ANiklas Kaul laughingly describes his unbroken play instinct as a “catastrophe”, which always breaks out of him when he sees a ball: he has to pick it up, bounce it, throw it and play around with it. “You can lock me up alone with a ball in a hall for two hours,” says the European decathlon champion: “I won’t get bored.”
Athletics is an extremely versatile sport and decathlon is the most varied form of activity – but balls are definitely not part of the canon of disciplines. Kaul’s ball sport imprint stems from his youth, when he also played handball alongside athletics. Left back, the king position for right-handers with a strong arm stroke – or center back, as a playmaker, depending.
At his home club, SG Saulheim near Mainz, Kaul played until he was 15, before the now 24-year-old had to choose a sport – and athletics at USC Mainz got the upper hand. A good choice, as is certain after his decathlon victories at World and European Championships at the latest. In both titles, he laid the foundation for gold with an outstanding javelin throw – 79.05 meters in 2019 in Doha, 76.05 meters a few weeks ago in Munich. These individual performances, which are astounding for an all-rounder, qualified him to take part in the javelin specialist competition at the Istaf in Berlin this Sunday.
“Niklas can throw over 80 meters there,” predicts the current throwing champion, who is considered the favorite in the invitational competition – and who followed a similar path as Kaul in his youth. Julian Weber, European champion in javelin throwing, like Kaul wears the jersey of USC Mainz – and also played handball in his youth at SG Saulheim in Rheinhessen. Back room on the left, only two age groups higher.
The duplication of the career leads to the suspicion that the old Saulheim throwing school is having an impact on the present day. “There are movement patterns that you can do,” says the 28-year-old Weber about the relationship between throwing handball and javelin. “I’ve already benefited from the 10,000 throws,” he estimates, although when throwing a backcourt shot at goal, the swing is undoubtedly much shorter than when throwing a javelin into the stadium – and the time frame is correspondingly tighter.
“If I keep swinging, the ball is gone,” says Kaul about the speed of action required in handball. The decathlete believes that his general feeling for throwing is extremely well developed thanks to his youthful experience in team sports with “variable throwing”: “I’m 100,000 throws ahead,” he says – only slightly exaggerating.
While athletics is in the Kaul family’s genes – both of Niklas’ parents were successful 400-meter hurdlers – it is handball for the Webers: Julian’s older brother even got promoted to the Bundesliga with the Eulen Ludwigshafen, his sister played second division. And he himself was even considered to be “with the greatest potential”, at least according to his father, which he comments on with the words: “I was really quite good.” At least the young Weber had the “toughest shot in the league”. In a challenge in the men’s premier league, which he got a taste of when he was young, he accelerated the handball, which weighs around 450 grams, from a standing start to 122 kilometers per hour.
He still benefits from this today: During a data analysis with the 800-gram spear this spring, its launch speed was measured at 30 meters per second, the equivalent of 108 kilometers per hour. And just as Kaul cannot leave a ball untouched, Weber always “must” throw sticks. He once “carved a spear” in the forest, he says with a smile, which he then happily threw in front of him on walks.
Before the competition in Weber’s adopted home of Berlin, he ranked sixth in the world list. 89.54 meters are noted for him, and he still has the missing half a meter to the “dream limit” on his wish list. If not in Berlin, then at the final of the Diamond League in Zurich next Thursday. “In general, I’m in the mood for the last two competitions,” says the European champion: “I’m not out of breath yet.”
Niklas Kaul, on the other hand, enters the special thrower competition as an unencumbered outsider and is curious to see whether he will be able to throw the javelin better without the usual stress of the decathlon – or whether he is missing something? By the way, Julian Weber keeps toying with the idea of starting handball again. Because what particularly appealed to him there, he cannot experience when throwing the javelin: the direct physical contact with the opponent when trying to assert oneself.