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Spitzen Leichtathletik Luzern Recap

The brand new Luzern athletics stadium with Pilatus in the background.

Thanks to the generosity of meet director and friend Terry McHugh, the hammer throw was added to this year’s Spitzen Leichtathletik Luzern meet on Thursday. This meet is one of my favorites in Switzerland. While its budget is dwarfed in comparison to Switzerland’s two Diamond League meets, it still manages to bring in Olympic champions and world record holders every year. This edition was no exception as I headlined the meet along with Andreas Thorkildsen and Yelena Isinbayeva. Well maybe I was more of a footnote, but I still got to throw at another top meet.

The Setting
The reason I love the Luzern meet is because of the environment. I visited for the first time in 2003 and was struck by the beauty. The stadium sits at the base of Pilatus and the mountain is so close you feel like you can hit it on a good throw. While the stadium is small, it is always packed with fans excited to be close to the stars. In 2003 I happened to find a great shot put competition with John Godina, Resse Hoffa, and a young Christian Cantwell. Watching these stars from just feet away made quite an impression on me as a teenager, especially when Godina invited me to join them for dinner afterwards.

This was my first time competing in the meet and it has still maintained the same charm. The only blip was the weather. After four months of summer, spring has finally arrived in Switzerland.
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IAAF Hammer Challenge Sinks to New Low

After the first year of the IAAF Hammer Challenge, reviews were bad. Athletes, coaches, and commentators have all spoken out about how the opportunities for hammer throwers were reduced last year under the new system. Previously, the hammer throw was included in many of the world’s top one day meetings. After those meeting joined the new Diamond League, they cut the hammer from the new program.* The IAAF then set up the IAAF Hammer Challenge to help accomodate the event by adding it to some smaller events, but offering it a reduced amount of prize money.

Hopefully the return of Olympic champion Primož Kozmus from retirement can help resuscitate the men's hammer throw.

I was hoping to hear today that the IAAF decided to remedy this problem at today’s IAAF council meeting. Instead, they reduced the number of meets included in next year’s IAAF Hammer Challenge. While the women will still have eight events, the men will be reduced from seven to five events over the course of the season. Fewer meets means it will be even harder for elite throwers to make a living. Along with the world championships, there will only be six hammer meets offering a decent paycheck for male hammer throwers (and by decent, I am being liberal with the term since a $2,000 first prize at a Hammer Challenge event will hardly pay the bills). In reality, only the top few throwers in the world would be able to be a “professional” and truly make a living at the event without the assistance of their national federations.

In announcing the change, the IAAF was pleased to note that “The Hammer throw Challenge was created in 2010 when it was found out that this discipline was the only one which was not included in the new Diamond League concept.” While the statement makes the IAAF sound altruistic, it is quite the contrary since the IAAF has significant influence with the Diamond League and was involved with the decision to exclude the hammer in the first place. Furthermore, they could have better fixed the situation by setting up a better alternative circuit that made it possible for hammer throwers to compete at more high level competitions and earn some more money in the process.

The one good thing about this announcement is that the women’s hammer throw will not be cut back. The event was exciting this year and that has shown through by the fact that many of the competitions that hosted only a men’s event last year will switch to the women’s hammer throw in 2011. With a new world record and great battles between Anita Wlodarcyk, Betty Heidler, and Tatyana Lysenko, there was plenty of excitement at nearly every meet. The men’s hammer throw lacked that star power, but it should return in 2011 since Primož Kozmus is planning on coming out of retirement under the guidance of a new coach. Hopefully he can help reverse the trend.

2010 IAAF Hammer Challenge
• 3 meetings organized both men and women: Rio – Ostrava – Rieti
• 4 meetings organized only a men’s event: Osaka – Hengelo – Madrid – Zagreb
• 5 meetings organized only a women’s event: Dakar – Daegu – Moscow – Athens – Berlin

Provisional 2011 IAAF Hammer Challenge:
• 3 meetings intend to organize both men and women: Rio – Ostrava – Rieti
• 2 meetings intend to organize only a men’s event: Osaka/Kawasaki – Zagreb
• 5 meetings intend to organize only a women’s event: Dakar – Daegu – Hengelo – Moscow – Madrid

*Note: While the hammer throw is not part of the Diamond League program, the Prefontaine Classic did go out of its way to add the women’s hammer throw as a non-Diamond League event at this year’s meet. It was the only Diamond League meet to do so and those lucky enough to attend saw a great competition and the furthest throw ever on American soil. The Oregon student newspaper even led it’s recap of the meet with the hammer throw.

