Track-and-field records tumble with alarming frequency nowadays, but Yuriy Sedykh’s hammer-throw mark is a rare exception. The Ukrainian-born athlete set the world record back in 1986, while wearing the Soviet hammer-and-sickle on his uniform. Sedykh competed for another 17 years after that triumph, but he never again came within a meter of that legendary throw.
Nor has anyone else come within sniffing distance as of late. Last year’s top hammer throw was the handiwork of a Belarusian named Shako Dzmitry, who could only manage a relatively paltry 78.12 meters (versus Sedykh’s 86.74 meters). What gives? Athletes have only been getting bigger and stronger over the decades, and coaching presumably more expert. So why can’t anyone better Sedykh’s record—including the great man himself?
My initial guess is that, if we rule out drug use, Sedykh must have benefited from the strength of the Soviet sports machine. There does seem to be great value in starting kids young, and then ensuring that they remain maniacally focused on a single, esoteric pursuit. (The Chinese now do something similar with their gymnasts and divers, which translates into a bevy of medals come Olympics time.) Once the U.S.S.R. crumbled, the state’s sports apparatus died a rapid death.
But what about technique? Sedykh favored the three-spin method, while virtually every other competitor whirls around four times before launching their projectile skyward. Could less be more? And might this odd approach have only worked on the spry legs of Sedykh’s youth? Those of us who saw Steve McNair go from hero to zero in a year know how quickly an athlete’s body can betray them.
Tons more info on the sport here, courtesy of the Association of British Hammer Throwers. And more Yuriy Sedykh video goodness here and here. Good to see the man didn’t let his receding hairline hold him back from athletic glory. And the grunt upon release is primal in the best way.