MonteCarloIn the second part of their eight peice review of the highlights of the 2008 Athletics year, A. Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava survey the THROWS.
Men’s Shot Put season got a good start already in February. Adam Nelson (USA) threw 22.07m in New York on 1st of February and then launched a 22.40m indoor PB two weeks later to lead the world indoor rankings. Nelson then went on to record a world leading 22.12m at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene in June. But in terms of major championships it wasn’t a good year for the 33-year-old as he did not make it to the World Indoor Championships team and then following his two narrow losses at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, he ended up with no result at all in Beijing Olympic final.
There were two other men over 22 metres this season too. 2007 World champion Reese Hoffa (USA) won the Olympic Trials with a 22.10m result for his third successive season over 22m line. But it wasn’t a perfect season for him either, in Valencia World Indoors he got a silver but the Olympics were a disappointment as he could only reach seventh place there.
In July Andrei Mikhnevich (BLR) became the 18th man outdoors to reach 22 metres with his 22.00m personal best. This was the first time there were three men over 22 metres (outdoors) since Ulf Timmermann (GDR 22.19m), Randy Barnes (USA 22.18m) and Werner Günthör (SUI 22.18m) did it in 1989. The Belarussian was the only 22-metre man to get a medal in Beijing where he just edged Dylan Armstrong (CAN), who set a national record 21.04m for the fourth place, for the bronze medal with a best throw of 21.05m in the second round.
Although Tomasz Majewski had topped the qualification with a 21.04m personal best, his lead after three rounds with another PB 21.21m was a shock. And when the Pole tossed a 21.51m winning effort in round four the others could not find a way past him. Majewski seems to like major championships as he set his pre-2008 PB 20.87m in Osaka World Championships last year getting fifth place there.
Christian Cantwell (USA) took the silver passing Mikhevich and Armstrong with his last throw of 21.09m. The American had won the World Indoor Championships in Valencia with a fine 21.77m result following a 22.18m indoor personal best in February. Counting indoors and outdoors Cantwell was the fourth man over 22 metres during the 2008 season.
USA is at the top of this event with 25 athletes in the world top 100. Russia has seven for the second place and Germany, Poland and Belarus are tied for third at five.
2008 World List
196cm tall Gerd Kanter took the command of the Discus world last season and did not surrender this year either. The Estonian, who spent many years losing to Virgiljus Alekna (LTU) with final throw in major championships, had a small slump in late May to early June when the did not win in four successive competitions, but was in very good form after that only losing once, in Réthimno in July to Alekna, before winning the Olympic gold in Beijing with a 68.82m throw. Kanter grabbed the Olympic gold and won 16 out of 21 competitions during the season and also held the world leading mark 71.88m after the season.
At the Olympics Alekna, who had won the last two editions in 2000 and 2004, got the bronze medal this time with 67.79m losing the silver narrowly to 25-year-old Piotr Malachowski (67.82m), who made his breakthrough this season.
Malachowski whose best achievement before Beijing was a sixth place at the 2006 European Championships in Gothenburg had finished 12th in Osaka 2007. His 2008 season was an extremely even one with 68.65m national record coming in in July and a worst result of 63.10m in his eighteen competitions during the season show excellent level at all times.
USA is the best country with 23 athletes in the world top 100. Ukraine is second with seven and Poland and Germany are tied for second with four.
29-year-old Slovenian Primoz Kozmus, who had been leading the Osaka World Championships final in 2007 until the last round only to be overtaken by Ivan Tikhon (BLR), was in great shape from the start of his season in June. Kozmus started with three competitions over 80m and recorded impressive wins only losing one competition before the Olympics, at the European Cup First League in Istanbul early season world leader to Krisztián Pars (HUN). In Beijing Kozmus took the lead from the start with a 80.75m throw in the first round and 82.02m season’s best already in round two which was enough for the Olympic gold medal.
2005 World Championships silver medalist Vadim Devyatovskiy (BLR) didn’t have a very impressive season before Beijing, but was able to reach 81.61m for the silver. Countryman Ivan Tikhon wasn’t able to duplicate his trademark, last throw shock for the win, and finished in third place this time with a 81.51m result only in his second competition of the season following a 84.51m world leading mark at the National Championships in July.
