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Everyone agrees Pars (center) is the favorite. But everyone has different picks for the podium this year.

2013 World Championships Preview: Men’s Hammer Throw

Everyone agrees Pars (center) is the favorite. But everyone has different picks for the podium this year.

Everyone agrees Pars (center) is the favorite. But everyone has different picks for the podium this year.

As usual, the hammer throw will be starting off the action at this year’s world championships. The men’s qualifying round will take place on Saturday afternoon, where 29 athletes will battle to make it on to Monday’s 12 person final. Coming off of a dominant Olympic title, Krisztián Pars is the name to watch. On the one hand it might appear like he will have things easier this year since, as is expected after an Olympic year, the level of hammer throwing has receded slightly. This year saw just 11 throwers over 79 meters and 36 over 76 meters, compared with 16 and 47 throwers respectively in 2012. But on the other hand Pars is barely ahead of the competition. All of the top ten entrants have a season’s best within two meters of Pars. In other words, the competition should be close and the pressure will still be on Pars.

If you are interested in an overview of the other throwing events, check out the House Of Run Podcast where I previewed all of the throwing events a few weeks ago. Jesse Squire of the Daily Relay has also put togehter a short overview of the men’s throwing events.
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Coaching Roundtable: Julia Ratcliffe Video Analysis

Julia_Ratcliffe_IAAF_World_Youth_Ch_2009

Back in February I launched a new series on this site, the Coaching Roundtable, by inviting three of the world’s best coaches to analyze the technique of top US thrower Chris Cralle. Now it’s back for the second edition with an up and coming international thrower. Once again the Coaching Roundtable series brings together top coaches from the around the world to give their different perspectives on the same topic. Subjects for the coaching roundtable are chosen exclusively among members of this site. I plan on doing a rotational shot put roundtable in the near future as well as another men’s hammer roundtable, so if you are a member looking for an analysis of yourself or your athlete , please contact me.

The Subject

Julia Ratcliffe was born and raised in New Zealand and started hammer throwing under the guidance of her father, Dave Ratcliffe. On her 19th birthday last year Ratcliffe threw a senior national record and Oceania junior record of 67.00 meters at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona. Her mark earned her fourth place and was the best mark ever to miss the podium at the meet. This September she enrolled at Princeton University in America where she has continued her success. In April she broke her national record again with a throw of 68.80 meters and was one of the top throwers in the NCAA as just a freshman this season.

The Coaches

Derek Evely served most recently as Director of the UK Athletics Loughborough National Performance Centre. In addition, he has guided several hammer throwers including Sophie Hitchon, who at age 21 set a national record to become the youngest Olympic finalist last summer. Evely is strongly influenced by Anatoliy Bondarchuk, who he recruited to and worked alongside with in Kamloops, Canada.

Don Babbitt is of the most successful throwing coaches in the world over the past decade. Coach Babbitt works as the throwing coach at the University of Georgia for sixteen years in which his athletes captured 11 NCAA titles, and 55 All-American certificates. Chris Hill (javelin) and Jenny Dahlgren (hammer) also set NCAA records under his guidance. In addition, he has worked with athletes like Adam Nelson (shot put), Reese Hoffa (shot put), Breaux Greer (javelin), Jason Dunks (discus), Brad Snyder (shot put), Andras Haklits (hammer) and many other international champions.

Sergej Litvinov Jr. is one of the top active hammer throwers in the world with a personal best of 80.98 meters. He placed fifth at 2009 World Championships and now competes for Russia. He is coached by his father, Sergey Litvinov, who was a world record holder, two-time world champion, Olympic champion, and Olympic silver medalist. He still ranks third all-time with his personal best of 86.04 meters.

The Video

The Feedback

Derek Evely

Observations

Overall this girl has exemplary technique. Her patience is good, she has superior range and length on the ball, the countering is effective and time in double support is good. However, in the videos presented there is one common fault that is apparent.

