A decade ago America women’s throwing was struggling. At the 2005 World Championships only one woman (Erin Gilreath) made a final. She placed ninth. America was only able to send two shot putters and one javelin thrower. But ten years later the picture is completely different. In the women’s shot put, for example, thirteen athletes have the world championships qualifying standard this year. In each and every event America not only has potential finalists, but medalists. What used to be one of the weak sports of American track and field has now become a strength. With the US Championships starting in one week it will be a great chance to showcase some of these new stars and the added depth across the country. Below is a bit more about the championship and an in depth look at each event. Check back this weekend we’ll also provide coverage of the men’s throwing events. Read more
Yesterday the IAAF has released the new standards for next year’s World Championships in Beijing. If you’re not yet aware, it was already made public that they wanted a standard that would fill roughly 75% of the field. Then if needed, they would fill in the rest of the fields from the world list. Personally, I think the standard should be 77m, but that’s beside the point.
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With a little more than a day until the shot put action kicks off, I finally was able to put the finishing touches of my men’s throws guide for the 2014 USATF Championships. The women’s guide I posted last week was fairly easy to prepare as is a clear favorites in all four throwing events. Not a single men’s throwing event, on the other hand, has a clear frontrunner. Even making a short list of who could possibly win is impossible in each event. But I’ve tried to narrow it down for you all. The only thing guaranteed is that there will be a surprise this week and it will be entertaining even if the throwing events are being relegated to outside the stadium.
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It’s less than a week until the US Championships begin in Sacramento. With no world championship to qualify for this year, some big names might be missing from other events. But for throwers it is business as usual. All of the top American throwers will be there. Even without a spot on Team USA up for grabs, they will be fighting for bragging rights, bonuses, and personal bests.
USATF will be streaming the meet online for free. You can watch it live online here.
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 thoughts 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 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.
What Makes America UniqueThe common conception of what leads to European dominance in the hammer is that they have huge talent pools. As Smith says “the real secret to their success was the 1000s of talented athletes.” America, by popular conception, has no one since the hammer isn’t an official high school event in most states. In fact the opposite is true.
There aren’t thousands of young throwers in Europe. The only country with close to that amount of youth throwers is America. America is arguably the strongest and deepest country in the world in the youth hammer. America will never have the hammer throw at every high school, but with 300 million citizens we don’t need that to succeed. The IAAF published my article on the resurgence of American youth hammer throwing in their journal New Studies in Athletics last year. The participating numbers and results have skyrocketed over the last two decades thanks to the hard work of many coaches. To give one statistic, America had 11 junior women break 54 meters in the hammer last year. That is more than double any other country. Traditional throwing powerhouses like Germany, Belarus, and Russia had just five each. Russia, the top women’s nation overall, had just two. While Hungary’s five athletes are higher up on the list, it is not like they are using the European model Smith describes to get there. There are just a few elite groups in Hungary that produce nearly all their throwers.
In addition, America is unique since it also has an even bigger pool of potential throwers from the college ranks. As Smith points out “it is up to the college coaches to identify good shot and discus athletes who might end up being better hammer throwers.” This is an added bonus that should make the hammer throwing scene even stronger. America’s last Olympic medalist, Lance Deal, came into the sport this way.
Creating the American Model
When creating a model for America it would be negligent to just copy any other country’s model. But it is just as negligent to create something from scratch without looking at what has made other models so successful. We should learn from those who have been successful, which in the hammer throw that often means looking abroad.
When Smith describes the European model it is hard to pin down what exactly he is talking about. This might be because there is no one European model. What most European models have in common is international success, something American systems haven’t proved they can produce yet. They also tend to have a big focus on throwing, a point Smith also acknowledges when he reiterated that “This event is all about time and reps.”
If there is an American model that should be created then I think it should be focused on throwing the hammer more, as opposed to lifting heavier and throwing short hammers (short hammers are a topic I’ve covered before, but to sum it up I’m not a big fan). With its youth talent alone, America should be able to compete with the world. What is holding us back is how that talent continues to develop in college and beyond since so many of our top youth throwers just evaporate as they reach college. Creating a development model for these athletes should be the first priority. Rather than increasing throwing volume when they get to college, most hammer throwers merely start lifting more. This will raise their results, but not take them to the highest level. More throwing will help them.
