Getting old sucks. I looked around at our national team this summer and realized I have literally been throwing longer than some of the athletes have been alive. Everyone wants to go out on the town after the final event and when I was their age I could do that and then throw a personal best in the morning off of no sleep. But now all I can think about is that it will set my training back for days. As we get older our body does not act the same as it used to. This is just one example. It is still possible to improve, but you have to fight harder and harder for every inch.On this week’s episode we talk about how to fight for those inches. Read more
Last year I looked at when hammer throwers reach their peak and last week I looked at shot putters. FiveThirtyEight even looked at this aspect of tennis. I decided to continue the project by looking at javelin throwers. I often train together with the Swiss national javelin coach Terry McHugh. McHugh sits just outside of the top 100, but when I complain about getting old he is the first to tell me otherwise. He knows from experience since he threw his personal best just days shy of his 37th birthday. On the other hand I know a few javelin throwers who careers have been ended quite young due to injuries. With this in mind I figured it would be an interesting event to look at.
The javelin throw offers a unique perspective compared to the other throwing events. Doping era marks prevail in most women’s throwing events and some of the men’s events and skew any historical analysis. The javelin, however, has had the advantage of starting over. In 1986 a new men’s javelin was introduced thereby resetting the records books. In 1999 the a women’s javelin was also introduced. As a result, some of the issues with questionable marks have been overcome and this also allows me to look at both genders for the first time. Here are three points I took away from the analysis.
I like numbers. In an interview in February I said the technology I use and profit from the most is Microsoft Excel. I guess this explains why I work in tax, but even in training I am constantly analyzing the data I get out of my own training and of my athletes. Numbers are the feedback that is easiest to work with.
Historical data is also quite rich. This week I decided to do an analysis of the top 100 male shot putters of all-time. That is every person to every break 21.12 meters or 69 feet 3.5 inches. What I was interested in was the age at which athletes reached their personal best. After looking at the data, I saw three clear points emerge.
After the US championships, blogger Jesse Squire discussed a question many track fans are wondering: will Athens 400m Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner ever be able to break 44-seconds again? At 27-years old, most people say that Wariner still has his prime ahead of him. Squire looked a little deeper and found that this is just not the case in the 400 meters.
Wariner is not “relatively young” or “hardly ancient”. He is ancient by the standards of the 400 meters. It is an event that chews people up and spits them out. Only marathoners’ careers have shorter life spans. The gold standard of quarter-miling, breaking 44.00, has been done 47 times by nine athletes. Only once has it ever been done by a man older than 26 whose name was not Michael Johnson. All realistic analyses of the event should ignore Johnson—he was to long sprinting as Secretariat was to three-year-old racing, a once in a century outlier. If you look at those eight other mere mortals, the median age for a sub-44.00 is twenty-two.