The women’s lineup I previewed on Monday looks much the same as it did two years ago and today’s qualification showed the same players will be fighting it out. The men’s competition, on the other hand, features a fresh crop of athletes mixed in with some old familiar veterans. Highlighting it all will be a matchup I listed as the number one reason to watch the hammer in 2014: Pars vs. Fajdek. The Olympic champion Krisztian Pars will be making his fourth European Championship start while young 25-year old World Champion Pawel Fajdek will be making his debut. What looked like a great rivalry at the start of the season has only gotten better throughout the year.
Krisztian Pars (HUN)
Season Best/Personal Best: 82.49m (1st), Last EC/Best Finish: 1st
Pawel Fajdek (POL)
Season Best/Personal Best: 82.37m (2nd), Last EC/Best Finish: First Appearance
As said above, Pars might have the slight advantage when looking at the season so far, but Fajdek showed last year that this does not mean much. Heading into the World Championships Pars was the clear number one. But Fajdek unleashed a personal best to win convincingly. He’ll be looking find that type of peak again for another major title.
Marcel Lomnicky (SVK)
Season Best/Personal Best: 79.16m (3rd), Last EC/Best Finish: 11th
Libor Charfreitag, the champion from four years ago, will not be starting at this year’s edition. However Slovakia has another shot at a medal with young Marcel Lomnicky. Lomnicky has consistently improved since graduating from Virginia Tech and now finds himself in good position for his first international medal. Compared to his competitors his advantage is that he has thrown 77 to 79 meters at nearly every meet this year and finished on the podium at several IAAF Hammer Challenge events. Only once in eleven competitions has he been beaten by more than two Europeans this year.
Primoz Kozmus (SLO)
Season Best/Personal Best: 77.44m (8th), Last EC: Did not compete, Best Finish: 6th (2006)
As former World and Olympic champion, it surprising that Kozmus has never placed higher than sixth at the European Championship. But it has actually been eight years since he last competed. Kozmus has a very slow start to the season and competed sparingly, but is slowly finding form and threw 77.44 meters late in July. With his competitive experience and history of peaking at the right time, he is the biggest threat to Lomnicky’s medal chances.
Pavel Kryvitski (BLR)
Season Best: 79.21m (3rd), Personal Best: 80.67m, Last EC/Best Finish: 9th
Kryvitski is the top ranked Belorussian this year, but has faced trouble in qualification rounds at past major championships. But his last few international meets this year have produced 75 to 77 meter results, which would put him in a good position if replicated in Zurich.
Sergey Litvinov Jr. (RUS)
Season Best/Personal Best: 78.77m (5th), Last EC/Best Finish: First Appearance
Always a threat, Litvinov seemed to be on the right path with some great spring marks and superb wins at Fränkisch-Crumbach and the European Team Championships in June. But since that he has been a few meters down, and could be be a few meters less than required for a medal.
Serghei Marghiev (MDA)
Season Best/Personal Best: 78.27m (6th), Last EC/Best Finish: First Appearance
The youngest thrower in the field is also one of the biggest wildcards. Having just turned 22 this summer, Marghiev seems to have reached a new level. When he threw a personal best of 78 meters in Chi?in?u this spring, I didn’t think much of it. His top six marks all came from the Moldovan capital and his best mark outside the country was five meters less. But back to back wins over 76 meters at the European Team Championships lower division and Balkan Championships show he is now an international threat too.
Others to WatchThe rest of the field is quite bunched together and should be packed around 72 to 75 meters in qualifying, which is right around where the historic cut off to make finals is. This should make for an exciting qualification Thursday morning.
While many of the throwers I mentioned above have little European Championships experience, the opposite is the case for 41 year old Nicola Vizzoni of Italy and 38 year old Szymon Ziolkowski of Poland. Both will be competing at their sixth championship and both bring experience: Vizzoni won silver in 2010 and Ziolkowski bronze in 2012. While they may no longer be battling for the podium, their consistency and experience should earn them another spot in the finals.
Another name to look for further down the results is mine, Martin Bingisser. In case you haven’t been following this site, I will be making my major championships debut. Finals will require a whole new level, but a personal best and top 20 finish is a definite possibility.
The track in Zurich has gained the nickname piste magique, the magic track, for no small reason. The annual Weltklasse Zurich meet is know as the best one-day meet in the world for its enthusiastic sell-out crowds and more than 20 world records set in the stadium. With a new fast ring and the same energetic atmosphere, it could be the perfect atmosphere for another world record. The top female hammer throwers have been flirting with the 80-meter barrier for a while. Both the world leader and world record holder will be battling not only for gold this week, but also to be the first to break the landmark barrier. In any event, it should be one of the most exciting competitions of the meet. Qualifying takes place Wednesday morning, with the top 12 moving on to Friday’s finals. A live stream for the hammer will be available online in certain countries from Eurovision.
