In a major coup for American track and field, a group led by Vin Lananna won a last minute bid to host the 2016 IAAF world Indoor Championships in Portland. This will be only the second time the US has hosted a world championship, the last time being the 1987 World Indoor Championships in Indianapolis. Nearby Eugene will also host the IAAF World Junior Championships next summer. Both American indoor track meets and the hammer throw have been moved to the sport’s fringes over the past few decades. But the World Indoor Championships in Portland presents a great opportunity to add excitement to the meet and help throwers by introducing a new event to the world scene: the weight throw.
Indoor track and field is a dying sport in America. Some of the best meets in the country used to form the indoor circuit. But the number if meets have dwindled, and even the historic Millrose Games has abandoned the Madison Square Garden for the much smaller Armory. Now most top professionals skip the indoor season, which causes the remaining meets to move even further to the fringes of the average person’s attention.
There are some ideas to give some spark to the sport. The indoor 400-meter hurdles has been gaining popularity due to the added drama and lane changes with banked curves. But adding the weight throw to the meet’s program gives a fresh new event and puts Portland’s unique stamp on the championship. The event is raw: it has athletes hurl a hammer-like object that, at 35-pounds, is more than twice the weight and only 16-inches long. An even heavier version of the weight was an Olympic discipline in the early 20th century, so it is more than ripe for a comeback and no place is better for it than on the soil of the event’s adopted country.
Matt McGrath shows the raw nature of the weight throw. He was a 7-time US champion with the 56-pound version. In the hammer he became the oldest American track and field medalist at age 48 in 1924, a record which still stands. In a training guide about the weight throw he once wrote: “Weak men, and especially those with defective kidneys, should never bother with the big weight.”
The weight throw has been an American sport since the modern Olympic era began and the whole time throwers across the country have wondered if we are naturally great at the sport, or simply the best because we are the only ones left throwing it. At one time we were clearly the best against the world as we won won 4 of the 6 Olympic medals awarded in the event. Now that the rest of the world retired from the event hammer throw Olympic medalist Lance Deal holds the world record, but he only ranks 24th all-time in the hammer and most of those in front of him never even touched the weight. The technique is basically the same, but the different weight and rhythm can make a big difference. Would he have beaten Yuri Sedykh in the weight throw? Throwers debate whether who would win a matchup of historic hammer throwers with the same intensity that track fans argue who would win between Bolt and Mo Farah over 600 meters.
It’s true that I once wrote an article detailing how the weight throw hurts our sport due to its negative training effect. But an event like this I can support. For once the event could bring some benefits to our sport in the form of publicity. Portland was also the host of the successful Hammer Time event in 2012, where 3,000 fans showed up to watch the hammer throw Olympic Trials at the Nike headquarters. That’s 3,000 fans for just one event. The turnout for the last world indoor championships was only double that. If the weight throw can help our sport, more power to it.
It is likely too late to get the bureaucracy to add the weight as an official event for 2016. But nothing is stopping it from being an exhibition or promotional event. It could even be put in the city center at Waterfront Park. Or a block from Niketown at. Pioneer Square. Or even a parking lot in the trendy Pearl district. All optioned would help promote the event in the days leading up to the world championships similar to how Weltklasse Zurich has used the shot put competition as a teaser for the main event and the Karlstad Grand Prix’s use of the river hammer throw event. With the lack of prize money in most hammer throw events, a small purse could entice the top names to try out the new event in an exhibition. We could finally end the debates, get a niche event some great publicity, and showcase some American talent. Kibwé Johnson ranks as the world’s 4th best weight thrower of all-time before giving it up to focus on the hammer. With an opportunity like this perhaps he’d even make comeback too.