More Press for the Hammer Throw

I’ve been busy lately with my continued mission to evangelize the world about the hammer throw. If you are a frequent reader of this site, you already know my thoughts on the current state of the hammer throw. We’ve been excluded from the top meets and are shrinking away into oblivion. But perhaps worse is that the vast majority of track fans don’t even realize our absence. Many posts here have tried to inform the world of this, and now I’ve spread my efforts elsewhere.
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Reviewing the IAAF Hammer Challenge

When the IAAF announced the new IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge last November, I was skeptical. My mindset was already biased and bitter because the hammer throw was not included in the Diamond League, but hearing about the new Hammer Challenge only made me feel worse about the future of the event. I felt like someone was selling me dirt and calling it a diamond.

The initial announcement for the Diamond League six months earlier had the opposite effect. I was excited. The Golden League often held only one, if any, throwing events. The Diamond League, on the other hand, offered more opportunities for the throwers. In the initial press release, IAAF President Lamine Diack even said, “It is great for me to be able to announce that all events* of our sport will be touring around the world.” But, as I read on, I realized that ‘all’ did not mean all since an asterisk had been inserted into his quote. That’s the first time I’d ever seen an asterisk inserted into a quote from a press release before. As I scrolled down I was informed that that Diamond League was very distressed that they could not include the hammer throw in this new series due to ambiguous “infrastructure” reasons which have yet to be clarified in the last 18 months. However, the IAAF promised a new hammer throw challenge to help compensate the hammer throwers for being kicked out of the inner circle. Maybe, I thought, things would turn out okay. After details of the Hammer Challenge finally emerged in February, it became clear that we had been screwed.

What actually hurt the most was that the IAAF tried to spin it as a gift to our sport with a headline reading, “IAAF throws weight behind Hammer discipline with $202,000 purse.” That is indeed a large amount of money, but it isn’t any more than the hammer throwers were receiving under the old system. Rather than “throwing its weight” behind the hammer throw, the IAAF was pushing it to the periphery of the sport as the other throwing events got promoted to the big leagues.

To get into the details, the new series did not really create any new opportunities for hammer throwers. Most of the meets included in the “hammer challenge” had already hosted the hammer throw in previous years. And, to make matters worse, not only was the hammer throw relegated to the second tier meets, but it was by far the worst paid event at the second tier meets. For instance at the Zagreb meeting the winners of every international event earned $4,000 to $5,500, except the hammer throw which took home just $2,000. This was the case at every meet. While there was a year-end jackpot to supplement this, previous years allowed athletes to earn just as much money at the World Athletics Final.

Libor Charfreitag is not a fan of the this year's new IAAF Hammer Challenge. Photo from TopAthletics.org.

In addition, if you were a spectator at any of the hammer challenge meets, you would not have even noticed it existed. No effort was made to market the series and the events were contested before the international program and television coverage began at the meets. I spoke with Libor Charfreitag, the current European Champion, and he felt the event did not get the respect it deserved. “It is actually pretty hard to tell if it was any different from previous years. I would say that overall it was worse … When it comes to each individual meet, we were definitely WORSE OFF … The winner of hammer throw was always the most under-appreciated athlete at the meet! Is this fair? Not only hammer throw was excluded from the Diamond League with no real or persuasive reason, BUT we received no to very little compensation for being kicked out!” [Emphasis added.]

Of anyone, I would think Charfreitag might be happy with the current system. He placed third in the series, entitling him to a $14,000 bonus. Including his prize money from each meet, he earned $19,200 from the series. But, that is barely enough to pay the bills for the season considering the seven meets on the circuit represent virtually the only money making opportunities for a hammer thrower. To put this in perspective, the winner of each Diamond League meet in the discus (or any other event) took home $10,000 and top high jumpers are complaining that this isn’t enough for them to make a living. In addition, being in the Diamond League exposes the athletes to more fans, making them more attractive to sponsors.

