Track & FieldTracks & Trails

All in a spin: women’s hammer throwing lowdown

by Elizabeth Egan

The hammer throw has, in the past, been a successful event for the Irish, providing our only double Olympic Champion in Pat O’Callaghan (1928 and 1932). The event has also provided a host of other Olympians and International representatives, including John Lawlor who finished 4th at the 1960 Games and Bill Britton who won Commonwealth Games silver in 1930.

Dr Pat O'Callaghan

Dr Pat O’Callaghan

But it wasn’t until late nineties that the discipline was added to the international programme for females, and the Irish women got an opportunity to make a name for themselves in hammer throwing circles.

While the likes of Nicola Coffey, Olivia Kelleher, Brenda Thompson and Clara Thompson set the target in the early years, it was Eileen O’Keeffe, a theatre nurse from County Kilkenny, who brought Irish women’s hammer throwing to a world level. She took the Irish record to beyond 70 metres, and her 6th place finish at the 2007 World Championships is the equal highest finish by an Irish female in a field event at this level (Deirdre Ryan, who finished equal 6th in the 2011 high jump final, is the only other Irish female to make a World field event final).

Eileen O'Keeffe in action

Eileen O’Keeffe in action

O’Keeffe quit the sport in 2011, after a series of injuries, to concentrate on her career in nursing. She was just 29 at the time and one wonders if, without the injuries, she could have medalled on the global stage. Despite her injury-curtailed career, O’Keeffe competed at three World Championships, one Olympic Games, two European Championships and three World University Games, and won nine consecutive national hammer titles (in addition to six discus titles).

Learning to turn with pound shop DVD

She won silver at the 2007 World University Games and her Irish record, set in July of that year, still stands at 73.21 metres – not bad for somebody who learned to turn from a pound shop DVD, in the days before both Youtube and the euro.

O’Keeffe set the mark for everyone else to follow, and while we’ve not had any representatives at major senior championships since her retirement, there is a very exciting crop of young talent coming through. Behind O’Keeffe, the Irish All-time list is constantly being rewritten, and Emma O’Hara, Aoife Hickey, Alice Akers and Fiona Moloney, the top ranked Irish athletes this year, all feature in the top 10 on that all-time list.

Eighteen-year-old Akers, along with 16-year-old Michaela Walsh, are definitely athletes to look out for in the future. Akers has already flung the 4kg implement out to 56.82 metres. Her CBP performance of 56.20 metres achieved in retaining the All-Ireland schools senior title earlier this year earned her the Outstanding Athlete Award at those championships. While Akers’s performance was more than worthy of that award, Walsh’s performance in winning the Intermediate event that day was similarly outstanding. The young Swinford AC athlete recorded a massive 63.76 metres (3kg hammer), also a CBP.

Michaela Walsh eyeing up the hammer sector. Image via Kieran Carlin

Michaela Walsh eyeing up the hammer sector. Image via Kieran Carlin

Walsh reached the final of both the hammer and the shot put at the recent World Youth Championships while Akers participated in the hammer at the European Junior Championships. With these two continuing to progress, Cara Kennedy’s National Junior record (57.98 metres) stands danger.

Emma O’Hara, 20, is another with a bright future ahead of her. British-born O’Hara, whose parents hail from Galway, reached the final at the World Junior Championships in 2014, and has extended her personal best to 59.79 metres this season. The 60 metre mark, and O’Keefe’s National U23 record (63.35 metres), must surely be her immediate targets.

Aoife Hickey, like O’Keeffe did, competes for Kilkenny City Harriers, and is second to her former clubmate on the Irish All-time list. The University of Utah graduate’s personal best, set last year, is 61.54 metres. Fiona Moloney, who has been studying at NW Missouri State University, is another athlete in PB shape this season. Her best of 54.50 places her 10th on the Irish All-time list. The talented Kilmallock woman is also among the top-ranked Irish women in the shot put, has represented Ireland on the soccer field, and has played camogie and Gaelic football for Limerick.

