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In Memory of the Greatest Hammer Thrower

I hate starting a day off with bad news, but that’s exactly how my Thursday started this week. I normally check my e-mail right when I get up to see what I missed during daytime in America. My first e-mail was from my father and simply entitled “Harold Connolly.” I immediately got a strange feeling about it and, as I opened it, my worst fears were confirmed. My friend and mentor, 1956 gold medalist Harold Connolly had passed away. Read more

‘Saving the Hammer Throw’ Revisited

Last week’s post about Sándor Eckschmiedt’s proposal to save the hammer throw generated quite the buzz and a record number of visitors for this site. As I wrote in the post, Eckschmiedt wants to stop the hammer throw’s drift to the periphery of track and field by changing the weight and length. These moves would help make the event safer and also cut down the cost of the event. I was undecided about the plan after reading and thinking about it last week. While I could immediately see some of the troubles it might cause, I also knew something must be done to help the hammer throw. I solicited your input and got some great ideas in response.
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Saving the Hammer Throw

Hungarians know and love the hammer throw. The country is steeped in tradition and has produced four hammer throw gold medalists (third all-time behind the Soviet Union and America). Their state-owned television company has even produced a documentary on a notable hammer throwing coach. It came as no surprise when Hungary offered to host the hammer throw at the World Athletics Final from 2003 to 2005 after the infrastructure in Monaco was deemed unable to host the hammer. The challenge facing the event now is that many people, including myself, feel the event’s exclusion from top meets has put it on the periphery of track and field. And, yet again, it comes as no surprise that a Hungarian is one of the first to offer a possible solution to the problems facing our event.

The Proposal

Sándor Eckschmiedt is more than just your average university professor. At one time, he was among the world’s best hammer throwers. Track and Field News ranked Eckschmiedt in the world top ten on four separate occasions: 1964, 1967, 1968, and 1972. He also made the Olympic final in both 1968 and 1972, placing a career-high fifth in 1968. But now he sits on the Faculty of Physical Education and Sports Sciences at Semmelweis University in Budapest. His most recent work has been to publish a proposal for saving the hammer throw.  A copy of this report is available below.
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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.

It’s About the Athletes, Not the Medals

Alexandre Bilodeau, Canada's first gold medalist as host of the Olympics (photo by CTVOlympics.ca)

Take one look at Canadian freestyle skier Alex Bilodeau’s face today when the final results flashed on the scoreboard and showed his name in first place.  Take one look and you will immediately know what the Olympics are about: the athletes.  Bilodeau had the weight of the country on his shoulders.  Canada entered this Olympics in a unique position; it was the only country that had not won a gold medal while hosting multiple Games.  As a favorite on the second day of the games, many tapped  Bilodeau as a person that could break that streak.  And he did, reminding us in the process that as much as a country wants to succeed, these games really come down to individuals.  The Olympics are about those athletes that rise to the occasion and win.  And the Olympics are also about those athletes that weren’t even given the opportunity to compete.
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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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Youth Hammer Throwing in America

Last month I promised to write a little about what I think are some of the causes for why Americans are not as internationally competitive as they should be (for other discussions on this topic, see here and here). This post will focus on the role youth hammer throwing might play.

In the early twentieth century, hammer throwing was an official high school sport in 23 states. America also won the first six Olympic gold medals in the event, as well as four silver and four bronze medals at those games. Since then, things have changed. Now, only one state (small Rhode Island) has hammer throwing as an official high school event and America has won only one Olympic medal in the past 50 years (Lance Deal‘s bronze in 1996).
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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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