Last week we started off the year-end review with a look at the top 10 women of 2014. We’ll continue with the men today which was even closer and more exciting than last year. The greatest rivalry in track and field right now in track and field is the men’s hammer throw. Krisztian Pars and Pawel Fajdek face off nearly every week during the season and it is a toss up who will win. It was literally a toss up as the average margin of victory was less than 10 centimeters (four inches). Read more
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With just a few days left in 2014 it is time to reflect on the year. The first stop is the women’s hammer. Highlighted by a world record and thrilling European Championships final, the women’s hammer was one of the most exciting events of 2014. But as was the case last year, it was not easy to complete the rankings since the rest of the field traded wins back and forth all year. The final rankings are entirely subjective, but I do place higher weight on head-to-head competition as opposed to marks alone as beating an opponent is the best judge that you are better than them. Therefore some picks might be controversial, so make your case in the comments below if you disagree. In addition, Zhang Wenxiu was not included in the rankings following her positive test at the Asian Games. Read more
There was hardly a hangover after the London Olympics. With records, upsets, and lots of youth talent emerging, 2013 was a year for the history books. My men’s and women’s rankings took a look at the top performers, but there were many more moments to remember. Here is my list of the biggest hammer throwing stories of 2013.
1. Surprise Winners at the World Championships – Those outside of the hammer throwing world likely had never heard of Pawel Fajdek, the young Polish thrower. Insiders knew he was a rising star, but after fouling out in London he had yet to make his mark at a major championships. Krisztian Pars was undefeated and a clear favorite entering the world Championships, but Fajdek came out firing and led from start to finish with a new personal best of 81.97 meters. At just 24 years of age, this will be the fist of many World Championships medals for him.
Just like Pars, Betty Heidler entered the women’s competition undefeated but unlike Pars she failed to even make the finals (more on this below). As defending Olympic and World Champion, Tatyana Lysenko was hardly an outsider but was still an underdog. And for the third year in a row she turned that underdog role into gold.
2. Women Put on a Competition to Remember – Combined, the stellar men’s and women’s competitions made this year’s world championships the most exciting that I have ever seen. I risk overusing this phrase, but the women’s competition in particular was perhaps the best of all-time. I also said this after the London Olympic final when five women broke 76 meters and it took 74 meters just to place in the top eight. The depth was not as good this year, but the competition was better. Lysenko opened the competition with a bomb of 77.58 meters. Since Heidler didn’t make the final and Wlodarczyk opened up with just 70 meters, I thought this would secure the win. By Wlodarczyk slowly started to warm up improving to 74 meters in round two and then took the lead in round three with 77.79 meters. In round four, Lysenko responded with the second furthest throw ever of 78.80 meters. Wlodarczyk then entered the ring and watched her throw nearly surpass Lysenko again. While the throw ended up being a little shorter (78.46 meters), it was still enough to move Wlodarczyk to third on the all-time world list.
There were also lots of competition and lead changes for the other positions too. Zhang Wenxiu won bronze, but was only 1.42 meters ahead of sixth place finisher Yipsi Moreno. Five of the top six had season’s best. Three had personal bests. And two set national records. Even the battle to make the finals was close. Position seven through ten were separated by just 20 centimeters with the two Americans missing the finals by just inches.
3. Heidler’s Future in Question – World record holder Betty Heidler was having a great season until she fell apart at the World Championships. This left many people asking questions, but her actions since then have only generated more questions. Other than a mediocre performance at home in Berlin, she abruptly called her season to an end after the World Championships. After the season she had surgery on her left knee. She also uprooted from her longtime training base in Frankfurt to more back home to Berlin. Then the big shocker came after some strange comments in an interview last month, when she said “I will not start again at the World Championships.” She clarified that she does not intend to retire, just to forgo competing at the World Championships. That’s a strange comment and strategy in an era where the World Championships is one of the only chances for a hammer thrower to make money.
4. New American Record – The top American women were huddled around 72 meters for several years until Jessica Cosby finally broke through and set a new record last season. That opened the flood gates and Amanda Bingson shatter the record this season with a toss of 75.73 meters to dominate the US Championships. With two records in two years and a young crop of throwers, it looks like the breakthrough has just started. Bingson had a very strong season overall and placed 10th at the World Championships, just five inches away from the top eight.