Cara Kennedy has won the last four National Senior titles, but has not competed since the birth of her daughter earlier this year. If the rest of the top athletes line up in Santry in August, it is bound to be one hell of a battle to find her successor. The Akers household must surely be overdue a national senior title – Alice finished in the runner-up spot in 2013 and 2014, while her older sister Rachel finished second on no less than eight occasions – but O’Hara, Hickey and Moloney, if they compete, should all feature.

Irish 2015 Top 10 (4kg)

59.79 Emma O’Hara
57.48 Aoife Hickey
56.82 Alice Akers
54.50 Fiona Moloney
51.76 Mairead O’Neill
51.31 Lauren O’Keeffe
50.47 Megan Moynihan
49.86 Aoife Vaughan-Witts
45.26 Mieke Kiernan
44.30 Christine Furlong

Irish All-Time Top 10 (4kg)

73.21 Eileen O’Keeffe, 21 Jul 2007
61.54 Aoife Hickey, 12 Apr 2013
59.79 Emma O’Hara, 3 Apr 2015
59.12 Rachel Akers, 14 Apr 2007
58.48 Nicola Coffey, 6 May 2001
58.36 Johanna Doyle, 17 May 2003
58.26 Cara Kennedy, 3 Jul 2011
57.53 Olivia Kelleher, 24 Apr 1999
56.82 Alice Akers, 24 May 2015
54.50 Fiona Moloney, 3 May 2015

The global hammer throwing scene

Betty Heidler. Image: PhotoRun

Betty Heidler. Image: PhotoRun

Having not been a championship event in the 1980, the women’s hammer is one of the few heavy throwing events in which records are still broken. Just last week, world record holder Anita Wlodarczyk (Poland) threw 79.83 metres, 25 centimetres beyond her existing mark, though that throw has not been recognised by the IAAF. Wlodarczyk, the 2014 European Champion and London 2012 silver medallist, already topped the 2015 world list before that throw, 2.5 metres ahead of Betty Heidler (Germany), the 2007 World Champion and former world record holder, who also sits 2nd on the All-time list. Tatyana Beloborodova (Russia), the reigning Olympic Champion, who served a two year doping suspension between 2007 and 2009, has recorded just 57 metres this season.

Unfortunately, the hammer does not feature on the Diamond League programme, and so we often have to wait until the major championships to experience the longest throws of the year. Heidler and Wlodarczyk will, no doubt, renew their rivalry in Beijing. But expect some surprises. And maybe, just maybe, the Birds’s Nest on the 28 August will provide the ideal setting for the first 80 metre throw.

2015 World Rankings

1. 78.28 Anita Wlodarczyk (POL)

2. 75.73 Betty Heidler (GER)

3. 74.27 Martina Hrasnová (SVK)

4. 74.05 Alexandra Tavernier (FRA)

5. 73.99 Zheng Wang (CHN) 

6. 73.66 Sultana Frizell (CAN)

7. 73.26 Aksana Miankova (BLR)

8. 73.06 Rosa Rodríguez (VEN)

9. 72.86 Alena Soboleva (BLR)

10. 72.81 Amber Campbell (USA)

All-time Top 10

1. 79.58 Anita Wlodarcyzk (POL), 31 Aug 2014

2. 79.42 Betty Heidler (GER), 21 May 2011

3. 78.80 Tatyana Beloborodova (RUS), 16 Aug 2013

4. 78.69 Aksana Miankova (BLR), 18 Jul 2012

5. 77.68 Zheng Wang (CHN), 29 Mar 2014

6. 77.33 Wenxiu Zhang (CHN), 28 Sep 2014

7. 77.26 Gulfiya Khanafeyeva Agaronova (RUS), 12 Jun 2006

8. 77.13 Oksana Kondrateva (RUS), 30 Jun 2013

9. 76.90 Martina Hrasnová (SVK), 16 May 2009

10. 76.83 Kamila Skolimowska (POL), 11 May 2007

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Feidhlim Kelly

Feidhlim Kelly

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