Joe Kovacs after unleashing his winning throw at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 (© Getty Images)
Our end-of-year reviews continue with a look back at 2019’s key action in the throws.
Men’s shot put
'Event of the year'
That title certainly belongs to the men’s shot put which, after progressing markedly in the past four years, formally exploded in 2020. The World Championships provided the perfect illustration: Darlan Romani threw 22.53m – a mark that would have meant gold in all previous international championships ever held – but it didn’t even get him on to the podium in Doha.
The battle for the medals was also epic with Tom Walsh getting out to 22.90m – just 22cm off the 29-year-old World record – in the first round, only to be relegated to bronze in the last round where Joe Kovacs hit 22.91m and Ryan Crouser 22.90m, the latter taking silver with a better second mark.
The world record survived but must be living on borrowed time.
Behind this surge at the very top there has been an astonishing rise in the overall standard in the event. In the 12 global championships from 2000-2015 cut-offs were fairly stable: To qualify for the final (top-12) it had taken on average 20.02m and to get a medal 21.18m. Four years ago in Beijing the numbers were 19.94m/21.69m, two years ago in London 20.55m/21.46m and now in Doha 20.92m/22.90m.
So 21 metres has surpassed 20 metres as the 'world class' benchmark. This because the world of shot putting has expanded from its traditional 'reserved for USA/Europe' to become global: since 2016 no fewer than 19 different nations have had athletes with throws beyond 21 metres. How come this sudden 'globalisation' of the event? The answer is probably YouTube, which has made technical knowledge so readily available for those athletes coming from nations without a shot put tradition.
Women’s shot put
Chinese Gong Lijiao continued at the top of the women’s shot put this season, recording a near clean sheet for 2019. The 30-year-old won 13 out of 14 finals during the season - her only loss served by American Chase Ealey at the Shanghai Diamond League meeting in May, 19.58m to 19.44m.
Gong, who won her second straight world title in Doha, has made the final in every global championships since 2007 and has won eight medals outdoors. Her win in Doha was not a clear one, however, but it wasn’t Ealey who challenged her, but rather 27-year-old Danniel Thomas-Dodd who made her first major final in London two years ago, finishing fourth and missing a medal by just 23centimetres.
The Jamaican came to Doha having set a 19.55m national record to win the Pan-American Games title in August. She was really close to the win too, with her fifth throw landing around 20 metres, well beyond Gong’s best throw of 19.55, but it was ruled a foul. She produced a 19.47m effort in the last round to narrowly miss the title.
2015 world champion Christina Schwanitz returned to the medal stand, winning the bronze with 19.17m. Behind the German, Maggie Ewen of the US, who held the bronze medal position for a short while after her fifth throw, recorded her best ever finish in fourth. Countrywoman Ealey faded to seventh in her breakthrough season with a total of ten competitions over 19 metres.
Daniel Ståhl has been the statistical world leader every year since 2016 but the championship gold confirming the No 1 status had eluded him until this year. He was nonetheless close, missing by just two centimetres at the 2017 World Championships and by 23cm at the 2018 European Championships.
However, in 2019 Ståhl truly dominated the event in all aspects, displaying a remarkable consistency from the Doha Diamond League in early May all the way to the Doha Worlds in late September. His season opener was astonishing: six legal throws crammed betweeen 69.50m and 70.56m on a day when no one else managed to get beyond 67 metres.
Arguably the greatest series ever (considering the competition and the practically windless conditions in Khalifa Stadium) and his overall seasonal record could also be regarded as the best ever: three meets over 70 metres, six more over 69 metres, four more over 68 metres and two more over 67. And all those competitions were proper meets - championships or international meets - where he faced at least one of the Doha finalists on each occasion.
With reigning World and European champion Andrius Gudzius hampered by injury, Ståhl’s main rival was Jamaica’s Fedrick Dacres. They met 10 times with Ståhl prevailing 8-2. The highlight encounter was in Rabat where Ståhl improved the Diamond League record to 69.94m only to be upstaged by Dacres who threw 70.78m.
But from then on it was emphatically ”advantage Ståhl”. The Swede prevailed in each of their six remaining encounters leading in to the World Championships with an average winning margin of 2.50m. Ståhl was thus the overwhelming favourite coming into Doha and that mental pressure took much of the smoothness out of his technique.
But despite that he still managed to ”power out” the three longest throws in the final to earn that coveted first major gold medal – the definitive confirmation of his No 1 status. And no one who witnessed his celebratory sprint rush afterwards could miss how much that win meant to him.
The women’s discus was under Cuban command in 2019 with the duo of Yaimé Perez and Denia Caballero taking gold and silver in Doha. The pair both reached 69 metres twice during the season and were clearly the most consistent throwers of 2019. The reigning world and Olympic champion Sandra Perkovic was not able to challenge them this season, winning only three out of her nine finals.
The 28-year-old Pérez was in steady form from the start winning 13 out of her 18 competitions. There was only one glitch, in Paris in August, where she was only ninth, but in her other 17 meets finished in the top two. A 69.39m world lead in Sotteville, France, paved the way for a good World Championships, where she took the lead with a solid 68.10m opening effort and only lost the pole position for a short while in round four before answering with the 69.17m winner with her fifth attempt.
