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For the Love of the Games

Back in my better looking days I had a beard and Brian Richotte beat me for both the Pac 10 and NCAA Regional titles.

Compared to other sports, it is amazing to hear what type of situations many hammer throwers have to train through on their way to this year’s Olympic Trials and Olympics. My friend Brian Richotte is a perfect example. Brian coached himself to 69.56 meters in 2011 even though he had just come back to the sport after several years away. His prospects are even higher for this year, but after talking with him it sounds like he is lucky just to find time to work out. In addition to training, he works full-time, coaches the throwers at the University of Detroit Mercy, and has an (understanding) girlfriend. Here is how he describes his week: “Monday through Friday I leave my house at 5:30 am and work until 5 pm. I then drive 50 minutes from Ann Arbor to Detroit in time for a 6 pm starting time for practice. I get home around 9:30 or 10 pm at night.” As he puts it, this schedule teaches him to learn to love coffee.
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Looking Back on 2011: Best Moments in Hammer Throwing

I’ve ranked the top ten men. I’ve ranked the top ten women. But there are many moments that can’t be captured in athlete’s rankings. Throughout 2011 there were some great events in hammer throwing that were one-off occurrences or even something a non-thrower accomplishes. Below is a list of my favorite moments in hammer throwing from the past year.
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Looking Back at 2011: Women’s Rankings

Betty Heidler's world record helped her earn first

With a new world record and a new world champion, 2011 was an exciting year for the women’s hammer throw. Below I’ve compiled my top ten throwers of the year. Check back next week when I will recap some of the greatest moments of the year. If you want some stats for the season, check out the IAAF’s performance lists.


1. Betty Heidler (GER). As with my men’s rankings, my top ranked woman in 2011 also did not win the World Championships. But she did set a new world record that is tantalizingly close to 80 meters. This was also the only outdoor track and field record of 2011. She was also strong before and after Worlds, with eight straight win before and four afterwards and nine of the top ten performance of 2011. In addition to her record in Halle, she easily captured a win in the IAAF World Hammer Challenge where she won each meet she entered by an average of more than 3 meters. Even her runner-up mark of 76.06 meters at the World Championships would have been good enough to beat her competitors any other meet in 2011. She may have just won silver in Daegu, but she was the class of the field this year.
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Looking Back at 2011: Men’s Rankings

My top three also swept the podium in Daegu...only in a different order.

In February, Track and Field News releases their annual rankings for each event which are considered the international standard of success. I can’t wait that long, so I’ve compiled my own top ten list. The year is almost over after all.

My criteria is subjective, so let the debate begin. Feel free to post your own thoughts in the comment section below. If you want some stats for the season, check out the IAAF’s performance lists.


1. Krisztian Pars (HUN). Pars had a nearly perfect season. He had the best mark of the year at 81.89m. He broke 80 meters more than any other thrower. He won 20 of his 24 competitions and never placed lower than third. He won the more World Hammer Challenge competitions than anyone and walked away with the title. But there is a reason it was only “nearly” perfect. To be perfect he would have also needed a win at the World Championships. In a thrilling competition he took the silver as his final attempt just two inches away from the gold. But his overall resume was so strong I feel he had the best overall season.
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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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Star Search Begins in Hammer Throw

Primoz Kozmus presenting a gift to Lord Sebastian Coe.

Defending Olympic champion Primož Kozmus travelled to London last week for the “London before London” event hosted by the Slovenian Embassy. Featured alongside Kozmus was Lord Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London Olympic Games Organizing Committee. At the end of the evening the two took a minute to speak about the Diamond League hammer throw exclusion and Kozmus commented that “Lord Coe expressed his support and endeavors to bring [the hammer throw] back to this important track and field competition.”

The hammer throw has a long list of tasks it needs to do to increase its profile, and I write about this often. But the bottom line is that it needs put itself back in the headlines. And having a personable and likable face for the event helps tremendously. Read more

Hammer Throw Research Wins Ig Nobel Prize

Hammer throw research won its first, and perhaps only, international award.

As a hammer thrower, you get used to answering the same questions over and over from coworkers and onlookers. Away from training most people always ask “Do you throw, like, a real hammer?” But pedestrians that stroll by my training normally and see me throw always lead with another question: “Don’t you get dizzy?” The answer is no. I don’t get dizzy. Ever. I can complete dozens of turns in a row without getting dizzy. The only time I remember getting dizzy is when I was just starting out in the event ten years ago.

The follow-up is often along the lines of “Well then, you must use ‘spotting’ like dancers.” Again, the answer is no. Spotting is actually considered a bad habit in throwing. But when they ask why we don’t get dizzy, I don’t really have an answer.

Just a few weeks ago I was complaining about the lack of research going on in the event and someone must have heard me because the question the puzzled me also stumped a team of European researchers, especially when they noticed that discus throwers can get dizzy. The researchers surveyed 22 discus and hammer throwers. About half of the discus throwers experienced dizzyness, while none of the hammer throwers did. Even more puzzling was that some of the throwers did both events and only experienced symptoms in the discus. This lead them to believe that it was the different movements, and not simply different physiology among athletes, that caused the different results.

