After the first year of the Diamond League I wrote some very simple suggestions to improve the league as a whole, such as a consistent day on the sports calendar or more head-to-head matchups. Track and Field News again wrote about the need for the latter point this month. But now it is time to talk about how the field events can be improved in the series.
Patrick Magyar is the most powerful track and field figure in Switzerland and one of the most connected worldwide. As the director of the Weltklasse Zurich meet and CEO for the recent European Championships, he helps guide the sport in Switzerland. He also is working on the international level as the vice chairman of the Diamond League. He puts together a good meet, I’ll give him that, but I must say I do not feel entirely safe if the future of the sport is in his hands. Speaking to the German magazine Leichtathletik last week, Magyar didn’t hold back his thoughts on the future of athletics:
Long qualifications, competition procedures, complicated events – how do we want to have athletics in future? Must all events be held? We cannot avoid discussions about deleting some elements.
This is not his first time saying this, as he questioned the future of the discus and walking events back in a 2010 interview. Michael Johnson has said the same. Discussion by others at a recent Euro Meeting conference was along these lines too. Magyar is right that we need to talk about how to grow the sport by improving its presentation. In some respects the sport is actually quite healthy. Thanks to the internet, now a fan is able to watch and follow track and field as never before. Track fans are more energized than ever. But it is also clear that the mainstream appeal of track and field is in decline. How do we bring that energy to the masses?
I don’t have the answers, but I know that Magyar’s idea to cut events is not the solution. What track and field needs is more stars like Usain Bolt and Mo Farah. No other major sport relies on so few stars. Making a star takes a combination of results, personality, and publicity. Athletes must bring the first two, and the sport has to help with the last one. The big meets in the sport are the chance for us to highlight the current stars and the budding stars, but too often the focus is only on just one or two people.This year Weltklasse did a great job of building on the European Championships to try and create a new local star in hurdler Kariem Hussein. In the first event of the televised portion of the meet he went out strong, led through most of the race, and ran a personal best. But much of the rest of the meet failed to deliver and reverted to trying to bank on old stars. The pre-meet publicity, for example, was focused on Usain Bolt and he didn’t even start. Without good storylines, viewers inevitably focused on the 100 meters which featured three former dopers and controversy about why a fourth was not invited. Meanwhile a thrilling javelin competition was going on at the same time and most people watching on television were not able to see young Thomas Röhler make a breakthrough. Or see the youngest Olympic javelin champion ever, Kershorn Walcott, break his national record to close in on Röhler. The mainstream public surely cannot name Röhler or Walcott, but this illustrates a problem in presentation, not a problem with their events. They are stars in the making in one of the sport’s most traditional events but no one gives them space to shine.
Obviously my perspective is biased towards the hammer throw. But rightfully so. There is nothing inherently unentertaining about the hammer throw, or any field event for that matter. If anything they are more exciting than that dull 100-meter race at Weltklasse. At the European Championships the battle between Kristzian Pars and Pawel Fajdek was a suspenseful competition that ended in a world lead and the high point of the day for many in the stadium. Anita Wlodarzcyk challenging the world record in a torrential downpour was just as impressive. As the IAAF put it, last week Fajdek even stole the show from Bolt in Poland where a 100m track and hammer ring were built at an indoor football stadium. The hammer was again the highlight in front of 50,000 fans at the ISTAF Berlin meet on Sunday as Anita Wlodarczyk threw a new world record. Even at the local level meets like the little Fränkisch-Crumbach hammer meet in Germany prove to me that the hammer can be appreciated by a mainstream audience. The hammer throw is currently marginalized, but our situation could be realized by any event if we start downsizing track and field.
I realize not every event can be conducted in one evening, and what we have now clearly is not working and has become a mess, as Toni Reavis thoughtfully pointed out last week. But that doesn’t mean we need to kick some events out of our sport. The quickest way to lose weight might be to chop your arm off, but that obviously defeats the normal purpose of losing weight. The better way is to lean down overall. It’s more work, but it’s healthier and will look better in the end. Plus it keeps the character of the sport intact. The diversity of events is what makes track and field so amazing and stars can emerge from any country, background, body type, or skill set. The European Athletics Permit meets show that even without all events at each meet, everyone can be included in the sport.