In looking at all three throws presented you will see that her path of travel across the circle is quite pronounced towards the right cage door. as opposed to the preferred path of travel which is straight down the centre of the circle. If this were a one-off then it wouldn’t be a concern but when you see this consistently then it indicates an orientation issue and needs to be dealt with. If you look at the low point on each of the presented throws it is far to the right of her right foot – in the video of the 68.80-meter throw the low point is actually in line with the corner of the concrete slab and the corresponding high point is nearly at a 3′ o clock position (12 0′ clock being the direction of the sector, 0 at back of the circle). This, in my opinion, is too far to the right and the low point upon entry needs to be moved more in line with her right foot.

Many people see this fault as “under-rotating” or “under-turning”, but that to me is misleading because it doesn’t speak to the root of the problem and it can lead one on a wild goose chase of inappropriate corrections. . It is not under-turning but rather an orientation issue. This problem will also make the thrower appear to have far better catches and foot translations than they really have (although in this case her catches, especially early in the throw, are so good that even when she straightens this problem out the catch and the time in double support should not be an issue).

This usually happens for any one of, or combination of, the following reasons: (1) there is simply an orientation problem with too much emphasis on a right focal point on the entry, (2) there is too much “catch” or ‘X’ at the end of the last wind in preparation for the entry push (‘X’ referring to the X the hip and shoulder axis make when viewed from above the cage looking straight down upon the athlete); or (3) there is a ball acceleration issue. One and two are a very, very simple fix that can take a few throws only. The third, however, is much harder to change.

Correction

The goal here with Julia would be to bring the low point on the entry more in line so that the low point is a wide shelf that basically lines up with her right foot. Now, in the video taken from the rear (training throw) you can see that she has this funky foot position happening where her right foot is over to the left and against the rim and her left foot is about 4 inches back from the centre rear edge of the circle. If this is the strategy for entering then it is most likely a correction to attempt to deal with the travel issue. I would bring her back to the rear of the circle in a straightforward rear orientation where her feet are parallel and unilaterally centred at the rear of the circle. I would let her throw from that position and then determine where the low point is with this new foot position. Give this a few throws, maybe even a workout full of throws.

Then, if there is still an issue with the low point upon the entry then you have to decide which of the three points above to start with in order to try to fix the problem. I think there is a bit of all three going on but there is other evidence of a lack of push in a number of her turns so I might start with that. If you look at the 66.51-meter throw you can see that when the ball is reaching the high point of the orbit there is an inconsistent line from the hammer handle to her shoulders. In other words it is not straight. It almost looks like she is trying to “lift” the hammer up with her hands in the winds. This is a sure sign that the ball acceleration on the preceding push was ineffective: if the ball is accelerated optimally then this shouldn’t happen.

If you think the problem is a lack of push then you have to encourage the athlete to accelerate the ball more on the entry (and each succeeding touchdown) because the ball is basically dropping down from the entry catch to the low point without enough influence from the athlete. They simply want to “push” or increase momentum of the ball upon the entry. This can take a long time to improve as (I have learned quite painfully) each athlete’s body understands the concept of “push” differently.

Other Ideas

The other approaches are (1) to simply move the focal point on the entry towards the right foot or even centre of the athlete’s stance, and (2) decrease the amount of ‘X’ or twist with the trunk the athlete creates at the end of the last wind into the entry. A big X is great because it increases the acceleration path of the ball. However if you do not push from this increased range you are in trouble because the ball will simply ‘fall’ to a low point outside the base of support (feet) as in this case.

I see these last two corrections as quick fixes which may be necessary to implement in order to correct the problem. So if you have this problem try them out, but if it is an acceleration issue this will still need to be dealt with in the long term. Also, moving the low point to a more central position on the entry using 1 and 2 is very easy to do, but once done may take quite a while for the athlete to reconcile in a motor-sense because even a small orientation change in the hammer will screw an athlete up seven ways to Sunday, so be prepared for an adaptation period, especially if this problem has been there for a long time.

