News23 Aug 2009

Thorkildsen does what Zelezny couldn't!


Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway throws a season's best of 89.59m to win the men's Javelin Throw final at the IAAF World Championships (© Getty Images)

Andreas Thorkildsen made a breakthrough when he won the World title in Berlin. Finally, he had done something no other javelin thrower has done which is hold World, Olympic and European titles simultaneously. Not even the great Jan Zelezny achieved that; he always fell short at the European championships.

“It’s incredible,” said Thorkildsen. “It’s strange that Jan did not manage to do it, but it’s nice to claim something for my own, something that he doesn’t have. But I still have a lot of work to do to catch up in numbers of medals that Jan has won.”

And that is the goal. According to Thorkildsen’s coach, Asmund Martinsen, they are “only half way to achieving our goals."

In other words, more Olympic titles? “That’s the goal,” said Martinson. “We are hoping for two more Olympic titles.” In total they are aiming for 6 more major titles in total to overtake Zelezny’s score, which of course would make the Norwegian the greatest javelin exponent of all time.

But what of the World record? Where does he stand in relation to that? “First of all, it’s a damn good record (98.48m Zelezny 1996),” said Thorkildsen. “But the biggest problem I have with the World record is that I don’t prioritise it. I prefer not to go to stadiums where the wind conditions are deliberately favourable to throwing records. The Golden League and the major championships are my priority. When you look at the stats there is always a lot of wind when people throw long. No, my goal is to win titles.”

For winning in Berlin, he would have pocketed $60,000. Amongst some nations there would also be an extra prize from the government. The Russian walker, Vladimir Borchin, for example was given a BMW Jeep last year and this year all Russian gold medallists in Olympic sports will be given an extra $7000. What does the Norwegian government plan to give Thorkildsen for his medals: “A luxury yacht and Oslo castle,” were just two of the light-hearted answers Thorkildsen gave, but in reality he was sent an email from the country’s prime minister congratulating him on his victory.

“But he did not send it to my email,” said Thorkildsen, “because I checked.”
One of Thorkildsen’s main opponents, Tero Pitkamaki of Finland, had picked up an infection before the finals and was out of sorts and finished fifth. Did Thorkildsen give him any support during the competition? “We talked together and I tried to give him a boost,” said Thorkildsen. “But I don’t think it helped. At the World championships you have to be at your best.”

Which comes to the next question. Despite the odd niggle, the Norwegian always seem in rude health for the big championships. What is the secret? “Well, first of all, I do get injured. But the advantage before the big championships is there is always a couple of weeks off that gives us the time to iron out a few things. The problem arises with competitions like the Golden League (He was injured for Bislett). But we try to train so that I don’t get injured and I have a good team looking after me at the high performance centre at Sognsvann (Oslo).”

Martinsen revealed another possible reason why injuries tend not to intervene in Thorkildsen’s case: “First of all, we never do anything dangerous and, second, if he’s too tired or there’s something wrong we stop and come back the next day.”

Every year, Thorkildsen works on something different which is calculated to make him stronger and ensure that he always improves. This year he has been practising hurdles so as to improve his leg speed. “The last three steps are crucial before the block,” said Martinsen and he needs to improve his speed over the last three sideways steps. The hurdles helps us to improve not his sprinting speed, but his leg speed.”

They are also working on his strength so that he does not drop his left shoulder too much at release: “It needs to stay up so that the angle of release is improved and the javelin can go further,” said Martinsen. “That requires strength and Thorkildsen can bench-press 190kg; he is very strong across the chest. It’s important for launching the javelin.”

They also work a lot on running in the general conditioning period before Christmas. There are 150m sprints with a 45sec interval together with a lot of jumping and bounding exercises. He also does a lot of gymnastics and can do the crucifix on the rings, lower himself and raise his 90-kilos again. That is some achievement.

Activities that have been banned are roller-blading and skateboarding because of the risk of injury. When he was 17 Thorkildsen was doing backward somersaults on a ramp on rollerblades. Not the sort of activity conducive to a healthy life.

“He is good at trampolining too,” said Martinsen. “He can do forward somersaults with one and a half twists. Every year we try something different because he needs to be able to do things. He needs that feeling of learning something new all the time.”

When he is not training, Thorkildsen walks his dog, a pug, when he is relaxing. Though born in Kristiansand in the south he moved to Oslo in 2001 to be near Martinsen. He now lives on Vindern near the national stadium, Ullevaal, with his girlfriend, Christina Vukicevic, the sprint hurdler who won European U-23 gold in Kaunas this summer. 

Apart from outdoing Zelezny, there is also someone else he has outdone, his father. 35-years ago Tomm Thorkildsen was Berlin champion when he was studying physiotherapy here with a throw just a little under 70m. Today his son threw 20m further for the World title.  That’s another stat that is special to Thorkildsen.

Michael Butcher for the IAAF

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