2011 - End of Year Reviews: Throws

Statisticians A. Lennart Julin (SWE) and Mirko Jalava (FIN) continue their eight-part ‘End of Season’ 2011 review with the THROWS.

- Men's Throws -

Shot Put

USA is very much – almost as in the 1950’s and 1960’s - the leading power in this event as evidenced in 2011 by three of the top-five and six of the top-12 on the yearly list. At the World Championships all of their four entries (they had the reigning champion) easily qualified for the final while the other eight finalists came from seven other nations (only Germany had two).

But in Daegu – despite getting all four into the top-eight – the USA still missed out completely on the medals by placing 4-5-7-8 as none of them performed up to their normal level from the rest of the season. Typically 2009 champion Christian Cantwell and 2007 champion Reese Hoffa arrived in Daegu with 21.70m and 21.63m respectively in their last competitions but got 21.36m and 20.99m for 4th and 5th – only to hit new seasonal bests beyond 22 metres just two weeks later in the Samsung Diamond League final in Brussels!

Another one of the established elite that underperformed at the World Championships final was the reigning Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski  who with 20.18m had his shortest outdoor mark for the last four years! Majewski, who has a well deserved reputation for performing exceptionally well in championship situation, on route to his Beijing gold e.g he set new PBs in both qualification and in final.

That was a feat now copied by the surprise World champion David Storl. The 21-year-old German came to Daegu with a 21.05m PB and hoping for a top-eight finish. In Daegu he first shocked everyone including himself with a huge 21.50m in the qualification, something most regarded as a one-off performance. But they were proven wrong when Storl hit 21.60m in the second round of the final grabbing a substantial lead. And it didn’t stop there: He had later in the competition to relinquish the lead to Canada’s Dylan Armstrong (21.64m) only to come back with the winning 21.78m in the sixth and final round!

An overall ranking of the complete season would however be topped by Armstrong who didn’t have any “hiccup” whatsoever: In 25 meets from mid-April until late-October he never threw shorter than 20.96m, he averaged 21.41m and – perhaps most amazingly – had 20 of 25 meets crammed between 21.21m and 21.75m! How is that to disprove the widespread idea that the rotational technique inevitably means inconsistency?

Otherwise the technique “battle” between the spin and the glide that has been going on for some forty years is still very much undecided. A majority of the upper echelon of male shot putters are spinners but the gliders are certainly competitive at the top. That the glide is not about to die out was emphatically proven by the new young champion Storl. (The gliders actually made it two out of three medals thanks to Andrey Mikhnevich who got the bronze.)

With Daegu winner Storl being the only man in the current top-25 for 2011 born after 1988 it would at first glance appear that the future will completely belong to him in an event where throwers usually don't peak until around age 30. But then there is the super-prodigy of all of Shot Put history – New Zealander Jacko Gill.

Gill has dominated all competitions for his generation (World Juniors, World Youth) with the lighter implements. However, the really astonishing thing is that aged merely 16 years and four months surpassed he the “world class” barrier of 20 metres with the senior implement in April (and in December improved to 20.38m).

Who would now dare to bet against Gill getting beyond 21 metres within the next year which would make him a contender for at least a top-8 finish in the London Olympics? Gill himself is certainly not patiently waiting for the second half of this decade (and beyond) to be competitive on the senior level.

As for the general standards in the event the situation has been rather stable in recent years with about ten beyond 21 metres and fifty beyond 20 metres.  What has improved is the top throwers’ consistency at 21+ metres, although anything beyond 22 metres is still very rare.

Discus Throw

For quite a long period first Virgilijus Alekna of Lithuania and then Gerd Kanter of Estonia dominated this event thanks to their consistency at 67-68 metres even at the major championships in more or less windless stadiums. Although Alekna and Kanter seem to have lost that extra edge they had on their opponents they are still very competitive as proven by how they performed at the Samsung Diamond League this summer.

Both competed in all seven scoring meets and Alekna compiled a 2-2-3-7-1-1-2 record (average 2.6) while Kanter was 1-4-1-3-5-4-4 (average 3.1). Thus two victories each – but the remaining three were scored by the new “dominator”, Robert Harting of Germany. In spite of being troubled by a knee injury during the summer Harting remained undefeated including an emphatic triumph in Daegu where he killed off all opposition with his opening 68.49m throw and underlined his supremacy by two more 68+ throws while no one else managed to go beyond 67 metres.

Harting thereby defended the title he won two years ago in Berlin after an intense battle with Poland’s Piotr Malachowski, one not decided until the very last throw. Malachowski this year only showed glimpses of his top ability (two second place finishes in the Samsung Diamond League) but more often than not ended up in sub-64 territory. He was just ninth in Daegu.