Don Babbitt

Julia’s overall technique reminds me very much of the French approach (Nicolas Figere comes to mind). Her winds (which are executed very much to the right side) and transition into the entry look very smooth and she can put together a good turning rhythm and pattern when she times up the first turn. It seems to me that this technique and pattern can take her up past her current level of 68.80m or so, well past 70m as she gets older, stronger, and more experienced.

Now to look from the other side, and bring up potential problems that could get in the way of the further development of her throw. Julia tends to turn on the very edge of the left foot through the course of the turns. It is a little more pronounced than your average thrower. This can sometimes lead to her over rotating on turns and/or landing heavy on the right foot because there is so little room for error in her left foot turning mechanics. While it is not that much of an issue now, it could be a source of instability in the future. This is just an observation, and it would really be impossible to give a good cue or suggestion without knowing a lot more about her personal approach to the throw.

Sergej Litvinov Jr.

Overall the throw looks good and she is choosing the right path for the radius. However, I see some problems with the rhythm.

Specifically, all three of her winds have the same speed and the turns have the same speed too. Her radius is also the same length in every turn. Why? Because she is trying to do a wide entry and this becomes a problem in the following turns. Physics has rules. The radius must grow further and further or the thrower will be crushed by gravity.

I would recommend working on the length of the radius. First of all this begins in the winds. What do we need the winds for? To produce the speed that we need at the entry and to control the length of the radius. She should try to begin very slowly and then increase the speed very slightly in every wind. It is important to find the speed she needs. Remember, slow is better than fast.

After that, Julia can try to fix the entry. Do it short. The target is a growing radius. In every turn the radius should be bigger. Try to feel that with experiments, maybe by trying to overemphasize the shortness in order to feel the difference. If you can fix this, the rhythm will be much better. Often the radius problems also come from heavy hammer or weights. I do not know how Julia trains, but this might also have an impact.

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Ask Martin Vol. 21: Favorite Technique

Question: Which thrower’s technique do you like watching the most? – Gary

At the beginning of my career I watched video to learn. Now I watch video to help visualize my own throw. While throwers like Balazs Kiss, Igor Nikulin, or even Koji Murofushi have very good technique, their styles are so different than mine that they are lower down my list. Both then and now I tend to watch video that I hope to emulate and I list a few of my favorites below. You might notice that I do not mention any women below and this is for the same reason. Female throwers typically do not have, or need, the same amount of countering in their throw as men. Since I am trying to visualize myself in the throw it is easier to do that with a male thrower. Read more

Sergej Litvinov Jr., one of the top throwers in the world is not a fan of short hammers.

On Short Hammers

Throwing light and heavy hammers should be a major part of hammer throw training. But in addition to playing around with different weights, many throwers also add variety to the length of the hammer. This is another way to add variety to training, but one method I am not a fan of.

In most of Western Europe, short hammers and heavy hammers go hand in hand. I have never met a Swiss or German coach that has thrown a normal length 10-kilogram hammer for men, and few that even utilize a normal length 9-kilogram. The theory is that heavy hammers can develop bad technical habits, but shortening a heavy hammer makes the hammer feel lighter and easier for the athlete to throw with proper technique.
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Krisztián Pars remember his late coach Pal Nemeth after his victory in London.

Looking Back at 2012: Men’s Rankings

Krisztián Pars remember his late coach Pal Nemeth after his victory in London.

Krisztián Pars remember his late coach Pal Nemeth after his victory in London.

Track and Field News will release their annual rankings soon, which are considered the international benchmark. Once again I can’t wait that long, so I’ve compiled my own year-end rankings.

My criteria is subjective, so let the debate begin. Feel free to post your own thoughts in the comment section below. If you want some stats for the season, check out the IAAF’s performance lists. Because both Ivan Tikhon (BLR) and Kirill Ikonnikov (RUS) have pending doping suspensions, I have not included them in the rankings.


