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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

Hammer Challenge Expansion Fixes Only Half the Problems

Since the IAAF Hammer Challenge was announced after the 2009 season the format has remained unchanged. That means that the flaws it had when it started still remained after its third season finished in September. Hammer throwers have been aware of the many problems, coaches have been aware, fans have been aware, and even the IAAF was aware. Over the past few weeks only people with the power to do anything quietly announced that several more meetings have been added to the series. This helps improve the series by bringing it up to 16 total meets and the World Championships. Not every meet will host both men and women, but the new schedule still almost doubles the number of competitions. Men will now have eleven chances to start and women ten. However while the changes solve two of the problems facing the Hammer Challenge, it falls far short of fixing the major issues confronting the circuit. Read more

Diamond League Finally Speaks About Hammer Throw

Weltklasse Zurich meet director Patrick Magyar.

The third season of the Diamond League has come to an end, and once again the hammer throwers have had to watch from the sidelines. As the only track and field athletes excluded from the Diamond League, hammer throwers have always protested the current state of affairs. Through the efforts of those like Kathrin Klaas, the movement has slowly gained more publicity. And, after three years, the Diamond League has still never given an official statement as to why the hammer throw has been excluded; the closest thing to that was a footnote to the initial press release stating that the hammer throw would be excluded for “infrastructure reasons”, whatever that means.

As time has gone on, Patrick Magyar, the outspoken director of the Weltklasse Zurich Diamond League meet, has let out some snippets of his views on the hammer throw. Magyar is a man we need to convince about the hammer throw since he not only runs the biggest Diamond League meet, but serves as vice chairman of the Diamond League and was CEO for the 2014 European Championships. Last year in an interview with the Basler Zeitung, Magyar said that the future of athletics should include less events, particularly the heavy throwing events since he does not feel they are as entertaining in a stadium. The hammer throw, for example, has fewer and fewer athletes so it makes less sense to include it in the big meetings. Swiss-Australian coach Jörg Probst has the full translation here. As I told Jörg, is it that the hammer should be excluded because it is not popular, or that the hammer is unpopular because it is so often excluded? As I documented in detail, the hammer throw has grown quickly in both popularity and participation once it started to be included in more meets in America. Maybe meets like the Diamond League are causing the problem instead of just reacting to the current trends in the sport.

In September of this year, Magyar spoke again and directly addressed the Klaas’ criticism in an interview with the German magazine Leichtathletik. The bad news is that he stated the hammer throw will not be in the Diamond League for 2013 or 2014. But on the other hand he provided the first ever explanation of what the “infrastructure” problems are (translation from German by myself and Jörg Probst):

Leichtathletik: The hammer throwers, led by Kathrin Klaas, have recently pushed very hard for the inclusion of their event in the Diamond League. Will this occur in 2013?
Magyar: No, and not in 2014 either.
Leichtathletik:Why?
Magyar: We had to take over the shot put from Brussels due to an international football match taking place there. The shot put was not approved because of the pitch. This demonstrates the problem. When a stadium belongs to the city, it gets difficult. Furthermore the heating under the grass is always getting closer to the ground. If it gets damaged, we start talking about repair costs in the six figures. On the other hand is the requirement for an extremely tall cage. This means the hammer throw has become an unfeasible event for a meet. In Zürich the hammer competition would have to be concluded before the stadium opens so that the cage can be dismantled.

Zurich has been an extremely strong supporter of the hammer throw. I train at a city-owned and -maintained facility. There we have the only facilities managers that have ever asked me what they can do to help me, rather than place limits on what I can do. Every Friday a three-person crew spends the whole day to repair our throwing field by replacing divots and keeping the field in great shape even though it is used exclusively for track and field. Our cage net has been repaired and replaced before it is even needed. They also installed a temporary net that we can throw into when there are conflicting training times. Rather than telling us not to train at those times, they developed and implemented this solution and have seen been coming up with ways to improve it before I could even give them feedback. They truly think of the athletes first.

It is true that the rise of heated pitches might pose a problem for the hammer throw. However the pipes in Zurich (and most stadiums) are not as close to the surface as many would make you think. I am not an expert on this topic, but at a depth of 27.5cm (11 inches), the piping should be safe from damage. Because the field is used for athletics, the heating is actually deeper than most fields. I have never seen a hammer sink half that far into the ground of a well-maintained field, either in a dry Zurich summer or even in the wettest of conditions. As the grounds crews in Zurich have already proven to me, they can repair anything, even a field that receives tens of thousands of throws a year. A half-hour competition should be no problem and should cause less damage than a soccer match played in heavy rain. In those cases, they often need to resod the field entirely. This is a risk that likely could be insured against and is obviously a risk Zurich is willing to take in 2014 since the hammer throw will take place at Letzigrund stadium for the European Championships and it would make sense that they should at least test the field before then with another hammer competition (it would be terrible for a pipe to burst mid-competition, create a lake or fountain in the middle of the stadium and delay the internationally televised event).

