For my first post I wanted to look at some statistics regarding the men’s hammer throw. In particular, I wanted to examine the performance of top hammer throwers in two Olympic years; 2000 and 2012. I hoped that by analyzing the two Olympic years that were twelve years apart I could get some unique insight into changes in the sport over that time span. So I raided the IAAF top lists for some numbers and this is what I found.
In 2000 we had the pleasure of seeing 20 throwers cross the 80m (262′ 5″) mark. Conversely, in 2012 we only had 7 throwers over 80m (262′ 5″) … essentially a third of the number we had in 2000. So initially, this is a very scary statistic, has our sport really taken such a large step back in twelve short years?
So let’s take a look at the 75m (246′) throwers now. A thrower who reaches this distance is definitely still a world-class competitor, and throws of this distance demonstrate a high level of mastery of the hammer throw. In 2000 67 throwers reached this distance, while in 2012 we saw 60 throwers hit this mark. Here we see a more even spectrum of throwers over the twelve year period. Finally, we can look at the distance needed to get on the IAAF 100 top list. In 2000, to make the list a thrower needed a throw of 71.30m (233′ 11″). In 2012, a distance of 71.29m (233′ 11″) was required to be listed as one of the top 100 throwers in the world. It doesn’t get any closer than that, just one centimeter separating the two lists.
Now for my favorite statistic; can the IAAF top list tell us about the efficiency of training programs then versus now? Analyzing the top thirty throwers in the world in both 2000 and 2012, I examined their throw progression to determine if they threw further in an Olympic year than the preceding year. I assume that the top throwers in the world are on a quadrennial cycle, always looking to throw their absolute best during an Olympic year. So in the year 2000, 21/30 throwers threw further in the Olympic year than 1999. Similarly, in 2012 21/*28 (*28 not 30 because two throwers in the top thirty did not have distanced recorded in 2011) throwers had a better result in the London Olympic year than 2011. So on initial inspection, these numbers seem comparable again.
However, I dug a bit deeper by looking at the ages of the throwers who did not improve their marks in the Olympic year. In 2012, of the 7 throwers who did not throw farther, 6 were over the age of 30. If we assume that these throwers are now battling age to stay on top of the game, it is understandable that their training cycle to produce outstanding results in Olympic years may be subject to an unavoidable decline in athletic capabilities. Now, was this also the case in 2000? No, in the Sydney Olympic year only 1/9 athletes who did not improve on the previous year’s mark were over 30. So I would argue that in hammer throwers in 2000, their quadrennial plans designed to ‘peak’ during Olympic years are less refined than they are today. In this way, hammer throw has improved from twelve years ago.
Now my final statistic: in the year 2000 the average age of hammer throwers on the top list was 27.2 years old. In 2012, the average age improved to 28.45 years. I am unsure how to interpret this statistic. Have we gotten better at maintaining our bodies so that we can stay at the top of the sport longer? Do we not have as many elite young throwers now as we did back then?
The numbers above demonstrate that the trends we saw during the Sydney Olympics are different than what we saw last year for London. Although we did not see nearly as many throwers over the 80m (262′ 5″) mark last year, I love to think that the ability to plan to peak for Olympic years is improving.