Hammer winner Anita Wlodarczyk at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (© Getty Images)
Hammer world record-holder Anita Wlodarczyk made her eagerly-awaited 2019 debut in Nanjing last night, and by the lofty standards she has set over the past decade, it was a modest opening.
She didn’t even reach the 70-metre line until the third round with a 72.72m effort, before topping out with a 73.64m in round four to finish third on the night. For the Pole, a sub-par evening. But the four-time world champion was nonetheless very pleased.
“For the first competition of the season, it was very good, I’m quite happy,” she said.
Wlodarczyk underwent surgery on her right ankle to repair a torn ligament last October, and is delighted that she’s already back in competition.
“At that time I did not think that I would start the season in May, but I managed to get back to training quickly, and I'm healthy – that's the most important thing.”
She only resumed training about two months ago, but given her pedigree, the setback will likely be a minor one as she sets out to earn a fifth world title – a potential record haul in a women’s throwing event – in Doha later this year, and a third Olympic crown in Tokyo the next.
When you’ve accomplished what Wlodarczyk has, that’s all that’s left to do: collect more titles and break more records.
“My main motivation is to improve my records,” she admits. “I still have great motivation to train. I have won everything there is to win in the hammer throw but I want to fight for setting a new world record and winning a third Olympic gold medal. I still think I can break my world record.”
She said she’ll compete at least through the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, perhaps longer.
“That will be my fourth Olympic Games, but will I finish my sports career in Tokyo? I do not know that yet.”
The secret behind the domination
Now 33, Wlodarczyk has been the key fixture on the women’s hammer scene since 2009, when she fought her way to the world title in an epic battle with Germany’s Betty Heidler at the World Championships in Berlin. It took a world record – her first – to clinch that title. She’s broken it five times since, with the mark now standing at 82.98m, and pocketed just about every title available to her over the ensuing decade.
As a measure of Wlodarczyk’s dominance, Heidler sits second on the world all-time list with 79.42m – a mark that Wlodarczyk has bettered 31 times in competition. In women’s hammer-throwing history, there have been 75 throws beyond 78 metres. Wlodarczyk owns 70 of those marks.
Wlodarczyk gives the bulk of the credit for her success and longevity to coach Krzysztof Kaliszewski who has guided her for most of her career.
“My best form always came at the World Championships, the Olympic Games or the European Championships,” she said, underscoring Kaliszewski’s ability to prepare her for when it matters most. “If you can win gold medals for 10 years, it shows your professionalism and the hard work you do.”
The rest of that credit she gives to her ability to focus and compete even against herself when necessary.
“During my career I have learned that you have to focus only on yourself. I learned to overcome my weaknesses first and then to compete against myself – which in the beginning was not an easy task. If you go to a competition and have a few metres advantage over your friends, you must learn to find the motivation to fight with yourself. Sport taught me that fight.” Adjusting to and trusting training systems and knowing how to properly recover were also key, she added.
Even between 2014 and 2017, when she was building an unbeaten streak that would finally end after 42 consecutive victories, she didn’t allow pressure or expectations to get the best of her.
“The fact that I won everything for four years, I knew that one day the day would come when someone would beat me. This shows that I am a human, not a robot. But I did not feel any pressure and I still do not feel it. I focus on myself.”
Wlodarczyk shared the stage with Olympic legends Lasse Viren and Sebastian Coe at the opening of the IAAF Heritage Exhibition in Doha last month to present to the collection the first women’s hammer that sailed beyond 80 metres. It was a proud moment for Wlodarczyk, who in many observers’ eyes is one of the sport’s true active legends.
“I am very happy that I was able to take part in the opening of the Doha exhibition. It was nice to be among the legends of world athletics.”
She’ll be looking to add to that legend when she returns to Doha in less than four months’ time.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF