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The Rise of the Small School Thrower

When I visited Portland last month I met up with Jared Schuurmans for a training session. Schuurmans is one of the top discus throwers in the US. Schuurmans had a bit of success in college while attending small Doane College and competing at the NAIA level. After graduating he became a bit of journeyman before moving to Portland last year to work with Mac Wilkins. This past season proved to be his best and most consistent as he improved by two and a half meters to 62.89 meters.

Former NAIA champion Jared Schuurmans is now one of the top discus throwers in America.

Former NAIA champion Jared Schuurmans is now among America’s best.

When we were talking about training and comparing our different approaches, one comment he made stuck with me. He said that everyone keeps telling him that the problem with American discus throwing is that throwers focus too much on strength, but most of the throwers he knew were like him and had just moderate strength in the weight room. I am as guilty as anyone of using this stereotype. After thinking about it I agree he is right; the old stereotypes do not apply like they once did.
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2013 IAAF Hammer Challenge Comes to a Close

Fajdek (right) and Pars (left) won gold and silver in Moscow and are close at the top of the IAAF Hammer Challenge standings. However a quirk in the rules means that the final competition of the season might not even count for them.

Fajdek (right) and Pars (left) won gold and silver in Moscow and are close at the top of the IAAF Hammer Challenge standings. However a quirk in the rules means that the final competition of the season might not even count for them.

The IAAF Hammer Challenge will come to a close on Sunday with a stop at the Rieti Meeting in Italy. The women’s competition is all but decided as a late season surge of three straight competitions over 77 meters for Anita Wlodarczyk gives her an insurmountable 6.90-meter lead heading into Rieti. The men’s competition, on the other hand, couldn’t be much closer. The top two throwers are only separated by 6-centimeters. However a unique aspect of the IAAF Hammer Challenge means that the final competition might not count at all.
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The Times They Are a-Changin’

At the beginning of 1964 young singer-songwriter Bob Dylan released what would be one of his most popular hits, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” The song came out during a tumultuous time around the world and these changes were not limited to politics or culture, they extended even to the hammer throw which was undergoing a rapid transformation. At the front of the sport throughout this period was one man: Harold Connolly. Read more

2013 World Championships Preview: Women’s Hammer Throw

The medalists from London have shown they are once again the clear favorites in Moscow.

The medalists from London have shown they are once again the clear favorites in Moscow.

The one thing the men’s hammer throw final on Monday taught us was that anything can happen in the hammer throw. Krisztián Pars was the clear favorite and none of the leading athletics publications picked Pawel Fajdek to win a medal, let alone win gold. But the young Polish thrower lead the competition from start to finish and his dominance never looked in doubt. In hindsight, the result wasn’t a complete surprise. As I noted in my preview, the top ten throwers all had a season best within two meters of Pars which left him vulnerable.

With the men’s competition over, the women now take center stage and once again anything can happen. The women’s hammer throw is not as deep as the men, but the top five entrants are all within two meters of each other creating a similar situation to the men’s competition. Added to this is the unpredictability of the event. Tatyana Lysenko entered both the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics having suffered significant losses at the hands of her rivals, but both times overcame the underdog role to win gold. Predicting this year’s winner is equally difficult. And, as is always the case when the top women come together, the world record will once again be under threat. When all these factors come together the women’s competition will likely be even more exciting than the thrilling men’s final.
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2013 World Championships Preview: Men’s Hammer Throw

Everyone agrees Pars (center) is the favorite. But everyone has different picks for the podium this year.

Everyone agrees Pars (center) is the favorite. But everyone has different picks for the podium this year.

As usual, the hammer throw will be starting off the action at this year’s world championships. The men’s qualifying round will take place on Saturday afternoon, where 29 athletes will battle to make it on to Monday’s 12 person final. Coming off of a dominant Olympic title, Krisztián Pars is the name to watch. On the one hand it might appear like he will have things easier this year since, as is expected after an Olympic year, the level of hammer throwing has receded slightly. This year saw just 11 throwers over 79 meters and 36 over 76 meters, compared with 16 and 47 throwers respectively in 2012. But on the other hand Pars is barely ahead of the competition. All of the top ten entrants have a season’s best within two meters of Pars. In other words, the competition should be close and the pressure will still be on Pars.

If you are interested in an overview of the other throwing events, check out the House Of Run Podcast where I previewed all of the throwing events a few weeks ago. Jesse Squire of the Daily Relay has also put togehter a short overview of the men’s throwing events.
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Cheating and the IAAF Qualifying Standards

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At the end of June I wrote about the absurdity of the IAAF men’s hammer throw standards. Now that the qualification period has closed we can see the extent of the damage done. Last year in London 42 athletes competed. This year, if each country sends the largest possible team and there are no new injuries, an estimated 26 athletes will compete at the World Championships. Only four countries will have more than one athlete: Russia, Belarus, Hungary and Poland.

My first post talked about how unrealistic standards are in comparison to historical results and how these standards exclude potential finalists and medalists from the competition. In addition, the standards discriminate against the hammer because funding and sponsorship decisions are often based upon the IAAF’s standards. Both of these points are equally valid for all field events, it is just that the hammer has been hit particularly hard.

