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.

The massive IAAF-certified cage required to contain the hammer throw. This cage in Szombathely, Hungary hosted the hammer throw for the World Athletics Final from 2003-2005.

Eckschmiedt identifies two problems facing the event: the hammer throw is dangerous to host in a stadium since it goes so far and the cages required to contain such throws are prohibitively expensive.  He proposes changing the implement to address these problems.  His recommendation is for the men to switch to an 8-kilogram, 60-centimenter long implement and for the women to throw a 4.4-kilogram, 60-centimenter long implement.  Currently, the men throw a 7.26-kilogram, 121.5-centimeter implement and then women throw a 4-kilogram, 119.5-centimeter implement.

The Positives

In Eckschmiedt’s opinion, the men’s world record would be around 50 to 55 meters with the new implement. This would obviously fix some of the safety issues and require a smaller, less expensive cage. Even a sector foul at that distance would not endanger anyone on the infield. He also asserts that the best throwers with the current hammer would continue to be the best with the new hammer, so no one will gain an unfair advantage due to the change.

Shortening the distance of the throw would also help throwers find places to train. There are numerous facilities I have run into that only have 60 meters of landing area. Even the only place to train in the Seattle area is just about 64-meters long down the left sector line. With a shorter implement, however, I could find a half dozen places to throw near town and in other major cities facing similar issues. This would be a big bonus in my book.

While the history of the event should be preserved if possible, I personally do not think it would be the end of the world if the implement were changed. The pole vault switched from bamboo to fiberglass and carbon fiber poles without any long-term issues. Both the men’s and women’s javelins were also changed to reduce distance and improve flight without any major problems. Even the discus has continued to see technical advancements without a complaint. Something needs to be done to save our sport and if it means starting a new era, then I am all for it. I’d rather the sport continue in another form than die off. In addition, a new implement means new world records, more press, and more attention for the event.

The Negatives

But, before we make a big change we need to ask if it is worth it. Is the event really that dangerous that it needs to be changed? Most recent track and field accidents have been in the pole vault and javelin.  Officials might cite safety as one of the reasons they exclude the hammer, but I doubt that is their only concern. The hammer has been successfully staged at the Olympics and World Championships during the main portion of the meet without incident. And it is not like throwers are breaking new barriers; the men’s world record is now 24 years old.

Ask any meet director, and there are several other issues facing the event that an implement change does not address. For instance, the hammer damages the turf upon landing. The officials in Monaco stated they could not host the hammer since the field is built above a parking garage and they were worried about potential structural damage. Zurich chose to host the hammer outside of its stadium for the Swiss Championships last summer due to worries that the event would cause damage to an underground pipe system used to keep the turf from freezing in the winter. Whether or not these concerns are legitimate, Eckschmiedt’s proposal does not address them.

In addition, even if the hammer is added back into big meets, they may still remain on the periphery. The Prefontaine Classic is one of the only Diamond League competitions hosting the hammer throw this year. Still, the hammer throw cage is adjacent to the stadium. Most big meets are now using a condensed 2-hour schedule. With six long throws (the men’s and women’s discus, javelin, and hammer), there is not enough time to host all of those events inside the stadium. Inevitably some of the events must be cut or pushed outside the stadium. The hammer throw must not only change itself, but also find a way to fall into favor with meet directors.

Finally, if we are to change the weight of the hammer, I think we need to use different adjustments than those Eckschmiedt recommends. When the javelin was changed, the weight stayed same; the only change was to move the center of gravity 4cm forward. Eckschmiedt is proposing to increase the weight of both the men’s and women’s hammers by approximately 10% and shorten the implement by 50%. By shortening the implement drastically in proportion to the increase in weight, the feeling and rhythm of the event will be completely different for the thrower. Because of this, I am skeptical of his conclusion that the throwers at the top now will continue to be those at the top. He notes that “different size hammers (length, weight) have been used for decades in the preparation of the competitors”, but I have never met anyone that trained with a 8-kilogram 60-centimeter hammer. A slightly longer hammer would still accomplish the same goals, as would a hammer that is heavier and just as short.

My Conclusion

Something needs to be done to return our event to the upper echelon of sport. Exclusion from the Diamond League hurts, but more than anything it puts us down a path that we don’t want to go down. However, in my opinion, we shouldn’t just choose a solution that only solves half of the problems. While Eckschmiedt’s proposal will help, officials that dislike the hammer throw will continue to use other excuses to exclude the event. The optimal solution is one that solves all these problems. But no one seems to be coming up with other ideas and, frankly, I don’t have any on the tip of my tongue either.

If we do pursue Eckschmiedt proposal, we should first contact meet directors to see if they would actually be receptive to the change. If they are, we should also determine if his weight and length suggestions are appropriate by holding some exhibition competitions to see how the results transfer over to the new implement. Perhaps these competitions could be showcased at larger meets to help generate some interest for the event and give meet directors a chance to see the new implement in action. I’d be all for trying it out since I’d love to prove myself wrong. In the meantime, we have to continue to think of ways to help the sport. Any suggestions?

