From the sidelines, it seems simple.

But for Kelly Sotherton, her weakness in the discipline could be what stands between her and a medal.

Poor throws in the event have already seen her miss out on heptathlon medals at the 2005 World Championships and 2006 Europeans and cost her the chance of gold or silver at the Worlds last year.

And while reigning Olympic champion Carolina Kluft might be absent, Sotherton simply has to throw big here in Beijing to get close to the personal bests of rivals Lyudmila Blonska, Tatyana Chernova and Hyleas Fountain.

Last year at the Worlds, she managed a paltry 31.9m, which put her 32nd in the discipline in a field not much bigger.

By comparison, Lilli Schwarzkopf threw 54.44m - and while Sotherton will never be able to match that (all heptathletes have stronger and weaker disciplines), she needs to get close to her 2005 best to feature on the podium.

Kluft for instance, who went on take gold in Osaka, threw it 47.98m.

Seeking answers, I sat down with four-time European javelin champion and twice Olympic silver medallist Steve Backley, who had some fascinating tips for Sotherton (throwing from around midday UK time on Sunday as the heptathlon nears its climax).


The training

"If I were Kelly, I'd be eating, sleeping, breathing javelin-throwing," says Backley.

"Her javelin has actually dropped back about 10m since she set her personal best in 2005. If I was her coach, I'd ask her to throw javelins four or five times a week.

"They don't have to be hard throws. It's a feel-based sport, so it's all about getting that feeling of what makes a good throw.

"Pro golfers hit thousands of balls a day to get that feeling. If Kelly's not doing the equivalent, I'd want to know why."

The technical issues

"Hold a bag of sugar at arm's length. Now imagine throwing that at 70mph, and you get a rough idea of the forces required to throw a javelin.

"You now have to throw this bag of sugar, at 70mph, at exactly the right angle. If you're even a fraction of a degree out, a javelin will stall or nose-dive.

"Put your hand out of the window next time you're going down the motorway and make a javelin shape with your arm pointing forward.

"If you change the pitch even a tiny bit, you'll feel how your arm is forced up or down. That gives you a sense of the aerodynamics of a javelin."

The run-up

"You've got 30m of runway and you have to accelerate through that, starting with a jog and building up until, in the last few strides, you're doing six or seven metres per second.

"That's quick. It's the equivalent of a normal guy off the street sprinting flat out."

The throwing position

"You're sideways on at this point, because you've withdrawn the javelin and put your left foot so far forward that you're almost in the splits position," explains Backley.

"Then you stop suddenly - meaning you've got about 10 times your bodyweight going through your left foot. Kelly weights 66kg, so that's 660kg going through her left foot.

"That's the equivalent of jumping off an eight-foot wall and landing on one leg.

"And if you mis-time that, you can imagine the force that would shoot up your spine. Your fillings would fall out.

"But if you time it right and kill the force efficiently, you don't waste any energy of the energy you've built up- and that's the feeling of a good throw."

The throw itself

"You're asking your body to turn into the equivalent of a bow.

"From the tip of your right hand, which is in contact with the javelin, to the tip of your right big toe, you become a giant spring mechanism to catapult the javelin into the air.

"You pull the javelin through for as long as possible - power is force over time - and release it at 30 metres a second at the critical angle of attack and angle of incidence.

"If you're two degrees out with the angle of incidence, that's massive. You're way off. That's the equivalent of a slice in golf."

The release

"On the perfect throw, you don't feel anything," says Backley. "You just nail it - there's no wasted energy.

"It's effortless. You're left stopped on a sixpence, at the end of the runway, and the javelin is on its way.

"You know how fast you've released it. You know your speed across the floor, and your balance, so you have an automatic equation in your head that says - that was good.

"The last check is to see how it's flying. Sometimes there'll be a tiny thing you won't be aware of, and the wind might magnify that, and it dumps out of the sky."

The rest of the competition

"Kelly gets three attempts in the heptathlon.

"You're trying to minimise error, but you can over-compensate. There's massive error, even with the very top elite throwers.

"She should be permanently self-assessing, visualising the feeling of what she's trying to achieve.

"It's a strange event, event for elite javelin throwers - it's a very hard thing to teach somebody.

"Even I wouldn't confess to understanding it fully. It's something you never master - but you can have a lot of success trying."

Tom Fordyce is a BBC Sport journalist covering a wide range of events in Beijing. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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