Next week marks the eight year anniversary of when I fully relocated to Switzerland. I’ve been busy coaching the entire time, having athletes capture 20 national titles, but often I feel like I am better known in the US and UK than here at home. Part of the reason for that is that nearly everything I write or talk about is in English. The other reason is that the field of strength and conditioning here in Switzerland is decades behind the English-speaking world and our neighbors such as Germany and France. Read more
The track in Zurich has gained the nickname piste magique, the magic track, for no small reason. The annual Weltklasse Zurich meet is know as the best one-day meet in the world for its enthusiastic sell-out crowds and more than 20 world records set in the stadium. With a new fast ring and the same energetic atmosphere, it could be the perfect atmosphere for another world record. The top female hammer throwers have been flirting with the 80-meter barrier for a while. Both the world leader and world record holder will be battling not only for gold this week, but also to be the first to break the landmark barrier. In any event, it should be one of the most exciting competitions of the meet. Qualifying takes place Wednesday morning, with the top 12 moving on to Friday’s finals. A live stream for the hammer will be available online in certain countries from Eurovision.
Anita Wlodarczyk (POL)
Season Best: 78.17m (1st), Personal Best: 78.46m (2014), Last EC/Best Finish: 1st
When defending Olympic and World Champion Tatyana Lysenko announced an early end to her season, what was a three-woman race for the European title suddenly became a two person race and Wlodarczyk became the clear favorite. The former world record holder was ranked first in the world last year and she is by far the most consistent of the world’s elite hammer throwers. This year she has competed only four times, but won three and is just under her personal best. She split her two matchups with her closest competitor Heidler, but as returning champion she will likely have more confidence and a good throw in the early rounds could secure her the win.
Betty Heidler (GER)
Season Best: 78.00m (2nd), Personal Best: 79.42m (2012), Last EC: 3rd, Best Finish: 1st (2010)
After a slow start to the year she seemed to find her groove with a world lead of 78 meters in June, but then at the German championships last month she again fell back below 70 meters. This was not the first time her inconsistency has shown up. Heidler won the European title in 2010, but it was the next edition where the problems first arose in a major way. At the 2012 European Championships she threw just 65 meters, a performance her coach described as “Psychoterror, Katastrophe, Kindergartenfehler.” Since then she has been quite inconsistent, winning an Olympic medal but then failing to make the finals at last year’s World Championships. Heidler has a big chance to win again, but it depends on which Heidler shows up on Wednesday. Wednesday’s qualifying round will tell a lot about her prospects.
Kathrin Klaas (GER)
Season Best: 74.62m (4th), Personal Best: 76.05m (2012), Last EC/Best Finish: 4th (2012)
After throwing her personal best in the Olympic final, Klaas started the next Olympic cycle fresh last year with a new coach. After a slow first year, it is starting to pay dividends as she has produced one of her most consistent season’s this year. She lost six times in six meets to her German rival Heidler last year, but in five matchups this year she has won three. She has also taken down other top European names and looks in good position to make the podium.
Martin Hrasnova (SVK)
Season Best: 75.27m (3rd), Personal Best: 76.90m (2009), Last EC/Best Finish: 2nd (2012)
After a down year last year, Hrasnova has returned to form with several strong performances this summer. She has secured wins against Orban and Bulgakova, split against Fiodorow, and lost several times to Klaas. She will likely have to beat Klaas to get on the podium, which will be difficult, but within her reach.
Anna Bulgakova (RUS)
Season Best: 74.16m (6th), Personal Best: 76.17m (2013), Last EC/Best Finish: 3rd (2012)
The fourth-ranked European from last season is surprisingly the sole Russian in the field. She started the season with a slow spring, but had a strong July and looks near the form that placed her fifth at last year’s World Championships and put her on the podium at the last European Championships.
