I started my international search for hammer throw enlightenment in the fall of 2004. My study abroad program in Vienna took me to the front door of Eastern Europe. After classes finished my first stop was hammer throwing mecca: Szombathely, Hungary. For the two years leading up to my visit I repeatedly heard about hammer throwing in Szombathely. First former European champion Tibor Gecsek came to America to put on a clinic in 2002. Then, in 2003, Harold Connolly visited a hammer seminar in Szombathely and came back sharing lots of video and stories with me. Then, in 2004, Harold arranged for two of the top US junior throwers to do a training camp in Szombathely (their journal can be read here). Before 2002 I had heard little about the small city. And now, everywhere I looked, people were talking about Hungarian training. But I could only hear so many stories about dozens of elementary schools kids throwing hammer every afternoon. After a while I wanted to see it for myself.
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This last weekend I was invited to present about training methods at the National Coach Development Programme Hammer Workshop in Loughborough, England. With the 2012 Olympics coming up in London, the country has been infused with cash and done a great job of using the resources wisely to develop coaching and facilities. Events like last weekend’s are commonplace, and Loughborough is putting the finishing touches on a beautiful covered throwing facility that will complement the indoor throwing facility they already have.
I was very impressed with the direction the hammer throw is heading in the UK. Last year the men’s discus became world class there, and the hammer throw is not far behind. The men’s hammer is deeper than ever, with four throwers over 72.45m this year. America, with a population five times as great, had just seven throwers over that distance. It will be a few years before they become world class, but most of the throwers are young and will continue to develop. The women’s hammer has an even younger and more accomplished group led by Sophie Hitchon (UK record holder at 69.59m, 2010 World Junior champion and 2011 European U23 bronze), Louisa James (58.10m as a 17 year old, 2011 World Youth champion), and Myra Perkins (61.94m as a junior in 2011).
If you want to be a successful hammer thrower, curiosity is a requirement. Language skills are not. I’ve traveled the world in search of hammer throw enlightenment. Some coaches speak English, some do not. But they all speak hammer throw, and that transcends any language.
When I tell people that I’m coached by Anatoliy Bondarhcuk, their first questions tend revolve around his level of English proficiency. His English is actually relatively good after six years of living in Canada, as are the multiple other languages he speaks. However, when he first arrived it was another story. His advice was broken into choppy three or four word sentences. Onlookers seemed perplexed that we understood him, and were even more perplexed that we instinctively replied to him with our own version of broken English. But his messages nevertheless came through clearly. Sometimes you don’t need any extra words to say “push entry more” or “terrible” or even “double excellent.” I still remember one of his first pearls of wisdom to me: “If hammer feel heavy, then you pull. If push, then hammer feel light in hand.” He couldn’t have said it better if his English were perfect.
Sometimes I forget that this site started as a way to update everyone on my training and results. It’s often hard to write about training this time of year since, frankly, it can get a bit monotonous. At least this winter I will have some results to post since I will be throwing outside rather the indoors.
Once again, my only break this “offseason” was for a few days of travel. As soon as I arrived back in North America last month, Dr. Bondarchuk put me on an active rest program. This meant that I completely stopped weight lifting, but have been doing some simple core exercises and maintaining a decent throwing volume of 75 to 210 throws each week with the 5- and 8-kilogram hammers. The rest has been perfect. Rather than losing a few meters by taking the entire month off, I have actually gained distance by allowing my body to rest while still keeping in contact with the hammer. On Saturday I threw a new personal best of 62.20-meters with the 8-kilogram hammer. During that training session, half of my throws were over my old personal best of 61.90-meters.
The great results have to be attributed to resting. My strength is likely down since I have not lifted anything heavier than a hammer in the last five weeks. My technique, is a bit of a mixed bag too. I am happier with the start of my throw, but as you can see in the video below my low point is drifting towards my left foot in the final turns and I am not able to accelerate the hammer when it matters the most. In any event, throwing a personal best is always a good sign, especially when the weather is cold, it is six months before the season starts, and I am without a coach watching me everyday. Once all of the factors line up, my results should press forward even more.
Last week’s post about Sándor Eckschmiedt’s proposal to save the hammer throw generated quite the buzz and a record number of visitors for this site. As I wrote in the post, Eckschmiedt wants to stop the hammer throw’s drift to the periphery of track and field by changing the weight and length. These moves would help make the event safer and also cut down the cost of the event. I was undecided about the plan after reading and thinking about it last week. While I could immediately see some of the troubles it might cause, I also knew something must be done to help the hammer throw. I solicited your input and got some great ideas in response.
In general, most of you disliked the idea. But, you seemed to dislike it for different reasons. Many thought that the weight and length changes were off. For instance, some said that if we are going to use a short/heavy hammer, why not just use the weight throw. Others, such as Wisconsin-Whitewater coach Dave Hahn, suggested minor changes such as making the diameter of the hammer ball bigger or shortening the current implement. Smaller changes like that would reduce the distance and be similar to the minor changes that were made to the javelin throw in 1986. A change to the diameter would also not be unprecedented since the once legal small diameter tungsten hammers have been disallowed since the 1970s. Norm Balke also added that he thought the ball should be both larger and perhaps softer, which would make it safer and also do less damage to turf.
Other readers were skeptical that the proposal would even help the event. As I pointed out last week, the issues facing the hammer throw are far from simple and changes to the implement probably aren’t enough to fix all the problems. Some commentators even went so far as to say that rather than helping the event, Eckschmiedt’s proposal would actually harm the event.
Hungarians know and love the hammer throw. The country is steeped in tradition and has produced four hammer throw gold medalists (third all-time behind the Soviet Union and America). Their state-owned television company has even produced a documentary on a notable hammer throwing coach. It came as no surprise when Hungary offered to host the hammer throw at the World Athletics Final from 2003 to 2005 after the infrastructure in Monaco was deemed unable to host the hammer. The challenge facing the event now is that many people, including myself, feel the event’s exclusion from top meets has put it on the periphery of track and field. And, yet again, it comes as no surprise that a Hungarian is one of the first to offer a possible solution to the problems facing our sport.
Sándor Eckschmiedt is more than just your average university professor. At one time, he was among the world’s best hammer throwers. Track and Field News ranked Eckschmiedt in the world top ten on four separate occasions: 1964, 1967, 1968, and 1972. He also made the Olympic final in both 1968 and 1972, placing a career-high fifth in 1968. But now he sits on the Faculty of Physical Education and Sports Sciences at Semmelweis University in Budapest. His most recent work has been to publish a proposal for saving the hammer throw. A copy of this report is available below.
In a follow up to this week’s review of the documentary A dobópápa (The Throwing Pope), I wanted to mention that director Ágnes Sós has been kind enough to put the English version of the movie on her site now. I also wanted to add a note about Coach Németh’s approach to coaching. Throughout the [...]
The last time I reviewed a movie I gave two thumbs up to Gladiator for my high school newspaper. Since it is not every day that I watch a movie about hammer throwing, I figured it was necessary that I review A dobópápa (The Throwing Pope), a 2007 documentary by director Ágnes Sós. To my [...]