Today is the day: the World Championships begin this morning in Oregon and the hammer throw will be the first event under way. As a throwing fan, this is the pinnacle of the sport and there is a lot to look forward to. Below are 5 major stories we’ll be keeping an eye on as the next 10 days of competition unfold.
Coming to America
America has hosted big track meets before, but outside the Olympics it has never seen anything at the scale of the World Championships. Most recently Portland hosted the 2016 World Indoor Championships, but an outdoor championship has nearly four times as many athletes, more fans, more media, more days, and more excitement.
As we talked about on last week’s podcast many concessions were made to finally get the World Championships to America. The stadium is smaller than any previous championships, there is no full size warmup facility next to the track, athlete accommodations as quite different, and coaches don’t even get dedicated seats to watch their athletes. And, as Americans know, getting to Eugene isn’t easy. The current travel environment has made travel difficult for many teams. Add in some injuries, visa problems, and COVID cases and several top names will not even make it to the starting line.
With all of these headlines dominating social media, it has a dark cloud over the event as it starts. But it’s often that way at big meets. In Tokyo is was the pandemic and all its restrictions. In Doha 2019 the topic was the weather and human rights. Once the meet starts the energy of Hayward Field will take over and America will show the world what type of performances it can bring when it gets the chance to be the host.
How big will the home field advantage be?
With the championships in America, this is also one of the rare times when American throwers have a home field advantage. All participants got to compete in the new stadium at the US Championships in June, as well as potentially earlier in the season or at last year’s Olympic trials. While hammer throwers used a different ring, they are still familiar with Eugene, the stadium, and the setup.
More importantly, is that they don’t have to travel as far. Normally major championships are in Europe, so Europeans get a distinct advantage of no travel and no jet lag. Or they are held in Asia and everyone then has a long trip to get there. This time the Americans can show up without a 24-hour journey to get there, without jet lag, and the comfort of training in their home facilities until right before the competition.
How much of an advantage will this be? Track and Field News predicts 5 finalists and 2 medals in the men’s throws, and an even stronger 9 finalists and 5 medals in the women’s throws. In fact, they predict gold in the all the women’s throwing events except the javelin, where they see America still walking away with silver and bronze. In total 7 medals would be a big step up from last summer’s Olympics where Team USA took home 4 throws medals, only 1 outside of the shot put.
Crouser vs Kovacs
Ryan Crouser has established himself as the top shot putter of all time over the last few years. He has broken the world record and reached a consistent level of performance that is unheard of. Yet you might not know this interesting fact: despite all of his success he has never won an outdoor world title, indoor or out. For many fans the big question in the shot put is if Crouser will break the world record. My question is if he will even win. He enters the meet as the clear favorite, but it’s going to be a battle. Joe Kovacs has been overshadowed by Crouser this season, but he is in the form of his life and took the upset win at the 2019 World Championships. Darlan Romani of Brazil was the spoiler at this year’s World Indoor Championships. He hasn’t competed much outdoors yet will be a factor as well. And we all know Tom Walsh always steps up at big meets as well.
The hammer throw is always the event closest to my heart, so I’ll pay special attention in Eugene. What is interesting about the hammer competition is that there will be some new names on the podium. Defending women’s champion Deanna Price has had a slow road back from surgery this year, but what knocked her out of the competition in the end was COVID. Three-time Olympic champ and four-time World Champion Anita Wlodarczyk had the craziest story entering the meet as she had to withdraw after being injured chasing down a burglar. That paves the way for some fresh faces.
In the men’s competition the perrenial favorites Wojciech Nowicki and Pawel Fajdek lead the way. Nowicki is the defending Olympic champ while Fajdek is looking to win his fifth straight world title. But if you look at the season lists this competition is far from settled A handful of athletes have thrown over 80 meters this year, and the path to the podium (or to gold) is wide open. It’ll be fun to watch who steps up, and what new and old names shake out of qualification today.
Who will step up in the javelin?
While the hammer throw is pretty open, the javelin is perhaps even more so. On the men’s side, injuries to the top Germans have hurt their medal chances. On the women’s side, no one has really stepped up this season. As long as we don’t have a repeat of the track surface fiasco from Tokyo I expect to see some big personal bests as athlete’s fight to stand out from the crowd. One thrower I will be watching is American Kara Winger. I’ve seen her throw since high school as she grew up in my home state. Oregon22 will be here swan song since she announced this will be her last season. She is both a fan and athlete favorite. Without a clear favorite she could cap her career with her first global medal, and even Track and Field News is optimistic and predicting silver for her. Let’s hope the Hayward magic does its trick.