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US Youth Hammer Throw Survey

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We all know that the American hammer throwing has grown tremendously at the youth level over the past decade. While some countries and some events here in America see participation declining, the number of throwers over 50 meters has doubled in the States. America was once a country that had trouble qualifying athletes for international championships, but now it has produced junior world champions and has young throwers regularly in the finals at age-group championships. There are many reasons for this surge and I have put together this survey in order to help identify what cause Read more

USATF Foundation Youth Hammer Throw Grants

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The USATF Foundation helps support the Youth Hammer Throw Grants.

Harold Connolly dedicated his last decades to the youth hammer throw. After encouraging athletes such as myself to pick up the event, he began to see that it wasn’t just the lack of throwers that was hurting America’s prospects in the event, it was also their isolation from one another. This isolation meant that talented kids were not getting the resources they needed to become world class throwers. So, in addition to all of his other projects, Harold began raising money in 2005 to give grants to the top youth throwers. He would email hundreds of people, plea on the internet, and hand out coaching DVDs in order to encourage donations. It started as a grassroots project every year and the money started to trickle in. He received a few larger donations, but the bulk of the funds came from $5 and $10 donations from people who believed in what he was doing. Read more

Remembering Harold Connolly

One year ago, the global hammer throw community lost its greatest advocate. For the past 60 years, nearly every great american hammer thrower knew and was influenced by Harold Connolly. Some, like Kevin McMahon, were coached by him. Others didn’t even agree with him, but couldn’t avoid his impact.  While his stubbornness made many hostile, he forced even those people to look hard at their values before deciding they were correct.

I could immediately sense this when I met Harold. This led me to learn my most valuable lesson from him: every moment is a chance to teach and learn.  Read more

If You Want Support, You Need To Create It

Sooner or later most track and field athletes accept the fact that the sport will not make them famous or rich. At most, a handful of track geeks will recognize your name when making their predictions for the Olympics or World Championships. And while we must eventually accept this, it is hard. We watch professional athletes on the TV making millions and feel that we should also be rewarded for having dedicated our lives to maximizing our physical gifts.

The Evergreen Athletic Fund has found success in helping athletes by creating new sources of support in the sport.

The truth of the matter is that no one is sitting around waiting to hand money to athletes for their talents. What brings this topic to mind is a discussion I had with elite discus thrower Will Conwell after the Evergreen Athletic Fund‘s annual meeting on Tuesday. We were both a little exhausted from hearing athletes complain about lack of support and then do nothing about it. It’s not that I think athletes are undeserving of support from the USATF and others, but athletes have been calling for more support for the last century and little has changed. Yelling loader won’t help. For better or worse, athletes have to take some initiative to find that support. I learned this lesson from Harold Connolly. After getting little support from USATF for the youth hammer throw, he started to raise his own money and create his own path where he found much more success.
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Evergreen Athletic Fund Year in Review

When I founded the non-profit Evergreen Athletic Fund at the end of 2008, I had a big vision for what the organization could do. But after the first year, I realized things make take a while to get off the ground. We hosted a few clinics and competitions, but the donations trickled in very slowly. This past year, however, saw the organization finally grow into what I envisioned. Below are some highlights of the year in each of our areas of focus.
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Introducing The New Hammerthrow.org

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Olympic champion Harold Connolly, the founder of Hammerthrow.org

Back in 2002, Harold Connolly asked me to help him maintain his website, Hammerthrow.org. Harold’s son had started the site for him as a birthday gift, but Harold didn’t have the know-how to keep it up to date. I, on the other hand, had already started HSHammer.com and CollegeHammer.com and clearly loved doing that type of work. As a college freshman with too much time on my hands, I was secretly hoping he’d ask for my help with his site too. I was actually already planning on asking him to take over this role and had begun drafting a redesign to help make my case for my abilities.

Harold’s vision for the site was to create an online resource for information about the hammer throw. My vision for the site was to create a one-stop resource for everything about the hammer throw. While I was able to experiment with some new ideas, my vision was too big and I eventually ran out of time to give the site. Over the past few years, the only updates to Hammerthrow.org have been to post information about Harold’s annual youth hammer throw grants. The site looked dated and its organizational structure hid the loads of information it contained. Read more

The Fight Goes On: Responding to Critics of Youth Hammer

Those of you the followed my advice and wrote to USATF Youth Committee Chairman Lionel Leach have found out that he has already made up his mind. He vehemently does not want to support the rule change that would add the hammer throw to the 13- and 14-year-olds age group. Mr. Leach has sent out the following response to those that wrote him:

We as a division have made every attempt and good faith effort to have this event in our meets. Before I was chairman it was not in our program we allowed first in our 17-18 age group then 15-16 age group then both the junior olympics then our youth championship as an exhibition with a 2010 full event we did it as a full event in 2008 2 years early. Then to have it as an event at regional and association meets I have bent enough on this. finally it is only 2 states that has this event their are not enough qualified coaches in the country to teach the event I am not risky kids getting hurt.