But matters get worse. Charfreitag is at the top of the food chain. My training partner Sultana Frizell fared worse this year under the new Hammer Challenge. Despite placing 10th at last year’s world championships and breaking her own Canadian record this May, she was only invited to two of the seven Hammer Challenge competitions. Most of the meets featured the same 4 or 5 top athletes mixed in with some local talent. Anyone outside of that pool had to sit on the sidelines. To make matters worse, the meets were spread out over four continents and six months. The final standings were based on each athlete’s three best results and Sultana still placed 12th with just two meets. However, she wasn’t awarded the twelfth place prize since she did not have the requisite number of meets. This is one of the world’s best athletes, and she barely received any money from this series. In talking with her, she earned more last year under the old system and much of her prize money this year came from a non-Hammer Challenge meet: the Prefontaine Classic. And it all continues to trickle down. Without opportunities at the top meets, Sultana seeks out opportunities at lower paying meets, pushing athletes at my level out of the picture all together.

I asked Libor if he has any suggestions for improving the series and his reply was short and simple: “YES! One and only- make hammer throw part of the Diamond League!!!” He’s right. If the IAAF wanted to support the event, it would have tried to include it in the Diamond League with every other event. In the alternative, they could have created a hammer challenge that at least paid the athletes comparably and highlighted the event. Instead, they did neither and never even gave a reason for their decision.

Libor mentioned to me that if the meets are looking for publicity, records, and fans, the hammer throw is the perfect event. Only one women’s event had a new world record this year: the women’s hammer throw. But rather than being thrown in front of the world, it was thrown at a small meet in Bydgoszcz, Poland. The free publicity that comes with a world record was lost because of this. The women’s hammer is a young event that is ripe for attention, but isn’t even given the opportunity to shine. Hopefully the IAAF and the Diamond League will come to their senses before the hammer throw drifts off into further obscurity and another opportunity is lost for track and field.

How to Make the Diamond League Sparkle

As the first year of the Diamond League drew to a close last weekend, reviews and commentary are beginning to pop up online. The comments so far, however, have focused mostly on whether or not the series has been good for the athletes. I think that’s a fairly simple question to answer: it tends to be better for some of the minor events and worse for the top events. The shot putters I’ve talked to have loved the series. The event was rarely included in the Diamond League in the past decade, but this year they have been included in a high-profile meets getting the athletes both more exposure and more money. Other events have seen a decline in competitions and earnings. Because more events have been included, appearance fees have become rare in order to pay for the extra events (except for the select few Diamond League Ambassadors). A Twitter exchange between sprint star turned TV announcer Ato Boldon, high jumper Jamie Nieto, and sprint Lisa Barber concluded with Nieto saying “The Diamond League is making it real hard to make a living. Something has got to change.” The split program concept, where meets alternate hosting certain events, also means less meets for 100m runners and stars from events that used to be included in every meet. Sprinter Carmelita Jeter told Spikes Magazine that “This year I had about 40 to 50% less races, because of the split programme concept.” (By my count, she’s only done 13 meets outdoors this year versus 23 last year). This also hurts mid-level athletes, since some of the top athletes are now entering mid-level meets to fill the gaps in their schedule, which is leaving the mid-level athletes with fewer chances to compete.

The fans came out to watch the Diamond League, but was the new series a success? Photo by lejoe on Flickr.

So, to summarize, some athletes win and some lose. And that doesn’t even mention the hammer throw, which was excluded from the series all together. Of greater interest to me, however, is whether the Diamond League met its goal of expanding the brand of athletics. Meeting that goal will help the athletes, coaches, meet directors, and everyone involved in the sport.
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Diamond League Update: Pre Classic to Host Women’s Hammer

I’ve been paying particular attention to the IAAF’s newly formed Diamond League. This elite group of one-day meetings will start up this summer and provide exciting opportunities to athletes in every track and field event except the hammer throw. The IAAF has set up a slightly disappointing Hammer Throw Challenge series, but the hammer throw has still been left out of the most high profile meets this year.

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IAAF Annouces Schedule for Hammer Challenge

As I’ve blogged about before, the hammer throw will be the one discipline excluded from the IAAF’s new Diamond League circuit.  Last November, the IAAF announced that it would instead create a Hammer Throw Challenge series.  Today, more details were released, including the schedule and prize money structure of the new series.

