Men's Javelin Throw World Records

Jan Zelezny set three javelin throw world records in the 1990s.
Jan Zelezny set three javelin throw world records in the 1990s. Michael Steele / Getty Images

The sport of javelin throwing dates to ancient Greek and Roman times, but since modern records have been kept, throwers from the Scandinavian countries have set more men’s javelin world records than athletes from any other region.

Pre-World War II

The record-setting began in 1912 when the IAAF ratified its initial men’s javelin throw world record. Sweden’s Eric Lemming was the first recognized record-holder after he threw the spear 62.32 meters (204 feet, 5 inches) in Stockholm, shortly after winning his second Olympic javelin gold medal. Once Lemming’s name was in the books, the IAAF didn’t have to change it for almost seven years, until Finland’s Jonni Myyra – another double Olympic gold medalist – threw 66.10/216-10, also in Stockholm, in 1912.

Swedes and Finns exchanged the title back and forth in the 1920s, beginning with Sweden’s Gunnar Lindstrom in 1924, and then Finland’s Eino Penttila in 1927 and Erik Lundqvist of Sweden in 1928. Lundqvist threw the first recorded 70-meter toss, reaching 71.01/232-11 just after he earned an Olympic gold medal. Matti Jarvinen of Finland, a future Olympic javelin champion, set four world records in 1930, topping out at 72.93/239-3. He continued his assault on the record book by extending his world mark once in 1932, three times in 1933, once in 1934 and once more in 1936, topping out at 77.23/253-4. Another Finn, Yrjo Nikkanen, broke the world mark twice in 1938, reaching 78.70/258-2 in a meet in Kotka, Finland.

Post-War Javelin Records

Nikkanen’s record held up for almost 15 years, and then it left Europe for the first time as American Bud Held cracked the 80-meter barrier in 1953 with a toss measuring 80.41/263-9. He improved the standard to 81.75/268-2 in 1955 before Soini Nikkinen briefly brought the record back to Finland with an 83.56/274-1 effort in June of 1956. Six days later, Poland’s Janusz Sidio broke Nikkinen’s record, and then Norway’s Egil Danielsen became the first man to set a javelin world record at the Olympics, taking the 1956 gold medal with a throw measuring 85.71/281-2.

The javelin record inched upward three times in the next eight years, as American Albert Cantello (1959), Italy’s Carlo Lievore (1961) and Norway’s Terje Pederson (1964) all advanced the mark, which reached 87.12/285-9. Pedersen then zoomed past the 90-meter barrier later in 1964, throwing the spear 91.72/300-11 in Oslo.

Janis Lusis of the Soviet Union nudged the standard upward just prior to winning the 1968 Olympic gold. Finland’s Jorma Kinnunen raised the mark to 92.70/304-1 the following year, but Lusis regained the record in 1972 with a throw measuring 93.80/307-8. West Germany’s Klaus Wolfermann, the 1972 Olympic champion, broke the world mark in 1973 and held it for three years before Hungary’s Miklos Nemeth set a new standard at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, reaching 94.58/310-3. Fellow Hungarian Ference Paragi advanced the record to 96.72/317-3 in 1980. Tom Petranoff became the third American to hold the world javelin record when he reached 99.72/327-2 in 1983, and then East Germany’s Uwe Hohn shattered the 100-meter line with a throw measuring 104.80/343-10 in 1984.

The New Javelin

Because the javelin was threatening to fly beyond typical throwing areas, and because too many spears were bouncing, rather than sticking point-first in the ground, the IAAF introduced a new javelin in 1986 that was more front-heavy and a bit less aerodynamic than the previous version. The javelin world record was then re-set, with the first recognized mark going to Klaus Tafelmeier of West Germany, with a toss measuring 85.74/281-3 during a meet in Italy. A young Czech thrower named Jan Zelezny hit the record books for the first time the following year, and his 87.66/287-7 effort survived for almost three years.

The world record was broken four times in 1990 – twice by Great Britain’s Steve Backley and once each by Zelezny and Patrik Boden of Sweden. Seppo Raty of Finland then beat the mark twice in 1991. Later in 1991, however, the IAAF banned the serrated tails added to some javelins the previous year, which made the spears more aerodynamic. All record-breaking throws made with serrated tails were wiped from the books, so the mark fell from Raty’s 96.96/318-1 to Backley’s 89.58/293-10. Backley improved the mark to 91.46/300-0 in 1992, but Zelezny took the record back with a throw measuring 95.54/313-5 in 1993. Zelezny improved the standard later in 1993, and then again in 1996 when he set the current (as of 2016) world record of 98.48/323-1. Zelezny was a month short of 30 years old when he set his final record, at a meet in Jena, Germany.