The Hammer Throw: A Political Cause You Can Believe In

Update: I’ve responded to critics and written more on this topic in a follow up post. Click here to read it.

Those of you in America probably woke up this morning and were welcomed by the joyous void created by the absence of non-stop election ads. Well, I hate to be the one to do this, but I’m here to lobby for one more cause before you stop thinking about politics for the year. The USATF Annual Meeting will start on December 4th in Virginia Beach. On the agenda is a rule change (Item 92) that would add the hammer throw to the youth age group for 13 and 14 year old throwers. I encourage you all to reach out to the chair of the USATF Youth Committee, Lionel Leach, in support of this amendment.

As with anything, starting young helps in the hammer throw

A young Koji Murofushi was featured in an IAAF instructional video at age 10 (click to view). By age 29, he was the Olympic champion.

Time and time again, the importance of starting young in the hammer throw has shown its benefits. Koji Murofushi, 2004 Olympic Champion, began throwing at age 10. While attending a clinic by Yuri Sedych in 2003, I saw his then nine-year-old daughter Alexia Sedych throwing the hammer. This summer she won the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. Later that year, a 12-year-old Conor McCullough attended the USATF Junior Elite Camp at the USATF Olympic Training Center. Now he is the U.S. junior record holder and the most recent world junior champion. This, along with Walter Henning’s 2008 win, was only America’s second gold medal in a major international competition in more than a half century. The hammer throw is an event centered around rhythm and technique. Both take more than a decade to master and it is essential to start the process young.

The IAAF recognizes that starting young is important. They currently sanction the event and recommend using lightweight 4-kilogram (boys) and 3-kilogram (girls) hammers for the age group. These are also the weights proposed by this amendment. The International Olympic Committee also recognizes the event at youth level, most recently allowing 14 year olds to compete at the Youth Olympic Games. Countries across the world follow this lead, even our neighbors to the north. In the U.S., however, the USATF does not allow 13 or 14 year olds to compete.

The hammer throw is safe

While there are many opponents to this amendments, there is little sound reasoning behind the opposition. The arguments against the amendment normally begin with a mention of safety concerns. But all the data that exists shows the hammer throw is no more dangerous than any other track and field event. Former USATF President Bill Roe also feels “[w]e should investigate the medical issues surround introduction of the events to younger athletes.” He argues that the hammer may not be appropriate at the youth level for the same reason that youth runners may not compete at longer distances. But, runners are not banned from running, they just have to run the 3k instead of a 5k. Similarly, hammer throwers should not be banned, but should throw a lighter weight implement (as proposed). Personally, I think that the idea that hammer throwing can be unhealthy stems from the urban legend that lifting weights can stunt growth. There is no clinical evidence of this, and weightlifting’s own federation includes an under 13 age group for both boys and girls with weight classes down to 35kg (77 pound). If their own sport allows power events, what are we doing?

If weightlifting is not a risk, I do not see the hammer throw as a risk. Kids as young as 9 and 10 are allowed to do the shot put, which is more of a strength event than the hammer throw. The youth age group is even allowed throw the real javelin, which is likely more dangerous for both the athlete and spectator (younger age groups use the TurboJav and if younger age groups were to adopt the hammer, it might be right to adopt a similar training tool in our event). If we are worried about injuries, a kid is more likely to tear an ACL playing basketball or break a bone playing youth football than they are of having a serious injury in the hammer throw. With the rates of childhood obesity climbing, we should do whatever we can to encourage youth participation in sports. Even if America fails to win another Olympic medal in the event, we can help a lot of kids by letting them find a sport they love.