More throwing will be even more helpful for those that only throw the hammer for the first time when they get to college. These athletes are well-trained; they made the team because they were a good high school thrower and that requires good general strength levels. Therefore what is lacking is technique and experience. This can only be gained though thousands of throws. And with such a high volume other elements of training will have to be reduced a little. It might seem like a slow process to coach Smith, but as discus coach Vésteinn Hafsteinsson told me recently, the slowest process gives the fastest results. Time and time again this has worked all over the world and in its own iteration it can work in America too.
Throw Early and Often
As they say with voting, the best way to win is to throw early and often. Throwing creates throwers. And the later your begin, the more often you should be throwing to make up for it. The next step is to make sure that the throwing is done under the watchful eye of a knowledgable coach. But let’s just take things one step at a time: get out there and throw.
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.
1. Surprise Winners at the World Championships – Those outside of the hammer throwing world likely had never heard of Pawel Fajdek, the young Polish thrower. Insiders knew he was a rising star, but after fouling out in London he had yet to make his mark at a major championships. Krisztian Pars was undefeated and a clear favorite entering the world Championships, but Fajdek came out firing and led from start to finish with a new personal best of 81.97 meters. At just 24 years of age, this will be the fist of many World Championships medals for him.
Just like Pars, Betty Heidler entered the women’s competition undefeated but unlike Pars she failed to even make the finals (more on this below). As defending Olympic and World Champion, Tatyana Lysenko was hardly an outsider but was still an underdog. And for the third year in a row she turned that underdog role into gold.
2. Women Put on a Competition to Remember – Combined, the stellar men’s and women’s competitions made this year’s world championships the most exciting that I have ever seen. I risk overusing this phrase, but the women’s competition in particular was perhaps the best of all-time. I also said this after the London Olympic final when five women broke 76 meters and it took 74 meters just to place in the top eight. The depth was not as good this year, but the competition was better. Lysenko opened the competition with a bomb of 77.58 meters. Since Heidler didn’t make the final and Wlodarczyk opened up with just 70 meters, I thought this would secure the win. By Wlodarczyk slowly started to warm up improving to 74 meters in round two and then took the lead in round three with 77.79 meters. In round four, Lysenko responded with the second furthest throw ever of 78.80 meters. Wlodarczyk then entered the ring and watched her throw nearly surpass Lysenko again. While the throw ended up being a little shorter (78.46 meters), it was still enough to move Wlodarczyk to third on the all-time world list.
There were also lots of competition and lead changes for the other positions too. Zhang Wenxiu won bronze, but was only 1.42 meters ahead of sixth place finisher Yipsi Moreno. Five of the top six had season’s best. Three had personal bests. And two set national records. Even the battle to make the finals was close. Position seven through ten were separated by just 20 centimeters with the two Americans missing the finals by just inches.
3. Heidler’s Future in Question – World record holder Betty Heidler was having a great season until she fell apart at the World Championships. This left many people asking questions, but her actions since then have only generated more questions. Other than a mediocre performance at home in Berlin, she abruptly called her season to an end after the World Championships. After the season she had surgery on her left knee. She also uprooted from her longtime training base in Frankfurt to more back home to Berlin. Then the big shocker came after some strange comments in an interview last month, when she said “I will not start again at the World Championships.” She clarified that she does not intend to retire, just to forgo competing at the World Championships. That’s a strange comment and strategy in an era where the World Championships is one of the only chances for a hammer thrower to make money.
4. New American Record – The top American women were huddled around 72 meters for several years until Jessica Cosby finally broke through and set a new record last season. That opened the flood gates and Amanda Bingson shatter the record this season with a toss of 75.73 meters to dominate the US Championships. With two records in two years and a young crop of throwers, it looks like the breakthrough has just started. Bingson had a very strong season overall and placed 10th at the World Championships, just five inches away from the top eight.
5. Strong American Women – Entering last season the American record was 73.87 meters. This year five women were over 73 meters. Along with Bingson, Jeneva McCall threw 74.77 meters and was actually the top ranked American in my world rankings. Gwen Berry, who like McCall is just 24 years old, also threw nearly 74 meters. Veteran Amber Campbell also had strong season and set a new personal best to make the World Championship team. And Jessica Cosby was once again quite strong. It was unthinkable that an American would not make the national team with a throw of 72.39 meters at worlds, but that is just what happened to Cosby as she placed fourth.
Not only are the marks increasing, but the athletes are also moving up the world rankings. Based on the yearly performance list, five of the top 18 women in the world were Americans.
