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Don't throw me over

Gerald Haigh's guide to some of the Cinderella events of athletics

When it comes to TV coverage of the Athens Games, you can be sure that the throws (hammer, discus, shot, javelin) will lose out again, confirming their status as the Cinderella events of athletics. That's a pity because they're fascinating and highly technical. You could run a whole term of science on any one of them. Here are just a few points to start you off.


A spear, thrown at the end of a short run. When throws started to exceed 100 metres in the 1980s, the javelin was redesigned with its centre of gravity further forward so it dived more steeply into the ground.

* Watch for: the speed of the run must transfer to the implement - it's no good running and then slowing down to throw.

* Hero to research: Fatima Whitbread. What was special about her childhood?


A disc, convex on both sides, is accelerated by the thrower's run within the 2.5 metre diameter throwing circle and spins, making use of centrifugal force.

* Watch for: the discus is almost an aerofoil, like an aircraft wing, so the angle at which it meets the air is crucial. As it spins, gyroscopic effect keeps it stable in flight.

* Hero to research: Al Oerter. What is his unique record?


Effectively a cannonball, it is "put" rather than thrown because the shot is held in close contact with the chin and neck.The throwing circle is tight (2.135m diameter, 7 feet) so you start facing backwards, leaning out beyond the back of the circle, and then drive across the circle, turning to reach out forwards, keeping the shot accelerating all the time.

* Watch for: explosive speed across the circle, using all the strength of the legs and body. At the point of release the whole body becomes a second order lever with the leading foot as the fulcrum.

* Hero to research: Geoff Capes. What's his all consuming hobby?


A shot attached to a short wire with a handle. Standing in a 2.135m circle, the thrower starts with swings round the head, moving into full body turns, releasing the hammer at the point of maximum speed, using centrifugal force and at the correct angle for distance. There's a safety cage to catch a misthrown hammer.

* Watch for: using huge strength and agility the thrower keeps the fast-turning body and arms ahead of the hammer - leading it and not holding it back.

* Hero to research: Kamila Skolimowska, still a teenager when, in 2000, she became the first woman to ...? (clue in key points below) Key points for all throws :

Distance is the aim.

Two factors determine distance: velocity of the implement; and angle of release in relation to the ground.

There are women's and men's events (women's hammer introduced Sydney 2000).

The dimensions and weights of implements are prescribed and are different for men and women.

Landing areas are marked, and implements going outside count as foul throws.

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