Joanna Fiodorow (POL)
Season Best/Personal Best: 74.39m (5th), Last EC/Best Finish: First Appearance
At first it was unclear if Fiodorow was actually going to compete. She was not named to the official team from Poland, but she was included on the final entries list. But now that she is confirmed on the Polish team it is clear that she will be one of the top medal candidates. After a down year last year she has returned to the form that made her a 2012 Olympic finalist. So far in 2014 she has hit a new personal best, won the the European Cup Winter Throwing, and found consistency over 71-72 meters.
Others to Watch
Americans looking for a connection to the meet might look at some of the former NCAA stars competing. Hungary’s Eva Orban was an NCAA champion at the University of Southern California in 2008 and could place very high after making the World Championship final last summer. Sweden’s Ida Storm just finished her career as a multiple-time All American at UCLA and Nicole Lomnicka of Slovakia was the 2010 NCAA Champion while throwing for the University of Georgia. Lomnicka’s brother is a medal favorite in the men’s competition and if she qualifies for the finals it would be a rare instance of two siblings qualifying for the finals. This would be the first time to my knowledge in the hammer throw.
One of the youngest competitors at the entire meet will be participating in the women’s hammer throw: Reka Gyuratz. At just 18 years old, the young Hungarian is fresh off of a silver at the World Junior Championships. Last season she won the World Youth Championships and set a new world under-18 all-time best.
Another big name in the field is Aksana Miankova of Belarus, the 2008 Olympic champion. But her shape so far this season has shown no signs that she is ready to return to the podium.
Yesterday the Swiss Championships took place in Frauenfeld and I captured my sixth straight title. And while I again had little competition, this victory felt a extra special. The crowd was small, but with my parents arriving the day before the meet I knew I had fans. The European championships organizers also used the meet to fine tune their preparations, including live coverage and interviews from Schelbi in the infield, a live stream, and the official European Championships hammer retrieval car. My top athlete also made the women’s podium for the first time.
I always have the tendency to want to “man up” and train through small injuries and pain. By my recollection I have missed only one day of training due to injury over the past decade and I’m quite proud of that. I have a very high pain tolerance that lets me put the little aches and pains in the back of my mind and push through. But just because I did train doesn’t mean I should have. Looking back there are many days where taking the day off would have been a much better decision. Just because the pain has been moved to the back of the mind doesn’t mean that it has disappeared. The body adjusts and copes to avoid the pain. And when the pain finally disappears, the body still reacts like a trained dog, bracing itself for the pain it expects to arrive.
I haven’t blogged about my season so far because, frankly, the results weren’t worth writing about. Had I been throwing personal bests, you’d be the first to know. Had my training gone in the crapper, I’d be dissecting it right here before your eyes. But instead I’ve been stuck in a middle ground: great training but bad meets.
I am writing from the comforts of the Pacific Northwest, but on Friday night I was 5,000 miles away in Luzern competing in blistering heat at the Swiss Championships. As usual, I came in as the strong favorite and a mediocre first throw was good enough to secure the win and my fifth straight Swiss title. While the end result was not much better, it was a fun competition as always.
The day started off with some fireworks from some other throwers. Junior javelin thrower Lukas Wieland broke his own junior national record four times and ended up with a massive throw of 75.11 meters which puts him among the ten best junior throwers in the world this year. Simultaneously, the women’s hammer throw also produced some amazing results. Nicole Zihlmann also secured her fifth national title, but in doing so broke a number of barriers. Most importantly, she broke the Swiss record twice in the competition. Her throw of 61.54 meters also was her first time over 60 meters, just the second Swiss thrower ever over 60 meters, and qualified her for September’s Francophone Games in Nice. When it was time for the men’s competition, we also raised the level a bit. For the first time since 2007 we had five men over 50 meters. This might sound unimpressive, but considering that Swiss hammer throwing reached its low point in recent years (the silver was won with just 46 meters last year) it is promising, if only a small step forward. Even more promising is that one of our youngest throwers, Robin Santoli, threw a personal best and his first podium finish.
As the saying goes: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. After complaining about training in winter conditions a few days ago, I decided to just give in and embrace the winter. I took an extra day off of training to spend a long weekend of enjoying winter sports activities and relaxing with Kate in picturesque St. Mortiz.