Real consistency at the top distances (66m+) is still something very rare and the world list is not a useful tool for assessing the relative strength of athletes. Some illustrations from 2011 top-10:

Zoltan Kövago is at the top of the list with 69.50m, but his best in an international setting was 66.69m and in Daegu after throwing 62.16m was eliminated in qualification. Jarred Rome, third with 68.76m, had a second best throw of 64.03m and in Daegu he was eliminated with 62.22m. Rutger Smith is eighth with 67.77m, a second best of 65.60m, and 62.12m in the Daegu qualification.  Lawrence Okoye is ninth with 67.63m, second best 63.25m, but five of nine meets at sub-60m.

Compare that with Harting’s 68.99m backed up by 3x68m plus 3x67m or with Kanter’s 67.99m supported by 4x67m – not really surprising then that it was these two finishing on top at the World Championships! And don’t expect them to leave the scene soon: They are 12 and seven years younger than Alekna who is still going strong for his fifth Olympics!

As for Okoye, he could very well be the man of the more distant future in this event where consistency is something most acquired gradually over a span of several years. Okoye – born in 1991 – is quite new to the game but took the European U23 title ahead of former super prodigy Mykyta Nesterenko. The Ukrainian who has the same year of birth did 65 metres with the senior implement already three years ago, but has not progressed since then.

Hammer Throw

Although not necessarily by “free will”, the approach to 2011 was very different for Japan’s Koji Murofushi and Hungary’s Krisztian Pars but still they ended up on top at the World Championships - separated by a mere six centimetres: 81.24m to 81.18m.

Murofushi – with a recent history of injury problems – had restricted himself to just two meets before Daegu, one in May and one in June, both on home soil in Japan. Pars on the other hand came into Daegu having travelled around the world competing 18 times in nine different countries between January and early August!

But despite the very different approaches the two produced almost identical new seasonal best marks at the World Championships. And while Murofushi ended his season there Pars went on in September with five more meets (and three more countries) finishing off with the world leading mark of 81.89m! A true model of consistency Pars threw beyond 79 metres no less than 15 times in 2011.

He might have been rivalled in that department by Aleksey Zagorniy of Russia who started out the year very strongly with eight wins at 79-81 metres before injury stopped him. He never was able to regain that early form and missed the World Championships.

As for consistency over the whole year Germany’s Markus Esser was the No. 2 behind Pars with 11 meets between 77.23m and 79.69m. Especially notable was that he got 79m+ in both his championship starts: 79.28m in a heavy downpour at the European Team Championships and 79.12m at the World Championships. He won the former and missed out on a medal by an agonizing 27 centimetres in Daegu. That coveted medal once more proved illusive for him as it was the third time Esser finished fourth in a major championship!

The bronze in Daegu instead went to a comebacking Primoz Kozmus who after winning the Olympic gold in Beijing and the World gold in Berlin had announced his retirement already at age 30. But after one year away from the hammer wars he decided to return. A World bronze the first year back probably makes it unwise to bet against the proven championship competitor Kozmus defending his Olympic title next year.

Another man to watch out for perhaps already in London is Poland’s Pawel Fajdek. He was 11th in Daegu but earlier in the summer he was impressive in the European Team Championships (PB 76.98m in pouring rain) and he completely dominated the European U23 Championships setting another PB (78.54m). That ability to perform at championships coupled with his age (he is 22, the average age for the Daegu medallists was 32!) indicates a bright future for Fajdek.

Javelin Throw

Since 2004 this event has at the top very much been an ongoing dual between Norway’s Andreas Thorkildsen and Finland’s Tero Pitkämäki. In the championships (Olympics, Worlds, Europeans) Thorkildsen had seen the greatest success (five golds and three silvers vs. one gold, one silver and two bronzes) but on the circuit (Golden League and Diamond League) they were more evenly balanced.  The overall head-to-head score has Thordkildsen in a minor lead: 37 to 29.

But various injuries have hampered Pitkämäki in recent years and he has now had four full seasons without a throw beyond 88 metres while Thorkildsen in each of the last four years has gone beyond 90m. But this summer we saw that also the great Norwegian is no machine but a human that can lose the crucial timing: From the World Championships and onwards he had to fight hard to even get his javelin beyond the 80m-line.

With Pitkämäki injured, Germany’s Matthias De Zordo was best equipped to take advantage of the sudden weakness shown by Thorkildsen. De Zordo had beaten the Norwegian already last summer (in the European Team Championships – held in Norway!) and had been a narrowly beaten silver medallist at the European Championships in Barcelona.