The sport is growing, but needs support to continue to grow

The other common objection is that the hammer throw needs to grow more before it should be added as a youth event. First of all, the sport has already grown rapidly in the past ten years, as documented on an earlier post. The sport is doing its part, and now the USATF needs to live up to its motto of “Sport for Everyone” and fulfill its role of establishing grassroots programs. How many more 13 year olds are going to pick up the hammer if there are no sanctioned events for them to compete in? As was the case in Field of Dreams: if you make it they will come. If you add the hammer throw as a youth event, more athletes will pick up the sport. At least that was the case for me. I first competed in the hammer throw merely because I saw it offered as an exhibition event at the 1999 Junior Olympic Regional Championships in Cheney, Washington. I had already qualified in the shot put for the competition, but had no chance of winning a medal there. As a high school freshman, a medal was the coolest thing in the world and when I saw the hammer throw on the entry list, I immediately signed up. I had never thought of trying the hammer before, but entered my first meet simply because it was a new event where I had a chance. I would not have begun the event if there were no competitions to introduce me to it. Offering more competition opportunities is the quickest way to grow the sport since other kids like me will see a potential new event.

Let your voice be heard

I am likely preaching to the choir with this post, but that is the point. It is those of you that love the hammer throw that can give this amendment the support it needs to pass. The hammer throw likely has the least political support at the USATF. Harold Connolly worked tirelessly in support of this issue during his final years and I am hoping that we can continue the effort in his absence in order to further his legacy. With your help, we can. If you agree, please contact Mr. Leach ( Contact other members of the executive committee (contact information is available here). Let them know that you support the amendment. And, more importantly, let them know why you support the amendment and how the event has changed your life. Feel free to CC me on your emails or copy your responses below since I’d also love to hear your stories.

15 replies
  1. Paddy mc grath
    Paddy mc grath says:

    Great post now what do we need 2 do get as many people as possible to e mail this guy?
    I know your in Europe is their anything else i can do on my end??

  2. Dave Crogan
    Dave Crogan says:

    Nice read. I Think I was at that 1999 Junior Olympic Regional Championships in Cheney, Washington. I missed one Cheney meet, i think it was the 2000 meet though. I’m not at home now to look up if I was.
    Not sure if i had “olympic suff” but, I went off and join the army in fall 2000 and did do a few college invites while in the services. Now i’m a military contractor at Balad AFB, Iraq. I still lift a lot and love working out, but the hammer throw is no longer a part of my life.

  3. Thad Moren
    Thad Moren says:

    Mr. Leach-

    Please support the addition of the Hammer Throw as an event in the Youth age-group for 2011. My daughter, who will be a Midget in 2011, is already proficient at the Hammer Throw and the Non-Turbo Javelin. She is forced to throw as a “rogue” competitor at local competitions. The full weight of the women’s javelin is not an issue, but sanctioned USATF competition with a 3K hammer for the Youth age-group would be a tremendous boost to the grass-roots program that the late Hal Connolly worked hard to develop. Please honor his memory by supporting policies like these that directly affect the development of young throwers in our country.

  4. Thad Moren
    Thad Moren says:

    Mr. Leach’s response-

    We as a division have made every attempt and good faith effort to have this event in our meets. Before I was chairman it was not in our program we allowed first in our 17-18 age group then 15-16 age group then both the junior olympics then our youth championship as an exhibition with a 2010 full event we did it as a full event in 2008 2 years early. Then to have it as an event at regional and association meets I have bent enough on this. finally it is only 2 states that has this event their are not enough qualified coaches in the country to teach the event I am not risky kids getting hurt.

  5. TBell
    TBell says:

    I’m glad Mr. Leach didn’t advise a young Conor McCullough or Walter Henning. Their international success says we have enough qualified youth hammer coaches in this country. Can’t imagine it would hurt to let them prove it at a single 13-14 competition.

    By his logic, we should actually be removing the 15-16 and 17-18 competitions.

  6. Sharon Sellereite
    Sharon Sellereite says:

    Been there. Done that. When we were actively involved in youth hammer throw, we included 13-14 year olds in our program and in our meets without any problems. We also had the facilities and coaching to make it safe. It is possible to include 13-14 year olds in a hammer program.

    It makes no sense to allow 13-14 year olds to throw metal-tipped javs and pole vault and not let them throw hammer.

    Youth hammer lost a major supporter on the youth athletics committee when Ruth van Kuren retired from that committee.

