When I read last week that the IAAF announced the Olympic qualifying standards, including an unbelievable qualifying standard of 83 metres in the javelin, my first thought was:
Please please can somebody stop these people from killing our sport!
Last year I looked at when hammer throwers reach their peak and last week I looked at shot putters. FiveThirtyEight even looked at this aspect of tennis. I decided to continue the project by looking at javelin throwers. I often train together with the Swiss national javelin coach Terry McHugh. McHugh sits just outside of the top 100, but when I complain about getting old he is the first to tell me otherwise. He knows from experience since he threw his personal best just days shy of his 37th birthday. On the other hand I know a few javelin throwers who careers have been ended quite young due to injuries. With this in mind I figured it would be an interesting event to look at.
The javelin throw offers a unique perspective compared to the other throwing events. Doping era marks prevail in most women’s throwing events and some of the men’s events and skew any historical analysis. The javelin, however, has had the advantage of starting over. In 1986 a new men’s javelin was introduced thereby resetting the records books. In 1999 the a women’s javelin was also introduced. As a result, some of the issues with questionable marks have been overcome and this also allows me to look at both genders for the first time. Here are three points I took away from the analysis.
Rhythm and the hammer throw are inseparable. A good throw needs it and bad throws lack it. As a coach I often have my throwers focus on the the rhythm of the throw as much as any other aspect. But as a thrower training alone, rhythm is something that is difficult for me to focus on in my own throw. Perhaps it is just me, but rhythm seems much easier to watch or hear than to feel. The blur of the throw prevents me from getting much feedback about the rhythm. I can feel when a throw is smooth or easy, but I can tell you little about the rhythm. Harold Connolly told me that at least one of his athletes must have felt the same way so he altered his hammer to whistle as he threw, with the pitch varying as speed increased.
Thankfully I can sometimes get others to come and watch me throw. Yesterday Terry McHugh was once again able to watch me practice and his sole focus was on rhythm. Terry has little experience with the hammer, but he is a talented javelin coach and has a good eye. As with focusing, rhythm is universal and something Terry can help me with as much as any hammer coach can. Read more
One of the most difficult aspects of training alone is focusing. I no longer have a coach there that will yell at me after every throw and tell me that I need to push the hammer more. After a long day at the office, it is easy for my mind to wander about my latest work project, what I need to pick up at the grocery store after practice, or even what my next blog post will be about. If I don’t watch out practice will be over before I know it and I will have taken all my throws without really thinking about what I wanted to improve.
The flip side of this difficulty is that once I learned to focus better, it has added a new dimension to my throw. Training alone forces you to be an independent thinker; you cannot just rely on someone else’s input. It forces you make all the small adjustments on your own. All this comes in handy at competitions where you are often separated from coaches and left along with just your thoughts.