An Illustrated History of Javelin

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The early days of Javelin throwing

Eric Lemming works out during the first Olympic javelin throw competition, in 1908. Lemming went on to earn the gold medal. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The origin of the javelin throw is obvious. The first throwers were primitive hunters seeking food. The first known competitive use of a javelin occurred in the ancient Greek Olympics, where the javelin throw was a part of the five-event pentathlon. The Greeks’ javelin included a thong attached to the cord grip. When the thrower gripped the javelin he placed two fingers in the thong, giving him greater control upon release. It is unclear, however, whether the Greeks threw the javelin for distance or accuracy.

How to Throw a Javelin

Swedes and Finns dominated the early years of modern Olympic javelin throwing, winning the first six gold medals. Eric Lemming of Sweden is pictured here during the initial Olympic javelin event in 1908. Lemming earned the gold medal that year, and then defended his title successfully in 1912.

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Women enter Olympic competition

Babe Didrikson at the 1932 Olympics. Getty Images

The multi-talented Babe Didrikson gets ready to throw during the first women's Olympic javelin competition, in 1932. Didrikson won the event with a throw measuring 43.68 meters (143 feet, 3 inches).

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Changing configurations

Miklos Nemeth (left) and Steve Backley. Backley was a successful thrower, using a Nemeth-designed javelin. Gray Mortimore/Getty Images

Javelin specifications were changed in recent decades for safety reasons when top throwers approached the 100-meter mark. Great Britain's Steve Backley (right, above) holds a "rough-tailed" javelin designed by 1976 Olympic gold medalist Miklos Nemeth of Hungary (left). Backley set a world record with Nemeth's javelin in 1990, but the mark was rescinded when the rough-tailed model was banned the following year. Backley went on to win two Olympic silver medals and one bronze.

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The Great One

Jan Zelezny throws during the 1996 Olympics. Simon Bruty/Allsport/Getty Images

Czech Jan Zelezny dominated javelin throwing for more than a decade. He won the silver medal at the 1988 Olympic Games and then earned three consecutive gold medals from 1992-2000. He's shown above during the 1996 Games in Atlanta. As of 2015, Zelezny holds javelin's modern world record of 98.48 meters (323 feet, 1 inch).

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Women's world record

Osleidys Menendez celebrates her world-record performance at the 2005 World Championships. Michael Steele/Getty Images

The scoreboard says it all during the 2005 World Championships. The "WR" stands for World Record. The numbers, 71.70, reveal how many meters the javelin traveled (that's 235 feet, 2 inches). The performer is Cuba's Osleidys Menendez, who also won the Olympic gold medal in 2004. Menendez' world mark has since been broken.

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Where javelin is now

Tero Pitkamaki throws during the 2007 World Championships. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Despite the technical constraints placed on the javelin - its center of gravity has been moved forward in recent years to reduce distances, for safety reasons - the premier men are again topping the 90-meter mark. Finland's Tero Pitkamaki, shown here during the 2007 World Championships, won the event with a throw measuring 90.33 meters.

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Spotakova triumphs

Barbora Spotakova in action at the 2008 Olympics. Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Barbora Spotakava, the gold medalist at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, set a javelin throw world record of 72.28 meters (237 feet, 1 inch) less than one month after the Beijing Olympics. She's pictured here at the 2008 Olympic Games.