The Good

On the plus side, hammer throwers should be thankful that there even is a Hammer Throw Challenge.  Momentum has been pushing the hammer throw outside of the stadium over the past decade.  The Hammer Throw Challenge assures hammer throwers a spot in track and field, even if it is not on the world’s biggest stage.

The new Challenge will consist of eleven meetings.  Three of the meetings  will host both the men’s and women’s hammer throw.  The remaining eight meetings will host either the men’s or women’s hammer, giving each gender seven total competitions.  The complete schedule is as follows:

  • Dakar, Senegal –  24 April – Women
  • Osaka, Japan – 08 May – Men
  • Daegu, South Korea – 19 May – Women
  • Rio de Janiero, Brazil – 23 May – Men & Women
  • Ostrava,Czech Republic, 27 May – Men & Women
  • Hengelo, Netherlands – 30 May – Men
  • Madrid, Spain – 02 July – Men
  • Athens, Greece – 12 July – Women
  • Berlin, Germany – 22 August – Women
  • Rieti, Italy – 29 August – Men & Women
  • Zagreb, Croatia – 01 September – Men

While none of these competitions are a member of the IAAF Diamond League, all the prestigious meetings that are part of the second-tier IAAF World Challenge.  These meets will allow athletes great exposure for hammer throwers and the opportunity to compete in some wonderful venues.  For example, Rio will host the 2016 Olympics, Daegu will host the 2011 World Championships, Berlin hosted the 2009 World Championships, and Athens hosted the 2004 Olympic Games.  Some of the meets have also been proud supporters of the hammer throw in the past and always make every effort to bring more recognition to the sport.  Ostrava, which will be hosting both men’s and women’s hammers, has seen some of this century’s furthest throws and the Zagreb meeting is organized by former world championships hammer throw finalist Ivana Brkljacic.

The Bad

The headline of today’s IAAF press headline trumpets the $200,000 purse given throughout the Hammer Throw Challenge. While this is a large sum, it is relatively little when it is divided among the top dozen men and women in the world over the course of 11 meetings. This amount also makes the disparity in track and field all the more evident since Usain Bolt is commanding appearance fees greater than this amount for less than 10 seconds of entertainment.

The prize money will be distributed at each competition, and again at the end of the season. Top finishers at each meet will receive prize money ranging from $2,000 for first place to $400 for eight. At the end of the season, finishers will add up their three best results and can earn bonuses of $30,000 for first through $500 for 12th. This prize money is nothing to laugh at, but it is a step back for elite hammer throwers. The $30,000 jackpot is equal to the jackpot of the now defunct IAAF World Athletics Final. The IAAF simply moved the prize money from one meeting to another.  The $2,000 prize for winning a meeting is also less than half what was offered at some of the top meetings last year like Doha and Eugene, both of which are now members of the Diamond League.

Despite what the IAAF says, the organization is not throwing much weight behind the new Hammer Throw Challenge.

The Ugly

The hammer throw will be part of just seven of the world’s major one-day meetings this year.  American hammer throwers will definitely feel the pain of the new format since their opportunities to compete internationally are already limited by proximity to the competitions (none will be in North America) and by the fact that there is no international championship available to them this year.  Europeans will have the European Championships and Canada will compete in the Commonwealth Games, but America will only have the IAAF Continental Cup, and only two athletes from all of North and South American can qualify for that meet.  This means that the American women, who have been the most competitive on the international stage, will have to beat out Olympic silver medalist Yipsi Moreno and World Championship Finalist Arasay Thondike of Cuba, Canadian record holder Sultana Frizell, and South American record holder Jenny Dahlgren of Argentina just to get to the starting line.

The best throwers in the world will still be able to make a living throwing hammers, but their incomes will likely drop and sponsors may be less willing to throw money at them since their exposure will be reduced.  Throwers sitting just inside the world’s top 20 will have to struggle even more to make ends meet.  Five-hundred dollars for 12th place in the jackpot standings will do little to pay the rent.

If you want to read more about how the Diamond League and other changes in the Grand Prix circuit with affect throwers in all events, read my article in the most recent copy of Long and Strong Throwers Journal.