While Mr. Leach has been kind enough to talk to those that have contacted him, myself included, his arguments are misguided and he has made many inaccurate statements. Along these lines, I would like to present some additional facts and arguments that not only reinforce our position, but also respond to Mr. Leach’s position.

Note: If you are already in favor of this rule change, click here to skip my arguments and see what the next steps are and how you can help.

Business 101: Reinvest in Success

Before I address Mr. Leach’s concerns, I’d like to point out that the main reason this rule change should go forward is because it will build on an already successful program. No matter how you measure success in track and field, it would be difficult to find a better poster child for it over the last decade than American youth hammer throwing. If success means medals, America won the 2010 world junior title and swept the top two spots at the 2008 World Junior Championships. Prior to that, the U.S. had been the world’s doormat in the event and hadn’t won a gold in any international championship at any level since 1956. If success means records, just look at how every national single junior, high school, class, and age-group record at the national level has been broken in the past five years. Every one. If success means participation, just look at how the number of competitors has increased from just a few throwers to over a thousand. If success is the number of elite athletes, that has also increased. Back in 2000, the national rankings listed just 5 high school boys over 200 feet and 19 over 175 feet. This year, there were 17 boys over 200 feet and 51 over 175 feet. The girls have improved even more rapidly, tripling the number of throwers over 140 feet from 12 to 36 kids over the last ten years. Finally, if success means having fun, let’s just say there is a reason so many kids are flocking to this event.

All this success has not been due to luck. It has been due effort. Performances were already improving in the late 1990s, but the event was still limited to a few pockets of athletes around the country. The hammer really took off when it was added as an event for 15 to 18 year olds at the Junior Olympics. Though the change took a lot of effort by the USATF Youth Committee and associations nationwide, it allowed competitions to immediately spring up in every corner of the country and athletes emerged with them. This rule change would expand those opportunities. The infrastructure is already in place, we just need to take it to the next level.

Responding to the Arguments Against

There are a variety of people that disagree with me for a number of reasons. Below I address each potential concern.

There are not enough coaches – It’s obvious that there are more distance coaches than hammer coaches in this country, but there are plenty of coaches to support youth hammer throwing. Presumably, there are enough coaches in the youth ranks already since this was not a big enough issue to stop the Committee from adding the hammer throw to the older age groups several years ago. If there are enough coaches for 15 years olds in this country, surely there are enough for 14 years olds too. In a quick census of hammer throw coaches over the past 48 hours, I already identified over 300 youth coaches covering nearly ever state in the union. Mr. Leach feels that Harold Connolly and the hammer community did not live up to their side of bargain by training more coaches after the Youth Committee added the hammer for older age groups. Contrary to his belief, Harold worked tirelessly to train more coaches. First, he published free online coaching resources and guides on his website. He toured the country giving clinics and hosted a special coaches clinic every summer at the Olympic Training Center. He also answered numerous inquiries every month from aspiring coaches looking for help. And Harold has not been the only one working. College coaches across the country have been conducting more clinics in recent years, as have I through the Evergreen Athletic Fund. Track Coach also published an article I wrote on teaching youth to throw the hammer in their latest edition. There are already many hammer coaches and we are working hard to expand their ranks.

There are not enough athletes – Some argue that the USATF should not add the event since only a few athletes participate in it. It is true that only a few states offer the event as an official high school event. However, thanks to the Junior Olympic program, athletes are now spread across the country. In 2010, athletes from more than 25 states were represented on Bob Gourley’s national rankings of the top 100 throwers and the top six boys came from six different states. We have worked to compile state records and nearly every state has had a thrower break its record over the past decade. In 2010 alone, 19 state records were bettered. The beauty of adding the hammer as an official youth event is that it will give athletes a chance to compete even where they are not allowed to do so at school. For example, one 8th grade boy and girl (14 years olds) made it onto this year’s national rankings even though could not find a sanctioned competition. In this era of budget concerns many schools are looking at limiting funding of athletics. Therefore, it will be even more important for non school initiatives to be supported, including club athletics and USATF youth participation.

There are not sufficient facilities – Again, this rule change would not increase the demand for facilities. Again, while it is easier to find a place to run than it is to throw the hammer, there are presumably enough facilities already since the event is allowed for older youth throwers. Adding it for a younger age group will not create an increased need for facilities.