It’s clear that some change is needed, but so far its been in the wrong direction. For example, even though they have practically rid the sport of hammer, it certainly hasn’t helped the Diamond League become more entertaining. Magyar himself asked some good questions in another interview last week, such as whether it’s good that the long jump winner could be decided in the first round. That’s a great question and we need more of them. Losing more events, on the other hand, would just make things worse as it could be getting rid of the next athlete that can help this sport grow. These meets are our chance for the sport to pick its stars, but when the pool of athletes is already limited, then it is no wonder there are so few stars. Let’s have the discussion on how to grow the sport, but let’s also think outside the box.
Earlier in the week we began our training talk with Vésteinn Hafsteinsson. Hafsteinsson runs the Global Throwing team and was best known the personal coach of 2008 Olympic discus champion Gerd Kanter. The first two parts of our chat centered on training and technique. For this final part we look a little at the politics of track and field and a few issues that are keeping the throwing events from growing even further.
You can also join HMMR Media now to gain access to many more great training talks with elite coaches and throwers and a wealth of additional training information.
Part 3: The Current State of Throwing
Martin: Now for a non-training topic. In addition to being a coach you are also a manager and very involved in every aspect of the sport. How do you use the health of the throwing events now?
The IAAF Hammer Challenge will come to a close on Sunday with a stop at the Rieti Meeting in Italy. The women’s competition is all but decided as a late season surge of three straight competitions over 77 meters for Anita Wlodarczyk gives her an insurmountable 6.90-meter lead heading into Rieti. The men’s competition, on the other hand, couldn’t be much closer. The top two throwers are only separated by 6-centimeters. However a unique aspect of the IAAF Hammer Challenge means that the final competition might not count at all.
Two weeks ago the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene proved once again that, despite the fears of meet directors, the hammer throw can be included in the Diamond League without any problems. The Prefontaine Classic has regularly hosted the hammer throw, and this year the event also became an official stop of the IAAF Hammer Challenge, making it the first Diamond League meet to join the IAAF Hammer Challenge circuit. Unlike other track and field events, which are included in at least half of the Diamond League meets and are eligible for the season ending jackpot, the hammer throw has been excluded from the sport’s premier circuit. While the prize money offered to hammer throwers at the Prefontaine Classic still falls behind the other events, just being included in a Diamond League meet is a sign of progress for an event that is often been denied a seat at the table.
But all this just begs the question why the Prefontaine Classic the only one of the 14 Diamond League Meets to hold the hammer throw. The same thought crossed my mind on Saturday as I threw the hammer at a competition in the Stade Olympique de la Pontaise in Lausanne. If we could throw hammer then, why can’t we throw in July when the Diamond League comes to Lausanne? The Diamond League has cited “infrastructure” as the problem and Weltklasse Zurich meet director Patrick Magyar elaborated on that last year to say that the Diamond League stadiums just cannot handle the hammer throw. The damage to the grass is supposedly too much, and the cages required are too big.
Unfortunately the Diamond League officials have jaded memories. It is not just Eugene and Lausanne that are capable of hosting the hammer; almost every Diamond League stadium has held the hammer throw in the past decade. Below I compiled a quick history of the hammer throw at each Diamond League meet and Diamond League stadium. Of the fourteen meets, twelve have a strong hammer throwing history. It is time to get past the excuses and look at the facts: the hammer throw could be successfully included in the Diamond League and such an exciting event would add a lot to each meet.
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. Read more
The third season of the Diamond League has come to an end, and once again the hammer throwers have had to watch from the sidelines. As the only track and field athletes excluded from the Diamond League, hammer throwers have always protested the current state of affairs. Through the efforts of those like Kathrin Klaas, the movement has slowly gained more publicity. And, after three years, the Diamond League has still never given an official statement as to why the hammer throw has been excluded; the closest thing to that was a footnote to the initial press release stating that the hammer throw would be excluded for “infrastructure reasons”, whatever that means.
