I wanted to throw my hat in on the American Hammer discussion because I am happily a product of two seemingly opposing systems. John Smith and Martin are sharing good ideas. While we all agree on most topics, there are a few worth discussing further. What I have to say is meant for a broad audience, not just as a response to Coach Smith.
Coach John Smith posted his thought on what the US hammer throwing scene needs for success in an article last week entitled “USA Hammer Throwing Needs a USA Approach.” The name explains his main point. To implement this approach he suggests disregarding the established European development models in favor of an American one tailored to the fact that most American throwers begin throwing the hammer at a much older age. More weight training, the use of short heavy hammers, and a few other tools are his formula for success.
Lots of people emailed me to ask me my thoughts and I couldn’t agree more with the main point: each country needs their own approach just like each athlete needs their own approach. As Smith suggests we need to look at our current situation and see what makes it unique. And then we need to figure out how to work with that. But after doing that my conclusions are a little different than Smith’s.
Look at the American throwing scene and you could point to technique or training as holding it back from its potential. The reasons could have been listed as holding back American middle distance and distance runners 10 years ago. But then, without big changes on either front, Americans began to bridge the gap between them and the world’s best. The top American 1500 meter runner in 2003 was David Krummennacker at 3:35.15. In 2013 the top 10 Americans all ran faster. And this happened in other events too, along with medals and historic barriers falling on the track from the 800 to 10,000-meters for both men and women.
There was hardly a hangover after the London Olympics. With records, upsets, and lots of youth talent emerging, 2013 was a year for the history books. My men’s and women’s rankings took a look at the top performers, but there were many more moments to remember. Here is my list of the biggest hammer throwing stories of 2013.
In part one of our training talk with US hammer throwing legend Ed Burke we talked about how he started out in the event and developed into one of the top throwers in the world. After reaching the top of the sport and making his second Olympic team, Burke abruptly retired in 1968. But the retirement was not permanent and he came back to the sport and threw a personal best of 74.34 meters and made another Olympic team at the age of 44. Then, after retiring again, he came back two decades later to compete as a master’s athlete and set several world records.
Part two discusses why he left the sport and why it kept calling him back.
Martin: Both after the 1968 and 1984 Olympics you took extended breaks from the sport. What was the reason for retiring?
Ed: After 1968 I quit because I felt betrayed and downhearted. The head Mexican Olympic Hammer throw official did not know the rules. I expected to be on the podium. I had thrown medal throws the year before and that year. In 1967 I was ranked number two in the world with the furthest throw in the world by over a meter and had traveled all over Europe without a loss.
If you create a list of the best and most influential hammer throwers in American history, Ed Burke is at the top along with Harold Connolly, John Flanagan, and other greats. As a thrower, coach, and visionary he has had a lasting and continuing impact on all of track and field.
Our three-part training talk will look all these parts of Burke’s career, including the moment he is most well know for: carrying the American flag for the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984.
Finding the resources to become a successful thrower or coach is difficult. There is no doubt about it. If you assume that results will bring in the resources than you are headed on a path for disappointment. But there are some resources out there that can help. The Harold Connolly Youth Hammer Throw Grants are one, but there are a few others that I have seen help a variety of throwers and clubs over the past few years that are worth pointing out. If you have other suggestions, please add them in the comments below.
I wrote last month about how the career of legedary hammer thrower Harold Connolly coincided with the modernization of the sport. While progress slowed after he retired from throwing, he worked for another four decades to keep the momentum moving forward. Even now, three years after his death, his legacy is continuing that push via the successful USATF Foundation Harold Connolly Youth Hammer Throw Grants program he started back in 2005.
Since its inception, these grants have distributed over $32,000 to help cover specified training and competition expenses for 65 of the most promising youth hammer throwers in America. Looking back, these athletes have had some great success, especially over the past year. The success is first and foremost due to the hard work and dedication of each athlete over the past year, the goal of these grants is also to motivate and support these athletes and I think the amount of success by this group shows that this is working in that regard too.
When I visited Portland last month I met up with Jared Schuurmans for a training session. Schuurmans is one of the top discus throwers in the US. Schuurmans had a bit of success in college while attending small Doane College and competing at the NAIA level. After graduating he became a bit of journeyman before moving to Portland last year to work with Mac Wilkins. This past season proved to be his bets and most consistent as he improved by two and a half meters to 62.89 meters.
When we were talking about training and comparing our different approaches, one comment he made stuck with me. He said that everyone keeps saying telling him that the problem with American discus throwing is that throwers focus too much on strength, but most of the throwers he knew were like him and had just moderate strength in the weight room. I am as guilty as anyone of using this stereotype. After thinking about it I agree he is right; the old stereotypes do not apply like they once did.
At the beginning of 1964 young singer-songwriter Bob Dylan released what would be one of his most popular hits, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” The song came out during a tumultuous time around the world and these changes were not limited to politics or culture, they extended even to the hammer throw which was undergoing a rapid transformation. At the front of the sport throughout this period was one man: Harold Connolly.
Connolly passed away three years ago today and I have made it an annual ritual to dedicate this day to writing about him, his unique character, and his contributions to our sport (see here, here, and here). Connolly first picked up the hammer in 1952. Four years later he was the Olympic Champion and set his first of seven world records. Those records held until 1965, although he continued to compete at a high level through the 1968 Olympics and nearly made the 1972 team. When he started out in the event it was not far removed from the days of throwing without a cage. The 1956 Olympics was the first to use a concrete circle, rather than the dirt or grass circles used before which sometimes required spiked footwear. The sector was 90º wide. Cages were considered an optional safety feature, and even when they came into regular use they were so flimsy and small that they did little to protect anyone but the officials. Technique was atrocious and even the best throwers were hesitant to try out new training methods like weight lifting. Most importantly, the event had stagnated: the world record had increased just two meters in the 40 years prior to 1952.
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