On 11 December 2008, the IOC made the announcement that Devyatovskiy and Tikhon would be stripped of their medals having “committed an Anti-Doping Rules violation at the Games of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing” – click here for full IOC press release
Reigning Olympic champion from 2004, Koji Murofushi (JPN), only started his season in late June and although he did find a good form the previous champion finished only in fifth place with 80.71m result behind Pars’ 80.96m for the fourth place.
Following the IOC decision Pars is now silver medallist and Murofushi takes bronze.
Belarus tops the countries with 12 athletes in the world top 100. USA is second with 11 and Russia and Germany tied for third at eight.
2008 World List
In the men’s Javelin Throw 24-year-old Australian Jarrod Bannister was the surprise world leader with his big personal best and Oceanian record 89.02m from the National Championships in February and his world lead lasted until the Beijing Final. As expected Bannister was not a big factor considering the medals although he did quite well in Beijing finishing in sixth place with 83.45m result.
Early international competitions promised a fierce competition for the medals between reigning Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen (NOR), reigning World champion Tero Pitkämäki (FIN) and another Finn Tero Järvenpää who had found a new level for the 2008 season. Järvenpää finished in top three in all of his three Golden League meets before the Olympics and won the Finnish Championships with a 86.68m personal best ahead of Pitkämäki who was second.
Thorkildsen and Pitkämäki were still the favourites throwing around 87m in several meets, but not quite finding their 2007 form. Thorkildsen was in trouble at the Beijing qualification, but finally hit his best throws in the final leading from the early rounds with a 90.57m season’s best winning throw in the end.
There was a big surprise too when Ainars Kovals (LAT) passed the Finns with a personal best of 86.64m in the last round. Pitkämäki was third with 86.16m and disappointed Järvenpää fourth at 83.95m – it was a big disappointment because he had a huge nearly 89m foul during the competition. Although the foul was very clear, even 87m would have been enough for the lead at the time of the throw.
Finland as usual is the best country with 11 athletes in the world top 100. USA is second with nine and Germany third with eight.
This event is probably the most un-competitive of all events in the sense that the major contenders face each other almost only at the major championships, otherwise they mainly compete on home soil against national opponents. Not necessarily because they don't want to compete on "the circuit", but because the event simply is almost never on offer there.
During the pre-Olympic European summer season only Hengelo on 24 May and Stockholm on 21 July of the major Grand Prix meets featured the women's Shot Put. And only the Stockholm competition looked somewhat like an international GP event with five nations represented.
One can only speculate how this dearth of attractive competitive opportunities affects the ability of the event to attract talents and inspire them to pursue an international career. It will therefore be very interesting to continue to follow Chile's World Junior champion Natalia Ducó, who has progressed rapidly (14.85 – 16.36 – 17.23 – 18.65) during the last four years.
Among the top-15 in 2008, those surpassing 19 metres, we find 4 x GER, 3 x BLR, 3 x RUS, 2 x CUB, 2 x CHN and 1 x NZL. That single athlete from New Zealand is, however, rather special: Valerie Vili who has won the last three major championships (2007 Worlds, 2008 World Indoors and 2008 Olympics) despite on none of those three occasions being the athlete with the top mark coming into the title meet concerned.
That honour always belonged to Belarussia’s Nadzeya Ostapchuk who still had to be content with silver-silver-bronze because she was not able to reproduce her best form when it really mattered. Vili – who just have turned 24 – on the other hand set a new national outdoor record in Osaka, a new national indoor record in Valencia and a another national outdoor record in Beijing!
2008 World List
Here experience is obviously of crucial significance: Since 2000 the average age of the nine Olympic, World and European champions crowned has been 34 years.
The Olympics in Beijing confirmed this with the twelve finalists averaging age 32. The outstanding exception was the 2006 World Junior Champion Dani Samuels who had turned 20 a few months earlier. So she can look forward to another three or four Olympiads at least!
