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Training Talk With Ed Burke (Part 1)

If you create a list of the best and most influential hammer throwers in American history, Ed Burke is at the top along with Harold Connolly, John Flanagan, and other greats. As a thrower, coach, and visionary he has had a lasting and continuing impact on all of track and field.

Our three-part training talk will look all these parts of Burke’s career, including the moment he is most well know for: carrying the American flag for the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984:

But while that may have been a highlight of his career, part one of our talk focuses on how it all began 24 years earlier. By the time of the Los Angeles Olympics, Burke was 44 years old and the oldest member of the Olympic team. His first Olympic appearance came in 1964 where he placed seventh. By competing again 20 years later he became the first American to have an Olympic career spanning so long. During that time Track and Field News ranked him among the top four in the world and in 1967 he ranked second and produced the farthest throw in the world, a new American record that broke Harold Connolly’s longstanding mark.

While Burke retired after Los Angeles, he was far from finished. He founded and coached a successful youth training group in the 1980s and 1990s that produced Olympians Kevin McMahon and David Popejoy. And he started throwing again at age 65. Since then he has set many age-group world records in the past decade. However these are stories for later in our talk. To start with Burke recalls how he discovered the event and developed into a world class thrower.

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Announcing the 2013 Youth Hammer Grants

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I wrote last month about how the career of legedary hammer thrower Harold Connolly coincided with the modernization of the sport. While progress slowed after he retired from throwing, he worked for another four decades to keep the momentum moving forward. Even now, three years after his death, his legacy is continuing that push via the successful USATF Foundation Harold Connolly Youth Hammer Throw Grants program he started back in 2005.

Since its inception, these grants have distributed over $32,000 to help cover specified training and competition expenses for 65 of the most promising youth hammer throwers in America. Looking back, these athletes have had some great success, especially over the past year. The success is first and foremost due to the hard work and dedication of each athlete over the past year, the goal of these grants is also to motivate and support these athletes and I think the amount of success by this group shows that this is working in that regard too.
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The Times They Are a-Changin’

At the beginning of 1964 young singer-songwriter Bob Dylan released what would be one of his most popular hits, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” The song came out during a tumultuous time around the world and these changes were not limited to politics or culture, they extended even to the hammer throw which was undergoing a rapid transformation. At the front of the sport throughout this period was one man: Harold Connolly. Read more

Training Talk With Kevin McMahon (Part 2)

Last week I posted the first part in an interview with Kevin McMahon, a two-time Olympian in the hammer throw and one of the top throwers in the history of American hammer throwing. In Part 1, he discussed how he started out in the sport and the coaches that helped him along the way. In part 2, he goes on to discuss his approach to training and technique.

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Martin: When you started out, you were able to progress quite quickly and reached nearly 70 meters before you turned 20. That is a level that many throwers already plateau at. What do you think helped you to continue to improve to almost 80 meters, while others never get beyond that mark?
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Training Talk With Kevin McMahon (Part 1)

When people think of American hammer throwing in the late 1990s, silver medalist Lance Deal is often the first name that comes to mind. But right behind him was a thrower with arguably the best technique in American history: Kevin McMahon. When I started out in the hammer throw, Kevin was one of the throwers I looked up to the most. Not only was he still active and at the top of his game, but he was a pleasure to watch. The rhythm of his throw was the antithesis to the grip and rip style of some of his competitors like John McEwan. But Kevin’s throws weren’t just pretty, they also went far. His personal best 79.26 meters (260-feet) stills ranks fifth all-time in America. He was two-time Olympian (1996 and 2000), two-time US Champion (1997 and 2001), and a silver medalist at the 1999 Pan American Games. Since then his career has finished, but he has continued to stay connected to the sport through coaching at both the high school and collegiate level.

Kevin obviously understands technique, and listening to him talk about training always brings me a new insight into my throw. There is no doubt his eloquence comes in part from having some amazing mentors and coaches throughout his career, but it also is a testament to his approach to the event. In this first part of our interview, Kevin discusses how he got started in the event and what he learned from the likes of his former coaches Mac Wilkins, Ed Burke, Harold Connolly, and Dan Lange. Be sure to continue reading the next installment of the interview where Kevin discusses his training and approach to technique.