5. Strong American Women – Entering last season the American record was 73.87 meters. This year five women were over 73 meters. Along with Bingson, Jeneva McCall threw 74.77 meters and was actually the top ranked American in my world rankings. Gwen Berry, who like McCall is just 24 years old, also threw nearly 74 meters. Veteran Amber Campbell also had strong season and set a new personal best to make the World Championship team. And Jessica Cosby was once again quite strong. It was unthinkable that an American would not make the national team with a throw of 72.39 meters at worlds, but that is just what happened to Cosby as she placed fourth.
Not only are the marks increasing, but the athletes are also moving up the world rankings. Based on the yearly performance list, five of the top 18 women in the world were Americans.
6. Winkler Improves the American High School Mark – While the American men have not yet seen , a sign of progress can been seen in the development of youth throwers across the country. Once a seldom contested event, the hammer throw results have taken off over the least few years. This year the national record was yet again bettered by New Yorker Rudy Winkler. Winkler’s best of 79.38 meters (260’05”) from July added five inches to former World Junior champion Conor McCullough’s mark from 2008. Winkler also became the third hammer thrower in the last eight years to be named the Track and Field News high school athlete of the year.
7. Gomez Puts South America on the Map – Argentinean Joaquín Gómez fouled out at the World Youth Championships earlier this summer, but he had redemption this month by setting a new world under-18 best with the 5-kilogram hammer. His throw of 85.38 meters added 12-centimeters to the old best by Ashraf Amgad Elseify set in 2011. This may not be the most impressive throw by a youth athlete ever (Elseify also threw 85.57-meters with the heavier 6-kilogram hammer as an under-18 athlete), but it is still the farthest 5-kilogram throw ever by a youth thrower.
South America has lagged behind other countries in the hammer, and Gómez’s results are a good sign that an 80-meter thrower might be on the continent’s horizon. Oceania and South America are the only two areas in the world that have not produced an 80 meter thrower at the senior level. And South America lags the furthest behind with an area record of just 76.42 meters. Oceania is at 79.29 meters.
8. Hungarian Girls Demolish Youth Record Books – Hungrian men have long been winning global medals, but the Szombathely training group run by Zsolt Nemeth now has the two most promising young women’s throwers in the world. Like Gómez, Réka Gyurátz and Helga Völgyi both surpassed the old world under-18 best. Gyurátz’s best of 76.04 meters with the 3-kilogram hammer added nearly three meters to the old mark. Völgyi also posted an impressive 74.38 meters and the easily won gold and silver at the World Youth Championships. Gyurátz then jumped up an age group and threw 65.01 meters with the 4-kilogram hammer to place second at the competitive European Junior Championships.
Combined the two throwers have 18 of the top 19 performances of all time in the under 18 category. But their records might not last for long. Their third teammate Zsófia Bácskay already hit 71.76 meters (fourth all-time) and has one more year in the age category.
9. Hammer Challenge Finally Expands – In previous years there were so few meets on the circuit that were grouped so closely together that part of the jackpot remained unpaid since many athletes could not compete in the minimum three competitions. This year the IAAF expanded the challenge to feature 11 men’s competitions and 10 women’s competitions. While this was a great change, it also fell short of fixing the IAAF Hammer Challenge. As I mentioned in an editorial this spring, this only fixed part of the problems. The overall prize money still is minuscule in comparison to the Diamond League and most of the “new” competitions already offered the hammer throw in previous seasons. But with one Diamond League competition officially becoming part of the challenge the change offers a distant hope that more will join in the future.
10. The UK Loses a Legend – On a more somber note the hammer throwing community lost a legend when Alan Bertram passed away in May. The British coach was a die hard advocate for the sport that left an impact wherever he was, like he did with the training groups he led in London and Scotland. When I visited Glasgow in October I heard many stories of his impact on developing the event there. Even in America I remember reading Bertram’s guide to the hammer throw when I was first trying to teach myself to throw. Like Harold Connolly in the US, Bertram was a unique character and the type of people we need more of in this sport. Athletics Weekly had a thoughtful obituary that is well worth the read.
I had it easy with my men’s rankings this year. Other than an upset finish at the World Championships, the rest of the season generally progressed as scripted and the rankings almost wrote themselves. But with the women it was another story. The top three were clearly ahead of the pack, but the rest of the spots were decided by the narrowest of margins and several other athletes also had strong cases to make the top ten. A win few more centimeters at one competition or another could have meant a few places in the rankings. But this was exactly how the season went. At the World Championships there was just 1.5 meters between third and sixth places. Seventh through tenth was even closer with only 20 centimeters separating the five throwers. It’s no wonder I take my time below dissecting each athlete’s season.