1. Krisztian Pars (HUN) – While picking Pars as number one last year might have been a litte controversial, he is the clear number one this year. After years of frustration he not only won his first international title, but he did so twice by utterly dominating the competition at both the European Championships and Olympics. He won 15 or 16 finals and had seven of the nine best marks of the year (seven of the best eight if you excluding Tikhon). His season’s best of 82.28 meters might not rank him among the all-time greats, but even non-throwers agree his season was one of the best in track and field this year.
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London Olympic Preview: Men’s Hammer Throw

In normal years the hammer throw is already an event where you never fully know what to expect. This year it is even more so. Not only does the exclusion of the hammer throw from the Diamond League mean that the top names have rarely (if at all) faced each other this year, but three of the favorites have only competed in a combined four meets this year. This makes it incredibly hard to see how everyone stacks up and even more interesting to see how it all unfolds starting on Friday. Below you will find an overview of the competition format, profiles of the top athletes, start lists, 2012 performance lists, and predictions. I’ll also be traveling to London and hope to provide even more updates and a preview of the women’s competition in the coming week.
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The highlight of 2012 will no doubt be the Olympic Games in London.

10 Reasons to Watch the Hammer in 2012

The international season starts up this weekend with the first leg of the IAAF Hammer Challenge in Kawasaki, Japan. Until the hammer throw is added to the Diamond League, the hammer challenge will remain the top circuit of throwing meets. And with so few competitive opportunities many of the best are jumping right in. The field in Kawasaki will feature five 80-meter throwers (see the full start list here).

By the end of the year, my wish list from last season was mostly fulfilled. On the eve of the 2012 season I’ve thought of the top 10 things I’m looking forward to this year. Feel free to share yours in the comments section below.


The highlight of 2012 will no doubt be the Olympic Games in London.

1 – A woman over 80 meters. This was high on my list last year and Betty Heidler came within two feet of the barrier in the earlier season. There were rumors that she threw over it in training during the summer, but it never materialized at a meet. A few women may be capable of hitting the mark (even my old training buddy Sultana Frizell threw her name in the mix with a 75 meter bomb in March), but Heidler has to be the frontrunner now. Not only has she thrown the furthest, but she is also motivated to improve even more after she only claimed silver at last year’s world championships.
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Everyone knows Litvinov's real secret to his success was the headband.

The Litvinov Workout Revisisted

Everyone knows Litvinov's real secret to his success was the headband.

As many of you realized, yesterday’s post was an April Fool’s joke. I have never done the Litvinov workout, but neither has Litvinov. In talking with his son last year, current world-ranked hammer throw Sergej Litvinov Jr., he only heard about the workout in 2007 from another thrower that had tried it. When he explained it to his father “He laughed and said that he had never done it.” I have a lot of respect for Dan John, the person who first wrote about the Litvinov workout. But he never witnessed it first hand which makes me think the story boils down to a case of mistaken identity or a tall tale that has grown over the years. In any event, the workout is out there and a popular choice for many athletes. Just type “Litvinov Workout” into a YouTube search if you want to see some examples.
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The Litvinov Workout

As you notice above, this was posted on April 1st and is meant as a satire. Once you finish reading the post, read my follow-up post for my real thoughts on this workout.

I spend a lot of time on here talking about special strength, one topic I rarely touch on is special endurance. While special strength is overlooked by some throwers, special endurance is overlooked by nearly everyone. Training for three or four hours a day is no easy task and you need to develop some endurance to get through the grueling workouts. Cardio training can help, but we are throwers and not marathoners so we don’t want to stray too far from what we are best at. Is there a way to mesh these two worlds?
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Hammer throwing over a river.

More on New Throwing Formats

Over the past few days I have had a few more thoughts on the Athletics Weekly article I posted earlier this week. One thing I edited out of the article was a section on why both of the events I featured happened to take place in the same country. Neither had any huge local star to showcase, and Sweden doesn’t even have a particularly strong throwing tradition when compared to nearby Finland and Germany. Everyone I interviewed attributed it to the Swedish way of thinking, whatever that is. No matter what the cause, I find it interesting that the event was such a success despite the fact that only a handful of the fans could likely name even one of the stars. This proves to me the throwing events can appeal to almost anyone if they are packaged the right way.
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