I'm cribbing this idea 100% from The View From The Finish Line blog. I'm going at it from a different angle, though, and looking at each individual event to see what our chances are. Today I'm looking at the men's hammer throw.
Joe Battaglia's story at Universal Sports today was the inspiration. He profiles two top collegiate throwers, Walter Henning of LSU and Conor McCullough of Princeton, and the USATF's new Hammer Throw Development Program which will target 13- to 17-year-olds. They, along with some other new talent such as Army freshman Trent Kraychir and Ohio high schooler Justin Welch, are the future of the men's hammer throw in the USA. And, hopefully, the USATF program will bring along even more young throwers.
The hammer throw, however, is not a young man's event, as it is possibly the most technical of them all. Of the 24 medals won in Olympic and World Championship competition since 2000, just two went to athletes under the age of 25. About half went to athletes between the ages of 27 and 30. Seeing as how the oldest of those mentioned above (Henning) is just 21, neither he nor his cohort are going to have an impact on the 2012 Olympics. This isn't a bad thing; it's important to constantly build and think in the long term. But when looking two years down the road, we need to look elsewhere.
What about the established athletes? Many-time US champ A.G. Kruger will be 33 in 2012 and is already on the down side of the improvement curve. His best placing at an Olympics or Worlds is 24th. There's no reason to believe he's got a chance at a medal in London. Other vets such as Thomas Freeman (currently 29 years old), Kibwe Johnson (28) and Michael Mai (32) are nowhere near as good or as consistent as Kruger, so they're not medal prospects either.
The only guy the USA has who is in the right age range and still showing improvement is Cory Martin. The 25-year-old Auburn grad has PRed six years in a row, and was in the world's top 50 last year. He's still going to have to get a lot better to have much chance at an Olympic medal, but he's definitely moving in the right direction. He's an Elite Athlete Grant winner from the USATF Foundation. The one weird thing is that he splits his time with the shot, the only resonably competitive hammer thrower anywhere in the world who does. And I can't really blame him; he's #12 in my world rankings and can actually win a (small) bit of prize money in that event, whereas the earning potential of a journeyman hammer thrower is about zilch.
My projection: we have about a 5% chance of winning a medal in this event, and that might be a generous assessment.
LATE EDIT: Martin Bingisser wrote to tell me he agrees that we stand little chance of winning a medal at the 2012 Olympics in the men's hammer throw, but if we do that chance rests on Kibwe Johnson. I'll let him explain:
Most people not following the hammer throw don't know what happened to him last year. He went from being a Pan Am silver medalist, U.S. indoor champ and outdoor runner up to a mediocre thrower in no time. His 2009 SB was down at my level: 67.80m. Because of this, most people have counted him out. But, the reason for the slump was that he changed coaches and completely reworked his technique. He moved to Canada to train with 1972 Oly champ Anatoly Bondarchuk and tore apart his technique last year. Coaches in America don't know how to coach a medalist, that's why we only have one medalist in the past 54 years. Bondarchuk, on the other hand, has coached over a dozen hammer medalists (and a few world record holders). Kibwe made the risky decision to move up there and it is paying off. He was second at Mt. SAC behind a world leading mark from former world medalist Libor Charfreitag. He is just off of his PR. I train with him and based on what I've seen I think he will throw 78 meters this year. Since the 2008 Oly champ unexpectedly retired and the 2004 champ (Murofushi) will turn 38 in 2012, the field is wide open. Kristian Pars leads the remaining athletes, but even he can't seem to get over 81m. 80m will likely win a medal in 2012 and I think Kibwe can be at that level by then.So in my running total for Project 30, I'll list Johnson as an "outside shot".