Naturally the first thing to try out was the bobsled, which was born in St. Moritz more than a century ago. The historic Olympia Bobrun from St. Moritz to Celerina has hosted two Olympic Games and is the only all natural ice track in the world. The track records are reset yearly as the track is rebuilt from scratch and carved from snow with slight variances each time. The Swiss are also one of the best nations in the history of the sport. Just think of the focus and precision of the Swiss team in the movie Cool Runnings and you know what level of respect they get in the sport. Switzerland has more medals than any other country in the bobsled and the 2010 Vancouver Games actually marked the first time since 1964 that the Swiss team did not win a medal. Throwers also have a close connection to bobsled. In Switzerland the brakewoman for Swiss 1 is also our national champion in the discus. The driver for the men’s Swiss 2 sled last season was a former top junior thrower for my club. Outside of Switzerland numerous throwers have tried the event, perhaps the most succesful of which was Olympic gold medalist Marco Jakob of Germany who had thrown 64.96 meters in the discus at age 22 before focusing more on the bobsled.
6-.Since my season ended in September, my own training has barely warranted a mention on this site. Part of the reason is because I took a few weeks off. But the main reason is that I was trying out some new things and didn’t want to post until I had some concrete feedback about whether or not it was successful. On Monday I began my second training block of the season, so now is a good time to talk about how my training has started out for the 2013 season.
As Kibwe noted on his blog this week, Fall training is a perfect time to work on technique. If is dangerous to try to exaggerate changes, take a lot of low intensity throws, or do other drastic adjustments during the competitive season because it can throw off your rhythm enough to ruin a few competitions. But in the Fall you have plenty of time to play around and find out what works and what doesn’t. Like Kibwe, I am focusing on improving my winds and entry. The start of the throw is the most important since if there are problems there, they will be amplified as the throw progresses. But unlike Kibwe, I don’t have the most decorated coach in history watching my every move. This makes the process more difficult since even though I know what I want to fix, I have to rely on feeling and that can be deceptive at times (what feels good might just be what is comfortable, not what is better). In addition, an external pair of eyes can give you a different perspective.
The third season of the Diamond League has come to an end, and once again the hammer throwers have had to watch from the sidelines. As the only track and field athletes excluded from the Diamond League, hammer throwers have always protested the current state of affairs. Through the efforts of those like Kathrin Klaas, the movement has slowly gained more publicity. And, after three years, the Diamond League has still never given an official statement as to why the hammer throw has been excluded; the closest thing to that was a footnote to the initial press release stating that the hammer throw would be excluded for “infrastructure reasons”, whatever that means.
As time has gone on, Patrick Magyar, the outspoken director of the Weltklasse Zurich Diamond League meet, has let out some snippets of his views on the hammer throw. Magyar is a man we need to convince about the hammer throw since he not only runs the biggest Diamond League meet, but serves as vice chairman of the Diamond League and was CEO for the 2014 European Championships. Last year in an interview with the Basler Zeitung, Magyar said that the future of athletics should include less events, particularly the heavy throwing events since he does not feel they are as entertaining in a stadium. The hammer throw, for example, has fewer and fewer athletes so it makes less sense to include it in the big meetings. Swiss-Australian coach Jörg Probst has the full translation here. As I told Jörg, is it that the hammer should be excluded because it is not popular, or that the hammer is unpopular because it is so often excluded? As I documented in detail, the hammer throw has grown quickly in both popularity and participation once it started to be included in more meets in America. Maybe meets like the Diamond League are causing the problem instead of just reacting to the current trends in the sport.
In September of this year, Magyar spoke again and directly addressed the Klaas’ criticism in an interview with the German magazine Leichtathletik. The bad news is that he stated the hammer throw will not be in the Diamond League for 2013 or 2014. But on the other hand he provided the first ever explanation of what the “infrastructure” problems are (translation from German by myself and Jörg Probst):
Leichtathletik: The hammer throwers, led by Kathrin Klaas, have recently pushed very hard for the inclusion of their event in the Diamond League. Will this occur in 2013?
