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Training Talk with Primoz Kozmus

Olympic Champion Primoz Kozmus of Slovenia

Since becoming the Olympic Champion in 2008, Primož Kozmus’ career has been on a roller coaster perhaps no other gold medalist has seen. Kozmus was overshadowed quickly as Krisztian Pars dominated early 2009, but Kozmus had a steadily peak and was back on top at the world championships, where he again won gold. Two weeks later his new national record of 82.58 meters seemed to remove any doubt that he was the top hammer thrower in the world. At the end of the year he was voted the top Slovenian athlete by national press for the third year in a row, but he surprised everyone including his coach by announcing his retirement. In a release to the media, he stated “I’ve reached my peak. It is time to say goodbye. Olympic and world champion is enough.”

Then, after a year away from the sport, he announced a comeback. His first meets back last season started off slowly at 75 and 72 meters. But he gradually improved throughout the season and by the end of the year he was again over 80 meters and had won the bronze medal at the world championships. Now he enters the Olympic year as one of the gold medal favorites. Compared to the other defending champions, his path has been far from easy. He had time recently to talk about his quest for another gold while last week while at his training camp in America.


Returning to the Hammer Throw

Martin: It was a big surprise when you decided to retire after the 2009 season. You had set a new national record, won the world championship, and looked like you were ready for more success. What made you decide to retire? And then what made you change your mind last year and come back?

Primož: It was not easy to say goodbye to sport. But I had enough of sport’s discipline and hard trainings. I needed some rest. I wanted to live normal life. But after a few months I had enough of normal life. I was missing competitions; the adrenaline when I step into the circle. But I am happy that I took a break. In the off-year I got married, had a daughter, opened a hostel where I have big hammer throw plans. Now I am back and full of motivation to throw hammer far again.
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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: 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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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: 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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When Do Hammer Throwers Hit Their Prime?

After the US championships, blogger Jesse Squire discussed a question many track fans are wondering: will Athens 400m Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner ever be able to break 44-seconds again? At 27-years old, most people say that Wariner still has his prime ahead of him. Squire looked a little deeper and found that this is just not the case in the 400 meters.

Wariner is not “relatively young” or “hardly ancient”. He is ancient by the standards of the 400 meters. It is an event that chews people up and spits them out. Only marathoners’ careers have shorter life spans. The gold standard of quarter-miling, breaking 44.00, has been done 47 times by nine athletes. Only once has it ever been done by a man older than 26 whose name was not Michael Johnson. All realistic analyses of the event should ignore Johnson—he was to long sprinting as Secretariat was to three-year-old racing, a once in a century outlier. If you look at those eight other mere mortals, the median age for a sub-44.00 is twenty-two.

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Olympic Champion Primoz Kozmus

Primoz Kozmus Shows His Point of View

Olympic and World Champion Primož Kozmus is coming back to the sport this year after retiring at the end of the 2009 season. As everyone awaits his first meet back this weekend and his return to international competition next month, he just posted some new training videos. One, shown below, gives everyone his perspective of the throw by using a helmet camera. Non-hammer throwers always ask me if I get dizzy when I throw. While I don’t this I do almost get dizzy watching this video.
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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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The Universal Language of Throwers

If you want to be a successful hammer thrower, curiosity is a requirement. Language skills are not. I’ve traveled the world in search of hammer throw enlightenment. Some coaches speak English, some do not. But they all speak hammer throw, and that transcends any language.

Sometimes hands can speak better than words.

When I tell people that I’m coached by Anatoliy Bondarhcuk, their first questions tend revolve around his level of English proficiency. His English is actually relatively good after six years of living in Canada, as are the multiple other languages he speaks. However, when he first arrived it was another story. His advice was broken into choppy three or four word sentences. Onlookers seemed perplexed that we understood him, and were even more perplexed that we instinctively replied to him with our own version of broken English. But his messages nevertheless came through clearly. Sometimes you don’t need any extra words to say “push entry more” or “terrible” or even “double excellent.” I still remember one of his first pearls of wisdom to me: “If hammer feel heavy, then you pull. If push, then hammer feel light in hand.” He couldn’t have said it better if his English were perfect.
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