Now in Daegu De Zordo effectively sealed the victory already with his first round 86.27m throw and he followed it up two weeks later with a new PB of 88.36m to win the Samsung Diamond League final in Brussels. The 23-year-old De Zordo’s ability to catch his longest throws in the most important meets (his previous PB was from the European Championships last year) makes him the person most likely next year to dethrone the 2004 and 2008 winner Thorkildsen as the Olympic champion.

But there is also an even younger group of throwers with seemingly great potential: Turkey’s Fatih Avan (born 1989) demonstrated consistency at 83-84 metres and got fifth in Daegu and in the 1991 crop there are another couple of exciting prospects in Till Wöschler (Germany) and Dmitriy Tarabin (Russia). And not to be forgotten:  Zigismunds Sirmais of Latvia who twice raised the World junior record with throws of 84.47m and 84.69m.

Sirmais is the latest in a strong Latvian tradition in the event, a tradition that stretches at least back to the legendary Janis Lusis in the 1960s and 1970s. More recent examples are Ainars Kovals and Vadims Vasilevskis who won the Olympic silver medals behind Thorkildsen in Beijing and Athens!

Talking about the Javelin Throw and traditions one must of course mention Finland. For them 2011 was a year not to remembered as not only Pitkämäki but also Teemu Wirkkala and Tero Järvenpää were hampered by injuries. But even in this “off-year” Finland was still leading the world in the number of 80m-throwers with nine (out of the total of 55).

- Women's Throws -

2011 was another great year for the women’s throws. The quality at the top of each four events continues to rise and results needed for medals in major championships are very different from those just a few years back. In the shot put Valerie Adams (NZL) continued her dominance with a perfect record for the season and a third successive World title. In the discus 32-year-old Chinese Li Yanfeng was almost as clear a number one reaching her first medal, a golden one, late in her career. German Betty Heidler came close to the 80m line in the Hammer Throw in May with a 79.42m World record, but was beaten by Russian Tatyana Lysenko in Daegu. In another epic javelin contest at the World Championships it was Mariya Abakumova’s (RUS) turn to win with Czech Olympic champion Barbora Špotáková in second place with the pair again exchanging 70m throws just as they did in Beijing at the Olympics three years ago.

Shot Put

Valerie Adams started this summer knowing she would have to do better than she did the year before. In much of the 2010 season she finished second to the Belarusian Nadzeya Ostapchuk, who was in great shape last summer. But the Kiwi athlete was having none of it in 2011 and looked to be her normal self winning all 13 competitions during the season coming up with a 20m throw in each one of them.

Adams won the World Championships in Daegu with an Oceania record 21.24m and a huge margin of 1.19 metres ahead of Ostapchuk, who managed 20.05m for the silver. She became the second athlete to achieve three straight World titles, duplicating the feat of Germany’s Astrid Kumbernuss from 1995-1999, and of course Adams has a chance to make it four in Moscow 2013.

In the high quality Shot Put final in Daegu there was a new medallist with 29-year-old American Jill Camarena-Williams rising to the occasion and winning the bronze medal with a 20.02m result, just 16cm below her American record 20.18m, which she threw in Paris Samsung Diamond League meet in July.

The 2009 World Championships bronze medallist Gong Lijiao of China was fourth this time just 5cm behind the American with a 19.97m toss, the best result to be left without a medal since Rome 1987. To add to the quality, Yevgeniya Kolodko’s (RUS) personal best 19.78m was also the best fifth place result since Rome 1987 and Li Ling’s (CHN) sixth place result 19.71m and Anna Avdeyeva’s (RUS) season’s best 19.54m for seventh place were the best for 14 years.

The United States is the top country in this event with 27 athletes in the world top 100. China is second with 10 and Russia third with nine.

Discus Throw

In the Discus Throw 32-year-old Chinese Li Yanfeng came to the 2011 season following a steady 2010 campaign where she found a good balance finishing with results between 63 and 66 metres, along with some key wins in the inaugural Continental Cup in Split and the Asian Games in Guangzhou where she achieved a season’s best 66.18m.

Following two early competitions in China in April and May 2011, Li moved to train and compete in Germany and immediately matched her 2010 best with a 66.18m winning mark in Halle. She then suffered her only two losses in Rome and Dessau placing third in each before unleashing the world leader and personal best 67.98m in Schönebeck. She went on to win all of her remaining five competitions after that. In Daegu Li was in total control taking the lead from the start and won with a 66.52m effort, the second best mark of her career.