The cage is another issue mentioned by Magyar, but again I do not see a huge problem. The cage used for the women’s discus at this year’s Weltklasse Zurich is the same cage I use for hammer training and hammer competitions in Zurich without any problems. In fact I had to train for one week without a cage in August as they borrowed it from our training facility. It did not seem to hinder the meet too much this year as it was quickly taken down before live television coverage started. Even if a new cage is required, the cost would be a sliver of the multi-million dollar budget of his meet. And several other Diamond League facilities have hosted the hammer throw in the past few years already, thus proving they are able to do it (off the top of my head at least half of the the stadiums have hosted hammer since 2000, including Eugene, New York, Doha, Birmingham, London, Helsinki, and Stockholm). The Diamond League only includes each event at half of the meets, so even if a few facilities could not host it there is still a chance for the event.

As I’ve said many times, there would likely be less debate about the hammer throw if I or another Swiss thrower broke 80 meters. It is feasible to host the hammer, but the meets are not under enough pressure. The two Swiss diamond league meets are always looking for local stars to showcase and now there is no Swiss athlete among the world’s top 10. Organizers would go out of their way to accommodate a Swiss star. Even an emerging star such as young shot putter Gergori Ott was allowed to throw his junior implement against the world’s best shot putters in Zurich for the past two years. But this will not happen soon and none of the countries hosting a Diamond League meet have their top stars in the event, let alone an Olympic medalist or finalist. But creating this type of pressure will take a long time. What we can do now is continue to show everyone there is not a good reason to exclude the hammer throw and keep building support for its inclusion.

Training Talk with Kathrin Klaas

Apparently Klaas and other hammer throwers are “not good enough for the Diamond League.”

Kathrin Klass may be smaller than her competitors, but she certainly isn’t quieter. The two-time German Olympian is one of the most vocal advocates for the hammer throw and is leading an effort to get the hammer throw included in the Diamond League. Her recent writings have garnered the support of the German athletic federation. Klaas also is as aggressive in the ring as she is outside it, with a personal best of 75.48 meters (16th on the all-time world list) and a fourth place finish at the 2009 World Championships. While she is now clearly focused on London, she took time to answer a few questions in June about training and the current state of hammer throwing.

Training Update

Martin: Recently you had to withdraw from the German championships after you fell and hit your head during a throw at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. Do you have any prognosis yet? Do you plan on still competing at the European Championships and being in top shape for London?

Kathrin: Thanks for asking. It has been a tough time since my accident in Eugene. First I thought I would still be able to train because I didn’t have any headaches but all of a sudden I started feeling dizzy when throwing and increasing speed during my four turns. I’ve been to four doctors and five physiotherapists now. It seems to be a complicated problem but I feel we are slowly getting there. Now I can lift and throw up to 60-70% of my normal speed. My plan is to throw at Europeans and of course at the Olympic Games. My federation wants me to prove my fitness on the upcoming Friday. If I pass the test I’m going to Helsinki next week.

London is still a ways away. I’m going to challenge myself, go all in and give the best I can. [Note: This interview took place just after the German championships in mid-June. Since then she placed fourth at the European Championships and just this week has been able to start training normally again.]
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10 Reasons to Watch the Hammer in 2012

The international season starts up this weekend with the first leg of the IAAF Hammer Challenge in Kawasaki, Japan. Until the hammer throw is added to the Diamond League, the hammer challenge will remain the top circuit of throwing meets. And with so few competitive opportunities many of the best are jumping right in. The field in Kawasaki will feature five 80-meter throwers (see the full start list here).

By the end of the year, my wish list from last season was mostly fulfilled. On the eve of the 2012 season I’ve thought of the top 10 things I’m looking forward to this year. Feel free to share yours in the comments section below.


The highlight of 2012 will no doubt be the Olympic Games in London.

1 – A woman over 80 meters. This was high on my list last year and Betty Heidler came within two feet of the barrier in the earlier season. There were rumors that she threw over it in training during the summer, but it never materialized at a meet. A few women may be capable of hitting the mark (even my old training buddy Sultana Frizell threw her name in the mix with a 75 meter bomb in March), but Heidler has to be the frontrunner now. Not only has she thrown the furthest, but she is also motivated to improve even more after she only claimed silver at last year’s world championships.
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10 Reasons to Watch the Hammer in 2011

The outdoor season is about to start in full swing and I’m excited. Last season had its ups and downs. One the one hand, the women’s hammer saw a new world record and every competition was a battle on both the men’s and women’s side. But on the other hand, the level of the men’s hammer was at historic lows. You’d have to look back to 1981 for the last time the world leading mark was so low and so few throwers broke 80 meters. Looking towards this summer, both men and women look to be ready for an even better season in 2011.

Olympic champion Primoz Kozmus will be making his comeback in 2011.

1 – The return of the champions. Primož Kozmus and Ivan Tikhon have won every Olympic or World Championship gold medal dating back to 2005. Kozmus was the Beijing Olympic champ and 2009 World Champion before announcing his retirement at the peak of his career. After one year away from the sport, he wanted back in the game and announced his return and plans to defend his Olympic gold. His goals for this season are modest, he’s aiming for 78 meters and a spot in the finals in Daegu, but it will be exciting to see if he can return to form under the guidance of his new coach. Tikhon has had a more interesting path back to the sport. After winning three world championships and throwing the second-best mark of all time, he was banned for a positive test at the Olympics and then stripped of his bronze medal. After a lengthy appeal with the Court of Arbitration in Sport, he was reawarded his medal and is now eligible to compete again. Both Tikhon and Kozmus have some of the best technique in the sport and will be a pleasure to watch again.
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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.

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.