Hammer throwers – an endangered species?

The Weltklasse-Meeting in Zürich is a fantastic event. When I was a young lad Christmas was a far distant second favourite to my yearly trip to Zürich to watch the best athletes in the world. In fact, this meet is what got me hooked on athletics in the first place. The meet has always been a spectacular show. When I attended in 2009 I saw only one real difference, apart from a new stadium, and that was the extra-curricular show elements that make the meet even more of a spectacle now, without in the least detracting from the sport. The star athletes are presented to the crowd in the most extravagant ways, and the night ends with fireworks.

When I reflect back I notice that I never saw the hammer throw in the Letzigrund stadium, but when I recently read an article in the Swiss paper Basler Zeitung (BaZ, 6 July 2012) featuring the meet director, Patrick Magayar, I realised just what a neglected event the hammer throw has become, and why some of the more prominent throwers have to fight so hard for acceptance.

Below a few translated* extracts from this interview, which would have to be of concern to  hammer throwers:

BaZ: Sports continue to develop. How about new events for athletics?

Magayar: I would say if anything we have too many events and would have to cut away old ones. Not invent new ones.

BaZ: Which ones would you leave out?

Magayar: We have to distinguish between what we want to maintain as core events within athletics, and what can be accommodated for in one-day meets.. Events such as our meet are primarily for the entertainment of spectators. And in a large stadium the heavy throws – shot, discus, hammer – are not really suitable. But here too the entertainment value depends on who is competing. If Gregory Ott puts 21 metres in three years, then we will once again be a united nation of shot putters.**

BaZ: So much for which events are suitable for one day events. But if there are too many events – which ones would you get rid of?

Magayar: I would really think hard about where I still have how many registered hammer throwers. In the hammer throw we are approaching a category [of sport] like the bobsled. These are sensational athletes, but that’s not the point. A long time ago I tried for fun to beat Sergei Litwinow in a 30 metre sprint. I didn’t even see him, that’s how fast he reached the finish line. But there are fewer and fewer of them, so one has to ask whether it makes sense that stadia are equipped for such an event.

No further comment required.


* My own translation.

**Gregory Ott is a budding young Swiss shot putter, who is tipped to follow in the footsteps of the great Werner Günthör.


4 responses to “Hammer throwers – an endangered species?”

  1. Martin says :

    Magyar has been saying this same thing for years and had a similar quote in 2010 in the NZZ. This is a chicken and egg problem. Magyar says he does not want the hammer throw at big meets since there are not many hammer throwers. Opponents say there are not many hammer throwers since it does not get the exposure and revenue from being included in such meetings.

    The rare good point Magyar makes is that home throwers will make the event more interesting. Since Europe will never have many home sprinters or distance runners, this is potentially a chance for the hammer throw to gain traction. However the Diamond League countries are pathetic in the hammer throw, particularly the men’s events. The Diamond League now has 14 meets in 11 countries. Only 3of the 11 countries had a men’s finalist at the Olympics (US, Italy, and UK) and they were at the bottom placing 8th, 9th, and 12th. The women also had representatives from 3 countries (China, France and UK placing 4th, 9th and 12th). The power in the diamond league is in continental Europe and Scandinavia and none of the hosts from there have a medal contender. Without the pull of a local star, there is little pressure for these meets to add the hammer throw. Sophie Hitchon makes the future look brighter for the UK meets. The US already has had the hammer twice at the Pre Classic since it joined the Diamond League. But Vizzoni will likely retire soon in Italy, China has little power in the DL circles, and France has some good throwers, but few with chances of a podium and the country already has enough bona fide stars to market (Lemaitre, Lavillenie, Tamgo, etc.). If any of these countries produce a true world-class hammer thrower then it will be a great asset for the hammer throw. Unfortunately I couldn’t think of a longer term project since it takes a while to develop someone

  2. Kathrin Klaas says :

    Thank you for your blog, Jörg and your reply, Martin. I can only say, I totally agree with what the two of you say about our event.

    Its the ignorance of people we have to fight against.

  3. Garry Womsley says :

    This is a very bad attitude from a meet director. Where do you draw the line? Steeplechase, Pole Vault, Race Walking & Triple Jump are specialised events too but may not “entertain” everybody else. Does he want to get rid of those too? Let’s just accept that all the events we have in athletics are unique and combine to make up the great sport that we have.

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