most people have never tried to throw a javelin themselves.

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