1. Anita Wlodarczyk (POL) – The former world record holder from Poland put together her strongest season her 2009. After capturing the world title and world record that year she struggled to regain her dominance. While she was not able to win her second world title in 2013, she had nine wins and placed no lower than second in 14 competitions. And against rival Tatyana Lysenko she won five of six competitions, losing only narrowly at the World Championships in a back and forth competition that produced the top two throws ever at a World Championship. Her winning mark bettered her Polish record (which was her previous world record too) and puts her third on the current all-time list. She was the overall IAAF Hammer Challenge winner as well as winner of the Francophone Games and big meets in Berlin, Rieti, Warsaw and Dubnica. She was the strongest from July on and had two competitions over 78 meters, another over 77 meters and all of her final seven meets were over 75.50 meters. She did have a handful of losses against Betty Heidler early in the year, but Heidler seemed to fall from the face of earth at the end of the season. Had Heidler turned up to more competitions, Wlodarcyzk would have evened the score against her with this late season dominance.
2. Tatyana Lysenko (RUS) – The Russian champion continued to solidify her modus operandi. Here’s how it works: she puts out good but not great results at the start of the season, losses to her competitors, and then throws a big season’s best at the championship to win gold. She didn’t fool me in year’s past but this year her early season performances even convinced me that she would not repeat as World Champion. But she did in style by overcoming Wlodarczyk in the fourth round to set a new personal best, World Championship record, Russian national record, and the second best throw of all-time. She had a strong season overall and placed second in the IAAF Hammer Challenge series, but other than the World Championships she had no wins against her major rivals. This is chiefly what kept her out of the top spot.
3. Betty Heidler (GER) – Just looking at the numbers, Heidler’s season puts her in contention for first place. If you ignore the World Championships and she won four of five competitions again Wlodarczyk and split with Lysenko. Heading into the World Championships she was undefeated in nine competitions. But it was that one meet that was the difference maker; she threw 68.83 meters and finished in just 18th place. Combined with the European Championships last year, this is her second major flop in two years. After the meet she basically called it a season and competed only once more, which further hurt her ranking.
4. Zhang Wenxiu (CHN) – There is not much to judge Wenxiu by this year. On the one hand she won bronze in Moscow with a season’s best of 75.58 meters. But on the other hand she competed just five times this year and only twice against international competition. At her other international meet, the Pre Classic, she placed eight. In national competition she did face off a lot against World Championships sixth-place finisher Wang Zheng and beat her in three of four meets.
5. Yipsi Moreno (CUB) – At 33 years old, Moreno is the oldest of her competitors and it looks like the three-time world champions is starting to show her age. Moreno placed just 6th at the Wprld Championships season’s best of 74.16. Other than 2009 (which she skipped while pregnant) it was her lowest seasons best and world championships finish since 2002 and 2001 respectively. But while she didn’t get a big throw, she was consistently on the top three or four on the circuit, which earned her an overall fourth place in the IAAF Hammer Challenge rankings.
6. Anna Bulgakova (RUS) – Despite placing third at the European Championships last year, Bulgakova did not get the chance to compete at the Olympics. She made up for it this year with her a fifth place finish in Moscow, her best finish at a global championship since she won World Junior silver in 2006. She had several other strong performances, but limited herself mostly to domestic competitions. In her one meet outside of Russia, she threw just 67 meters.
7. Wang Zheng (CHN) – Zheng has often lived in the shadow of her countrywoman Wenxiu, but this year she started to emerge as a force of her own. After beating Wenxiu leading up to Worlds, she nearly eclipsed her again and won a very close battle for fourth place with a personal best of 74.90 meters. She also won the Asian Championships, but as with the other Chinese and Russian athletes, did not compete often on the circuit against other international competition.
8. Jeneva McCall (USA) – No American women appeared on my ranking last, but this year McCall matches Jessica Cosby’s eight place ranking from 2011. The US runner-up had the best international record amongst the strongest crop of American throwers in history. Her biggest result was a gold medal win over Kondratyeva at the World University Games. She then lost to Kondratyeva by just 11 centimeters to place ninth at the World Championships. One meet after worlds she threw a personal best of 74.77 meters to earn second in Dubnica and then ended her season with a strong third place finish in Rieti. Overall she took fifth place in the IAAF Hammer Challenge.
