Since the IAAF Hammer Challenge was announced after the 2009 season the format has remained unchanged. That means that the flaws it had when it started still remained after its third season finished in September. Hammer throwers have been aware of the many problems, coaches have been aware, fans have been aware, and even the IAAF was aware. Over the past few weeks only people with the power to do anything quietly announced that several more meetings have been added to the series. This helps improve the series by bringing it up to 16 total meets and the World Championships. Not every meet will host both men and women, but the new schedule still almost doubles the number of competitions. Men will now have eleven chances to start and women ten. However while the changes solve two of the problems facing the Hammer Challenge, it falls far short of fixing the major issues confronting the circuit.
New Meets Help Fix Structural Problems With IAAF Hammer Challenge
The first two issues the Hammer Challenge began with were structural. The hammer challenge had too few meets and their scheduling was bad. Previously there were less than half a dozen meets for either men or women. The Hammer Challenge jackpot is structured to pay out a bonus to the top twelve athletes after adding up their best three results on the circuit. But athletes need three results to be ranked and that it has been difficult for the best athletes to get invited to three competitions in a year. Last season only seven men and seven women were able to get three results, leaving the rest of the jackpot unclaimed.
Related to this point is another structural problem: the timing of the meets was bad. Nearly all of the meets in previous years were in May or September, either before or after the heart of the international season. In order to try to get three starts, an athlete therefore had to try to impossibly maintain top form for nearly five months. To complicate matters, the geographic scheduling is best described as atrocious. In 2011, three of the six women’s competitions were scheduled within four days of each other on three different continents. The IAAF had simply chosen meets that were willing to host the hammer rather than putting together a more thoughtful plan that would both help athletes and also produce better results for the fans.
Thankfully both of these problems have been fixed with the new schedule. By adding additional meets throughout the year, athletes can better plan their seasons around the World Championships and also ensure they will get enough Hammer Challenge starts to qualify for the jackpot. But before I start praising the IAAF I have to be honest and say these problems should never have existed in the first place. No other international sporting circuit would put forth such a ludicrous schedule and format and then expect to be accepted with open arms as a replacement to something like the Diamond League.
Larger Issues Remain Unchanged
Oh, the Diamond League. The Hammer Challenge was originally intended to be a consolation circuit given to the hammer throwers since they had been the one event left out of the Diamond League. The circuit was supposed to help provide more exposure to the event and also help provide elite throwers with the chance to make a living from the sport. The Hammer Challenge failed on both of these points from the start and even with the newest changes it continues to fall short.
When you start to look at the meets that were added to the Hammer Challenge this year you begin to notice something: almost all of the competitions have regularly hosted the hammer throw in the past. The hammer is obviously always included at the World Championships. The Prefontaine Classic has regularly held the women’s hammer as it will again this year. The Athletics Bridge meet in Dubnica, Slovakia has long been a great hammer meet thanks to the efforts of meet director Alfonz Juck. The Karlstad Grand Prix has put the hammer on center stage in recent years with their throwing over a river event. As with other new meets, they would have hosted the hammer whether it was deemed a Hammer Challenge event or not. Simply adding the IAAF Hammer Challenge label does not create any more exposure or competitive opportunities for hammer throwers.
It also does little to add to the measly earnings of top hammer throwers. The winner of a Hammer Challenge event earns $2,500. While this may be more than the top prizes previously were at some of the smaller additions to the circuit like Dubnica or Karlstad, it still is not a large increase. The overall Hammer Challenge jackpot also stays the same. Perhaps the biggest benefit goes to the stragglers at each competition since the top eight finishers at each competition will at least get some prize money. However it could also have the opposite impact on the few elite throwers that are able to command an appearance fee. Meets may now decline to offer them anything since they need to start in order to be eligible for the jackpot.
Hopefully More Will Follow Example of First Diamond League Meet to Join Hammer Challenge
While this is a definite step to improve the state of affairs, the Hammer Challenge is still has a long ways to go before it starts to give the event the exposure it deserves. The hammer throw is a beautiful sport that fans repeatedly love if they are just given the chance to actually view it. Both rather than moving upstream and integrating the Hammer Challenge with the Diamond League, the IAAF has moved downstream to engulf competitions that were already strong supporters of the hammer throw. The one positive is that the Prefontaine Classic’s membership in the Hammer Challenge may prove as an example to other Diamond League meets that the hammer can fit in the Diamond League format and add value to the meet. With the Diamond League recently losing their title sponsor just weeks before the season starts, a fresh idea couldn’t hurt things.