It was also time for 26-year-old German Nadine Müller to take a step further to the world top. She placed sixth at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin and was one of the medal favourites in Barcelona at the 2010 European Championships having thrown a PB 67.78m, but faded badly to eighth place there. 2011 was different as Müller was very consistent, reaching 65m in six competitions prior to Daegu and a season’s best 66.99m in her last competition before the World Championships. In a tight Daegu final she emerged with a silver medal with a good 65.97m performance just edging Cuban Yarelis Barrios, who was third just 24cm behind with a 65.73m. The Cuban had won the silver in the two previous World Championships and was second in the 2008 Olympics as well and later in 2011 won the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, with a 66.40m personal best at the end of October.

China and the United States share top honours for this event with both having 17 athletes in the world top 100. Germany and Russia are tied for the third place with nine each.

Hammer Throw

Twenty-eight year-old German Betty Heidler got off to the perfect start for the 2011 summer hitting the Hammer Throw World record in her first competition in May with a 79.42m result. Things were looking great for Heidler, the 2007 World Champion, as she had finished the 2010 successfully having won the European Championships in Barcelona. The Olympic year 2008 did not go well for the German and she only finished in ninth place in Beijing, but she found her rhythm again in 2009 winning the silver medal in Berlin World Champs behind Pole Anita Wlodarczyk’s 77.96m World record mark, throwing her then personal best 77.12m.

The 2011 season went perfect for Heidler with the German winning all of her eight finals prior to Daegu and all four after the World Championships. But she did lose when it counted most with Russia’s former World record holder Tatyana Lysenko finding her best form at the right time. Lysenko won with a season’s best 77.13m before Heidler’s 76.06m, which was only her sixth best result of the season.

Twenty-five year-old Chinese Zhang Wenxiu returned to the medal podium in Daegu with a 75.03m result, her second career 75m competition in addition to the 75.65m Asian record achieved in June 2011 in Germany. Zhang had won the bronze in Osaka 2007 and Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Two times World Champion, two times Olympics and World Championships silver medallist, Cuban Yipsi Moreno finished in fourth place with a 74.48m result, the first time she has been left without a medal in major championships since Seville 1999.

The United States is the top country in this event with 11 athletes in the world top 100. Russia is second with nine and Belarus third with seven.

Javelin Throw

Thirty year-old German Christina Obergföll was the early season number one javelin thrower. The German, who had won the silver at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships and the bronze in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics, won seven out of nine competitions before Daegu and finished second twice. Obergföll, who has thrown European records twice in her career, 70.03m in Helsinki 2005 and 70.20m in Munich 2007 at the European Cup, had two competitions with 68m before the World Championships, at the Paris Diamond League with 68.01m and the German Championships with 68.86m results.

The reigning Olympic champion and World record holder (72.28m in 2008) Barbora Špotáková (CZE) had a more quiet start, but hit top form just in time before Daegu winning with a 69.45 season’s best in Monaco in late July. Elsewhere 25-year-old Russian Mariya Abakumova, the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Championships silver medallist, threw 67.98m in Velenje in late June and won the Russian title with another good result of 66.05m. Furthermore 28-year-old South African Sunette Viljoen also showed great form prior to Daegu winning the Universiade in Shenzhen, China, with a 66.47m African record just two weeks before the World Championships final. With this many athletes at a good level Daegu was always going to be good for this event, but few would have predicted the kind of competition it was in the end.

The first one to impress was no surprise the best thrower prior to the World Championships, Obergföll, who topped the qualification with a great 68.76m effort followed by Viljoen’s 65.34m for second place. Špotáková took the lead from the first round reaching a very good 68.80m distance with her first attempt. Abakumova got huge power behind her first throw, but it went way too high landing at only 60.38m. It was quite clear however, that if she could put the javelin to the right angle, it would go really far later in the competition. And it did indeed fly in round two with the Russian grabbing the lead with a huge 71.25m throw, a Russian record exceeding the previous 70.78m from the Beijing Olympics by 47cm.

Viljoen meanwhile took third place with a 65.20m effort only to be overtaken by Obergföll by a mere four centimetres in round four, 65.24m. The conditions were perfect in round five and the three best really did use them to their favour. Viljoen hit the big one smashing her African record by almost two metres to 68.38m and third place. Špotáková answered Abakumova with a season’s best 71.58m to take the lead, but only for a moment as the Russian was ready for another monster throw just moments later with the javelin landing at 71.99m, another national record and finally a gold medal for Abakumova. Špotáková took the silver and Viljoen bronze and Obergföll was disappointed only finishing in fourth place after a great early season. Later on Obergföll threw a season’s best 69.57m winning in Zürich in September.

China is the top country with 12 athletes in the world top 100. Germany is second with eight and France third with six.

Note: This year Julin covers the men's side of the action and Jalava the women's.

Source: IAAF