Youth are too young for the event – This is not what the IAAF believes. The IAAF is in support of youth hammer throwing and has recognized the need to begin training young in order to produce top results. They sanction the hammer throw at the youth level and recommend the same lightweight implements for 13 and 14 year olds. Canada allows the hammer down to the 12 year old age group despite having perhaps fewer or more isolated coaches and hammer facilities. These young men and women are not toddlers, they are on the verge of entering high school. They are old enough to officially throw the javelin and compete in the pole vault. The hammer throw is not too much for them to handle. For example, a Hungarian who is just one year older this age group threw the 4-kilogram hammer over 280 feet this year.

The hammer throw is too dangerous – Whether it is danger to the participant or others that is being raised as an issue, neither is a valid basis for rejecting the proposal. Like all events, the hammer can pose risks, but statistics have shown that it isn’t dangerous. My experience has been that safety is the first topic discussed when coaching, conducting clinics and during competitions. Safety is a concern in all areas of daily life (commuting to work, at work, at school, at play, etc.), but that does not mean that all activities are dangerous to such an extent that they should be avoided. If danger or safety was the primary criteria, then javelin, discus, pole vault, football, etc. would all need to be reevaluated. Insurance data in Rhode Island (the state with the largest number of high school throwers) show that there have been no claims for injury from the event. Risks may even be lower with younger kids since they are not throwing the hammer as far and are using lighter implements. The event also does not pose a substantial risk of harm to the thrower since injury rates are much lower than the javelin and other track and field events.

What’s Next

As I said last week, I encourage you all to express your opinions to Youth Committee chairman Lionel Leach (917-913-5505, lionel@youthusatf.org). While his mind is made up, it will help our cause both now and in the future for him to know the number of youth coaches and throwers nationwide. Specifically, he feels that even the coaches we have are unattached and have just one or two athletes. This is not the case and hopefully you can provide him with examples to the contrary.

What will be even more effective is to utilize contacts you have at USATF. Obviously, if you know someone at the top, get them on our side and voicing their support to the Youth Committee. But more importantly, if you know someone involved with youth athletics at the association level, have them contact Mr. Leach too. Mr. Leach is very concerned about the impact the rule change will have on the local associations since they must implement the rules. Having those same people support us will provide us with tremendous support.

Finally, you can always attend the USATF Youth Committee Meeting and show your support. While opportunities to participate there may be limited, support never hurts.

Whether this rule change passes or not, we need to keep this issue front and center so that we can continue to provide more opportunities for American hammer throwers well into the future.

Ask Martin Vol. 7: Technique

Question: I just read this interview with Dr. Bondarchuk. In it, he says the two reasons U.S. hammer throwing lags behind is because of the way we train (lack of special strength) and technique issues. You have talked a lot about how to train special strength, I would like to know what you think some of the major flaws in the U.S. style of technique is compared to what Dr. B teaches. -Jeff
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In Memory of the Greatest Hammer Thrower

I hate starting a day off with bad news, but that’s exactly how my Thursday started this week. I normally check my e-mail right when I get up to see what I missed during daytime in America. My first e-mail was from my father and simply entitled “Harold Connolly.” I immediately got a strange feeling about it and, as I opened it, my worst fears were confirmed. My friend and mentor, 1956 gold medalist Harold Connolly had passed away. Read more

Saving the Hammer Throw

Hungarians know and love the hammer throw. The country is steeped in tradition and has produced four hammer throw gold medalists (third all-time behind the Soviet Union and America). Their state-owned television company has even produced a documentary on a notable hammer throwing coach. It came as no surprise when Hungary offered to host the hammer throw at the World Athletics Final from 2003 to 2005 after the infrastructure in Monaco was deemed unable to host the hammer. The challenge facing the event now is that many people, including myself, feel the event’s exclusion from top meets has put it on the periphery of track and field. And, yet again, it comes as no surprise that a Hungarian is one of the first to offer a possible solution to the problems facing our event.

The Proposal

Sándor Eckschmiedt is more than just your average university professor. At one time, he was among the world’s best hammer throwers. Track and Field News ranked Eckschmiedt in the world top ten on four separate occasions: 1964, 1967, 1968, and 1972. He also made the Olympic final in both 1968 and 1972, placing a career-high fifth in 1968. But now he sits on the Faculty of Physical Education and Sports Sciences at Semmelweis University in Budapest. His most recent work has been to publish a proposal for saving the hammer throw.  A copy of this report is available below.
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