Variations in Throwing Style

By: Jeff Gorski Founder/Head Coach of KLUB KEIHAS

Ex-USATF Javelin Development Chair 



 
From the time I started throwing in the late '60's, I had always been taught to keep "everything lined up" to throw well; that is, hips, chest and javelin all point where the javelin should land (Fig. 1) - right down the middle of the sector. This was the ONLY way to throw the javelin, and any deviation from this straight line technique was just plain WRONG! Another hard and fast rule in throwing far was the need for "hip drive". The lower body preceded the upper body in the throw- a very sound concept in any throw, but how was it done in the javelin? Generations of American javelin throwers grew up trying to push with their leg to get the hips ahead, so they had to slow down to be able to push the hips ahead of the chest, then caught hell for doing what they were told to do! In an effort to "drive" the hips, we developed a bunch of sore elbowed arm throwers who sat on their back leg to feel the drive (Fig. 2) and lost all benefit of the run-up. Guys who could throw 210' from a stand could only throw 220' with a run-up, but the Finns and Russians and Germans, etc. threw 180' from a stand and 270' from a run-up - what's up with that!?!? After blowing up my elbow in college I figured there was something we were missing here in the States. The clue came in watching the 1976 Olympics and seeing Miklos Nemeth win with a new WR, and Hannu Siitonen take silver with a "new" technique "wrapping". They literally pulled the javelin out of line with the throw (Fig. 3). If throwing at 12:00 (middle of sector), the javelin was pointed at 2:00 when they started the throw. These were normal sized guys (6' tall, about 185 Ibs.) who were throwing 300' or more and they sure weren't worried about where the spear was pointed when they threw. Of course, this was not accepted by the U.S. "experts". I still have a copy of an article by one of them who chastised Nemeth for his poor alignment of hips and shoulders
All during the 20th century, our sport of throwing has gone through many changes in equipment, facilities, training and technique, some good, some not. While all of our events have seen some big changes over the years, none have been as dramatically affected as the javelin. Runways went from grass to clay to synthetic surfaces; the javelin itself went from wood to metal to carbon fibre to new implement since the old one flew to far. All of the athletes who throw have grown larger and more powerful over the years; great shot putters from the '30's look like today's decathletes. While American athletes and coaches have been generally open to change in the other throws (side hop to glide to spin in the shot, for example), there is still a general opinion in the javelin that any technique or throwing style that does not keep the javelin in line with the direction of the throw is incorrect. The very nature of the javelin as opposed to the other throws; an open ended run-up rather than a concrete circle and the greater variety of body types in successful throwers; leads to the more "personal expression" aspect of the javelin. A glide putter looks like most other gliders, hammer throwers vary the number of turns more than anything from one thrower to another, but javelin throwers all look different because the nature of the event allows for more different ways to reach the same goal- throwing far.
 
From the time I started throwing in the late '60's, I had always been taught to keep "everything lined up" to throw well; that is, hips, chest and javelin all point where the javelin should land (Fig. 1) - right down the middle of the sector. This was the ONLY way to throw the javelin, and any deviation from this straight line technique was just plain WRONG! Another hard and fast rule in throwing far was the need for "hip drive". The lower body preceded the upper body in the throw- a very sound concept in any throw, but how was it done in the javelin? Generations of American javelin throwers grew up trying to push with their leg to get the hips ahead, so they had to slow down to be able to push the hips ahead of the chest, then caught hell for doing what they were told to do! In an effort to "drive" the hips, we developed a bunch of sore elbowed arm throwers who sat on their back leg to feel the drive (Fig. 2) and lost all benefit of the run-up. Guys who could throw 210' from a stand could only throw 220' with a run-up, but the Finns and Russians and Germans, etc. threw 180' from a stand and 270' from a run-up - what's up with that!?!? After blowing up my elbow in college I figured there was something we were missing here in the States. The clue came in watching the 1976 Olympics and seeing Miklos Nemeth win with a new WR, and Hannu Siitonen take silver with a "new" technique "wrapping". They literally pulled the javelin out of line with the throw (Fig. 3). If throwing at 12:00 (middle of sector), the javelin was pointed at 2:00 when they started the throw. These were normal sized guys (6' tall, about 185 Ibs.) who were throwing 300' or more and they sure weren't worried about where the spear was pointed when they threw. Of course, this was not accepted by the U.S. "experts". I still have a copy of an article by one of them who chastised Nemeth for his poor alignment of hips and shoulders!
 
What was really important here was what these guys were doing with their legs to throw so far. What most got my attention was that they really didn't push or drive their hips. When I pushed or drove the back leg into the throw, I wore out the big toe side of my shoe, and films showed my back leg locked out from the push, toe on the ground, pushing. Yet these guys were DRAGGING their back leg into the throw (Fig. 4) - knee bent and dragging the outside edge of their shoe on the ground. This was where the big throws came from - not a push into the plant, but active dropping of the back leg out of the way so the hips flew into the plant and THAT jolt snapped the body into a fast delivery! The more twisted or discus-like position they threw from allowed more big muscle power early in the throw as well as a longer path to pull on the javelin. The throwers who didn't "wrap" also worked their legs in the same way on their big throws, so a common link was established - to throw far the body gets stretched by the jolt of a sudden stop (plant) and reacts to that stretch. Javelin and shoulder position with the direction of the throw was determined by how well the athlete could work his legs and stay ahead of them, the better it was done the further "back" they could start the throw.
 
After working on some new technical ideas that this information gave me I threw better and more consistently than ever before and the actual "throwing" of the javelin became secondary to getting into the plant quickly. There were still many coaches and athletes, all well intentioned, who told me how much farther I'd throw if I'd "line up" my throw and not wrap - who I'd thank for the help then go out and smoke them in the meet. When I started coaching I made this the core of throwing the javelin - get to the plant quick and let the jolt sling out the javelin. I gave the athlete the freedom to wrap as much or little as they wanted - I just told them to run away from the spear during the cross-overs and start the pull from as far back as possible when they hit the plant. There is an alignment point that is VERY important; keep the javelin and shoulders in line with each other until the plant starts the throw (Fig. 5), but don't worry if they don't point at the middle of the sector during the crossover or start of the delivery. There are throwers who show the extremes of style - Jan Zelezny has a pretty good wrap while Steve Backley has none and both are great throwers. There are many other throwers who fall in between the range these two athletes display. Some turn the hips more than the shoulders, others keep the hips more forward but turn the shoulders more. There is no absolute right or wrong here, only what is best for each individual thrower given his or her physical attributes. With younger throwers, it's good to stress that all effort should be directed where you want the javelin to go - downfield - and to keep the leg action moving forward and low. But don't get too caught up in where things are pointing unless it's causing major problems with flight or sector fouls. Spend time teaching or learning to "jolt and sling" or "plant and react" to get the thrower to be quick and elastic, not tight and forcing effort. Tom Pukstys says that on good throws, you hit the plant and the jav just "spits" out, like a cough. It's still important to throw "through the point", apply force along the shaft of the jav, not across it, and being quick and correct with the leg action helps this to happen. Stopping or slowing down to "drive" the hip causes all kinds of problems; arm too low and point too high, falling off to the left at delivery, bending at the waist, all of which cost you distance and cause elbow, shoulder and back injuries as well as poor distance. Master the concept of "plant and react" and apply the power along the shaft of the spear and you're on the way to a long and injury free career in the javelin.
Fig 1- coming to block w/ chest
            and hips open
Fig 2- "loading up" on the right
Fig 3- wrapping
Fig 4- "dragging" the right leg
Fig 5- shoulder axis and javelin alignment
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