Magyar: No, and not in 2014 either.
Magyar: We had to take over the shot put from Brussels due to an international football match taking place there. The shot put was not approved because of the pitch. This demonstrates the problem. When a stadium belongs to the city, it gets difficult. Furthermore the heating under the grass is always getting closer to the ground. If it gets damaged, we start talking about repair costs in the six figures. On the other hand is the requirement for an extremely tall cage. This means the hammer throw has become an unfeasible event for a meet. In Zürich the hammer competition would have to be concluded before the stadium opens so that the cage can be dismantled.
Zurich has been an extremely strong supporter of the hammer throw. I train at a city-owned and -maintained facility. There we have the only facilities managers that have ever asked me what they can do to help me, rather than place limits on what I can do. Every Friday a three-person crew spends the whole day to repair our throwing field by replacing divots and keeping the field in great shape even though it is used exclusively for track and field. Our cage net has been repaired and replaced before it is even needed. They also installed a temporary net that we can throw into when there are conflicting training times. Rather than telling us not to train at those times, they developed and implemented this solution and have seen been coming up with ways to improve it before I could even give them feedback. They truly think of the athletes first.
It is true that the rise of heated pitches might pose a problem for the hammer throw. However the pipes in Zurich (and most stadiums) are not as close to the surface as many would make you think. I am not an expert on this topic, but at a depth of 27.5cm (11 inches), the piping should be safe from damage. Because the field is used for athletics, the heating is actually deeper than most fields. I have never seen a hammer sink half that far into the ground of a well-maintained field, either in a dry Zurich summer or even in the wettest of conditions. As the grounds crews in Zurich have already proven to me, they can repair anything, even a field that receives tens of thousands of throws a year. A half-hour competition should be no problem and should cause less damage than a soccer match played in heavy rain. In those cases, they often need to resod the field entirely. This is a risk that likely could be insured against and is obviously a risk Zurich is willing to take in 2014 since the hammer throw will take place at Letzigrund stadium for the European Championships and it would make sense that they should at least test the field before then with another hammer competition (it would be terrible for a pipe to burst mid-competition, create a lake or fountain in the middle of the stadium and delay the internationally televised event).
The cage is another issue mentioned by Magyar, but again I do not see a huge problem. The cage used for the women’s discus at this year’s Weltklasse Zurich is the same cage I use for hammer training and hammer competitions in Zurich without any problems. In fact I had to train for one week without a cage in August as they borrowed it from our training facility. It did not seem to hinder the meet too much this year as it was quickly taken down before live television coverage started. Even if a new cage is required, the cost would be a sliver of the multi-million dollar budget of his meet. And several other Diamond League facilities have hosted the hammer throw in the past few years already, thus proving they are able to do it (off the top of my head at least half of the the stadiums have hosted hammer since 2000, including Eugene, New York, Doha, Birmingham, London, Helsinki, and Stockholm). The Diamond League only includes each event at half of the meets, so even if a few facilities could not host it there is still a chance for the event.
As I’ve said many times, there would likely be less debate about the hammer throw if I or another Swiss thrower broke 80 meters. It is feasible to host the hammer, but the meets are not under enough pressure. The two Swiss diamond league meets are always looking for local stars to showcase and now there is no Swiss athlete among the world’s top 10. Organizers would go out of their way to accommodate a Swiss star. Even an emerging star such as young shot putter Gergori Ott was allowed to throw his junior implement against the world’s best shot putters in Zurich for the past two years. But this will not happen soon and none of the countries hosting a Diamond League meet have their top stars in the event, let alone an Olympic medalist or finalist. But creating this type of pressure will take a long time. What we can do now is continue to show everyone there is not a good reason to exclude the hammer throw and keep building support for its inclusion.
With the international season wrapping up last weekend, it is also time for the domestic season to come to an end in Switzerland. Rather than just slowly coming to a close, it is custom in Switzerland to end the season with various Swiss Championships. Throughout September we have the Swiss Relay Championships, Swiss Multi-Event Championships, Swiss Team Championships, and the championships for various youth age-groups.