  7. Mattias
    Mattias says:


    There is no studies or evidence shown, neither any reason why hammerthrow for 13 year old kids would in anyway be harmful. There is however many studies that shown that a sport will grow in relation to how many kids that start. There is also many studies that show that training, playing and trying many sports as a youth will make the youth a better prepared athlete in whatever he choose to continue with.

    Please make decisions from fact not from rumors and common misguided “knowledge”.

  8. Thad Moren
    Thad Moren says:

    Mr Leach responded again, sometimes our leaders feel that they need to treat field event people like track people. Never heard a discussion about track event that doesn’t end in some “stand off” fashion. It’s lost on track-only guys that us field event people can understand a thought out discussion.

    Mr Leach wrote:
    Sorry I can not support it. Should you like to discuss you may reach me at 917-913-5505

    I don’t need to call, because he really is a track only guy…from meeting him in person. So I responded:

    In reality, my children are going to throw whatever we want anyway.  My 10 year old daughter (midget division) threw the 600g javelin farther than any youth or intermediate girl in our region, she just had to do it vs collegiate competition.  The hammer will be the same case once she can handle the women’s weight.  That’s where the USATF support would help, sanctioning a lower weight.

    Thanks for your time

    • Martin
      Martin says:

      Thanks for taking the time to write to him. I’m recommending that people now contact their your local association’s delegates instead since they might have a more open mind. In any event, it can’t be more closed.

  9. Timothy Mills Brennan
    Timothy Mills Brennan says:

    Great post!

    I was with Harold in Reno a few years ago when he made Lionel loose his temper and started ranting at Harold. It was one of the most disrespectful sights I have ever seen. There was very little mutual respect and a hand to the face was given to Harold several times and Lionel just walked away. It was sickening. Politically we need a supporter on the inside.

    I presented the Youth Hammer proposal in Reno, since most remembered Harold and I was a fresh and friendly face, to the youth delegates. I gave options for a $7,000 IAAF cage that could be purchased since the price of the cage was an issue in years past. DVDs, grants, and websites were all mentioned as part of the education requested in the past. With still limited information and facilities for coaches to teach the event it is a very hard sell the idea to USATF Youth Committee. It was obvious that most, if not all, at the national level are totally against the event. Fearful of the event, much like many are afraid of the pole vault and javelin.

    I feel it is up to us to CREATE opportunity and just revolt against the opposition. Clinics and open meets are already being held by local coaches, but more are needed. We have to simply create the opportunities to have youth throw. Hammerama is a great example and the Army Strong Series and West Pont clinics are another, we just need more opportunities. The clinic the Dan Mecca is hosting in Dec. is another way to educate the masses. The Ocean State Hammer Clinic/Camp a few years back was a great summer opportunity.

    After 19 years of coaching I realize that to run, just tell kids to run, not many kids will get hurt, but throwing creates fear and caused prejudice. Like any fear or prejudice it is usually a lack of knowledge and understanding that creates it.

    We have to give the knowledge, create understating and provide opportunity to compete. “If we build it they will come.” If we get more youth throwing, they will be forced to create an opportunity at the national level.

    Let’s Do It!


    Tim Brennan
    Shore Athletic Club

  10. PAY
    PAY says:

    I fully agreed and support that kids can undergo training and compete in the field events with lighter implements. Kids should allowed to begin training in throwing events at the aged of 8-10 years old. I trained my daughter hammer throw last year. Now, she is 9 years old. She able to throw 30m+(1.0kg hammer)and 25m+ (1.5kg hammer). The implements in the throwing events should be modified to suit the kids in the multilateral training.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] of you the followed my advice and wrote to USATF Youth Committee Chairman Lionel Leach have found out that he has already made up his mind. He vehemently does not want to support the […]

  2. […] have athletes capable of succeeding. Now we just need more of them. In the hammer throw, that means expanding the sport to more kids and starting them younger. I can’t say it enough: the more athletes we have, the greater our […]

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