9. Oksana Kondratyeva (RUS) – The highlight of Kondratyeka’s season was her throw of 77.13 meters in July to win the Znamenskiy Memorial meeting. The throw moved her to sixth on the all-time list. However the rest of the season wasn’t at that high of a level. She placed a solid seventh at worlds and won silver at the World University Games in Ukraine. But in domestic competition she had abysmal record against to Lysenko (zero wins to four losses) and Bulgakova (one win to five losses). And other than one competition in Ukraine, she also did not compete outside Russia and that hurts we ranking against non-Russian athletes.
10. Éva Orbán (HUN) – The Hungarian champion had been stuck around 70 meters for several years until her breakthrough this season. Already a solid big meet performer, the USC grad used the extra distance to finish eight at the World Championships. She also won the European Team Championships 1st League, was second at the Beijing Hammer Challenge, and second at Halle with a new national record of 73.44 meters.
The end of the year means its rankings time. Athletics Weekly released their rankings last week and Track and Field News will be doing so shortly. While I may not have a team of experts behind my rankings, I do have an insider’s view. We don’t have the Diamond League in our event, and even all of our Hammer Challenge meets are not created equal since a few good marks are more important than lots of wins. Separating the best from the rest is not always an easy task. Using subjective analysis of lots of numbers, here is the third edition of my annual men’s hammer throw rankings.
1. Krisztian Pars (HUN) – After an Olympic gold medal in 2012, it seemed like Pars might cruise through this year. But Pars quietly put together one of the best seasons of his life winning 15 of 16 finals, including 5 wins on the IAAF Hammer Challenge circuit. But that one loss was a big blemish on his résumé since it came at the biggest meet of the year: the World Championships in Moscow. Nevertheless he was strong enough throughout the season to retain his top ranking from last season. Two statistics stood out to me. First, he had nine meets over 80-meters. No other athlete had more than three competitions over 80-meters. And second, after losing in Moscow he came back and threw his best throw since 2006 to win at the Dubnica IAAF Hammer Challenge. This was his second best throw ever and only 5-centimeters off his personal best. It may not be as nice as gold, but it was still a nice little revenge for him.
2. Pawel Fajdek (POL) – Fajdek has claimed among the world’s elite over the past two years, but failed to show he could perform at the biggest champioships. This year he put together three solid wins: the European Team Championships, World University Games, and most importantly the World Championships. His win at the World Championships was the most impressive; not only were all his competitors there but he led from start to finish by nearly two meters. But he still lost nine competitions this year, including 4 of 5 competitions to Pars. Fajdek has yet to find the consistency of his Hungarian rival, but he has made himself a favorite for next summer’s European Championships.
3. Lukas Melich (CZE) – While veteran throwers have a strong force in the hammer, rarely does a medalist first emerge at that age. Ziolkowski, Vizzoni, and Murofushi were all finalists in Moscow, but had already won their first medals by their mid-20s. The 32-year old Melich is therefore an exception. His career has long had good results, but was plagued by inconsistence. He only made his first championship final last year, but continued to improve this year. He had the best four competitions of his career, including his first three 80-meter throws. He also placed no lower than fourth in 19 competitions against strong competition. The consistency made the difference for him this year and led to his biggest accomplishment: bronze at the World Championships.
4. Primoz Kozmus (SLO) – The 2008 Olympic Champion competing only seven times this year, but was quite consistent. He won at the Karlstad IAAF Hammer Challenge, had good runner-up finishes to Pars in Budapest and Velenje, and finished his season just 14-centimeters off of the podium in Moscow.
5. Dilshod Nazarov (TJK) – Nazarov placed fifth at the World Championships and that was his lowest finish of the year. That’s how strong his performances were this year. Among his other highlights were a new personal best of 80.71-meters and a win in Halle, fourth place in the overall IAAF Hammer Challenge, and a win at the Asian Championships. His season nearly earned him fourth place, but he lost twice in two meets in Kozmus.
6. Marcel Lomnicky (SVK) – The former NCAA Champion truly burst onto the international scene this year and showed how just a little improvement at the international level can mean so much. Lomnicky improved his personal best by just more than a meter this year, but more importantly he had nine of his ten best competitions all-time. This was enough to get him into the finals in Moscow, sixth place in the IAAF Hammer Challenge, and a podium finishes at the World University Games, the competitive Dubnica meeting, Karlstad Grand Prix, and in Ponce.