Anita Wlodarczyk (POL)
Season Best: 78.17m (1st), Personal Best: 78.46m (2014), Last EC/Best Finish: 1st
When defending Olympic and World Champion Tatyana Lysenko announced an early end to her season, what was a three-woman race for the European title suddenly became a two person race and Wlodarczyk became the clear favorite. The former world record holder was ranked first in the world last year and she is by far the most consistent of the world’s elite hammer throwers. This year she has competed only four times, but won three and is just under her personal best. She split her two matchups with her closest competitor Heidler, but as returning champion she will likely have more confidence and a good throw in the early rounds could secure her the win.
Betty Heidler (GER)
Season Best: 78.00m (2nd), Personal Best: 79.42m (2012), Last EC: 3rd, Best Finish: 1st (2010)
After a slow start to the year she seemed to find her groove with a world lead of 78 meters in June, but then at the German championships last month she again fell back below 70 meters. This was not the first time her inconsistency has shown up. Heidler won the European title in 2010, but it was the next edition where the problems first arose in a major way. At the 2012 European Championships she threw just 65 meters, a performance her coach described as “Psychoterror, Katastrophe, Kindergartenfehler.” Since then she has been quite inconsistent, winning an Olympic medal but then failing to make the finals at last year’s World Championships. Heidler has a big chance to win again, but it depends on which Heidler shows up on Wednesday. Wednesday’s qualifying round will tell a lot about her prospects.
Kathrin Klaas (GER)
Season Best: 74.62m (4th), Personal Best: 76.05m (2012), Last EC/Best Finish: 4th (2012)
After throwing her personal best in the Olympic final, Klaas started the next Olympic cycle fresh last year with a new coach. After a slow first year, it is starting to pay dividends as she has produced one of her most consistent season’s this year. She lost six times in six meets to her German rival Heidler last year, but in five matchups this year she has won three. She has also taken down other top European names and looks in good position to make the podium.
Martin Hrasnova (SVK)
Season Best: 75.27m (3rd), Personal Best: 76.90m (2009), Last EC/Best Finish: 2nd (2012)
After a down year last year, Hrasnova has returned to form with several strong performances this summer. She has secured wins against Orban and Bulgakova, split against Fiodorow, and lost several times to Klaas. She will likely have to beat Klaas to get on the podium, which will be difficult, but within her reach.
Anna Bulgakova (RUS)
Season Best: 74.16m (6th), Personal Best: 76.17m (2013), Last EC/Best Finish: 3rd (2012)
The fourth-ranked European from last season is surprisingly the sole Russian in the field. She started the season with a slow spring, but had a strong July and looks near the form that placed her fifth at last year’s World Championships and put her on the podium at the last European Championships.
Joanna Fiodorow (POL)
Season Best/Personal Best: 74.39m (5th), Last EC/Best Finish: First Appearance
At first it was unclear if Fiodorow was actually going to compete. She was not named to the official team from Poland, but she was included on the final entries list. But now that she is confirmed on the Polish team it is clear that she will be one of the top medal candidates. After a down year last year she has returned to the form that made her a 2012 Olympic finalist. So far in 2014 she has hit a new personal best, won the the European Cup Winter Throwing, and found consistency over 71-72 meters.
Others to Watch
Americans looking for a connection to the meet might look at some of the former NCAA stars competing. Hungary’s Eva Orban was an NCAA champion at the University of Southern California in 2008 and could place very high after making the World Championship final last summer. Sweden’s Ida Storm just finished her career as a multiple-time All American at UCLA and Nicole Lomnicka of Slovakia was the 2010 NCAA Champion while throwing for the University of Georgia. Lomnicka’s brother is a medal favorite in the men’s competition and if she qualifies for the finals it would be a rare instance of two siblings qualifying for the finals. This would be the first time to my knowledge in the hammer throw.
One of the youngest competitors at the entire meet will be participating in the women’s hammer throw: Reka Gyuratz. At just 18 years old, the young Hungarian is fresh off of a silver at the World Junior Championships. Last season she won the World Youth Championships and set a new world under-18 all-time best.
Another big name in the field is Aksana Miankova of Belarus, the 2008 Olympic champion. But her shape so far this season has shown no signs that she is ready to return to the podium.
Before the Olympics I looked at what it would take to make the Olympic finals. In the end, despite an A standard of 78 meters, it took a throw of 74.69 meters to make the cut. That may seem low, but it was right in line with the historic level. With the European Championships taking place in less than a month, I thought I would work with British statistician Ian Tempest to look at what it will likely take to make the finals in Zurich.
