Professor MAEDA Masato holding a model of a javelin 

Javelins were at the center of an exhibition at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Sport Museum and Library in the National Stadium, Tokyo. The title of the exhibition, which was open from January to March this year, can be translated as “The science of athletic equipment: the quest for well-flying javelins.” Its impetus was when Professor MAEDA Masato of Kobe University’s Graduate School of Human Development and Environment, who specializes in sports biomechanics and sports technology theory, donated his collection of 120 javelins to the museum. And with the Paris Summer Olympics coming up this year, where Japanese javelin throwers are expected to perform very well, we asked Maeda, who has studied the javelin, about his research and the appeal of the sport.

What triggered your interest in javelins?

I started throwing javelin in my second year of high school when I joined the track and field team. I wasn’t involved in any club activities in my first year, but a teacher in charge of the team noticed how far I could throw a ball during a physical fitness test and invited me to try javelin throw. Throwing a javelin as a beginner is difficult and I couldn’t throw the javelin at first because it hit my body. With trial and error alongside with the teacher, I practiced and came in fourth in a local competition in Toyama Prefecture during my third year of high school.

When I entered university, I mainly participated in discus throw, but when I had the chance to compete in javelin throw at intercollegiate competitions, a judge told me, “You are best suited for javelin.” After that, I focused on javelin, and in my fourth year of college, I was able to set a new record for students from the Hokushin’etsu region at a regional competition. I continued to compete until my early thirties.

What made you choose javelin as your research subject?


Originally, I was aiming to be a health and physical education teacher, but around my third year of college, I began to think that I wanted to research javelin throwing more professionally, so I went on to graduate school. Then, a professor who had been an exchange student at a US university introduced me to a book titled “Biomechanics of the Javelin Throw.” It was written by a biomechanics researcher and contained various data on the flight of javelin, such as lift and drag forces. Although I was not proficient in English, I found this book intriguing and it captivated me.

If I had not encountered this book, I would not have pursued my research. The fact that the contents of the book overlapped with the direction of the research I was aiming for made me feel that I can make this my research subject. For my master’s thesis, I conducted a series of experiments on the flight of javelins, making them in various lengths.

There was one more important reason why I was able to continue my research. At that time, most research on sports was concerned with the athletes, such as physiology, but the equipment itself was not often studied and I was often asked why I did not study the athletes. However, after I was appointed as an assistant professor at Kobe University, a professor who took care of me pushed me, saying: “You can stick to javelins. Be the best there is when it comes to javelins.” I think these words also have led me to where I am today.

Frequently changing standards

Please tell us about the topic you have researched and focused on the most.

To put it simply, “What is a well-flying javelin?” Competition javelins have international standards, and details such as length, weight, material, and center of gravity are strictly defined. Under those rules, athletes seek javelins that fly well, and manufacturers continue to innovate, but if something flies too well, new restrictions are imposed. As a result of this repetitive process, the standards have been changed frequently.

In particular, when the rules regarding the center of gravity position and diameter were changed in 1986, the overall distances in the javelin throw worsened. Subsequently, overseas manufacturers introduced products with a rough surface on the handle to make them fly better. Theoretically, this is similar to the way golf balls fly better when they have dimples on the surface, and it became very popular. However, such structures were later banned, and it was stipulated that the surface pattern must be smooth.

The materials used have also changed over time. Wooden ones are no longer allowed, and the regulations state that they must be made of “metal or a similar material.” In recent years, in addition to single materials such as steel and duralumin, composite materials using carbon have increased. People tend to think that carbon composite javelins are harder and fly better, but this is not entirely true. They are very hard and do not flex, so they put a lot of strain on the athlete’s body. This can lead to elbow and shoulder injuries, making them difficult to use. For a while, it looked as if carbon composite javelins would become the mainstream, but that was not the case.

So, it’s necessary to consider the compatibility with the human body?

In fact, each athlete has their own feeling about which javelin flies best. There is no one “good” type everyone likes. It is just like baseball bats: different players prefer different types of bats. Even if it seems that there should be a bat that theoretically works best, the truth is that there are some aspects that cannot be quantified. It depends on the players’ senses and motivations. Therefore, “a javelin that flies well” really is “a javelin that works well for that person.”

Donating a whole collection that shows the historical development of javelins

The exhibition “The science of athletic equipment: the quest for well-flying javelins” was open from January to March, 2024 
(The Prince Chichibu Memorial Sport Museum and Library, Japan National Stadium, Tokyo) 

You donated your collection to the Prince Chichibu Memorial Sport Museum and Library this year, and about 100 of the 120 pieces were on display at the exhibition that was held until March.

As I mentioned earlier, javelins have changed over time. Nowadays, it is difficult to find wooden ones even if you want to see them. Therefore, if the ones in my collection should be disposed of, it would become difficult to get hold of an original and since I could not continue to maintain my collection of over 100 javelins forever as I do now, I was looking for a facility that would store them all together so that I could pass on their history to future generations.

Maeda with javelins displayed at the exhibition

I donated a collection of javelins from the 1980s to the recent past, including wooden ones that I made myself and ones which I cut up for research purposes. I would be happy if people could make use of this collection for their future research and other purposes.

I was involved in the planning of the exhibition, and it was an easy-to-understand introduction to the different materials used for different types of javelins, and the changes that have occurred due to changes in standards. The ones on display were in a variety of colors, and some people commented on how colorful they were.

I think the interest in the sport is growing, as some Japanese athletes are competing on the world stage. What is the best way to enjoy watching?

I believe the most engaging perspective is to watch from right behind the athlete. In baseball terms, this would be akin to the catcher’s perspective. When a top athlete throws a javelin, it stays in the air long, so you will wonder, “When is it going to fall?” For a throw of about 70 meters, the javelin is flying for about four seconds. During that time, the crowd, which is quiet at first, gradually becomes engulfed in cheers. I believe the best way to enjoy that kind of atmosphere is when you see it at the actual venue.


March 1985Graduated from the Faculty of Education, Kanazawa University
March 1987Completed the master’s program in health and physical education, Graduate School of Education, Kanazawa University
May 1988Research assistant, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Kobe University
October 1992Research assistant, Faculty of Human Development, Kobe University
March 1996Doctor of Philosophy, Kobe University
October 1999Assistant professor, Faculty of Human Development, Kobe University
April 2007Associate professor, Graduate School of Human Development and Environment, Kobe University
Mar 2010Professor, Graduate School of Human Development and Environment, Kobe University



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