As time has gone on, Patrick Magyar, the outspoken director of the Weltklasse Zurich Diamond League meet, has let out some snippets of his views on the hammer throw. Magyar is a man we need to convince about the hammer throw since he not only runs the biggest Diamond League meet, but serves as vice chairman of the Diamond League and was CEO for the 2014 European Championships. Last year in an interview with the Basler Zeitung, Magyar said that the future of athletics should include less events, particularly the heavy throwing events since he does not feel they are as entertaining in a stadium. The hammer throw, for example, has fewer and fewer athletes so it makes less sense to include it in the big meetings. Swiss-Australian coach Jörg Probst has the full translation here. As I told Jörg, is it that the hammer should be excluded because it is not popular, or that the hammer is unpopular because it is so often excluded? As I documented in detail, the hammer throw has grown quickly in both popularity and participation once it started to be included in more meets in America. Maybe meets like the Diamond League are causing the problem instead of just reacting to the current trends in the sport.
In September of this year, Magyar spoke again and directly addressed the Klaas’ criticism in an interview with the German magazine Leichtathletik. The bad news is that he stated the hammer throw will not be in the Diamond League for 2013 or 2014. But on the other hand he provided the first ever explanation of what the “infrastructure” problems are (translation from German by myself and Jörg Probst):
Leichtathletik: The hammer throwers, led by Kathrin Klaas, have recently pushed very hard for the inclusion of their event in the Diamond League. Will this occur in 2013?
Magyar: No, and not in 2014 either.
Magyar: We had to take over the shot put from Brussels due to an international football match taking place there. The shot put was not approved because of the pitch. This demonstrates the problem. When a stadium belongs to the city, it gets difficult. Furthermore the heating under the grass is always getting closer to the ground. If it gets damaged, we start talking about repair costs in the six figures. On the other hand is the requirement for an extremely tall cage. This means the hammer throw has become an unfeasible event for a meet. In Zürich the hammer competition would have to be concluded before the stadium opens so that the cage can be dismantled.
Zurich has been an extremely strong supporter of the hammer throw. I train at a city-owned and -maintained facility. There we have the only facilities managers that have ever asked me what they can do to help me, rather than place limits on what I can do. Every Friday a three-person crew spends the whole day to repair our throwing field by replacing divots and keeping the field in great shape even though it is used exclusively for track and field. Our cage net has been repaired and replaced before it is even needed. They also installed a temporary net that we can throw into when there are conflicting training times. Rather than telling us not to train at those times, they developed and implemented this solution and have seen been coming up with ways to improve it before I could even give them feedback. They truly think of the athletes first.
It is true that the rise of heated pitches might pose a problem for the hammer throw. However the pipes in Zurich (and most stadiums) are not as close to the surface as many would make you think. I am not an expert on this topic, but at a depth of 27.5cm (11 inches), the piping should be safe from damage. Because the field is used for athletics, the heating is actually deeper than most fields. I have never seen a hammer sink half that far into the ground of a well-maintained field, either in a dry Zurich summer or even in the wettest of conditions. As the grounds crews in Zurich have already proven to me, they can repair anything, even a field that receives tens of thousands of throws a year. A half-hour competition should be no problem and should cause less damage than a soccer match played in heavy rain. In those cases, they often need to resod the field entirely. This is a risk that likely could be insured against and is obviously a risk Zurich is willing to take in 2014 since the hammer throw will take place at Letzigrund stadium for the European Championships and it would make sense that they should at least test the field before then with another hammer competition (it would be terrible for a pipe to burst mid-competition, create a lake or fountain in the middle of the stadium and delay the internationally televised event).
The cage is another issue mentioned by Magyar, but again I do not see a huge problem. The cage used for the women’s discus at this year’s Weltklasse Zurich is the same cage I use for hammer training and hammer competitions in Zurich without any problems. In fact I had to train for one week without a cage in August as they borrowed it from our training facility. It did not seem to hinder the meet too much this year as it was quickly taken down before live television coverage started. Even if a new cage is required, the cost would be a sliver of the multi-million dollar budget of his meet. And several other Diamond League facilities have hosted the hammer throw in the past few years already, thus proving they are able to do it (off the top of my head at least half of the the stadiums have hosted hammer since 2000, including Eugene, New York, Doha, Birmingham, London, Helsinki, and Stockholm). The Diamond League only includes each event at half of the meets, so even if a few facilities could not host it there is still a chance for the event.