IAAF Launches Hammer Throw Challenge

Today some more news has emerged about the hammer throw for next season.  As I’ve discussed before, the hammer throw is the one event not included in the new IAAF Diamond League that begins next season.  Instead, the hammer throw will be included at several second tier competitions, with the highest point winner at the competitions to receive an additional prize. Regulations have been drafted and more details will be available soon.

Why the hammer throw is excluded from the Diamond League

With this new announcement, it is final that the new IAAF Diamond League will not include the hammer throw.

With this new announcement, it is final that the new IAAF Diamond League will not include the hammer throw.

The problem apparently is that not all the Diamond League facilities are adequate enough to host the hammer throw.  For instance, the Monaco facility is built above a parking garage, thus creating a potential problem for the high impact event.  Each event in the Diamond League will stage 16 events every year on a rotational basis.  So, for instance, if the Monaco facility stages the high jump and long jump one year, it will then stage the pole vault and triple jump the next year.  Since not every facility can host the hammer throw and the hammer throw would have been the odd seventeenth event, it created an issue for the rotating event system they have set up by throwing off its equilibrium.  The only way to resolve the issue would have been to have certain meetings host the hammer every year instead of rotating, and apparently that was not an acceptable solution.

Last minute lobbying

While the decision to exclude the hammer throw was announced last spring, several efforts have been made to reverse the decision. Some of the world’s top hammer throwers, including Olympic Champ Primoz Kozmus, began circulating a petition at the World Athletics Final for for the hammer throw to be included in the Diamond League.  Some top athletes such as Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, and Yelena Isinbayeva signed on.  The effort was continued by Kozmus’s agent after Kozmus announced his unexpected retirement last month.  However, the movement was likely too late to have an impact.

New Grand Prix structure

The current Golden League and Grand Prix circuits will be replaced next season with a new structure.  The top competitions will form the Diamond League, where points are accumulated at each competition and the top point winner in each event at the end of the season will receive a 4 carat diamond. The second tier competitions will form the IAAF World Challenge.  Just today, the IAAF announced that the Challenge League will include 13 competitions on four continents.  Additional details about the World Challenge League are forthcoming.

New Hammer Throw Challenge structure

The hammer throw will be included in at least six competitions, mainly those in the World Challenge Meetings.  Presumably, points will be accumulated at these meetings and athletes will vie for a season ending prize.  This is similar to the structure of the current IAAF Combined Events Challenge and IAAF Race Walking Challenge.  The IAAF has not announced the structure of prize money or which meetings will be included in the Hammer Throw Challenge.  However, several World Challenge League competitions have been proud supporters of the hammer throw in the past and will likely continue to host the event as part of the Hammer Throw Challenge (e.g. Ostrava, Zagreb, Osaka, etc.).  It is also possible that some of the competitions will be hammer only, similar to how the combined events and race walking challenges are held.

Impact on the hammer throw

This latest news is big blow to the hammer throw.  The hammer throw has never been a premier event, but this decision will only ensure that the event’s status will not change.  Not only will the hammer throw be excluded from the world’s top one-day meetings, but now it looks like it will not even have normal event status in the World Challenge League.  In all likelihood, the Hammer Throw Challenge will be comprised of competitions that already included the hammer throw, thus not providing any additional competitions for elite hammer throwers.  Furthermore, hammer throwers likely won’t have the chance to earn any additional prize money since the Hammer Throw Challenge jackpot likely will be similar to what was offered at the discontinued World Athletics Final.  The only upside is that in addition to the 16 regular events, each Diamond League Competition will apparently be allowed to host “National Events” which feature mainly competitors from that country.  This regulation may provide a way for the hammer throw to sneak its way into a few Diamond League events next year, although likely as a pre-program event.

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Diamond League Plans to Exclude Hammer Throwers

The world’s largest one-day meetings will undergo a huge reorganization next year. Currently, the top professional circuit is the Golden League, a six meeting series offering winners of certain events at all meetings a share of a $1,000,000 jackpot. The Golden League will be disbanded next season and replaced with the Diamond League, a larger, more international circuit of 14 meetings in Europe, America and Asia. Each meeting will have prize money of $416,000 and all 32 disciplines will have the same prize money. In addition, points can be accumulated at each meeting throughout the season. The athlete with the most points at the end of the series will be awarded a 4 carat diamond (worth approximately $80,000).
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