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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. Feel free to leave a comment below about what you are looking forward to this season as a fan of the sport at any level.
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Regine

German National Throws Conference

Germany 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

The main training rings in Szombathely, Hungary.

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.

Coming from an environment where I was considered to have begun early when I picked up the hammer in my late teens, Szombathely was a real eye opener. But it was just the first leg on a trip that also looked into Soviet training methods. By the time I returned home the individuality and periodization of the Soviet system won me over. I immediately began to model my training on Bondarchuk’s teachings and have thought too little about Hungarian training since then.

That was until I heard Zsolt Nemeth’s presentation at the UK Hammer Workshop this month. As the son of the late the Hammer Pope, Nemeth now runs the Szombathely club which has 58 hammer throwers on its roster. His presentation was very similar to Gecsek’s seminar back in 2002. But since I have gained so much experience since then, I processed everything he said in a new way. When I first learned about Hungarian training it seemed to be very different than Soviet methods since I focused a lot on small peripheral aspects of training. But now that I have seen even more styles of training, the Soviet and Hungarian methods actually fall closer to each other on the spectrum of hammer training. Both programs spend the majority of time in the ring. Both programs utilize a large stable of special strength exercises. Both programs have a high overall volume. And both programs have consistently churned out results. While the periodization model still seems quite different, the structure of day-to-day training has many of the same elements.

I am not an expert on Hungarian training methods, but there is actually quite a bit of information available about Hungarian training online. Harold Connolly compiled much of it for his website nearly a decade ago. Below is an overview of all the materials I have indexed on the topic. Hopefully by looking through them you might also get some new ideas for training like I have.

The Training Center

Training Methods

Technique

Special Exercises

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UK Hammer Workshop

The Loughborough, England national training center.

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.
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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.

Sometimes hands can speak better than words.

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.
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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.
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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 event.

The Proposal

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.
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coaches

More on The Throwing Pope

coaches

Legendary coaches Pál Németh (L) and Anatoli Bondarchuk (R).

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

Movie Review: The Throwing Pope

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

Hammer throw coach Pál Németh, the subject of the documentary “A dobópápa.”


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.
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