6. Winkler Improves the American High School Mark – While the American men have not yet seen , a sign of progress can been seen in the development of youth throwers across the country. Once a seldom contested event, the hammer throw results have taken off over the least few years. This year the national record was yet again bettered by New Yorker Rudy Winkler. Winkler’s best of 79.38 meters (260’05”) from July added five inches to former World Junior champion Conor McCullough’s mark from 2008. Winkler also became the third hammer thrower in the last eight years to be named the Track and Field News high school athlete of the year.
7. Gomez Puts South America on the Map – Argentinean Joaquín Gómez fouled out at the World Youth Championships earlier this summer, but he had redemption this month by setting a new world under-18 best with the 5-kilogram hammer. His throw of 85.38 meters added 12-centimeters to the old best by Ashraf Amgad Elseify set in 2011. This may not be the most impressive throw by a youth athlete ever (Elseify also threw 85.57-meters with the heavier 6-kilogram hammer as an under-18 athlete), but it is still the farthest 5-kilogram throw ever by a youth thrower.
South America has lagged behind other countries in the hammer, and Gómez’s results are a good sign that an 80-meter thrower might be on the continent’s horizon. Oceania and South America are the only two areas in the world that have not produced an 80 meter thrower at the senior level. And South America lags the furthest behind with an area record of just 76.42 meters. Oceania is at 79.29 meters.
8. Hungarian Girls Demolish Youth Record Books – Hungrian men have long been winning global medals, but the Szombathely training group run by Zsolt Nemeth now has the two most promising young women’s throwers in the world. Like Gómez, Réka Gyurátz and Helga Völgyi both surpassed the old world under-18 best. Gyurátz’s best of 76.04 meters with the 3-kilogram hammer added nearly three meters to the old mark. Völgyi also posted an impressive 74.38 meters and the easily won gold and silver at the World Youth Championships. Gyurátz then jumped up an age group and threw 65.01 meters with the 4-kilogram hammer to place second at the competitive European Junior Championships.
Combined the two throwers have 18 of the top 19 performances of all time in the under 18 category. But their records might not last for long. Their third teammate Zsófia Bácskay already hit 71.76 meters (fourth all-time) and has one more year in the age category.
9. Hammer Challenge Finally Expands – In previous years there were so few meets on the circuit that were grouped so closely together that part of the jackpot remained unpaid since many athletes could not compete in the minimum three competitions. This year the IAAF expanded the challenge to feature 11 men’s competitions and 10 women’s competitions. While this was a great change, it also fell short of fixing the IAAF Hammer Challenge. As I mentioned in an editorial this spring, this only fixed part of the problems. The overall prize money still is minuscule in comparison to the Diamond League and most of the “new” competitions already offered the hammer throw in previous seasons. But with one Diamond League competition officially becoming part of the challenge the change offers a distant hope that more will join in the future.
10. The UK Loses a Legend – On a more somber note the hammer throwing community lost a legend when Alan Bertram passed away in May. The British coach was a die hard advocate for the sport that left an impact wherever he was, like he did with the training groups he led in London and Scotland. When I visited Glasgow in October I heard many stories of his impact on developing the event there. Even in America I remember reading Bertram’s guide to the hammer throw when I was first trying to teach myself to throw. Like Harold Connolly in the US, Bertram was a unique character and the type of people we need more of in this sport. Athletics Weekly had a thoughtful obituary that is well worth the read.
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.
Part 2: The Comebacks
Martin: Both after the 1968 and 1984 Olympics you took extended breaks from the sport. What was the reason for retiring?
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:
But while that may have been a highlight of his career, part one of our talk focuses on how it all began 24 years earlier. By the time of the Los Angeles Olympics, Burke was 44 years old and the oldest member of the Olympic team. His first Olympic appearance came in 1964 where he placed seventh. By competing again 20 years later he became the first American to have an Olympic career spanning so long. During that time Track and Field News ranked him among the top four in the world and in 1967 he ranked second and produced the farthest throw in the world, a new American record that broke Harold Connolly’s longstanding mark.
While Burke retired after Los Angeles, he was far from finished. He founded and coached a successful youth training group in the 1980s and 1990s that produced Olympians Kevin McMahon and David Popejoy. And he started throwing again at age 65. Since then he has set many age-group world records in the past decade. However these are stories for later in our talk. To start with Burke recalls how he discovered the event and developed into a world class thrower.