The 2016 IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge gets under way in Melbourne on Saturday 5 March at the meeting which also serves as the opening round of the IAAF World Challenge series.
The same start as last year, then, but the challenge for all but two of the world’s best hammer exponents will be to prevent the same finish as last year.
Poland’s pair of world champions, Pawel Fajdek and Anita Wlodarczyk, carried all before them in the 2015 challenge and, given their margin of superiority, must start heavy favourites to do so again.
Fajdek and Wlodarczyk were not only the world champions and challenge winners last year. The pair also dominated their respective events.
Fajdek, at least, proved beatable. He lost once, to Olympic champion Krisztian Pars, at the European Winter Throws Cup in March on his season debut. But from then on he was perfection personified, passing the 80-metre line in 12 competitions – no other man did it even once last year – and taking his second world title in Beijing. He pushed his personal best out to 83.93m, the longest throw in the world for seven years.
Wlodarczyk was even better, going undefeated in all of her competitions. She had the eight longest throws of the year, including a world record of 81.08m, a distance she came close to when winning in Beijing with 80.85m.
Earlier in the season she had thrown an unratifiable world record of 79.83m in winning the ‘Rzuty przez odre’, a competition in which competitors throw the hammer over Wroclaw’s River Odre.
Wlodarczyk has not been beaten since sustaining two consecutive defeats at the start of 2014 – a domestic loss to Joanna Fiodorow and one in Ostrava to Germany’s Betty Heidler. Disturbingly, for her rivals anyway, her margins of victory seem to be growing.
Points in the challenge are calculated on the basis of the total of the best three throws in the series, with one point per metre. Last year Wlodarczyk amassed 235.28 points, well ahead of Heidler, who in turn was a mere 0.08 points ahead of Martina Hrasnova of the Slovak Republic.
Wlodarczyk and Heidler are the only two winners in the six-year history of the challenge, with three wins each.
Fajdek will equal Pars’ record of three wins if he comes out on top of this year’s challenge. Japan’s Koji Murofushi won the first year in 2010, but Fajdek and Pars have dominated latterly, occupying the top two positions three years in a row from 2013-15.
Fajdek went from strength to strength last year. His 248.01 was the best points tally in challenge history, his 83.93m personal best augmented by another 83.12m and an 80.96m.
Tajikistan’s Dilshod Nazarov edged Pars out of second place, 236.20 to 234.75, though Pars had the distinction of inflicting Fajdek’s one loss of the year.
In looking further for potential challengers, one should not forget World Championships medallists Wojciech Nowicki of Poland, Zhang Wenxiu of China and France’s Alexandra Tavernier. Tavernier, the world junior champion in 2012, threw a personal best in making the Beijing final before taking the bronze medal.
Tavernier’s male counterpart at the 2012 World Junior Championships, Qatar’s Ashraf Amgad Elseify, also progressed rapidly to finish ninth in Beijing.
Since the series began in 2010, the winning score in the men’s contest has improved year on year.
Melbourne looks likely to be a relatively low-key opening, with most local interest centring on the continued progress of world youth bronze medallist Ned Weatherly.
After Melbourne, there is a gap of two months to the second meeting in the challenge in Kingston, Jamaica on 7 May. The series then moves to Asia for the third leg in Beijing at the Bird’s Nest Stadium on 18 May.
Two days later, competition moves to Europe for the first time in Ostrava on 20 May, followed by Hengelo on 22 May and across to northern Africa in Rabat on 25 May.
After a short break, the challenge resumes with European stops in Szczecin on 18 June and Turku on 29 June bracketing Brazil’s turn in Sao Bernardo on 26 June.
The final challenge round before the Rio Olympic Games is at the Istvan Gyulai Memorial (Szekesfehervar, 18 July) with the Olympic competitions in Rio also being part of the series.
A fortnight later it is back to Europe for Zagreb on 6 September, with the 2016 challenge finale at the Rieti IAAF World Challenge meeting on 11 September.
There will be a total of US$8500 in prize money for each event (men and women) in the series and a total of US$213,000 distributed to the top 12 finishers in the series overall as follows:
Len Johnson for the IAAF