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2012 Youth Hammer Grants Seeking Applicants

Through his hard work, Harold Connolly left a lasting legacy on hammer throwing in America and throughout the world. More than two years after his death, his legacy continues to be felt directly by the top youth throwers in the form of the USATF Foundation Harold Connolly Youth Hammer Throw Grants program he started.

Since 2005, these grants have handed out over $24,000 to help cover specified training and competition expenses for some of the most promising youth hammer throwers in America. Last year featured a record 22 recipients from 11 different states. Among them were established champions like US junior champion and world junior championship finalist Rudy Winker (Sand Lake, NY) and Nike Outdoor Nationals champion Avana Story (College Park, GA). There were also some up-and-comers like freshman Jacob Beene (Gilbert, AZ) and Sabrina Gaitan (Kennesaw, GA). A complete list of recipients is found here. On average, they improved their personal bests by 30 feet among the boys and 12 feet among the girls. While we cannot take credit for the hard work and dedication that led to each athlete’s success this past year, we would like to think that the grants helped motivate and support each athlete and made their efforts even better. Read more

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

A topic that has interested me a lot this year is how to identify and develop talent. Recently Vern Gambetta shared a good article on his blog about a counterintuitive article recently published in journal Sports Medicine. The abstract describes the article best:

[T]he vast majority of [talent development] systems expend a great deal of effort maximizing support to the young athletes and trying to counter the impact of naturally occurring life stressors. In this article, we suggest that much of this effort is misdirected; that, in fact, talented potential can often benefit from, or even need, a variety of challenges to facilitate eventual adult performance.

“The Rocky Road to the Top: Why Talent Needs Trauma” by Dave Collins and Áine MacNamara of Institute of Coaching and Performance, University of Central Lancashire, Lancashire, UK.
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Harold Connolly: Grit Personified

Psychologist Angela Duckworth has done some interesting research into what personality traits can be used as predictors for success in school and other ventures. IQ, for example, is actually a poor indicator of how high a student’s GPA will be. Duckworth’s early research showed that self-control was a much more reliable predictor, but even that was not a good predictor of higher successes. As a lengthy New York Times piece summarized “People who accomplished great things, she noticed, often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take. She decided she needed to name this quality, and she chose the word ‘grit.'”

When I think of grit, I think of one man: 1956 Olympic Champion Harold Connolly. Read more

The Hammer Throw Dead Zone

The red area indicates the dead zone where it is impossible for the hammer to land.

There are a few genuine treasure troves of coaching information available free online. The first is Hammer Notes, which I devoured when I was first learning the hammer. For better or worse, it remains a great way to survey the current theories of hammer training 30 years after its initial publication. The other is the free online archive of New Studies in Athletics, the IAAF’s official technical publication. In browsing it the other day I came across a 2001 analysis of the current IAAF hammer throw cage by a team of Japanese researchers including Olympic and world champion Koji Murofushi.
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10 Reasons to Watch the Hammer in 2012

The international season starts up this weekend with the first leg of the IAAF Hammer Challenge in Kawasaki, Japan. Until the hammer throw is added to the Diamond League, the hammer challenge will remain the top circuit of throwing meets. And with so few competitive opportunities many of the best are jumping right in. The field in Kawasaki will feature five 80-meter throwers (see the full start list here).

By the end of the year, my wish list from last season was mostly fulfilled. On the eve of the 2012 season I’ve thought of the top 10 things I’m looking forward to this year. Feel free to share yours in the comments section below.


The highlight of 2012 will no doubt be the Olympic Games in London.

1 – A woman over 80 meters. This was high on my list last year and Betty Heidler came within two feet of the barrier in the earlier season. There were rumors that she threw over it in training during the summer, but it never materialized at a meet. A few women may be capable of hitting the mark (even my old training buddy Sultana Frizell threw her name in the mix with a 75 meter bomb in March), but Heidler has to be the frontrunner now. Not only has she thrown the furthest, but she is also motivated to improve even more after she only claimed silver at last year’s world championships.
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