Meet Max Dehning, javelin’s youngest member of the 90m club

Competing at the German Winter Throwing Championships in Halle, 19-year-old Max Dehning announced himself emphatically with a mammoth season opener of 90.20m.

Published : Mar 03, 2024 11:48 IST - 13 MINS READ

Max Dehning,Speerwerfen
Max Dehning,Speerwerfen | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Max Dehning,Speerwerfen | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The 2024 outdoor athletics season might have only just started but there’s a new kid on the block who’s raising eyebrows in the men’s javelin throw.

About a week ago, unless you were a track and field nerd, chances are the name Max Dehning probably wouldn’t have rung many bells. He was certainly considered a prospect, with a silver medal at the 2022 junior worlds, but at just 19-years-old -- javelin throwers tend to peak in their mid 20s -- with a personal best of 79.13m, the understanding was that Dehning was still a long way from the real deal.

No one’s ignoring him any longer. On Sunday, competing at the German Winter Throwing Championships in Halle, the teenager announced himself emphatically. With a mammoth season opener of 90.20m, Dehning launched himself into one of the most exclusive cliques in world athletics -- the 90m club in the men’s javelin throw (For perspective, more athletes have run the 100m faster than 9.85 seconds than have thrown the javelin over 90m). To add to the hype, Dehning became the youngest ever to cross the 90m mark -- beating three-time Olympic medallist Steve Backley who first crossed the milestone when he was 23. Dehning’s throw was incidentally a new junior world record – erasing by nearly 4 meters, the one set by reigning Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra back in 2016.

Dehning says he didn’t come into the competition expecting to do as well as he did. Indeed he is the only javelin thrower in history to have made a 90m throw before he made an 80m one – his 90.20m throw came in his very first attempt which he followed with a throw of 85.22m in his second attempt. “People are asking me what I ate before the competition but the truth is I just had the hotel buffet. I didn’t set myself any real goals before the competition. I just wanted to see where I was in terms of performance and whether the training was working,” he tells Sportstar. “I actually only realized (I had crossed 90m) when it was on the scoreboard. I realized when I threw it that it was a really long throw. But I didn’t expect this throw to fly 90 meters. I hadn’t really realized this result yet!,” he says.

A few days later, he’s still coming to grips with his achievement. “I think throwing 90 meters is something very special, something very magical... I can’t really comment on this throw at the moment, it’s taken my breath away. I think my life has been turned upside down because suddenly this makes me one of the best javelin throwers in the world,” he says.

Olympic prospect

Indeed amongst others things, the throw lifts him over Olympic Champion Neeraj and European champion Julian Webber – neither of whom have touched the 90m mark in their career so far. And while it’s still early in the season, Dehning-- who has now qualified for the Olympics and can now be counted as one of the contenders in Paris – insists he isn’t thinking that far ahead. “I’m not putting any pressure on myself! I will try to prove myself in the men’s field and achieve the best possible result. I’m not thinking about the fact (That I’m ahead of the other throwers). What worked for me in Halle was that I managed to stay relaxed in the competition and not put any pressure on myself. Technically, everything went well together after that,” he says.

“People are asking me what I ate before the competition but the truth is I just had the hotel buffet”Max Dehning

Should Dehning live up to the expectations many now will be placing on him, he will be in illustrious company. Germany has had no shortage of icons in the men’s javelin throw both in the past – think world record holder Uwe Hohn – as well as in recent years – Thomas Rohler was champion in 2016 and they they had another two throwers – Johannes Vetter and Andreas Hoffman – in the 90m club ahead of the Tokyo Games.

While Germany might hope Dehning brings the roof down at the Stade de France in a half a years time, Dehning’s equally comfortable building one himself. Having left school a year ago, he’ll often be. When he isn’t breaking records on the athletics field, Dehning says he’s most likely to be found putting together a roof. “Dad has his own carpentry and timber construction company. And my mom is also a construction technician. I’m also very interested in crafts and therefore like to spend my free time on the building site,” he says.

READ | Chasing 90m — Neeraj Chopra’s pursuit of the ultimate barrier in javelin throw

While Dehning hopes one day to follow his parents in the construction business, growing up in Leverkusen, he was also inspired by them to follow a passion for sports.

His parents were both athletes with his father Sascha Dehning playing handball at the club level. His sister Marie is also an international athlete – winning bronze in the heptathlon at the European Junior championships. “Sport has played an important role in our family from the very beginning. My father played handball at a very high level and my mother has always been involved in both athletics and swimming,” he says.

Handball to javelin

Dehning too started by taking after his father in handball, before switching to track and field. He competed in both the shot put and 400m before focussing on the javelin. “I would say myself that I am very good at the other disciplines in athletics and would generally like to try my hand at other disciplines. I am still very interested in handball, as I used to play it myself. Nevertheless, I was born to throw the javelin!!! I was influenced by the javelin from an early age. All I ever wanted to do was throw, throw, throw,” he says.

“I started throwing the baton as a little kid and then it was a smooth transition to javelin throwing. Starting with the 400-gram javelin and working up to the men’s weight of 800 grams. What fascinates me about javelin throwing is the forces that act on the human body. The flight characteristics of the javelin are also an indescribable feeling for me,” he says.

While Dehning is fascinated by the technique involved in the javelin throw, the fact that he almost appears custom made for the sport doesn’t hurt his prospects either. Standing 6’3” and weighing 108 kilos, he’s built in the manner of Johannes Vetter (although Vetter was a couple of centimeters and about 6 kilos lighter). Indeed the German’s weight room stats -- bench press of190kg, snatch lift of 135kg, pullover of 100kg, four rep squat of 180kg – dwarf most of his competitors (Neeraj Chopra for instance reportedly has a snatch lift in the 100kg range). “I would have to agree that my strongest attribute would definitely be in my power,” says Dehning.

Power game

But Dehning says he doesn’t just bank on raw power. “I know I’m one of the stronger guys but strength isn’t everything. Speed is very important in javelin throwing and one of the most important basics, as we live from speed. I’m very fast in the short sprints of upto 30 meters. I’m not very good longer than that but that’s enough for the javelin throw. At the same time, I think my technique is very strong. I think that’s also because I have the ability to stay calm. When I’m under pressure, I’m able to just focus on my technique,” he says.

Having got his first 90m throw under his belt, Dehning doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. “In the next few years, my goals are to become an Olympic champion and to celebrate more throws over 90 meters,” he says. Also on the horizon, is the 28-year-old world record of 98.48m set by Jan Zelezny. “I think anything is possible and the world record in the men’s category is definitely a realistic goal for the next few years. If my development continues as it has in recent years, we can look forward to more successful competitions,” he says.

For this year though he’s not putting too much pressure on himself. Aware how countryman Johannes Vetter threw over 90m a record seven times in 2021 before faltering where it mattered most in Tokyo, Dehning just wants to keep things simple this season. “My most important goal for 2024 is to stay healthy, the rest will take care of itself,” he says.

Indeed Dehning says he’s simply looking forward to rubbing shoulders with the elite of the sport in Paris. One athlete he particularly wants to test himself against is the reigning World and Olympic champion Neeraj. “I haven’t met Neeraj Chopra yet, but it would definitely be very cool if I could meet him,” says Dehning who uses the Nordic Valhalla javelin just as the Indian does. “I have the greatest respect for Neeraj and am already looking forward to the first competitions against him. I will give my best at the Olympics and I am looking forward to an exciting javelin final!,” he says.

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