How the fun of Irish blacksmiths became an Olympic sport

Posted on Apr 1, 2021      144

In the 1900 Olympic Games, held in Paris, the hammer throw was included in the athletics competition. However, the projectile which was thrown by athletes was not very similar to the hammer: a metal ball was connected to the handle by a flexible steel rope. The winner was the American of Irish descent, J. Flanagan, who threw the projectile at 49 meters 73 centimeters. Looking ahead, it should be said that Flanagan won the next two Olympics - 1904 and 1908. So why is a metal ball called a hammer and how did this form of athletics enter the Olympics?

Hammer throwing did not begin until the nineteenth century in Ireland. And the first throwers were local blacksmiths. At least that is what C. Poddak, the author of the book "Athletics", which was published in 1937 in New York, claims. The author cites an Irish legend about the giant blacksmith Kuchelein, who was famous for his ability to throw his hammer far.

True, there is a more prosaic story. Two blacksmiths were sitting at the forge in the evening, resting after a hard day’s work. And suddenly they made a bet - who can throw the hammer farther. The loser, according to the terms of the bet, must pay for a drink to the winner in the local bar. Soon, other blacksmiths competed.

And, at first, there were no strict rules for throwing, a competitor could throw the hammer from a run, from a place or, for example, by making several turns. Approximately the way modern athletes throw. And distance was measured from the place where the head leg was to where the hammer touched the ground.

Besides, the most usual hammer used at the forge was thrown. There were no sector fences, and the projectile could fly in any direction. Such amusement could end sadly for spectators. Often they competed not only in the long throw but also in the high throw.

Gradually, not only blacksmiths took part in tournaments. And the competitions themselves took place not only in Ireland. They were no less popular in England, and soon “infected” the United States. And, pedantic Englishmen brought the weight of the projectile to a single weight - 16 pounds. This rule is still in force today.

In 1875, the rules were adopted, according to which the shell had to be thrown from a circle of 7 feet in diameter. The appearance of the hammer itself also changed. It took the shape of a ball.

The handle was replaced first by a chain, then by a flexible cord to which two handles were attached. Later, by trial and error, it was decided that it was more convenient to use one handle, but hold it with two hands. And so it turned out that it was impossible to recognize the forge hammer in the improved projectile for throwing. Only the name remained.

If the Irish first threw the hammer just for fun, the British, besides developing the rules, began to meticulously record all the results. For example, the winner of the first national championship in 1866 was R. James so of 24 meters and 50 centimeters. In the 1880s, hammer throw became a regular feature in competitions between two irreconcilable rivals - Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

And at the very beginning of the twentieth century for the hammer throwers came a long-awaited event. They received the right to take part in the Olympic Games. For a long time it was dominated by athletes from the United States. However, they could not do without the influence of the Irish, the founders of the throw. Three-time Games winner John Flanagan emigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1896.

For many years, men have jealously guarded this discipline from the advances of the fairer sex. Women competed in the javelin, discus, shot-put, but the hammer was considered a purely male sport. But, starting in the eighties, women tried on the weightlifting apparatus and, since 2000, even won the right to compete in the Olympics. The only consolation for men is that the women’s hammer is much lighter, weighing almost half as much - 4 kilograms.