Impressive standard on show in the Rio 2016 throwing events
The throwing events at Rio 2016 produced some stellar performances with many of the contests going down to the wire, and the athletes having to demonstrate nerves of steel as well as consummate technique and superlative strength.
On 12 August, the first day of athletics events at the Olympic Stadium saw Michelle Carter of the USA claim the women’s shot put gold. After a nail-biting contest, the American sealed the win with a throw of 20.63m to set a new national record.
And Carter waited until the very end to overtake Valerie Adams’ mark of 20.42m, with the two-time champion from New Zealand looking to become the first woman in history to win three Olympic titles in the same individual event. Hungary’s Anita Marton won the bronze with her national-record final throw of 19.87m.
Adams thought she had done enough to seal her third title after her monster second throw remained the mark to beat for much of the competition. But Carter, who won the indoor world championship title in Portland last March, managed to conjure up a moment of magic. In securing gold, the 30-year old American sealed the biggest title of her career 32 years after her father won Olympic silver in the shot put in Los Angeles.
Afterwards, a jubilant Carter paid tribute to her father. “He's my coach today, and he's given me everything that he knows to be the best shot putter I can be.” For his part, Mike, who went on to become a successful American football player, had this to say: “As parents, we jump for joy and are happy, but as her coach, I'm responsible for what happens when she fails. But here she succeeded. The coach has retired for this year and the dad is now just walking around happy, with his chest stuck out.”
Reigning champion Adams was philosophical about her failed triple title tilt. “It's tough but that's sport,” she said. “You have to take it on the chin. I was rushing a little but I made sure that I tried my best. At every moment I was like, ‘I need to pull something out here,' but I came up short.”
“I want New Zealand to know I threw my heart out there today, I threw a season's best, so I cannot ask for more than that,” she added.
Christoph Harting takes discus gold four years after brother Robert
On 13 August, Germany’s Christoph Harting produced a 68.37m sixth and final throw to succeed his brother as Olympic discus champion. Older brother Robert failed to get through qualifying in Rio while Christoph, 26, finished ahead of Poland’s 2015 world champion Piotr Malachowski and another German, Daniel Jasinski. Like the women’s shot put, the competition went down to the final round of throws with Harting and Jasinski saving their best until last.
Honestly, I just said to myself that this is my scene, it’s my stadium and nobody is going to take victory from me.Christoph Harting Germany
Estonia’s Gerd Kanter took the lead after the first round, with the Beijing 2008 title winner and bronze medallist in London 2012 producing a throw of 65.10m. Malachowski then flew ahead with a 67.55m third effort that he was unable to top, before Harting produced the title-winning throw with his final attempt.
When asked how he managed to snatch the lead in such a tense finale, Harting was left scratching his head. “I don’t know, there are moments when you’re more focused,” he said. “Honestly, I just said to myself that this is my scene, it’s my stadium and nobody is going to take victory from me.”
Meanwhile Malachowski was proud of his silver-medal winning throw of 67.55m “It’s not a bad throw at the Olympics. You’re more than welcome to come to the stadium and I’ll give you a 1kg discus to see how you get on,” he laughed.
“There’s always a bit of anger in sport,” he added. “But I’m happy. I’ve just won a new medal for Poland. These last twelve years, we haven’t had too many. I’m not surprised by Christoph’s throw. I am a bit concerned about Daniel Jasinski though, he was on fire and he’s still young.”
And Jasinski was delighted to make his first major podium. “I'm so happy. We trained really well this year. At the Olympics everything is possible. It was awesome.”
Wlodarczyk smashes hammer world record
On 15 August, Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk went all out in the women’s hammer to seal gold with a world record 82.29m third throw. China’s Zhang Wenxiu took silver with a throw of 76.75m while Great Britain’s Sophie Hitchon took bronze with her 74.54m effort.
The only woman to have ever surpassed the 80-metre mark, 31-year-old world champion Wlodarczyk had already broken the Olympic record with a second throw of 80.40m when she entered the ring for the third time. Yet she went even further to surpass the 81.08m world record she set on 1 August 2015 in Poland.
After many years of hard work I'm on top.Anita Wlodarczyk Poland
The London 2012 silver medallist, Wlodarczyk’s performance in Rio hit unprecedented heights as she passed the 80-metre mark a total of three times, as many times as she had previously achieved the feat in her entire career.
“It's the world record and I believed it would give me the gold medal,” Wlodarczyk explained. “But I wasn’t totally sure. Before the third throw I felt the power and knew it would be the best moment. After many years of hard work I'm on top.”
“The conditions were really tough,” she added. “It was super warm, I had to keep spraying myself with cold water throughout the competition. This result is just great given the heat. After the world record I felt an explosion of happiness. But now I'm extremely tired. This day is the best day of my life and I kept pushing to go even further. It’s great to see so many fans in the stadium for the hammer throw. It was my mum's birthday today so this is the gift I got for her.”