But there is also an elephant in the room when we start talking about standards: illegitimate marks. The standards are so high that many athletes throw qualifying marks at competitions with questionable validity or doping control procedures. This, in turn, helps the IAAF justify higher standards. This is a bold statement for me to make, especially since I have only anecdotal evidence to back it up, but while many other elite athletes allude to the problem on Facebook no one is willing to come out and say it. The reason I want to speak up is because if the Diamond League included the hammer throw I think this problem would nearly disappear.
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High Standards Are Lowering the Standards in Hammer Throwing

The men’s hammer competition at last week’s IAAF Hammer Challenge meet in Ostrava assembled the best field of the year so far and included the Olympic gold medalist, the Olympic silver medalist and eight of the top eleven throwers in the world so far this season. Yet despite the big names, only two throwers eclipsed the IAAF “A” qualifying standard for this summer’s World Championships. And only five even surpassed the “B” standard, the minimum standard for entry to the World Championships. It is not that the results were bad; quite to the contrary the results were quite strong and for just the second time this year two throwers broke 80 meters in the same meet, something that didn’t even happen at last year’s Olympics and only happened three times during the entire 2012 season. The culprit wasn’t the performances, it was the exorbitantly high new IAAF Qualifying standards.

The last qualifier for the finals at all major championships over the past few decades. The current A standard is 79 meters. Stats compiled by Ian Tempest.

The qualifying standards in nearly every field event were raised after the London Olympics, but no event was hit harder than the men’s hammer throw. The new A qualifying standard is 79.00 meters. The B standard is now 76.00 meters. To put that in perspective 74.69 meters was good enough to qualify for the finals in London and 78.71 meters earned a medal. Yes you read that correct: the A standard is higher than what was required for a medal at the Olympic Games. As a result of these high standards, it is not surprising that only five men have met the A standard this year, by far the lowest number amongst all track and field events. Even the B standard is much higher than the mark required to make the finals at the majority of major championships over the past 25 years, as shown in the graph to the right and discussed in a previous analysis. At the end of this post I have also compiled an analysis which shows how many individuals have met the A standard in each event and how high the A standard would need to be if just the top five athletes in each event had reached it.

The decision to raise the standards is having the odd effect of lowering the standard of competition in the hammer throw. It is doing this in two major ways: (1) by keeping potential medalists and finalists out of the World Championships; and (2) by inadvertently limiting the funding and sponsorship opportunities available to top throwers in every country.
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2013 US Championships Hammer Throw Guide

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For many American throwers the season will already come to an end at this weekend’s US Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. However, for a select few the competition will also serve as a chance to extend their season through August by qualifying for this year’s World Championships in Moscow, Russia. The men will start the action on Friday afternoon, and the women will follow things up on Saturday afternoon. Below you will find a preview of both competitions, as well as an overview of the World Championships qualifying procedures, and an summary of which athletes have met the international qualifying standards so far this year.

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The Diamond League’s Make-Believe Infrastructure Problems

A few small divots shouldn't stop the hammer throw from being in the Diamond League, especially when the stadiums have hosted the hammer so many times before.

A few small divots shouldn’t stop the hammer throw from being in the Diamond League, especially when the stadiums have hosted the hammer so many times before.

Two weeks ago the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene proved once again that, despite the fears of meet directors, the hammer throw can be included in the Diamond League without any problems. The Prefontaine Classic has regularly hosted the hammer throw, and this year the event also became an official stop of the IAAF Hammer Challenge, making it the first Diamond League meet to join the IAAF Hammer Challenge circuit. Unlike other track and field events, which are included in at least half of the Diamond League meets and are eligible for the season ending jackpot, the hammer throw has been excluded from the sport’s premier circuit. While the prize money offered to hammer throwers at the Prefontaine Classic still falls behind the other events, just being included in a Diamond League meet is a sign of progress for an event that is often been denied a seat at the table.

But all this just begs the question why the Prefontaine Classic the only one of the 14 Diamond League Meets to hold the hammer throw. The same thought crossed my mind on Saturday as I threw the hammer at a competition in the Stade Olympique de la Pontaise in Lausanne. If we could throw hammer then, why can’t we throw in July when the Diamond League comes to Lausanne? The Diamond League has cited “infrastructure” as the problem and Weltklasse Zurich meet director Patrick Magyar elaborated on that last year to say that the Diamond League stadiums just cannot handle the hammer throw. The damage to the grass is supposedly too much, and the cages required are too big.

Unfortunately the Diamond League officials have jaded memories. It is not just Eugene and Lausanne that are capable of hosting the hammer; almost every Diamond League stadium has held the hammer throw in the past decade. Below I compiled a quick history of the hammer throw at each Diamond League meet and Diamond League stadium. Of the fourteen meets, twelve have a strong hammer throwing history. It is time to get past the excuses and look at the facts: the hammer throw could be successfully included in the Diamond League and such an exciting event would add a lot to each meet.
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10 Reasons to Watch the Hammer in 2013

Are you ready for the hammer season? Ready or not, elite throwers around the world are getting ready to enter the ring if they haven’t done so already. On Saturday, the first major US meet of the season will take place at the Mt. SAC Relays with throwers like Kibwé Johnson, Libor Charfreitag, Drew Loftin, Mark Dry, Sultana Frizell, Jessica Cosby, Sophie Hitchon, Sarah Holt, Britney Henry, and several other elites. The IAAF Hammer Challenge kicks off in a few weeks in Tokyo. I’ve had six months to speculate, talk about, and analyze the upcoming season. So without further ado here are the 10 reasons why I think everyone should watch the hammer this year. And feel free to comment below with what you are looking forward to in 2013.


1 – 80 meters still has to be right around the corner. It was first on my list last year and remains first on my list this year. I want to see the women’s world record broken with the first throw over 80 meters. A half dozen women are within striking distance and just one of them needs to get there. Betty Heidler has to be the favorite to reach the mark first. Not only is she the current world record holder at 79.42 meters, but her recent inconsistency plays to her advantage in this regard. Throwers like Lysenko have been so consistent that I would be more surprised by a big personal best. But with Heidler anything is possible and a big throw of 80 meters is definitely one of them. Read more