Former world and Olympic hammer champion Koji Murofushi has just won a mind-boggling 20th successive Japanese title. Earlier this year, South Africa's Chris Harmse racked up his 19th straight national title and Kiwi Phil Jensen his 20th (and 17th successive). SPIKES speaks to all three about their remarkable winning streaks.
Koji Murofushi, 39, 2004 Olympic and 2011 world champ. PB: 84.86m.
National titles: 20 (1995-2014). Japan, pop. 127m.
Chris Harmse, 40, 2010 Commonwealth champ. PB: 80.63m.
National titles: 20 (1995-2014). South Africa, pop. 51m.
Phil Jensen, 46, 2002 Commonwealth silver medallist. PB: 72.06m.
National titles: 20 (1988, 1995-96, 1998-2014). New Zealand, pop. 4m.
What does the winning streak mean to you?
KM: “It is incredible, although my philosophy is not to look back. It is more about what I can achieve now. But it is wonderful to both compete and win over such a long time.”
CH: “Every year it is getting bigger and it is more exciting for me. I'm very lucky when you think how vulnerable an athlete is to injury. It is a nice thing to strive for and it is a challenge to see how far I can go, especially at my age.”
PJ: “I have a personal sense of pride that I've been able to maintain enough physical conditioning – since winning my first national title 26 years ago. To have 20 national titles is such a nice number.
“It is similar to a cricketer who is on 99 runs and moves to a 100. They've only contributed one more run, but the special element to their achievement is the number.”
Any near misses when the sequence might have been broken?
KM: “I have taken big spells of time off in the past for recovery, like after the London Olympics, so that has been tough to come out and perform at nationals.”
Murofushi took some time off after winning Olympic bronze in London.
CH: “There have been a few. I remember once almost missing the start of a competition and having to put my clothes on in the car! I'd just been competing in Melbourne, Australia. I don't think I saw Australian daylight all the time I was there. I slept during the day to keep to South African time.
“I flew into Johannesburg and then had another two-hour flight to Cape Town followed by another hour drive to Stellenbosch. I struggled to keep the hammer in the sector that day, but somehow got away with it.”
PJ: “I've been pushed hard many times. I remember once tweaking my knee in the warm up. I'd had surgery on it a couple of years earlier, but didn't tell my opposition. I managed to squeak a win by about a foot.”
Had we imagined your streak after that first title, what would you have said?
KM: “I would have said I would have quit the sport much earlier [smiles].”
CH: “I was a small guy at school and I only started throwing the hammer at the age of 20 because I was too small for discus. I never thought I would go on to win 19 in a row. Winning that first Commonwealth title, I was so nervous. I don't think I've ever been as nervous in my life.”
Why can hammer throwers put together such long streaks?
KM: “This event is very unique and very technical. If you can run: you can run, or if you can jump: you can jump. Lots of things need to work to be able to throw the hammer far. Mastering a good technique is the difficult part but once you learn, even if you are not that physically strong, a good technique can help cover up any physical issues.”
CH: “It is a very technical event. This is what makes it so attractive to some, but also pushes other people away from it. Also as you get older you mature and have more patience. Hammer is not an event where you can really force it, so patience is a good quality.”
"You can't force it," says Harmse.
PJ: “There is some synergy in the movement, so because of this hammer throwers don't tend to get as injured or suffer those one-sided or unbalanced muscular injuries like, say, in the javelin. There is a grace about the movement which encourages the hammer thrower to keep going.”
When did the streak start to become important?
KM: “It is not that important for me, but maybe it is important for the Murofushi family. My father won 12 national hammer titles and 10 in a row. A big goal of mine was to also win 12, so any titles after that are extra credit. My sister [Yuka] also won 18 national titles in total in discus and hammer. My sister retired some time ago, so all the pressure of further Murofushi success sits on my shoulders.”
CH: “The streak started to have some relevance to me when I got to 13 [to match the record of a South African walker from the past]. I'm always proud to be the best in South Africa. I hope the guy that takes over from me takes that same pride and seriousness about winning the title.”
PJ: “Probably about four or five years ago when I won my 15th title. Dave Norris [triple jump] and Val Young [shot put] shared the record of most New Zealand titles in the same event with 18 and at 15. I thought: I’m not that far away.”
What still motivates you to compete?
KM: “Some people don’t feel any value in throwing a steel ball, but to me it is very valuable. Throwing for so long has allowed me to be mentally and physically strong through this tool and for that reason the hammer is a very special event for me.”
Who wouldn't enjoy throwing one of these bad boys around?
CH: “I love the sport a lot. When I do eventually stop there will be an emptiness inside me and a hole that can't be filled. When I started my business I took six months away from the track, but it was only when I went back into the circle I felt normal again.”
PJ: “I respect the national title. It is an important achievement to aspire to. I believe the title is something I have to earn. It is really important to set personal goals.”
How much longer can you compete for?
KM: “I'm taking it season by season by season. It depends on condition and if that allows me to make it to the next world championships in Beijing next year that will be great, but there is no guarantee.”
CH: “I know that it can't last forever, but as long as I'm still good enough to be competitive I will keep on doing it. Some days I wake up and feel 40. I still see myself fulfilling a role in South Africa as a hammer thrower because these younger guys need competition.
“I'd like to give the other guys a hard time and make them sweat to be a national champion. It would be great to help take the next guy on to the next level.”
PJ: “I haven't made a decision yet, I'd like to see if I can keep training. I haven't got any firm plans. Twenty [national titles] is a really neat goal. The question is; do I want to move on do something else?”