As I’ve said many times, there would likely be less debate about the hammer throw if I or another Swiss thrower broke 80 meters. It is feasible to host the hammer, but the meets are not under enough pressure. The two Swiss diamond league meets are always looking for local stars to showcase and now there is no Swiss athlete among the world’s top 10. Organizers would go out of their way to accommodate a Swiss star. Even an emerging star such as young shot putter Gergori Ott was allowed to throw his junior implement against the world’s best shot putters in Zurich for the past two years. But this will not happen soon and none of the countries hosting a Diamond League meet have their top stars in the event, let alone an Olympic medalist or finalist. But creating this type of pressure will take a long time. What we can do now is continue to show everyone there is not a good reason to exclude the hammer throw and keep building support for its inclusion.
The shot put once again returned to the spotlight on Thursday at Zurich’s main train station. In front of thousands of fans, the shot putters put on a memorable show to kick off this year’s Weltklasse Zurich Diamond League meeting. Reese Hoffa continued his post-Olympic dominance and redemption tour with a convincing victory over Olympic champion Pawel Majewski and the rest of the world’s best throwers. The intensity was also high for the women’s competition. Cleopatra Borel was so focused on her celebration dance that she inadvertently fouled two throws by walking out the front of the ring mid-dance. But while the women were amped up, the competition itself lacked any compelling moments. The victor was clear from the start and most of the field posted mediocre results. Unfortunately, this is what shot putting may look like in a post-Ostapchuk world.
Kathrin Klass may be smaller than her competitors, but she certainly isn’t quieter. The two-time German Olympian is one of the most vocal advocates for the hammer throw and is leading an effort to get the hammer throw included in the Diamond League. Her recent writings have garnered the support of the German athletic federation. Klaas also is as aggressive in the ring as she is outside it, with a personal best of 75.48 meters (16th on the all-time world list) and a fourth place finish at the 2009 World Championships. While she is now clearly focused on London, she took time to answer a few questions in June about training and the current state of hammer throwing.
Martin: Recently you had to withdraw from the German championships after you fell and hit your head during a throw at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. Do you have any prognosis yet? Do you plan on still competing at the European Championships and being in top shape for London?
Kathrin: Thanks for asking. It has been a tough time since my accident in Eugene. First I thought I would still be able to train because I didn’t have any headaches but all of a sudden I started feeling dizzy when throwing and increasing speed during my four turns. I’ve been to four doctors and five physiotherapists now. It seems to be a complicated problem but I feel we are slowly getting there. Now I can lift and throw up to 60-70% of my normal speed. My plan is to throw at Europeans and of course at the Olympic Games. My federation wants me to prove my fitness on the upcoming Friday. If I pass the test I’m going to Helsinki next week.
London is still a ways away. I’m going to challenge myself, go all in and give the best I can. [Note: This interview took place just after the German championships in mid-June. Since then she placed fourth at the European Championships and just this week has been able to start training normally again.]
The international season starts up this weekend with the first leg of the IAAF Hammer Challenge in Kawasaki, Japan. Until the hammer throw is added to the Diamond League, the hammer challenge will remain the top circuit of throwing meets. And with so few competitive opportunities many of the best are jumping right in. The field in Kawasaki will feature five 80-meter throwers (see the full start list here).
By the end of the year, my wish list from last season was mostly fulfilled. On the eve of the 2012 season I’ve thought of the top 10 things I’m looking forward to this year. Feel free to share yours in the comments section below.
1 – A woman over 80 meters. This was high on my list last year and Betty Heidler came within two feet of the barrier in the earlier season. There were rumors that she threw over it in training during the summer, but it never materialized at a meet. A few women may be capable of hitting the mark (even my old training buddy Sultana Frizell threw her name in the mix with a 75 meter bomb in March), but Heidler has to be the frontrunner now. Not only has she thrown the furthest, but she is also motivated to improve even more after she only claimed silver at last year’s world championships.