Training Talk With Juri Tamm (Part 2)

Earlier this week I posted the first part of my interview with two-time Olympic medalist Jüri Tamm. After talking about why hammer throw results have fallen off in the former Soviet nations and around the world, he proceeded to talk more about technique, talent identification in the Soviet Union, and his own training with his coach Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk. Come back later in the week to read the final part of our interview.

Part 1: The Decline of Soviet Dominance

Part 2: Technique, talent identification in the Soviet Union, and his own training with his coach Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk

Martin: You also mentioned that the technique is not as good today. What do you think of as good technique? If you look at the top throwers even in your day, the technique varied quite a bit between throwers like you, Sedykh, and Litvinov even though you all were training in the same system.

Jüri: It is easy. If you would like to throw far, you have to accelerate the hammer. And to accelerate the hammer you have to have two legs on the ground as much as possible. If you stay on one leg is less power than combined two legs. These are basic questions for all throwers.

All around us Bondarchuk was doing testing of the technique. What kind of exercises were best for each of us. I am not saying it was like rats or rabbits in a laboratory, but there are different types of muscles and different types of people so theoretically we can say it is a good exercise for these people, but we need to test it.

Bondarchuk told me after I finished competing I was nice to coach because I never questioned him. Sure I would ask why it was good, but I was ready to do experiments. It was the way we found motivation and we create our muscles. I remember, one time around 1991, I would take three throws in training with the 5-kilogram hammer and then take a throw with the 24-kilogram hammer just to disrupt the routine. I did this for three months and after that I picked up the 7-kilogram hammer again. It was a complete disaster. Bondarchuk said, “This is very good . . . now we know what not to do.” After that we always put the 7-kilogram before or after to keep the connection with it.

Martin: Is this type of approach gone now?

Jüri: There are many systems out there in Hungary, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine for example. Each of those systems was developed through experiments like this. But now I see people just copying the system without the experiments.

For example, I see Murofushi and I’m asking him why do you start the throw moving the hammer left, moving it right, walking around, and so on. For him it works, but I now see others copy that. They think that those things before the throw are more important than the things in the throw. If people always copy they will always be one year behind.

My father always said I was very slow in my throw. If I were throwing the same speed as Litvinov it would be 90 meters. It is like Bolt now, he is doing the same movements as the others, but he is much taller. But this was my way to have a result. Litvinov needed the speed. What is more important for me is that if you look at my results throughout my career I had good years and bad years. It was very easy to see how we took risks and tried new things. Of course 84 meters is a nice result, but I was ready to throw more. I was just not lucky to have perfect conditions when I was fit. For example, in Japan it was raining like a hurricane. I threw around 83.80 or 83.90 in this rain. Bondarchuk says that is one of the best days of my life but I had no luck. And afterwards I repeated it in Australia. I had almost 79 meters with the 8-kilogram in training there. This means that I was ready to throw 85 meters. Not the world record though. But we tried things and found what worked for me.

Martin: What was your favorite part about working with Bondarchuk?

Jüri: Every training he would bring something new. And he always explained why we did it and all of the risks. But, he would also say “If it works, nobody will find your hammer.” This was nice to hear.

Other things that were very important from Bondarchuk is that he did not only speak about the sport, but he also spoke about life. It is important to be balanced with sport and life. He always pushed us to read books, write about our trainings on paper, make graphs of our results.

Martin: Sounds familiar.

Jüri: This is not just important to help your training, but it is an education. You learn the process of analysis.

Martin: I heard from other throwers that when you started with Bondarchuk, some people did not think you were not as talented enough, but your work ethic convinced them that you could be good.

Jüri: I don’t know if it’s true or not. But I always answer this question with the words of Bondarchuk. “What is talent? Talent is the person that can develop longer than others. It is not the person who after two months can throw 60 meters.” I think this is a very good explanation. Adaptation is the biggest problem in our world. The body always wants to stay where it is at since that is more comfortable. The person that can keep developing is more talented.

Also, talent is composed of three major things: size, power, and coordination. But there are 20 other smaller components. All this together is “talent.” If you just look at speed or power, then someone with these two has talent. That’s okay, but if they go and dance and drink at the disco every night they will not develop.

Martin: Was the Soviet Union looking at all of these components when they were looking for young talents?

Jüri: No. Everyone could go and try the event if they could find the right coach. In the school I was lucky because our teacher of physical education had good ideas. Normally every student would try everything. After our 5th or 6th year he sent the big boys to the hammer and discus. He did not push us to run a few kilometers. We got to go to the weight room and we began to feel like normal persons. We were proud and happy. You need to training where you can see you are better and better. If you keep running kilometers and never win it is not fun. It is important that our teacher found a way to select athletes.

It is very easy to separate the psychology of sport. There is a theory that there are two or three types of people. There are people who like basketball and boxing. And there are others who like tennis, volleyball, or hammer. If you can distinguish and separate based on this you will also have results. At that time they did not look into all of these elements. Everyone needed to do some sport and you were lucky if your coach found you.

Tamm with coach Bondarchuk.

Martin: So you started throwing in school. When did you begin working with Bondarchuk?

Jüri: I was playing in the school, after I did wrestling for a few years and did not like this. In 1971, just before Bondarchuk won the Olympics, I began to throw and had some slides of him throwing. I started out okay: 55 meters with the 7.26-kilogram by age 18 and 63 meters with the 6-kilogram.

My decision was that I had to go to be the best if I wanted to be the best. It did not matter if it was in Kiev, Japan, or Palestine. I was lucky that Bondarchuk said I could train with him. I was 18 years old and from Scandanavia and was less developed that other boys that age. He said he saw something in my eyes; he saw someone who would like to do something. If I did my examinations and was accepted to the university, he said I could train with him. Then I stayed there, waiting and watching him until he told me, “You came here to throw hammer, now throw. Do you not know how to throw hammer?” So I started to throw and he began to give some feedback.

Martin: You mention you would have thrown better if you had better conditions, but was there anything you would have changed in your training?

Jüri: No. Even the difference between 84 and 85 is quite small. The best thing about Bondarchuk is that his training allowed me to train for a long time. From 1977 I was on the Soviet junior national team and I finished my career after the 1996 Olympics. Nearly 20 years in the sport is rare. The exercises we did were not extremely heavy or hard, so I never had any major injuries. We trained just the muscles we needed for throwing. But at the same time I was quite strong. I never did normal snatch, but with close-grip snatch I had 125 or 130-kilogram. Some other exercises were quite good. Then we did a lot of throwing too. A lot of throwing. There are only so many normal throw you can take. But I also did a lot of throws with kettlebells or balls, even more than Sedykh. In the weight throw in Finland I had over 25 meters. This was a world record. And I had the world record in the hammer throw too. It was for a very short time, something like 18 minutes, but it is history.

Part 3: Inspiration

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  1. […] and nurturing. The book did not go into detail about the talent identification programs and based on my conversations with others, it was less systematic than most people think. But the key point is that it existed and it helped […]

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