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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.
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.
Track and field and bobsled have ties that go back a long ways. The bobsled requires a fast and explosive start, something that sprinters, throwers, jumpers, and hurdlers all possess. I highlighted some of the track stars entered in the men’s bobsled earlier in the week. And while the women’s bobsled is a relatively new sport added to the Olympics in only 2002, it has also quickly developed a connection to athletics. This year the US team has a very strong contingent of track athletes on the women’s bobsled team. Former summer Olympians Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams have been making most of the headlines, but they are not alone. Five of the six women on the US team have track backgrounds. Brakemen Aja Evans is profiled along with Jones and Williams below, but USA 2 pilot Jamie Greubel also competed in the heptathlon for Cornell and USA 3 pilot Jazmine Fenlator was a thrower at Rider University. Overall track and field is the most popular background for athletes, with well over a third of competitors from all countries coming from the sport.
The women’s bobsled competition will take place Tuesday, February 18th and Wednesday, February 19th. Twenty sleds from 13 countries will be competing. Unlike the World Cup circuit, where results are decided after two runs, the Olympic champion is determined by adding up the results of four runs. Below are 11 of the women’s competitors that have already reached an international level in track and field, in a rough ranking of their success off the ice. With two world champions, three Olympic medalists, and four World Championship medalists, these are athletes at the highest level. And as I mentioned earlier, they are just a few of the track and field athletes that will be competing in Sochi.
Lauryn Williams (USA 2), World Rank: 3
Sprint sensation Lauryn Williams has a chance to be fifth athlete and third woman to win a medal at both the summer and winter Olympics. As a brakeman in USA 2, she enters the Olympics ranked third in the world. She has already paired with her pilot, Greubel, several times on the World Cup circuit this year. At the last top in Austria they won and they also finished second together earlier in the season. In the summer Olympics she struck silver in the 100 meters at age 20 back in 2004. The next season she was world champion. With a personal best of 10.88 seconds, she was also a two-time world champion in the 4×100-meter relay, world championship runner-up in the 100 meters, three-time Olympian, and four-time World Championships competitor. Most importantly, she has an Olympic gold medal after running in the prelims of the 4×100 meters at the 2012 Olympics.
Update: Team USA made some changes in their lineup and shifted Williams to the USA 1 sled with pilot Elena Myers. As Myers is currently ranked second in the world, this further improves her medal chances and could make her the first woman ever to win gold at both the summer and winter Olympics.
Jana Pittman (AUS), World Rank: 18
Pittman has a resume just as impressive as Williams, however her medals chances will be slim in Sochi as Australia is far from a bobsled powerhouse. Pittman is a two-time world champion in the 400-meter hurdles with a personal best of 53.22 seconds. She also has a best Olympic finish of fifth.
Lolo Jones (USA 3), World Rank: 7
While she has the most name recognition of anyone competing in the bobsled, she has just the third best track credentials of those that have switched over to sliding. Still, there is a reason everyone knows her name. With a personal best of 12.43 seconds in the hurdles, she is a two-time Olympian and two-time World Championships competitor. Indoors she was also a two-time world champion over the 60-meter hurdles. Her best Olympic finish was fourth at the London games, however in 2008 she was ranked first in the world by Track and Field News and was leading the Olympic final before stumbling at the end of the race. In Bobsled Jones was on the podium already this year with other pilots on the World Cup circuit, but her chances of repeating that are less in Sochi since she will be in USA 3 and pilot Jazmine Fenlator. Their best finish together on the World Cup circuit this year was seventh but in a close race anything is possible.
Hanna Mariën (BEL), World Rank: 10
Mariën was a 200 meter specialist and holds the Belgian 200 meter indoor record. Her outdoor personal bests in the sprints are 22.68 seconds and 11.41 seconds over the 100 meters. In addition to making the European Championships semifinals over 200 meters, she competed extensively on the Belgian relay squad, earning a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics, bronze at the 2007 World Championships, as well as numerous other international appearances.
Judith Vis (NED), World Rank: 9
As a former 100m hurdler and heptathlete, Vis won four national titles. She also also competed at the 2003 World Championships in the former event after posting a personal best of 13.05 seconds.
