Walter Henning proves that small guys can win by setting an Area record and leading the US to an historic one-two in the men’s hammer.
Henning was one the shortest and lightest men in the final – he stands at 1.79m and weighs in at 100kg – but he did not let his lack of bulk or inches stop him from dominating the competition.
You don't need to be huge
He took a first round lead of 76.14m and, with the gold medal already in his pocket, he launched the hammer out to a new Area record of 76.92m in the final round to take gold from compatriot Conor McCullough (75.88m).
However, Henning, from Long Island, New York, told the IAAF website that being smaller is not necessarily a disadvantage.
“The good thing about the hammer is you don’t need to be huge, although obviously it helps,” Henning explained. “You need a lot of speed, which helps, and it is very, very technical. My speed and technique works for me.”
The USA boasts a rich tradition in the men’s shot but has historically made less of an impact in the other throws, including the hammer. Yet Henning’s gold medal – the USA’s first in this event in the 22-year history of the championships – suggests better times are ahead in the event.
But why is it that the US has performed better in the shot rather than the hammer?
“The shot is all about strength and we have plenty of big guys in the US. All I know is how well Conor has been throwing and I know how well I’ve been throwing. We’ve had very good coaches and people supporting us along the way.”
The genesis of Henning’s interest in athletics stemmed from his father, also called Walter, who was a 16m high school shot putter and 50m discus thrower. Henning junior played a range of sports from soccer to baseball to volleyball and lacrosse but athletics was always his No.1 passion and he started life as a multi-eventer.
Hammer is a real thrill
He later tried his hand at the shot and discus until finally settling on his current discipline.
“The hammer is one of those events where there is nothing like it,” he explained. “It’s real fun to do compared with anything else. It’s a real thrill when it goes right.”
After initially being coached by his father he later came under the guidance of 1952 Olympic hammer thrower Marty Engel. Last autumn he moved to the University of North Carolina and was coached by 2004 Olympic shot putter Laura Gerraughty but in April he transferred to Louisiana State University where he now coached by Derek Yush.
But why does he believe he has enjoyed such a successful season in 2008?
“I’ve discovered this thing called tough skin – a spray which all the hammer throwers use - which makes your hands a little stickier and that means I’m able to relax my arms better. That and the technical work I’ve done with my coach, Derek, has given me an edge.”
Henning now wants to relax, have a fun summer before focusing his efforts on the 2009 campaign
“My big goal next year to make it to Berlin (for the 2009 IAAF World Championships) but it is going to take a lot of work to do that.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF