Another in the occasional series giving my choice as the greatest athletes in the various athletics events. This time it is the hammer throw. This is one of the trickier events to choose a number one. There have been several throwers who have dominated for a number of years but the most dominant athletes have appeared at opposite ends of the twentieth century. This adds to the difficulty of comparisons as the difference in strength of competition has to be considered. This is my choice of the top ten.
- Yuriy Sedykh (USSR/Ukraine)
- John Flanagan (USA)
The top three were clear of the rest for me but the order of those three was difficult. Sedykh had a long and distinguished career which saw him win the Olympic titles in 1976 and 1980 (and a silver in 1988), the world championship in 1991, and three successive European Championship golds in 1978, 1982 and 1986. The third of these saw one of the greatest hammer competition in history when Sedykh and his great rival Sergey Litvinov exchanged the lead with some of the longest throws ever seen until Sedykh eventually won the gold. His throw that day still stands as the world record. Such a long standing record will raise a few eyebrows, especially with so many throwing events tarnished with drug affected results, but Sedykh never failed a drug test and so I am happy to consider him, although with a slight doubt. His closest rivals were also from regimes with questionable practices at a time of strong competition. Flanagan was Olympic champion three times, in 1900, 1904 and 1908. In the second and third of those competitions he broke the world record on his way to gold. He was the dominant figure in the event for the first decade of the 20th century having already staked a claim to be the best in the world in the final years of the 19th. He won the American championship in 1897 to 1899 at a time when Americans, and in particular Irish-Americans like Flanagan, were the best in the world. Ryan was another of these “Irish Whales” who dominated the hammer in the early 20th century. He was the best thrower of the 1910s but because of the World War was denied a shot at Olympic glory until 1920. He seized that chance, taking gold by the largest margin in the history of the event (4.6 metres). His greatest throw came in 1913 when he set the first official world record in the hammer. His throw of 57.77m stood as a world record for 25 years and an American record for forty. He won the AAU (American) title every year from 1913 to 1921 (except 1918 when he was away) so could claim to be the best in the world in those years. As stated previously this is hard to assess but the depth of competition just makes me go for Sedykh (number one in the world for eight years) over the two Irish-Americans.
- Sergey Litvinnov (USSR/Russia) twice world champion and the Olympic champion in 1988 and silver medallist in 1980. He won two European medals and set three world records.
- Pat O’Callaghan (Ireland) Olympic champion in 1928 and 1932. He could have added a third in 1936 but a dispute with athletics federations meant he missed the Games. In 1937 he exceeded the 24 year old world record in an unofficial competition.
- Matt McGrath (USA) in a remarkably long career he was the Olympic champion in 1912 and took silver in 1908 and in 1924 (aged 47, still the record age for an American track and field athlete medallist). He had a great rivalry with Pat Ryan over many years and broke the world record twice before Ryan’s 1913 epic throw.
- Imre Nemeth (Hungary) Olympic champion in 1948 and second in 1952. He broke the world record three times.
- Karl Storch (Germany) The dominant thrower of the early 1940s when Germans were the world’s best but unable to compete in the Olympics.
- Anatoliy Bondarchuk (USSR) Olympic champion in 1972, third 1976 and twice broke the world record. He was European champion in 1969. He later became the greatest coach in the event.
- Koji Mirofushi (Japan) Mirofushi is probably the best of the 21st century throwers with a world and Olympic title plus three other global medals in a long career at the top level.
For the women’s event I am only choosing a top three as it is such a new event. Although it has only been an international event for twenty years or so a few of the athletes who would be considered have tested positive for drugs and they miss out. In fact there aren’t too many to choose from when these are removed from consideration. This leaves my top three as.
- Anita Włodarczyk (Poland) – the Olympic champion in 2012 and 2016, and world champion in 2009 and 2015. She has broken the world record six times since 2009 and was the first woman to throw more than 80m. She has also won three European championships.
2. Ypsi Moreno (Cuba) – three times world champion consecutively between 2001 and 2005. She surprisingly came only second in the 2004 Olympics but took the gold in 2008.
Reasonably close between these two but Wlodarczyk has been so good in the last few years that she is clear of Moreno. There is then a big gap.
3. Betty Heidler (Germany) – world champion in 2007 and European champion in 2010. She has won two world and one Olympic silver medal. She held the world record from 2011 to 2014.