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Sultana said hello to the world again last week by dropping a bomb in California.

10 Reasons to Watch the Hammer in 2014

The month of May traditionally marks the start of the international season. The top North American throwers have already started to knock off the dust and the IAAF Hammer Challenge kicks off next weekend in Tokyo. Ready or not, the season is starting.

Some view this as a lost year as there is no World Championship or Olympics. For American athletes it could indeed be hard to find a challenge, but there is plenty to look forward to this year. As is my annual tradition now, here are ten of the things I am most looking forward to.

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German National Throws Conference

RegineGermany is the top throws country in the world. Other countries may have more depth, but Germany has developed an unmatched elite throws team. Despite being a fraction of the size of rivals like the United States and Russia, it is the only country in the world that has a legitimate medal contender in all eight throwing events.

This past weekend I travelled to the Kienbaum national training center outside of Berlin for the German federation’s annual throwing conference. The training center is already a heaven for throwers. Add in 100 energetic coaches and you start to see why the country has so much success. But as good as thing are, the Germans face the same problems every country does. There was much heated debate about how to get kids started in the sport earlier, retain them longer, and provide better support for elite athletes.

But this debate is also key to their success. Rather than being antagonistic, everyone was on the same page because they were working towards the same goal. That teamwork and structure forms the foundation of their success. Despite being the best they want to improve and learn from the best in Germany and around the world in order to do so.

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The main training rings in Szombathely, Hungary.

An Introduction to Hungarian Hammer Training

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 school kids throwing hammer every afternoon. After a while I wanted to see it for myself.

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UK Hammer Workshop

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).

For Bondarchuk, everything is simple.

The Universal Language of Throwers

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.

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Fall Training Update

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.

Olympic and world champion Primož Kozmus was turning into a great ambassador for the hammer throw until his unexpected retirement last October.

‘Saving the Hammer Throw’ Revisited

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.

Saving the Hammer Throw

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.

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More on The Throwing Pope

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 entire movie, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities Németh has to my coach, Anatoli Bondarhcuk. As perhaps the two most successful and legendary coaches in hammer throwing history, I guess it is not all that surprising that they have so much in common. Nevertheless, it is intriguing.

Hammer throw coach Pál Németh, the subject of the documentary A Dobópápa.

Movie Review: The Throwing Pope

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 knowledge, this is the first movie about hammer throwing. The hammer throw has made cameo appearances for comedic effect in some films. Most notably, Agatha Trunchbull, the evil school headmistress and former Olympic thrower in Roald Dahl’s Matilda, was shown loading a hammer into her car’s trunk in that film (see 5:00 mark here). More recently, Will Ferrell’s character in Kicking & Screaming was shown attempting and failing at the hammer throw in college. The hammer throw has also been a star on the small screen, playing a feature role in the iconic 1984 Apple commercial.