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Feature11 Aug 2021

Following Tokyo triumph, triple winner Wlodarczyk secures place in Olympic history


Triple Olympic hammer champion Anita Wlodarczyk (Β© Getty Images)

Heading into the Tokyo Olympic Games, five athletes had a shot at making history by becoming the first woman to win three Olympic gold medals in a single individual athletics discipline.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce narrowly missed out in the 100m, Valerie Adams was delighted to take bronze in the shot put, Sandra Perkovic finished just outside the podium places in the discus, and Barbora Spotakova missed out on making the final in the javelin.

It all then came down to Polish hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk.

The 36-year-old had won Olympic gold in 2012 and 2016, which, along with her four world titles and multiple world records, underlined her status as the most dominant athlete of her generation.

But when Wlodarczyk cut short her 2019 season in order to undergo surgery on her knee, she wasn’t sure if she’d be ready to compete at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Ultimately, she was one of many athletes who in some way benefited from the postponed Games. The extra year meant another 12 months of rehab, and she returned to competition earlier in 2021, gradually improving as the season progressed.

Sadly the anticipated showdown with world champion DeAnna Price didn’t quite materialise as the US thrower picked up an ankle injury shortly after setting a North American record of 80.31m at the US Trials. To her credit, Price made it to Tokyo and reached the final, but was some way off her best and finished eighth with 73.09m.

Wlodarczyk, meanwhile, looked back to her best and sent her hammer out to 76.01m, 77.44m and then 78.48m in the Olympic final to secure her third gold, making history in the process.

Anita Wlodarczyk POL Hammer πŸ₯‡ 2012, πŸ₯‡ 2016, πŸ₯‡ 2020
Shirley Strickland AUS 80m hurdles πŸ₯‡ 1952, πŸ₯‡ 1956
Nina Ponomaryova URS Discus πŸ₯‡ 1952, πŸ₯‡ 1960
Iolanda Balas ROU High jump πŸ₯‡ 1960, πŸ₯‡ 1964
Tamara Press URS Shot put πŸ₯‡ 1960, πŸ₯‡ 1964
Wyomia Tyus USA 100m πŸ₯‡ 1964, πŸ₯‡ 1968
Tatyana Kazankina URS 1500m πŸ₯‡ 1976, πŸ₯‡ 1980
Jackie Joyner-Kersee USA Heptathlon πŸ₯‡ 1988, πŸ₯‡ 1992
Gail Devers USA 100m πŸ₯‡ 1992, πŸ₯‡ 1996
Marie-Jose Perec FRA 400m πŸ₯‡ 1992, πŸ₯‡ 1996
Heike Drechsler GER Long jump πŸ₯‡ 1992, πŸ₯‡ 2000
Derartu Tulu ETH 10,000m πŸ₯‡ 1992, πŸ₯‡ 2000
Veronica Campbell-Brown JAM 200m πŸ₯‡ 2004, πŸ₯‡ 2008
Yelena Isinbayeva RUS Pole vault πŸ₯‡ 2004, πŸ₯‡ 2008
Meseret Defar ETH 5000m πŸ₯‡ 2004, πŸ₯‡ 2012
Valerie Adams NZL Shot put πŸ₯‡ 2008, πŸ₯‡ 2012
Tirunesh Dibaba ETH 10,000m πŸ₯‡ 2008, πŸ₯‡ 2012
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce JAM 100m πŸ₯‡ 2008, πŸ₯‡ 2012
Barbora Spotakova CZE Javelin πŸ₯‡ 2008, πŸ₯‡ 2012
Sandra Perkovic CRO Discus πŸ₯‡ 2012, πŸ₯‡ 2016

“The medal is so cool,” she said. “It’s heavy, which is kind of a symbol of the difficulties I endured to get here.

“After the competition I slept for maybe 50 minutes. It was so emotional. I didn’t have time to reply to all the messages of congratulations I received. My email box is full!

“With no fans, it was a totally different competition,” she added. “Different, but still very special. I will never forget the medal ceremony though. It was one of the most important. That’s why I’ve kissed the medal. This one is special and means a lot. Of course the ceremony in Rio where Irena Szewinska presented the medal to me was also very special, but this has a different story behind it.”

Wlodarczyk's dominance

Few athletes dominate the world all-time lists like Wlodarczyk does in the hammer.

She was the first - and, until recently, only - woman to throw beyond 80 metres. Of all the 76-metre throws in history, she owns more than half of them. And her dominance becomes more pronounced as the distances get farther:

75m+ 40% (Wlodarczyk owns 252 of 634 throws)
76m+ 54% (Wlodarczyk owns 171 of 316 throws)
77m+ 68% (Wlodarczyk owns 117 of 172 throws)
78m+ 86% (Wlodarczyk owns 71 of 83 throws)
79m+ 93% (Wlodarczyk owns 40 of 43 throws)
80m+ 94% (Wlodarczyk owns 17 of 18 throws)


Wlodarczyk isn’t done yet, though, and she already has her sights set on adding two more medals to her collection in 2022.

“The Olympic final was my last competition this season,” she said. “Now it’s time for a short holiday and then I will start my preparations for next year, where there are two medals on offer: the World Championships and the European Championships.”

Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics

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