7. Szymon Ziolkowski (POL) – Twelve years after his first appearance at the World Championships, Ziolkowski placed ninth in Moscow. It may have been his lowest finish ever, but that is the mark of a great career. While his World Championships may have been disappointing, his overall season was very strong. Adding consistency to last season. With the exception of one competition, he was always in the top five and had several meets over 77 meters which earned him seventh place in the IAAF Hammer Challenge.
8. Koji Murofushi (JPN) – The aging Japanese champion placed sixth at the World Championships and it is hard to rank him any higher since there are no other performances to evaluate. He competed only one other time and had no other competitions against international throwers.
9. Sergey Litvinov (RUS) – Litvinov was returning from injury this year, but competed very well. The highlight was a bronze at the World University Games. However he hit his peak a little early and despite a good qualifying round placed just 11th at the World Championships.
10. Nicola Vizzoni (ITA) – The Tuscan might not be able to produce the huge throws of years past, but he still performs when it counts. A seventh place finish at the World Championships highlighted his season and pushed him into the top ten.
In an Olympic year, naturally many of the highlights came from London. But there were many more great stories throughout the season. Here is a selection of the top hammer throwing stories from the 2012 season, both good and bad.
Although we did not see another world record this year, the women’s hammer throw was perhaps the most exciting event in track and field with a handful of throwers brushing up against the barrier. The Olympic final had five women over 76 meters and eight over 74 meters making it by far the deepest competition ever. Below I’ve compiled my top ten female throwers of the year. Earlier this week I posted my men’s rankings. Check back next week when I will recap some of the greatest moments of the year. If you want some additional statistics for the season, check out the IAAF’s performance lists.
1. Tatyana Lysenko (RUS) – This year was an Olympic year. For hammer throwers more than anyone, London was truly a once-in-four-year chance at glory. As was the case last year, Lysenko had the right timing and convincingly won the Olympic final in the deepest competition of all-time. While Lysenko only won 6 of her 14 competitions, she also was on the podium in 13 of those meets and had the second furthest throw of the year. With a stronger overall season to add to her gold medal this year, she was able to move up a spot to number one.
Track and Field News will release their annual rankings soon, which are considered the international benchmark. Once again I can’t wait that long, so I’ve compiled my own year-end rankings.
My criteria is subjective, so let the debate begin. Feel free to post your own thoughts in the comment section below. If you want some stats for the season, check out the IAAF’s performance lists. Because both Ivan Tikhon (BLR) and Kirill Ikonnikov (RUS) have pending doping suspensions, I have not included them in the rankings.
1. Krisztian Pars (HUN) – While picking Pars as number one last year might have been a litte controversial, he is the clear number one this year. After years of frustration he not only won his first international title, but he did so twice by utterly dominating the competition at both the European Championships and Olympics. He won 15 or 16 finals and had seven of the nine best marks of the year (seven of the best eight if you excluding Tikhon). His season’s best of 82.28 meters might not rank him among the all-time greats, but even non-throwers agree his season was one of the best in track and field this year.
I’ve ranked the top ten men. I’ve ranked the top ten women. But there are many moments that can’t be captured in athlete’s rankings. Throughout 2011 there were some great events in hammer throwing that were one-off occurrences or even something a non-thrower accomplishes. Below is a list of my favorite moments in hammer throwing from the past year.
With a new world record and a new world champion, 2011 was an exciting year for the women’s hammer throw. Below I’ve compiled my top ten throwers of the year. Check back next week when I will recap some of the greatest moments of the year. If you want some stats for the season, check out the IAAF’s performance lists.
1. Betty Heidler (GER). As with my men’s rankings, my top ranked woman in 2011 also did not win the World Championships. But she did set a new world record that is tantalizingly close to 80 meters. This was also the only outdoor track and field record of 2011. She was also strong before and after Worlds, with eight straight win before and four afterwards and nine of the top ten performance of 2011. In addition to her record in Halle, she easily captured a win in the IAAF World Hammer Challenge where she won each meet she entered by an average of more than 3 meters. Even her runner-up mark of 76.06 meters at the World Championships would have been good enough to beat her competitors any other meet in 2011. She may have just won silver in Daegu, but she was the class of the field this year.