For Perez it was also her first medal, after fourth place finishes in the previous two World Championships. Caballero, 29, had a steady season too. She produced her best of 69.20m in Huelva in June and in Doha she held a lead for one round, reaching her best in the competition, 68.44m, in round four. This was Caballero’s second medal after her world title in 2015.
Perkovic, 29, did win another medal - bronze with a 66.72 effort - but never found her groove. Her best throw of the season, 68.58m, came in Varaždin at the European Team Championships Second League in August.
Chinese athletes took places four and five in Doha with Chen Yang (fourth 63.38m) and Feng Bin (fifth 62.48m) both reaching their best placings at major championships.
Last year Pawel Fajdek lost the European title to Polish compatriot Wojciech Nowicki. But this year Fajdek was back on top taking his fourth straight world title after completely dominating the final where the worst of his four legal throws would have won him the gold with a margin of over one metre.
Even though Nowicki tops the year lists Fajdek was also superior on the overall seasonal record, prevailing 8-3 in head-to-head and by averaging 80.01m in 14 competitions! In Doha Nowicki was distanced by almost three meters and had to be content with the bronze medal behind Fajdek and Quentin Bigot who produced his longest throw of the year with 78.19m.
Actually Nowicki got to share the third podium position with Bence Halász whose first round 78.18m was retroactively found to be irregular but still was left standing in the official results by the Jury of Appeal. So, two bronze medallists with different marks.
The year also saw a truly auspicious debut on the senior stage by 18-year-old Mykhaylo Kokhan of Ukraine who was just 30 cm behind bronze medallist Nowicki in Doha. It usually takes a few years to ”grew into” the senior implements for teenage prodigies but Kokhan – who took the World U18 title at age 16 and silver at the World U20’s at age 17 – obviously is an exception to that rule.
US hammer throwers had entered World Championships as favourites before, but were never able to deliver until Doha. This time an American trio also made up the top three in the world, with DeAnna Price a clear world leader after her 78.24m national record at the US Championships in Des Moines in July. While Brooke Andersen (76.75m in 2019) did not make the final and Gwen Berry (76.46m in 2019) did not get a result in the final, Price, who qualified as the top athlete to the final with her first throw, was also in command position in the final from the start.
The 26-year-old, whose best finish at a major championships before Doha was eighth at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, began with a 76.87m throw and lead the competition from the opening round. Her best of 77.54m came in the third round and while Pole Joanna Fiodorow set a personal best 76.35m with her first throw, she was never really close to challenging the American for the win. This was the first major medal for the Pole who placed sixth in 2017 and had won European bronze in 2014 and 2018.
For a long time it seemed like there was going to be a surprise bronze medallist with Moldovan Zalina Petrivskaya holding on to third place with 74.33m, close to her 74.70m national record from June. But despite starting slowly, the 2017 World Championships silver medallist Wang Zheng moved into bronze medal position in round five with her throw landing at 74.76m. The 31-year-old Chinese also won the bronze in Moscow six years ago.
This event has been dominated by Germans in recent years: of the 19 marks at 90 metres or better in 2016-2018 all but one belong to the trio of Thomas Röhler, Johannes Vetter and Andreas Hofmann. During those three years Röhler also won the Olympic and European titles and Vetter the world title.
However, in 2019 none managed to reach consistency at the same high level, challenged by Magnus Kirt and Cheng Chao-Tsun. Kirt, a 29-year-old late bloomer who didn’t surpass 80 metres until age 25, even compiled the outstanding seasonal record with no less than 11 meets beyond 87 metres. Hofmann was a distant second with six.
In the five-meet Diamond League series, the trio of Hofmann, Cheng and Kirt combined to take four wins, four runnber-up finishes, three third and two fourth places. The only victory they missed was in Oslo where Vetter, who competed sparingly due to injury, triumphed. But in the Diamond League final the first three were Kirt, Cheng and Hofmann.
However, in the World Championships that trio had to be content with second, 10th and 20th places as Grenada’s Anderson Peters, not yet 22 and lacking ”tour experience”, rose to the occasion. Peters was by far best at handling the tough challenge of having no rest day between qualification and final.
While 10 out of 12 finalists lost a couple of metres or more compared to their marks in the qualification, the smooth technician Peters improved by 1.55m to 86.89m. And it was in no way whatsoever a ”one hit wonder” win as his second best throw would have also sufficed to take the gold.
It was really tight at the top of women’s javelin this season with no athletes getting over 68 metres, but with four over 67. The top woman early in the season was Lu Huihui, who had won world silver and bronze in 2015 and 2017. The 30-year-old Chinese set three Asian records during the season: 67.72m in April, 67.83m in July and 67.98m in August.
Lu was also the top thrower in the Doha qualification with 67.27m, but the final produced modest results. Lu did not find her best form and until the last round it was countrywoman Liu Shiying who lead the competition after a 65.88m season’s best. Australian Kelsey Barber had other ideas though and unleashed a 66.56m final throw to win the gold, her first major medal. It was not a huge surprise though as the 28-year-old had bettered her personal best to 67.70m in July.
Lu only managed 65.49m, but enough for the bronze. Just 28cm behind the Chinese was the 2018 European champion Christin Hussong from Germany, her best placing at a major championships. The 2016 European champion Tatsiana Khaladovich from Belarus, a 67.22m thrower this season, threw 62.54m for sixth and has not won a major medal. She has thrown 66 metres or better since 2016.
Mirko Jalava (women’s events) and A Lennart Julin (men’s events) for World Athletics