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.
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.
2 – The last hurrah for the old guard. Since 1932, only world record holder Yuri Sedych has been able to win two gold medals in the hammer. Last year the Koji Murofushi (2004 Champion) and Primoz Kozmus (2008 Champion) both won medals at worlds, showing that they can repeat their Olympic glory. But this may be their last chance. Koji Murofushi has said he might compete until the 2016 Olympics, at which time he will be nearly 42 years old. Considering his father won the Asian Games as he was turning 41, I tend to believe him. But the fact still remains that his good years are running out. He became the oldest ever world champion last year, and at nearly 38 would become the oldest Olympic champion if he brings home gold this year (according to Stan Greenberg’s indispensable Olympic Almanak the next oldest, John Flanagan, was merely 35). Primoz Kozmus turns 33 this summer. This may also be the best chance to win again.
3 – A little momentum for the “Diamond League + hammer throw” movement. The hammer throw has been out of the Diamond League since its inception, but this spring the movement has shown signs of life. If some of the items on my wishlist come true, then the momentum can only grow. Just today I read that the Diamond League meet in Eugene will once again host the hammer as an exhibition event and will bring it former world record holder Anita Wlodarczyk, world champion Tatyana Lysenko, and Zhang Wenxiu to challenge Betty Heidler. The American soil record will likely fall and hopefully the other Diamond League meetings will see how the hammer throw can add to the value of their meet.
4 – An American record (or two). It seemed like not that long ago that Lance Deal was the top American, but before you know it his record turned 15 years old last year. Kibwe Johnson improved from 77 to 80 meters in 2011, and a similar improvement will make him the top American in history. But a women’s record is even more overdue. This is only the fourth Olympiad for the sport, but it has been seven years sine Erin Gilreath set the current American mark at 73.87m. At the time it was not that far off the world record. But since then the world record has improved more than three meters and the top Americans have fallen back and keep losing ground. Jessica Cosby (73.71m) came close already this year. Amber Campbell (72.59m) has been ready for a breakthrough for years. Brittany Riley (72.51m) is returning to the sport after a few years away and her training partner Gwen Berry (71.95m) is right with her. Just one of them needs to improve a bit for the American women to move forward again.
5 – An American medal. As I mentioned above, Lance Deal set the American record in 1996. That same year he placed second in the Olympics and was just inches from the gold. He is the only American that has won a medal since Harold Connolly‘s epic gold 56 years ago. Let me just say that if Kibwe can break the record, he’ll be in the same position.
6 – A little respect for John Smith. Coach Smith is better known as the husband and coach of Connie Price-Smith, but he should be known as one of the most successful hammer coaches in America right now. People may criticize his athletes’ technique, but no one can deny his ability to spot and develop talent. One of his athletes, NCAA champion Jeneva McCall (69.55m), qualified for the world championships last year. This year she has continued to throw well and fighting to be third best in her training group. That’s what happens when you train alongside Berry and Riley (see point 3 above) in one of the world’s top female training groups.
7 – More national records for Sophie Hitchon. Hop across the pond and another new star is emerging: Sophie Hitchon. The 2010 world junior champion is still just 20 and threw a national record of 71.61m last month. With the Olympics in her home land, a strong showing by her this season will bring lots of attention to the hammer throw. It may even help with point 3, since with the exception of America few of the countries with Diamond League meets have good hammer throwers. Qatar (1 meet), Switzerland (2 meets), Sweden (1), Belgium (1), Monaco (1), and Norway all have no hammer throwers with the Olympic A standard. China (1) and the USA (2) have some, but both seem to be outside the Diamond League’s European power center since none of the meets were part of the old Golden League. France (1) and Italy (1) also have a few A qualifiers, but their medal hopes are very slim. With two Diamond League meets in Great Britain, an English hammer star could only help our cause. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s coached by a friend and fellow Bondarchuk student.
8 – The arrival of the next generation, finally. I was hoping some men like Sergej Litvinov Jr., Yuriy Shayunou, or Pavel Krvitski would step up for a medal last season. But the rankings did not change very much. They still have a chance to improve, but in the meantime a third wave of athletes is coming. On the men’s side Pavel Fadjek quickly rose to fame after wining the European U23 championship and then making the world championship final. The European U20 champion Quentin Bigot was inches away from the world junior record and has already thrown 75.30m with the senior implement this year. Conor McCullough is also maturing and reached the Olympic B standard in April. There are plenty of young throwers to watch out for this year.
9 – Make use of the spotlight at the US Olympic trials and Olympic Games. The US Olympic Trials will hold a special hammer throw only event just before the real thing starts up. As I wrote about last month, this could be good or bad. But it is a chance for us to earn the spotlight and I hope the throwers seize the opportunity. The same thing goes at the Olympics. The men’s hammer final will be the same night as the 100 meter final. What a great chance for glory and we’ve got some personable stars that can fill the role.
10 – An epic Olympic final. The best way to grab the spotlight is with a great competition. A few American records at the US Olympic trials, a women’s world record at the Olympics (or at least an Olympic record), and a thrilling back-and-forth competition for the men’s gold will bring a few more eyes towards the hammer ring. But more than anything it will make the core fans giddy as we watch with excitement.