Perkovic doubles her discus title haul
Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic had a brief brush with disaster on 16 August before claiming her second consecutive women’s discus gold. She fouled five of her six throws but a single 69.21m effort was enough to seal victory. France’s Melina Robert-Michon took the silver with a national-record 66.73m and Cuba’s Denia Caballero won the bronze with a throw of 65.34m.
A hot favourite heading into the event, 26-year-old reigning European champion and 2013 world champion Perkovic was on the brink of early elimination after failing to register with her first two throws. Shaking off any nerves she might have felt, she dug deep to hurl her third effort 69.21m and retain her crown.
All that was in my head was the only thing I have been doing in the past four years and the people who have believed in me. All my anger was in that throw, and after that throw I started competing.Sandra Perkovic Croatia
In a competition filled with foul throws, 37-year-old Robert-Michon was the most consistent competitor, having thrown well and led the final until Perkovic’s mammoth effort. Caballero, meanwhile, also achieved her best throw with her third attempt.
Only the third athlete to successfully defend an Olympic discus title, Perkovic was delighted to get the result: “I came into this competition really prepared, and after London I started dreaming about this moment,” she said. “All that was in my head was the only thing I have been doing in the past four years and the people who have believed in me. All my anger was in that throw, and after that throw I started competing.”
Looking to the future, the newly crowned two-time champion drew inspiration from her rivals. “Melina Robert-Michon threw a new national record and is a silver medallist at 37-years-old,” she noted. “She’s a big motivation for me to keep going 10 more years. I don’t want to give up. I just want to continue and work like I did before.”
After producing the best throw of her long career inside the Olympic Stadium, Robert-Michon became France’s oldest ever Olympic track and field medal winner. “I’m so happy, I’ve worked so hard to get this,” said the veteran thrower. “I’ve already won world and European medals, and today I won an Olympic one. It’s the dream of all athletes to win an Olympic medal, because it’s above all others.”
In collecting the bronze, Caballero, who surprisingly beat Perkovic to gold at last year’s world championships, secured her country’s third successive medal in the event. “I wanted a gold medal but I will take any colour,” the 26-year-old Cuban said. “It will not be my last Olympics.”
Kolak pulls off surprise women’s javelin win
Forty-eight hours after compatriot Sandra Perkovic won the women’s discus, Croatia’s Sara Kolak threw a personal best and national record to land an unexpected gold in the javelin final. The 21-year-old Croat, who had already broken the national record in the qualifying rounds, clinched the title with her fourth attempt, throwing 66.18m to secure victory by 1.26m from South Africa’s Sunette Viljoen. The bronze went to Czech Republic’s Barbora Spotakova, the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 champion, who went into the competition harbouring dreams of becoming the first woman to win three consecutive gold medals in the same individual athletics event.
It feels amazing. It’s what I have been working for my whole life. I am 21 and I’m an Olympic champion. I did everything I could and I am so proud of myself.Sara Kolak Croatia
But Kolak scuppered her plans. A bronze medallist at the 2016 European Championships, the eventual winner was something of an outsider for gold, with the attention focused on 35-year-old Spotakova’s attempt to make history.
“It’s a big surprise,” said the victorious Kolak. “It feels amazing. It’s what I have been working for my whole life. I am 21 and I’m an Olympic champion. I did everything I could and I am so proud of myself. When I woke up this morning I was ready for a fight, a fair fight like never before. I wanted to give it everything I had and show everyone that qualification meant little. I wanted more.”
Silver-medallist Viljoen became the first African athlete to win an Olympic medal in the event. “I am very, very happy,” she stated. “I couldn’t have asked for more. I was fighting for a medal right until the end. I was fourth in London in 2012 and to come back and win silver means so much to me. It will mean a lot for my country too. The atmosphere was wonderful and there were lots of people cheering for us.”
“She’s a wonderful winner,” added Viljoen, voicing her admiration for the new champion. “A young new talent coming up. A well-deserved gold medal. I’m just privileged to be on the Olympic podium together with Sara and Barbora. I’m very happy.”
Though she came up short in her bid for an unprecedented golden hat-trick, Spotakova had the consolation of becoming the first athlete to win three Olympic medals in the event, and of capping off her recovery from a recent injury with bronze.
“I hadn’t counted on a medal at all because I broke my leg in March and I didn’t believe there was a chance of a medal,” explained the veteran thrower. “You lose your self-confidence when things like that happen and you have to fight to get it back. But I always tell myself: ‘I am a champion’. I did my best today and I had huge support at home in the Czech Republic.”
Crouser seals shot put double for the USA
On Thursday 16 August, the USA’s Ryan Crouser put on an impressive display in the shot put, producing three throws of over 22m and an Olympic record fifth throw of 22.52m. He finished ahead of team-mate Joe Kovacs while New Zealand’s Tomas Walsh claimed the bronze.