But there was something extraordinary with the Beijing final and that was the level of performance. In the previous eight major championships during this millennium the winner has averaged 66.60 and the bronze medallist 64.89. This time a 64.74 was sufficient for gold and 62.59 for a medal, i.e. a drop of approximately two metres compared to what has been the norm.
Finding a rational explanation is very hard. The general standards as reflected by the year list were at the usual level. And the weather conditions although perhaps not "perfect" were still reasonable, which is also confirmed by the fact that the bronze medallist Olga Antonova actually achieved a personal best mark for 2008! And the drop in standard was also visible in the qualifying round where it only took 60.28 to advance to the final.
Another uncommon occurrence was that the gold medal went to the USA’s Stephanie Brown-Trafton, and not to a European thrower. The last time the USA won a global title in the women's Discus Throw was in Los Angeles 1932! But what has happened to former Discus superpower Germany? With veteran Franka Dietzsch taking a year off for health reasons they had 61.81 as their top mark and sent no thrower to Beijing!
This event has suffered considerably in recent years as many of the top Russian throwers that have spearheaded the development have been suspended for having infringed doping regulations. But still the event has continued to progress in a manner not shown in the similarly aged Pole Vault.
Between 2004 and 2008 the number of 70m-throwers have doubled (to 40+) and the progress is wildly spread as no less than 19 different nations has at least one representative in that group. It appears as if the Hammer Throw now might even be the most popular throwing event for women!
Championship results confirm the steady ongoing progress quality-wise in this event. It now takes some 76 metres to challenge for the gold and 74 metres to participate in the fight for the medals. That is some 5 metres better than when the event was first held in the Olympics eight years ago.
With more throwers aggregating at the 76-77 metres, the magic 80 metres mark move into possible reach within the not to distant future. Especially as the majority of top throwers are still in their 20's and as we know that the Hammer Throw is an event depending upon technical refinement so that you usually reach your peak after turning 30!
One of the absolute highlights of the Olympic athletics competitions in Beijing was the women's Javelin Throw final. Despite pouring rain most of the time it produced not only brilliant marks – so brilliant that it must be classified as the best Javelin competition in terms of quality – but also maximum excitement right up until the last round!
The opening round was truly exciting with Russia’s Mariya Abakumova 69.32 (PB by over two metres) and Czech World champion Barbora Spotakova 69.22 (also PB, but still 10 cm short of the lead). In the second round Abakumova – throwing with a speed and aggressiveness reminiscent of Jan Zelezny – confirmed her new level of performance with another 69m-mark (69.08) to which Spotakova responded with 67.04.
So many times in the history of the Javelin, great throws in the first round have stood up all through the competition and no one would have been surprised if this had happened also hear. After all both Abakumova and Spotakova had achieved new PB's! But the spectators were in for something very special this time.
In the fourth round Abakumova got even more speed into her throw and the implement touched down at 70.78 moving her up to the No 2 position of all-time behind World record holder Osleidys Menendez. That certainly must have sealed the gold for the Russian, even though the Czech thrower had two more chances remaining.
The first of those remaining attempts ended with the expected X on the scorecard. But Spotakova herself had not yet surrendered, and in the last round she delivered one of the greatest clutch performances in the history of our sport. Using all her resources physically and mentally she thrust the javelin so far beyond the 70m-line that it was obvious that she had claimed the lead after being second to Abakumova all through the competition!
The throw was so far that even the World record was in danger. It did survive – 71.42 fell 28 cm short of Menendez record – but it did put Spotakova as the No 2 of all-time and as the Olympic gold medallist. Abakumova also showed impressive championship strength by for the fourth time in this competition getting beyond her PB coming into the final but she still fell some four meters short of Spotakova’s top mark.
Even behind the duo fighting it out for the gold the quality was the best ever with Germany’s Christina Obergföll, Briton Goldie Sayers and another German Steffi Nerius all between 66.13 and 65.29. However, in general 2008 was nothing special but rather just an average year for the javelin with 34 throwers over 60 metres and the 100th on the year list around 55 metres.
But the year ended with a new World record as Spotakova crowned her 2008 by throwing 72.28 at the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart. The upcoming years could become very exciting if the five years younger Abakumova can continue to build on her big breakthrough in 2008. Stay tuned!
2008 World List