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.
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.
2 – The first woman over 80 meters? For the past decade, coaches and fans have been debating when a woman will finally break 80 meters. Most expected that it would happen before now, but this year it may actually happen. Anita Wlodarczyk has thrown a world record each of the last two seasons, the most recent of which measured 78.30m and showed a lot of technical improvements. Unfortunately she injured herself shortly after both records. If she can stay healthy the entire season, she could be the first to break the 80 meter barrier.
3 – Another American over 80 meters? No American man has thrown over 80 meters since silver medalist Lance Deal retired in 2000. In fact, no American man has been real competitive on the international scene since then. I’m hoping my training partner Kibwé Johnson can change that. He had a strong season last year that featured a win at Decanation over a stacked field. His new personal best of 77.07m (and nearly ever meet over 75 meters) shows that the technical progress he is making under coach Anatoliy Bondarchuk is preparing him for 80 meters.
4 – Hammer throwers: the next generation. Sergej Litvinov Jr. is leading the next generation of throwers. At age 25, he just improved his personal best to 79.76m. He placed fifth at the last world championships and has already shown great consistently. But unlike past seasons where he represented Germany, he will now be representing Russia. This move will allow him to train with his father year round and might help give him the boost he needs to get on a podium. Two young Belorussians have also shown great promise at times in the past few years. Yuriy Shayunou threw 80m at the age of 21 in 2009. Pavel Krvitski broke the barrier in 2008 at age 24. However both have struggled to stay consistent in the way the Litvinov has been. With another year of experience they may be able to compete for a medal too.
5 – A new American Record. The American record in the women’s hammer throw turns six years old this year and is in peril once again. Several throwers are approaching the standard set by Erin Gilreath at 73.87m. Amber Campbell has been the most consistent and already improved her personal best of 72.07m this year. Jessica Cosby has also broken 72 meters and Loree Smith looks to be in good form again after a coaching change. Records might also fall north of the border. Sultana Frizell has improved her Canadian national record each of the last three seasons and hopes to get closer to 75 meters this year. Olympic finalist and Canadian men’s record holder Jim Steacy is also returning from injury this year.
6 – A full season from Murofushi. We haven’t seen a compete season from Athens Olympic champion Koji Murofushi since 2006. Despite that, he was able to show up at a few year-end competitions last year and win the inaugural IAAF Hammer Challenge. At age 36, he might still have some more gas in the tank.
7 – McCullough will compete with the big boy’s hammer. Conor McCullough is one of the bright hopes in the future of American hammer throwing. In addition to winning the World Junior title last summer, breaking the American junior record, and throwing 80 meters with the 6-kilogram hammer, he also threw 70.78m with the heavy hammer despite not training for the heavier weight. Not bad for just 19. As a 20 year old, Conor will now be competing with the heavier hammer the entire season and hopefully that will translate into some more impressive results.
8 – Krisztian Pars is back. Krisztian Pars got a late start to training last season due to surgery and never quite seemed like himself. His distances were a bit down and he only managed bronze at the European Championships. It was also the first year he hadn’t broken 80 meters since 2003. This was a big step back for a guy who looked unbeatable during most of the 2009 season. Now he seems back to his normal self. Just last weekend he won against a top-notch field at the European Cup Winter Throwing in Sofia. His mark was even more impressive: 79.84m in cold, wet, and slippery conditions.
9 – The top women will keep battling it out. While Wlodarczyk holds the world record, she’s got some stiff competition. Several athletes are within a meter or two of her and they continually trade wins, even at last summer’s European Championship. Former World Record holder Tatyana Lysenko just won in Sofia against Betty Heidler, who is ranked fifth all-time. This was a similar result to Lysenko’s thrilling win at last year’s Pre Classic to set an American all-comers record. Heidler isn’t even the hands down favorite in her own country; her training partner Kathrin Klaas beat her this winter in South Africa. Martina Hrasnova, ranked sixth all-time, is also returning to competition after having a baby last season.
10 – Championships bring out the best. The great thing about the World Championships is that they are the focus of everyone’s season. There was no meet that could say that last year. Everyone should be in shape in Daegu, which means nearly anything can happen. I can’t wait to watch.