Crouser, 23, produced three personal bests in the final to win the gold ahead of reigning world champion Kovacs. Walsh’s fifth throw of 21.36m sealed bronze 42cm behind the silver medallist, while two-time reigning Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski of Poland finished sixth.
Winner of the USA Olympic trials in July, Crouser was the only man to throw over 22 metres in recording a victory that gave the Americans their second shot put gold of Rio 2016. “When the competition started, everything just fell into place and worked perfectly,” Crouser explained. “The atmosphere was electric, words can’t describe how I’m feeling. My dad was a reserve in the 1984 Olympic discus team, my uncle Brian competed in the javelin in the 1988 and 1992 Games and my cousin Sam [javelin] is my room-mate here in Rio. It’s a real family affair! There was a big group of them in the stands with Team Crouser t-shirts on. It’s been an amazing experience to share this title with them.”
The atmosphere was electric, words can’t describe how I’m feeling.Ryan Crouser USA
Team-mate Kovacs, meanwhile, was disappointed to miss out on the win. “You’re never happy getting second, but it’s settling in now that I’m still bringing home the silver medal for the United States and the gold is coming home with Ryan.”
After collecting New Zealand’s first ever Olympic men’s field medal, Walsh was understandably delighted. “It’s pretty cool isn’t it,” he said. “It was an awesome atmosphere, and it’s a massive honour to be the first male New Zealander to get a medal in field events. It’s pretty cool to know that. Shot put in New Zealand is getting stronger and stronger, and hopefully there are a few other kids coming up. It’s pretty cool to know I have made history.”
Nazarov wins first ever gold for Tajikistan in the hammer
On 19 August, Dilshod Nazarov of Tajikistan took the men’s hammer title to capture an historic first Olympic gold medal for his country.
Topping 77m on four occasions, Nazarov produced his best throw in the fifth round with a 78.68m effort. In second place, Ivan Tsikhan of Belarus also produced his best throw in the fifth round but his 77.79m was not enough to trouble the leader. Wojciech Nowicki of Poland matched his bronze at the 2015 World Championships to seal his country’s second hammer medal in Rio.
I think the entire country was behind me tonight!Dilshod Nazarov Tajikistan
A silver-medallist at the 2015 World Championships, 34-year-old Nazarov finished tenth in London 2012. Four years earlier, he was his country’s flag-bearer at the Beijing Games and finished 11th. Poland’s Pawel Fajdek, meanwhile, who won world titles in 2013 and 2015 and was unbeaten since March 2015, failed to qualify for the final.
“The reaction back home is going to be hard to imagine,” Nazarov said. “I’ve had hundreds, if not thousands of ‘likes’ on my Facebook account, I think the entire country was behind me tonight. The heat here wasn’t a problem, it’s the same back home so it’s just normal for me.”
After a troubled childhood, the win was a proud moment for the gold medallist. “I think that made me stronger,” he added. “It was the dream of my childhood to win an Olympic gold medal and, despite everything, I accomplished my task.”
Veteran Tsikhan was keen to thank his supporters for their help over the years. “I want to thank all my fans and fans of athletics and the sport in my country for helping me to prepare for the Games over the last 18 months,” said the 40-year-old. “I would like to congratulate them for this medal. They probably wanted more from me, but silver is a great medal and you have to be happy with it. My opponents are very strong athletes and I respect them. They are my family, my colleagues and my opponents. We all have to respect them and love them.”
Nowicki was leading the competition after qualification, but had to settle for bronze. “I was so disappointed with my competition because in the beginning I was really, really nervous,” he said. “But I am the bronze medallist and that’s all I can say.”
Rohler tops 90m for javelin gold
Rounding off the throwing events on the final night of athletics competitions, Germany’s Thomas Rohler won javelin gold with a stunning display that gave his country a first gold medal in the event since Gerhard Stock won in 1936 in Berlin.
Having enjoyed an excellent 2016, Rohler made his good form count. In a high-flying contest where anything could happen, he sent his fifth throw past the 90-metre mark with a 90.30m effort that was too good for his rivals.
Kenya’s world champion Julius Yego took silver as he threw 88.24m on his first attempt – a season best that was good enough to hold the lead until the penultimate round when Rohler unleashed his massive throw. Reigning Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago threw 85.38m to take bronze.
We all live for these achievements and that’s why I love the sport.Thomas Rohler Germany
Commenting on his winning throw, which was the second longest throw of the year after the 91.28m he achieved in Finland in June, Rohler said he had a sense something special could happen. “I woke up this morning feeling very positive,” he explained. “I thought today could well be my day and I couldn’t wait to throw. I know how to throw over 90m and I did it again today. All the same, 90.30m is very long.”
“We all live for these achievements and that’s why I love the sport,” he added. “I think that after this year and last year, we all knew that it was going to be a really high level of competition. Everybody is celebrating back home. It’s 3am in Germany and everyone is wide awake cheering me on.”