Feature30 Jan 2024

Denied by 6cm, Pars donates Daegu 2011 throwing glove to the MOWA


Krisztian Pars at the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu (© AFP / Getty Images)

When Krisztian Pars stepped up to take his final throw in the men’s hammer at the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu, he was already assured of a place on the podium.

A fourth round effort of 79.97m had put the Hungarian in second place in the final, with only himself and the leader, the resurgent Koji Murofushi, left to throw.

Murofushi, the Olympic champion in Athens back in 2004, held pole position with 81.24m and the former Japanese golden boy looked to have regained his global Midas touch a month short of his 38th birthday.

“Pars, the only one who can deny Murofushi,” said Tim Hutchings in the Eurosport commentary box as the one-time teenage prodigy unwound in the circle – his left hand clutching the handle with the throwing glove he has kindly donated to the Museum of World Athletics.

Pars punched his right first in the air after unleashing a mighty effort.  “It’s very big,” said Hutchings. “I think he’s done enough.”

The glove Krisztian Pars wore in Daegu

The glove Krisztian Pars wore in Daegu (© MOWA)

In the front row of the stand, next to the perimeter fence, Pars’ coach, Zsolt Nemeth, started to raise his arms but then checked his instinctive act of celebration.

His caution was justified. In the final at the 1999 World Championships in Seville, Nemeth himself had uncorked a last round “special”, a throw of 79.05m that elevated him from sixth to the runner-up spot, 1.19m behind Germany’s Karsten Kobs.

In Daegu 12 years later, Nemeth’s charge also ended up with the silver medal. 

“It’s not quite enough,” said Hutchings as Pars’ distance flashed up, 81.88m. “I thought he’d gone beyond the gold line. Murofushi is safe by 6cm.”

The weight of history

It was different in the Olympic final in London a year later.

If the hand of Hungarian track and field history weighed heavily on Pars’ shoulder, it didn’t show. The seasoned campaigner from the hammer stronghold of Szombathely in western Hungary played the coolest hand of all. 

At the age of 30 – 13 years after winning the world U18 title – Pars upheld the magnificent Magyar tradition in the Olympic men’s hammer competition, following in the gold medal winning footsteps of Imre Nemeth (1948), Jozsef Czermak (1952), Gyula Zsivotsky (1968) and Balazs Kiss (1996).

That made five different Olympic champions in the event, a figure that only the historical giants of the United States and the Soviet Union can equal.

US throwers have won seven golds in the men’s hammer but three of those were claimed by one man, John Flanagan, the Irish-born New York policeman who took the first three titles, in 1900,1904 and 1908. 

The Soviet Union won six, two of them courtesy of Yuriy Sedykh, and those break down into three by Russians, two by Belarusians and one by a Ukrainian.

Pars’ hopes of helping his country continue to punch well above their weight looked promising when he led the qualifiers, throwing 79.37m, and in the final he led from the opening round.

Krisztian Pars competes at the London 2012 Olympic Games

Krisztian Pars competes at the London 2012 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)

His first throw came directly after defending champion Primoz Kozmus set out his stall with an opener of 78.97m. 

In Beijing four years previously, the Slovenian had entered the history books as his country’s first ever Olympic gold medallist. 

He emerged from temporary retirement in 2010 intent on becoming the fourth man to retain an Olympic hammer title after Flanagan, Ireland’s Pat O’Callaghan, the champion in 1928 and 1932, and Sedykh, the Russian colossus of the event who struck gold in Montreal in 1976 and on home ground in Moscow in 1980, and whose world record mark of 88.74m has stood intact since 1986.

Pars relieved Kozmus of the lead at London 2012, opening with 79.14m, and surprised himself in holding on to it with a third round effort of 80.59m.

After three no-throws, Kozmus rallied with an improvement to 79.36m in round five but when his final effort hit the London turf at 78.59m, Pars finally had a senior global gold in his possession.

“I didn’t think that only 80.59m would win,” he confessed. “I couldn’t believe no one else could throw over 80m. 

“I wanted to get well over 80m myself. The plan was to get 81m to 82m with the first throw and to see what everyone else could do after that.

“I don’t know if it was down to nerves, but no-one could strike a big blow against me. It was a big surprise, I have to admit.

“But it’s a wonderful feeling to be Olympic champion. It’s what I dreamed about when I started as a boy. Everywhere I looked in the crowd, I could see Hungarians celebrating.”

“This is for Uncle Pali”

One Hungarian had more reason than most to celebrate.

Until three years previously, Pars had been coached by Pal Nemeth, the hammer guru whose throwing school in Szombathely developed into a prestigious Accredited Training Centre recognised by the world governing body.

Nemeth guided local boy Tibor Gecsek to European gold at the Nep Stadion in Budapest in 1998, and to World Championships bronzes in 1993 and 1995. He also steered his own son, Zsolt, to that world silver in Seville in 1999, the same year he coached Pars to world U18 gold in Bydgoszcz.

When Pal died of a heart attack in 2009, Zsolt Nemeth took over as Pars’ guiding light.

In the immediate aftermath of his Olympic victory, Pars ran to embrace Zsolt, carrying a framed photograph of Pal.

“I’m sorry that Uncle Pali, couldn’t be here to see this,” he told the Hungarian press. “This is for him.”

Under Nemeth senior, Pars was a world U20 record-breaker, throwing 81.35m with a 6kg implement in 2001, as well as a world U18 champion. 

At senior level, his progress on the global stage was steady: sixth, fifth and fourth respectively at the World Championships of 2005, 2007 and 2009; fourth in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic finals.

Krisztian Pars in action in Athens

Krisztian Pars in action in Athens (© Getty Images)

At London 2012, however, Pars could party like it was 1999. 

He wasn’t the only winner from the World U18 Championships of 13 years previously to claim gold in the English capital, though Michael Frater did have help from Usain Bolt and the rest of his Jamaican teammates in the final of the 4x100m.

At continental level, Pars won European titles in Helsinki in 2012 and in Zurich in 2014. In the final in the Letzigrund he landed his lifetime best throw, 82.69m.

In between those successes, he also earned a second world silver, in Moscow in 2012 – although that came as much as a disappointment as the consolation prize in Daegu.

Unbeaten in 23 competitions since June 2012, Pars started the final as clear favourite. His best of 80.30m was trumped by Pole Pawel Fajdek’s 81.79m.

Simon Turnbull for World Athletics Heritage

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