16 replies
  1. Norm Balke
    Norm Balke says:

    I would add that the ball should be large and a relatively soft and giving material.

    The javelin could have some changes as well, I am not an expert, but maybe something more than just the rubber tips? Maybe even a little rubber ball?

    These are events that do not have a lot of participants; I think that selling these events would be easier if folks could stage them in smaller safer places.

  2. John Mastersthrower
    John Mastersthrower says:

    Don’t we already have a large ball on a short chain event…the weight throw? Is a 25-30m event so significantly different from the proposed 50-55m “heavy hammer” From a dispassionate perspective, the weight throw can be thrown in a smaller area, can be seen by spectators from a farther distance, both due to speed and size, and is an existing event that has rules and specifications already on the books. High schools and urban schools with limited throws area might embrace the weight throw over the hammer. The weight can be thrown indoors in areas with difficult training weather. Any significant modification to the hammer might make a number of meet directors consider the weight throw, and lead to an era where the hammer is only thrown at a handful of venues. I love throwing hammer, but if it was retired in favor of an event where more places could be used to throw, I could throw the same implement year round and more high schoos might embrace and grow my sport…that would be something to seriously consider.

    • Martin
      Martin says:

      I agree the weight may be an easy alternative and better than nothing, but only it is only established in North America, so it’s not like it is a tailor made event. There is also a higher rate of back injury with the weight, which would worry me if I were a high school coach.

      I think my biggest issue with it is that the weight completely transforms the event. If we change the event, I think we should try to change it to something that won’t disrupt the rankings too much or give any extra advantage to anyone. This would not happen in the weight. Scott Russell, Christian Cantwell, Dan Taylor have all been great at the weight, but nowhere near world class in the hammer (although they’ve all been world class in their other events).

  3. Norm Balke
    Norm Balke says:

    I like the weight. Without offending very powerful and aggressive hammer throwers, I think that the possible purist approach that the weight is somehow beneath the hammer may be the eventual undoing of the hammer as a more universally acceptable event.

    I like the hammer. A lot. But I have discovered that YOU NEVER KNOW!! For instance, when I was in high school in 1981, we had the pole vault. No indication that anything was amiss. By 1988, it was gone from Iowa High Schools. GONE! No particular reason, just some empty platitudes about safety. Did other states follow suit? Nope.

    There was a kid in Iowa at a meet a couple of weeks that go hit in the head by a shot, on the fly, about 40′. I saw the whole thing. Fractured skull. All I could think about for days was litigation. IF POLE VAULT COULD BE KNOCKED OUT, SO COULD THE SHOT!!!! OR THE DISC!!

    The ONLY advantage that the disc and shot have over the hammer is that those events are universally established.

    An administrator that knows nothing about the weight or hammer would probably like the weight better, for all the reasons noted. Is having the weight better than nothing?

  4. Zach
    Zach says:

    I’d rather throw the real hammer outside the stadium than an altered hammer in the stadium.

    If you want the event to be more popular then lobby taco bell to do “free taco” rings scattered in the landing area. If someone lands a ball in the ring, all spectators get a free taco.

  5. tomsonite
    tomsonite says:

    I think if the implement would be altered at all, I say just shorten the existing 16 lbs hammer, but don’t cut it’s length in half. That would make it too similar to the weight, reducing the need for superior technique to get the implement to its maximum speed. That plus greatly reducing the distance thrown would ruin the beauty of the event, IMO.
    Going by the “one inch of radius = 7 feet of distance” assumption, shortening the hammer by about 10cm would reduce throws by about 8m. As you said Martin, the distances being thrown are not the problem, since distances have not increased since the Soviets of the 80’s. However a slight reduction in size may make a thrower better able to control the implement, reducing the risk of sector fouls. The reduction in distances thrown would allow for training to take place in more areas, and the hammer would be easier to throw out of more places (anyone who has ever tried to throw a hammer out of a HS discus cage knows what I’m talking about).
    That is about the only compromise I’d be willing to make though. I also think the safety argument is total BS, because not only does the cage go into the sector now to reduce fouls, but I’ve never seen one number, statistic, or study showing that the hammer is more dangerous than any other event, for any reason. There are plenty of videos on youtube of people being speared by javelins at big time meets…how many videos of a person getting hit by a hammer can you find??

    If you ask me, Zach above me has had the best idea by far though!

  6. Dave
    Dave says:

    I can’t support it with any facts, but I feel like a longer hammer that remains the same weight would result in longer throwers, as the longer radius would allow a new breed of throwers to stay in double support longer and create even more ball speed.

