Wed | Aug 15, 2018

Did the wrong throwers make history?

Published:Thursday | November 27, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Anita Wlodarczyk from Poland throws the hammer during the women's hammer throw competition at the ISTAF Athletics Meeting in Berlin, Germany, on Sunday, August 31. Wlodarczyk set a new world record with 79.58 metres. - AP Photo
New Zealand shot putter Valerie Adams and French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie with their IAAF awards in Monaco at the 2014 World Athletics Gala.

Throwers don't often win the big awards. On the men's side, only superstar javelinists Steve Backley and Jan Zelenzy have ever been the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Athlete of the Year. Moreover, it's an award no female thrower had ever won ... until now.

Not only is Valerie Adams the first New Zealander to be IAAF Athlete of the Year, but she is also the only shot putter to take the top award.

It's a breakthrough for the throws and the shot in particular. While the javelin, discus and hammer arc elegantly through the sky and come to ground over 70 metres away, the shot thuds to the turf in an instant. For some fans, despite the joy derived by hardcore purists, there isn't enough to watch.

Great Triumph

Adams' win is therefore a great triumph. However, there is another female thrower with arguably better credentials. While Adams had a shorter seasonal best in 2014 than she did in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013, 2009 World Champion Anita Wlodarczyk was at her very best in 2014. She punctuated her dominant season with a world record in the hammer.

The record - 79.58 metres - came in Berlin and she also won the European Championship and the Continental Cup.

Her winning throw at the Europeans was 78.76 metres, merely number four all time.

By contrast, in 2013, Adams threw past her 2014 seasonal best of 20.59 on six occasions. The Kiwi's best puts in the six preceding seasons were 20.56 in 2008, 21.09 in 2009, 20.86 in 2010, 21.24 in 2011, 21.11 in 2012 and 20.90 last year.

Wlodarczyk was among the 10 nominees for the award, but got zapped when IAAF voting promoted Adams, Ethiopia's Genezbe Dibaba and Dafne Schippers of Holland to the top three.

Perhaps, the big difference is exposure. The hammer is often held when stadia are comparatively empty. Frequently, it is staged before the major part of meets and in other locations. By contrast, the shot is often held at prime time.

Adams has been so good for so long that she almost 'deserves' to have been the thrower to make this wonderful breakthrough. Maybe it is a reward for her winning streak of almost 60 finals, even though only 14 were this season.

It's just that when you look more closely, she may not even be the number one thrower in the world for 2014. That honour belongs to Wlodarczyk, the world record breaker from Poland.

Hubert Lawrence has been scrutinising athletics since 1980.