A Case Study in Resurrecting an Event

Here in Switzerland you can see first hand that the hammer throw has been declining over the past decade. Youth participation is so low that the hammer throw was cancelled at the national under-23 championships for lack of participation this year. But the problem isn’t isolated in Switzerland; neighboring Germany has seen youth hammer results in decline recently and what was once the strongest hammer throwing nation had results of 70 and 60 meters win medals at this years national senior men’s and women’s championships in the hammer throw. But while many countries are struggling, at least one has not just witnessed growth, but a growth level perhaps unmatched in history. That country is the United States.

Spearheaded by the efforts of Harold Connolly and many others in the mid-1990s, the number of US youth hammer throwers has increased fivefold at beginning and elite levels by almost every measure. This success is remarkable and something that other countries and other events can analyze when trying to replicate such success.
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Bill Cosby Was a Hammer Thrower

Comedian Bill Cosby throwing the shot put in college.

For people like me and my readers, the hammer throw is a year-round sport. Whether or not there are competitions, we are following our favorite athletes, out there training ourselves, or coaching others. But for the vast majority of the world, thinks it happens just once every four years if they have even heard of the hammer throw. Some people complain about this, but I think it is wonderful that we ever get this much exposure. Let’s be honest, the hammer throw will never be a household sport and we get the rarely chance to expose new people to the event. Even if the hammer throw is added to the Diamond League that will only give it a fraction of the exposure the Olympics did. Even without much television coverage or any Americans on the podium it was still the topic of some water cooler conversations around the world.
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Harold Connolly: Grit Personified

Psychologist Angela Duckworth has done some interesting research into what personality traits can be used as predictors for success in school and other ventures. IQ, for example, is actually a poor indicator of how high a student’s GPA will be. Duckworth’s early research showed that self-control was a much more reliable predictor, but even that was not a good predictor of higher successes. As a lengthy New York Times piece summarized “People who accomplished great things, she noticed, often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take. She decided she needed to name this quality, and she chose the word ‘grit.'”

When I think of grit, I think of one man: 1956 Olympic Champion Harold Connolly. Read more

Hammer Time a Success After Stunning Performances

I’m sure Kibwe loves that they chose to use this picture of him on the logo.

The US Olympic Track and Field Trials got into action yesterday with a special event for the hammer throw taking place at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. An estimated crowd of 3,000 spectators swarmed the campus and they were welcomed by a rare sight for Oregonians this June: the sun. It seemed like everything lined up to produce a great event. In my season and meet previews I highlighted this as an event that was crucial for hammer throwers. With extra media and fans in attendance, throwers could either step up their game and give the media something special to write about, or they could make it just another event. The throwers definitely seized the opportunity and left all in attendance with a memorable experience and the outflow from the event is still coming in as media outlets have been writing about and praising the event non-stop for the past 24 hours.

At the end of the day, the US now has its first track and field Olympians: Kibwe Johnson, A.G. Kruger, Amber Campbell, Amanda Bingson, and Jessica Cosby. Three of the five will be making their first Olympic appearance. Congratulations! The final results are available here online for men and women. While I was unable to attend, both my family and many friends were there. After talking with them, reading all the media reports, these are a few things that stood out to me.
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US Olympic Trials Hammer Throw Guide

The Olympic Track and Field Team Trials kick off on Friday in Eugene, Oregon, but the action starts a day earlier and 111 miles north when the hammer throw final takes place on Thursday at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton. The decision to move the hammer away from the main event has stirred a bit of controversy since little was done to initially promote the event. Even within the last week there were three separate reports of Nike employees telling individuals and press that the event was not open to the general public. But a little controversy has been good as it pushed both the USATF and Nike to put out a last minute effort to publicize the event. A new hammer cage was recently installed at Ronaldo Field and bleachers will be coming soon. By all measures things are coming into shape just in time.
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Book Review: A World History of the Throwing Events

Like baseball, track and field is a sport for history and statistic buffs. Before the internet, the best way to follow the sport was simply by looking at the numbers and results. While the internet allows us to watch more events live, it also gives us access to results from a plethora of smaller competitions we would have never heard of otherwise. Show me a six-round series of throws and I can see the story of the meet come alive. Following these statistics is half the fun of the sport for me.

Italian statistician Roberto Quercetani is the grandfather of athletics statisticians. He helped found the Association of Track and Field Statisticians and served as its president from 1950 to 1968. Now, having just turned 90 years old, he has released his latest book: “A World History of the Throwing Events (1860-2011 Men and Women).” Read more

So When is Hammer Time?

Ronaldo Field in Beaverton will be the site of the U.S. Olympic Trials hammer throw competition.

I had mixed feelings when the U.S. Olympic Trials organizing committee officially announced its plan for “Hammer Time” last October. Moving the Olympic Trials hammer throw competition from Eugene up to the Portland area could very well highlight the event, but without the right support it also means that the hammer could further vanish into obscurity.
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US Youth Hammer Throw Survey

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We all know that the American hammer throwing has grown tremendously at the youth level over the past decade. While some countries and some events here in America see participation declining, the number of throwers over 50 meters has doubled in the States. America was once a country that had trouble qualifying athletes for international championships, but now it has produced junior world champions and has young throwers regularly in the finals at age-group championships. There are many reasons for this surge and I have put together this survey in order to help identify what cause Read more

Great Moustaches in Throwing History

It’s Movember again. Which means that for the past week thousands of men around the world have rediscovered what it means to be a man and started to grow moustaches to raise funds and awareness for men’s health issues. The movement started over a decade ago in Australia and has slowly spread throughout the world. Last year it generated 7.5 million dollars in donations in the US alone, and much more worldwide.

It tribute of men and moustaches, I’ve compiled a list of some of the greatest moustaches to ever enter a throwing ring (because this month is meant to raise issues for men’s health, I did not include any of the infamous East German female throwers).

Feel free to share your favorites in the comments section below.
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USATF Foundation Youth Hammer Throw Grants

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The USATF Foundation helps support the Youth Hammer Throw Grants.

Harold Connolly dedicated his last decades to the youth hammer throw. After encouraging athletes such as myself to pick up the event, he began to see that it wasn’t just the lack of throwers that was hurting America’s prospects in the event, it was also their isolation from one another. This isolation meant that talented kids were not getting the resources they needed to become world class throwers. So, in addition to all of his other projects, Harold began raising money in 2005 to give grants to the top youth throwers. He would email hundreds of people, plea on the internet, and hand out coaching DVDs in order to encourage donations. It started as a grassroots project every year and the money started to trickle in. He received a few larger donations, but the bulk of the funds came from $5 and $10 donations from people who believed in what he was doing. Read more