    If we use javelin as the model for reforming a throwing event, I would suggest maintaining the current length and weight, however increasing the minimum diameter of the ball significantly. Increase from 110mm to say 160mm or even bigger. This would effectively shorten the COG of the implement, while also increasing the wind resistance while in flight. I think it would make the event more spectator friendly in a stadium if the ball is bigger/more visible and it also would provide a big enough surface area that athletes or meet directors could sell advertising space on the ball. Then there would be more incentive for television footage and slow motion replays to keep advertisers happy…

  7. Christian
    Christian says:

    I’m all in favour of creative ways to make hammer more appealing but is throwing shorter distances going to make hammer more popular? Hammer is so exciting because you are throwing such a heavy weight so far! If we take away the 80m+ distances then we may as well become shot putters 😛

  8. KSCThrower
    KSCThrower says:

    Honestly I think that the speed and distance of the hammer is what makes it a popular event. People including myself who see the event for the first time are often amazed by how hammer throwers can turn and release with such accuracy (sometimes of course). Slowing it down and eliminating alot of the “weak” guys who rely on speed to get across the circle will ultimately turn hammer into the old neanderthal sport of the past.

    if anything i’d love to see the hammer go lighter… obviously safety and facilities is the problem

  9. heizman
    heizman says:

    Admittedly, I am extremely biased.

    If this change had been in place, in the early 90’s when I started college. My participation in track and field would have ended.

    Going from the 1.6k to the 2.0k frankly was not fun, and took away all of the joy that I had for throwing the discus. I love throwing the discus, more than any other, athletic event I have participated in, and I curse my body for not being better suited to enjoy throwing it.

    Like I mentioned and had it not been for the hammer, the way it currently is, I would have not participated in track after my senior year in high school. I would not have had the pleasure and honor of meeting, training, having a beer with World Record holders, and World Champions, and the people that I have met at my level, and those not at my level.

    In my opinion, making the hammer shorter and heavier to make it “safer” or to make it better suited to be included in more meets, would actually have the opposite effect that is being proposed. I feel that such a change would stifle the variety that makes hammer throwing unique and as popular as it is. This is not a change that will make the event more popular in my opinion.

    Now if you wanted to make the open hammer 4k, now you are speaking my language.

    But like I said, I am a bit biased.

  10. Coach B
    Coach B says:

    The Hammer Throw finds its beginnings in the Tailtin Games in Ireland around A.M. 3370 or1800 years before the birth of Christ, making it one of the oldest events in athletics. In all of that time the innovations made in the hammer by throwers, has always been in an attempt to gain distance. In my research on the hammer alone, i’ve discovered at least twelve changes. From the old blacksmiths uneven sledge to the bifurcated loop and piano wire with the Mitchell handle. Always in an attempt to throw farther the hammer along with the other throws are older than many of the events on the track. We now have meet directors because of their own agendas are trying to push the throws into the background. I for one don’t have an answer except to continue to promote the throws as much as I can. I would be nice if Rob would put the future of the hammer on the agenda for a breakout session at the next NTCA.I for one just don’t want us to let non-throwers destroy the “roth-cleas”.

  11. Hammerthrower
    Hammerthrower says:

    I think it’s a bad idea! In internazional competitions, people love to look at Hammer! They think it’s very impressiv. And that is because of how far the hammer can go! If we change this, people will no longer be interested! The problem is that in Switzerland and other contries, there are not many participants. . . But not everywhere! If you go to Germany, Hungary or Russia, you won’t find an International competition without Hammer! In the world championship of 2009 in Berlin, they had to stop the final of 100m for a German thrower!

    What we have to do, is talk about it! The medias don’t care about throwers! But if we could change this, people would talk about it! Exactly like what happened with Tennis with Roger Federer in Switzerland!

  12. Concerned Official
    Concerned Official says:

    We have to go back to basics. What are we trying to solve is it a distance problem, Health & Safety, Participant appeal or crowd appeal. There is something about watching athletes being able to control and throw this heavy object a significant distance.
    The intitial suggestion does carry some merit as it retains the activity as a stand alone competition and provided the cage design is not changes creates a more confined danger zone. Given the distances would still be significant and if it can still retain its appeal to its current competitors then I think this could answer many of the issues.

  13. Evan
    Evan says:

    Rather than looking for reasons to shutdown the discipline of hammer throwing, the IAAF should celebrating it and spending much more time and effort on researching ways of making the EXISTING event (ie 7.26 and 4Kg with 1.2m length implements) safer. Why should this exciting event be run outside the stadium or staged outside normal event times? It is disrespectful to the amazing athletes who can achieve such enormous distances and flies in the face of the olympic motto. Perhaps track events should be run outside the main stadium in some obscure place!

  14. Dempsey M
    Dempsey M says:

    I agree with a comment further up. I would rather throw outside a stadium, then completly transform the event. instead of attempting to change the event to suit tracks, why can tracks not adjust angles of cages, positioning of circles ect..


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