After completing the research, the researchers published the paper “Dizziness in Discus Throwers is Related to Motion Sickness Generated While Spinning”. And the reason I found out about this paper is because the intuitive conclusion in the paper’s title earned it the Ig Nobel Prize in physics and was featured on the Scientific American homepage. (The Ig Nobel Prizes are a parody of the Nobel Prizes given every year to research that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”) Indeed, the funny premise for a study turns out to be quite interesting for hammer throwers and also has implications on research the team is doing on motion sickness in general, which is a concept that is still not fully understood. They identified three distinguishing factors that likely prevent hammer throwers from getting dizzy.

  • Hammer throwers use the arms and hammer to visually orient themselves. While the surroundings whirls around, the hammer and arms remain in front of the thrower through the throw. This provides them with spatial orientation. In a way, the hammer thrower is actually ‘spotting’ like a dancer. But rather than spotting on a fixed point as the dancer does, they are spotting on a point that is moving along with them. In the discus, both the surroundings and the implement are constantly changing position relative to the thrower, making it impossible for the throw to fix their eyes on anything.
  • In the hammer throw, the head remains immobile in comparison to the torso. There are slight movements throughout the throw, but generally the head looks straight ahead. In the discus, on the other hand, the head is constantly in a new position compared to the torso as the torso twists and the head moves. According to the authors, this produces “Coriolis forces”, which are known to prompt motion sickness.
  • Hammer throwers always keep contact with the ground, while discus throwers spend some time suspended in the air. Jumping can significantly hamper spatial orientation.

The best way to demonstrate the first two points is by showing a video of Olympic champion Primoz Kozmus throwing with a camera attached to his head. While the camera is above his head (and thus reduces the amount of arm that his eyes would actually see), you can see that the hammer provides a point of visual fixation and that the head is relatively immobile compared to the torso. I watched the video twice, first looking at the surroundings and then focusing on the ball and actually noticed a small difference from the comfort of my computer. Maybe next time this team can work on a topic that can help me throw farther.

2011 World Championships Preview: Women’s Hammer Throw

Betty Heidler hopes to be victorious like she was at her last World Championship in Asia.

Perhaps the event with the best chance of setting a world record at this year’s world championship is the women’s hammer throw. Betty Heidler nearly became the first woman in history to break 80 meters earlier this season with her impressive throw of 79.42 meters in Halle. With that throw, she broke the second of Anita Wlordaczyk’s world records. Before Wlordaczyk was Tatyana Lysenko, who held the mark from 2006 to 2009. While Heidler and Lysenko have already met this year, Daegu is the first time this year that all three will face each other. It is rare for three world record holders to be in the same competition, but it is rarer still that they are all in the prime of their careers. At age 27, Lysenko is the oldest of the trio. The exciting men’s final produced season’s bests by all of the medalists. A similar result will create some some early fireworks as the women’s hammer takes place on Sunday, the final day of the meet. Below you will find a preview of these three women and the other contenders for medals.
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2011 World Championships Preview: Men’s Hammer Throw

IAAF World ChampionshipsWhile the men’s hammer throw likely won’t produce any headline-making distances at this year’s world championships, it should be one of the closest competitions in Daegu. The is no hiding that the level of the event has fallen with the stock market since 2007. Back in Osaka, the field was deeper than ever and it took more than 78 meters to place in the top ten. In Berlin, 79 meters somehow took silver and this year the A-standard of 78 meters is enough to win some of the IAAF Hammer Challenge meets (image the A-standard of 10.18 winning a Diamond League 100m event). There are now fewer A qualifiers in the hammer than any event at the championships.

The bright side is that the lower level has opened up the competition. Any of a dozen athletes could realistically stand atop the podium. A throw of just over 80 meters should win and, at the very least, will guarantee a medal. Of the 35 competitors, nearly half (16) have broken that barrier in their career. The sparse schedule for the IAAF Hammer Challenge means that many of the best were last tested more than six weeks ago in Madrid. Six weeks is a long time. It’s ample time to either fix mistakes or get rusty. World leader Aleksey Zagorniy has now withdrawn due to injury, leaving the twelve throwers I profile below as the top contenders. As you might notice, the field is so deep that I had to leave out an Olympic medalist.

If you are interested in a short overview of the other throwing and field events, Jesse Squire and I gave a quick rundown of each event for the House of Run podcast last week. 
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Remembering Harold Connolly

One year ago, the global hammer throw community lost its greatest advocate. For the past 60 years, nearly every great american hammer thrower knew and was influenced by Harold Connolly. Some, like Kevin McMahon, were coached by him. Others didn’t even agree with him, but couldn’t avoid his impact.  While his stubbornness made many hostile, he forced even those people to look hard at their values before deciding they were correct.

I could immediately sense this when I met Harold. This led me to learn my most valuable lesson from him: every moment is a chance to teach and learn.  Read more