Aja Evans (USA 1), World Rank: 2
Evans never qualified for a World Championship of Olympic team, but she was a standout shot putter and sprinter at the University of Illinois. That combination showed her great combination of speed and power which got her on the USA 1 sled. He best results were in the shot put, where she competed for the US and won bronze at the North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) Championships. She was also a five-time NCAA All-American and had a best was 17.08 meters (56’0.5″). In the bobsled she has already been on the World Cup podium five times this season. She has also been in bobsled longer than Williams and Evans, which gives her a bit more experience. Another interesting fact is that her brother is seven-year NFL veteran lineman Fred Evans of the Minnesota Vikings.
Update: As mentioned above, Lauryn Williams was moved to the USA 1 sled. As a result, Evans was bumped down to USA 2. However her podium chances are not changed that much since USA 2 pilot Jamie Greubel is also ranked third in the world.
Rebekah Wilson (GBR), World Rank: 13
Wilson is quite young and only left athletics recently, but in 2010 she competed as a member of the UK sprint relay team at the 2010 World Junior Championships.
Andreea Grecu (ROU), World Rank: 26
Even younger than Wilson, Grecu competed in the 100 meters at the 2011 World Youth Championships.
Olga Stulneva (RUS 3), World Rank: 12
As I said earlier in the week, brakemen tend to bring the better athletic backgrounds to the table, but a few pilots have also had elite track careers. Competing under her maiden name, Fyodorova, the Russian driver Olga Stulneva was an Olympic and World Championship medalist in the 4×100 meter relay. With personal bests 11.21 seconds in the 100 meters and 23.19 seconds in the 200 meters, Stulneva was able to contribute to the Russian relay squad that finished second in the Athens Olympics and third at the 2005 World Championships. She also competed in the open 100 meters at the 2005 World Championships.
Nadezhda Sergeyeva (RUS), World Rank: 27
Sergeyeva was an impressive heptathlete before starting bobsled. She placed third at the 2009 European Under-23 Championships and had a best of 6118 points.
Elfje Willemsen (BEL), World Rank: 10
Another pilot from track and field is Willemsen. As a junior she was a two-time world junior finalist in the javelin in 2002 and 2004. She posted a best of 52.70 meters (172’10”) as a junior.
The Olympic spirit is once again in the air. Many track athletes often forget that the Olympics also take place when it is cold outside, but on Friday the 2014 Winter Olympics will officially kick off. Not all track athletes forget though, since some will actually be there compete.
John Candy’s character in the movie Cool Runnings was correct in his assessment that sprinters have natural talent for the bobsled. While the Jamacian team is ironically one of the few sleds qualified for the Olympics without a track and field athlete on board, nearly every other country features a sprinter, thrower, or decathlete. And with sixty sleds from 22 countries competing in two events, that means a lot of track and field athletes are in Sochi.
Below are the those with the most success and international experience in the sport. This includes former World Championships medalist, Olympians, and age-group standouts. But many more athletes have backgrounds in the sport that did not make my list. For example, Beat Hefti, the Swiss pilot currently ranked second in the world, was never a track and field specialist but dabbled in athletics as a secondary sport and has dropped a 6.70 seconds over 60 meters. The time becomes even more impressive once you learn that his name is no misnomer: he weighs nearly 250 pounds. And many others have produced good times in the sprints or field events. Here are the best of the men, with statistics provided by the indispensible Tilatopaja Oy. Read the profiles of the the top female track stars competing in the bobsled here.
Joel Fearon (GBR 1, 4-Man), World Rank: 12th
Sprinters are represented more than any other event group and the fastest man in the field is Joel Fearon. You may not recognize Fearon’s name since he had his big breakthrough only last season when he posted a 10.10 second time over 100 meters. But after false starting in the semifinals at the UK Championships he was not able to secure a spot at the World Championships. He has made the national team in the past and competed over 60 meters at the 2011 European Indoor Championships. He will be teamed with John James Jackson, a veteran driver. Together they just placed fourth at the last World Cup event, but many of the top sleds were absent. But he has a good shot at a top 10 finish in Sochi.
Craig Pickering (GBR 1, 2-Man; GBR 2, 4-Man), World Rank: 20th 4-Man and 29th 2-Man
Another Brit is the most successful track athlete in the field. With a personal best of 10.14 seconds in the 100 meters, Beijing Olympian Craig Pickering switched to the bobsled a little more than a year ago. He left behind a great record, including World Championship bronze in the 4×100 meter relay at the 2007 World Championships, silver at the 2007 European Indoor Championships over 60 meters. He was the 100 meter World Youth bronze medalist back in 2003 and
won European U23 gold with the UK relay team in 2007.
Update: Pickering was forced to withdraw due to injury.
Bryan Barnett (CAN 2, 2-Man; CAN 3, 4-Man), World Rank: 10th in both 4-Man and 2-Man
Barnett is one of a few sprinters in the Canadian sleds. With personal bests of 10.22 seconds in the 100 meters and 20.31 seconds in the 200 meters his best individual result was making the World Championships semifinals in 2007. He had even more success in the 4×100 meter relay, where he competed at three World Championships and won silver at the Pan American Games.
