‘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.
In general, most of you disliked the idea. But, you seemed to dislike it for different reasons. Many thought that the weight and length changes were off. For instance, some said that if we are going to use a short/heavy hammer, why not just use the weight throw. I don’t like that idea. Others, such as Wisconsin-Whitewater coach Dave Hahn, suggested minor changes such as making the diameter of the hammer ball bigger or shortening the current implement. Smaller changes like that would reduce the distance and be similar to the minor changes that were made to the javelin throw in 1986. A change to the diameter would also not be unprecedented since the once legal small diameter tungsten hammers have been disallowed since the 1970s. Norm Balke also added that he thought the ball should be both larger and perhaps softer, which would make it safer and also do less damage to turf.
Other readers were skeptical that the proposal would even help the event. As I pointed out last week, the issues facing the hammer throw are far from simple and changes to the implement probably aren’t enough to fix all the problems. Some commentators even went so far as to say that rather than helping the event, Eckschmiedt’s proposal would actually harm the event. Former NCAA All-American Jim Heizman noted: “In my opinion, making the hammer shorter and heavier to make it ‘safer’ or to make it better suited to be included in more meets, would actually have the opposite effect that is being proposed. I feel that such a change would stifle the variety that makes hammer throwing unique and as popular as it is.” To put it more bluntly, another commenter asked, “Is throwing shorter distances going to make hammer more popular?” Indeed, the speed of the event and the distances thrown help make it such a fun event to watch. I actually had an e-mail exchange about this topic with track and field commentator Jesse Squire of the Track and Field Superblog. As a non-thrower, he thinks the hammer throw is less interesting for the average fan simply because it was hard to relate to (and, as he noted, often hard to even see through the big cages):
There’s another issue of simply being entertaining in an “oh, my” sort of way. When you see the heights top pole vaulters & high jumpers make, it’s staggering. Ditto for the distances long jumpers go. I tell my students that world-class shot putters take the equivalent of a 16-lb bowling ball and throw it from the 3-point line to the opposite baseline and they can’t believe it. The jav stays up in the sky forever. But the discus and the hammer aren’t as simple of tasks as the other track & field events and the uninitiated don’t understand how amazing the very best are, because it’s harder to understand what they do. You love it because it’s complicated, but that makes it a hard sell. That can’t ever be changed, unless it’s changed to something that isn’t the hammer throw anymore.
I think the entertainment factor will be reduced even further if the hammer can only be thrown shorter distances. An uninformed fan may be confused by our event, but still impressed that it goes so far. Eckschmiedt would have the top throwers winning meets with marks at just 50 meters. Take away the distance by such a large amount and you may take away the few remaining fans.
Jesse Squire also succinctly broke our the problem down to one issue: do we want to maintain our traditions in obscurity or makes changes to compete for attention? There were commenters that reached both conclusions. Some felt this proposal was better than nothing, but far from ideal. Others, like hammer thrower Zach Hazen, held firm: “I’d rather throw the real hammer outside the stadium than an altered hammer in the stadium.” The more I think about the issue, the more I agree with Zach.
Most of us already throw the hammer for fun. We juggle the demands of work, training, and family to fit this hobby into our schedule. Whether it is a premiere event or not couldn’t matter less at that level. The percentage of throwers that actually make a living from the event is very small. Sports like the Highland Games and Strongman competitions have been able to find their niche and succeed in recent years. Why should the hammer throw be any different? There are already hammer throw only competitions around the world that are very successful. For example, I’ll be attending the Fränkisch-Crumbach Hammer Meeting later this month. The meet is held in a tiny German village, yet it draws some of the biggest hammer throw names in the region and all the townsfolk come out to enjoy the beer garden and watch people throw things really far.
The event takes a risk by staying the same, but we also take a risk by changing. As Jesse Squire also noted, “in this case, the changes are rather drastic and there’s no guarantee it would have the desired effect.” I think we can succeed with the current hammer and I am willing to try and make it work. It just isn’t worth the gamble to change the event so drastically.
The key to helping the hammer throw in its current form is getting more publicity for the event; raising awareness that we exist and that it is a fun to watch. That’s what I’m doing and will continue to do through the Evergreen Athletic Fund with this site and our other sites (CollegeHammer.com, HSHammer.com, and Harold Connolly’s HammerThrow.com). In addition, we need to develop some stars, as pointed out by a fellow Swiss thrower. The Prefontaine Classic will not host the men’s hammer throw again until we can get competitive in the event. It does not make much sense for them to bring in a bunch of eastern Europeans to kick the butt of local throwers. Most of our sport’s other big meets face a similar problem. For instance, Switzerland, Belgium, Qatar, Norway, England, Sweden, Monaco, and China all host Diamond League meets but do not have a single male hammer thrower with the Olympic B-standard. Of the 14 Diamond League meetings, only three are held in countries with a B-standard hammer thrower–two in the U.S. (Eugene and New York) and one in Paris–and still none of those countries are very competitive in the event. If these countries start to develop stars, there will be a bigger push for the hammer to be included at big meets again.
And if that doesn’t work, we’ll have to resort to other measure’s like Zach Hazen’s proposal: “If you want the event to be more popular then lobby [T]aco [B]ell to do “free taco” rings scattered in the landing area. If someone lands a ball in the ring, all spectators get a free taco.” As they always say, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
Here’s how to keep hammer less popular: put it inside an oval stadium, inside a moat, inside eight lanes of tartan, and then inside two layers of heavy netting. You could really kill it off with a fifty-meter short heavy hammer that rewards a single body type.
Throwing should be done outside.
In Sándor Eckschmiedt’s proposal he mentioned the danger of long throws and the prohibitive cost of cages able to protect them as reasons to adopt changes to the event. I strongly believe that hammer cages are not well designed and still allow hammers to land long distances out of sector. I believe a redesign of hammer cages could be made to increase both their safety and cost effectiveness. I am currently working on my own proposal of improved cage design with simple considerations for the path of thrown hammers.
Keep me updated on your progress. The hammer cage has been an issue for many reasons. Koji actually wrote an article in the IAAF’s New Studies in Athletics that talked about some of the problems with it.
Thanks for the link Martin. Koji has a well heard voice in our sport. I believe that current cages including the one specified in the IAAF’s facilities manual have dead zones on the right (for right handed throwers) and are unsafe, letting hammers fly well out of bounds on the left side. I’ll keep you all posted. Good luck in Europe!