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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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Ask Martin Vol. 14: The Orbit

Question: When you talk about focusing on the orbit, what do you mean? -James

Yuriy Sedykh’s orbit during the 1976 Olympics.

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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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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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The Greatest Little Meeting in the World

You know a meet is great when you throw badly and still enjoy it. That is how I’ve felt after competing at the Sparkassen Fränkisch-Crumbach Hammermeeting the past two years. After returning to the meet this year I can tell you it feels even better when you walk away with a great result.

The top 10 finishers in the men's hammer throw.

The Setting
I have a great sense of direction, but I’ve been to Fränkisch-Crumbach three times and I still don’t know exactly where it is. In general terms, the town of 3,000 people lies about an hour south of Frankfurt. But the great American invention of straight roads have yet to arrive to the area so I end up taking a new route each time. When you finally arrive, you feel like you’ve set foot in hammer throwing mecca.
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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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Training Talk With Sergej Litvinov Jr.

As I mentioned last month, I will be posting some question and answers sessions with some of the world’s top throwers and coaches over the next few months. The first is with Sergej Litvinov Jr. Litvinov just threw a personal best of 79.76m last month. After starting the hammer relatively late, he placed 5th at the last world championships at the age of 23. He is trained by his father, the former Olympic champion and world record holder of the same name.

Like many hammer throwers, Sergej is refreshingly outspoken and shared some ideas about why hammer throw technique is not as good as it once was and how the hammer throw can win back fans. He also shared some thoughts on training and technique. I first met Sergej in 2004 when I visited Minsk for a 10 day training camp. It was then that I first began to understand how vastly different the Russian approach to training is and have kept studying it since. While every coach has different points of focus, it is reassuring to read that the main elements of his training match mine. Now I just need to find that extra 10 meters.


The Current State of Throwing

Martin: You’ve said before that most of the current world class hammer throwers do not have good technique. Why do you think technique was better twenty years ago?

Sergej: Twenty years ago people tried to bring new things to hammer throw technique to make it better. Now the people think more about the strength and other ways to throw far. This is the easy and not the perfect way and sometimes its works for winning some titles. But our generation has to bring that back to our sport; we need the progress.
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The Real Winter Throwing Championships

America just had their national championships last weekend and hammer throwers Amber Campbell and Jake Freeman both turned in impressive performances to win the weight throw competition. The NCAA Championships are coming up next weekend with Walter Henning as the men’s favorite and a close competition in store for the women. However, America is the only major country in the world that throws the weight. What do the rest of the world’s hammer throwers do during the winter? They throw the hammer.

It’s a simple concept, but it works. While the indoor season has been nearing its peak, many of the world’s best hammer throwers are already outside testing their form. Sergej Litvinov Jr. of Russia has already set a personal best of 79.76m and fellow countryman Aleksey Zagorniy topped 79.99m in February (with a foul of 82.80m). Down in South Africa, Kathrin Klaas upset fellow German Betty Heidler with a personal best of 75.30m. Nearly every European country has hosted winter throwing championships over the past few weeks and I’ll be competing at the European Winter Throwing Championships near the end of the month. The pre-season is in full swing.
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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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Litvinov on Hammer Technique

Earlier this month, Sergej Litvinov, Jr. posted some insightful comments about hammer technique on Facebook. Litvinov, Jr. is one of the top up and coming throwers in the world. He has a personal best of 78.98m and placed 5th at the 2009 World Championship at a young age of just 23. He’s also had the benefit of learning the event from his father, the former Olympic champion and world record holder of the same name.

Sergej Litvinov Jr.

Litvinov, Jr. posted a link to this hammer throw instructional video. The video takes a subjective approach to hammer throw technique and says that the position of the low point during the winds should be individual for the athlete. Litvinov, Jr. quickly replied that this is wrong; the low point should never be on the left side for a right-handed thrower.
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