Neville Wright (CAN 2, 4-Man), World Rank: 9th
On the track Wright had a personal best of 10.30 seconds. He competed at the 2007 World Championships on the Canadian 4x100m meter relay team. That same season he won bronze at the World University Games. Wright is teamed with driver Lyndon Rush, who won bronze in the 4-man event at the last Olympics. The team has been less consistent this season, but just placed third in the final World Cup last month.
Hisashi Miyazaki (JPN 1, 2-Man and 4-Man), World Rank: 25th 4-Man and 28th 2-Man
Miyazaki is one of the top Japanese sprinters. As a World Championship competitor in the 200 meters, he had a best of 20.53 seconds and also 10.28 seconds over the shorter distance. At 2009 Worlds he was also on the sixth place 4×100-meter relay squad.
Sebastien Gattuso (MON 1, 2-Man), World Rank: 24th
There are faster sprinters in the field that are not listed here, but veteran Gattuso was able to compete at the World Championships since he hails from Monaco. What is quite impressive is that his best of 10.53 seconds over 100 meters came at the age of 37.
Marko Hübenbecker (GER 1, 4-Man; GER 3, 2-Man), World Rank: 1st 4-Man and 11th 2-Man
The start is as much about power and explosiveness as it is about speed since the long 4-man sled weighs nearly 600 pounds empty. Throwers, therefore, also have a strong presence in the sport and the Germans use a few of them. Hübenbecker has one of the best background and also is the best medal threat among former track and field athletes. He competed in the World Youth Championships in the shot put back in 2003. After throwing the light shot put 19.03 meters he eventually improved to over 18 meters with the senior shot put as a young thrower. His sled is also the top ranked in the world for the 4-man event. Together with pilot Maximilian Arndt Hübenbecker already won the World Championships last summer.
Alexander Rödiger (GER 1, 4-Man), World Rank: 1st
Another former thrower for Germany is Alexander Rödiger. He competed at the World Junior Championships in the shot put back in 2004 with a personal best of 18.92 meters with the 6-kilogram shot put. Like Hübenbecker, he is on the strong Germany 1 sled that is one of the favorites. Unlike Hübenbecker, Rödiger will only be competing in the 4-man event.
Janis Strenga (LAT 1, 4-Man), World Rank: 7th
Strenga will be pushing for the strong Latvian sled driven by Oskars Melbardis. The Latvians are known for strong starts and won the recent St. Mortiz World Cup event. Strenga is a former javelin thrower. He competed at the World Junior Championships and had an impressive best of 71.96 meters as a junior.
William Frullani (ITA 1, 4-Man), World Rank: 17th
Another popular background is in the decathlon. Frullani placed ninth at the European Championships in the event and had a best of 7984 points. Indoors he placed even higher with a sixth place at the 2009 European Indoor Championships. He also claimed bronze at the European Under-23 Championships in 2001.
Thorsten Margis (GER 3, 4-Man), World Rank: 8th
Margis placed fourth at the World Junior Champions in the decathlon with a best of 7555 points. He eventually hit 7707 points with the senior implements.
Edwin Van Calker (NED 1, 2-Man and 4-Man), World Rank: 14th 4-Man and 26th 2-Man
The crewman end to bring the better athletic backgrounds to the table than pilots, but one of the top pilots is Edwin Van Calker. Calker placed fifth at the World Junior Championships way back in 1998. As a junior he hit 7089 points back when they used senior implements at that age.
The one thing the men’s hammer throw final on Monday taught us was that anything can happen in the hammer throw. Krisztián Pars was the clear favorite and none of the leading athletics publications picked Pawel Fajdek to win a medal, let alone win gold. But the young Polish thrower lead the competition from start to finish and his dominance never looked in doubt. In hindsight, the result wasn’t a complete surprise. As I noted in my preview, the top ten throwers all had a season best within two meters of Pars which left him vulnerable.
With the men’s competition over, the women now take center stage and once again anything can happen. The women’s hammer throw is not as deep as the men, but the top five entrants are all within two meters of each other creating a similar situation to the men’s competition. Added to this is the unpredictability of the event. Tatyana Lysenko entered both the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics having suffered significant losses at the hands of her rivals, but both times overcame the underdog role to win gold. Predicting this year’s winner is equally difficult. And, as is always the case when the top women come together, the world record will once again be under threat. When all these factors come together the women’s competition will likely be even more exciting than the thrilling men’s final.