Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics Summer

Jim Steacy: proud hammer thrower

An application for the hammer throw event might read: 'Wanted: athletes willing to train hard in relative obscurity for no pay, little respect and with few competitive opportunities.'

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An application for the hammer throw event might read: "Wanted: athletes willing to train hard in relative obscurity for no pay, little respect and with few competitive opportunities."

Hammer throwers are the poor cousins of track and field. 

Jim Steacy of Lethbridge, Alta., knew this when he chose the hammer over the shot put and discus throw as his main event three years ago. Practicing due diligence has paid off, however, and he will have the last laugh.

On May 16 the 24-year-old threw the 16-pound ball and chain 79.13m to smash his own Canadian record and surpass the Olympic A+ standard. The University of Lethbridge kinesiology/psychology student is going to the Beijing Olympics.  At the time that made him the fourth-best thrower of the season but Steacy is not deluding himself into thinking that a medal is within his grasp. Rather, he has set what many would consider modest goals. 

"First and foremost my goal is to make the Olympic final," he concedes. "My average throw on the year, so far, is just over 76.50m. That’s 2m over my average last year and if I can come close to that it should put me in good shape to make the final." 

International experience

Steacy has international experience, winning the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro and finishing second at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, but so few competitors turn up for those events that qualifying rounds are unnecessary.

In the 2007 IAAF World Championships in Osaka he failed to make the 12-man final. The event is dominated by Eastern Europeans and one Japanese, Koji Murofushi, the 2004 Olympic champion. Qualifying rounds separate the greats from the pupils. 

Speaking of the qualifying round, Steacy says, "Having to be ready and at your best with only three attempts and usually early in the morning, that’s definitely a real challenge and something that needs to be learned from experience." 

He recalls his first world championships in Osaka last year where he sat in the athletes’ call room for 20 minutes before being led out for the qualifying rounds. While many competitors were visibly nervous he noticed that Murofushi was the picture of calm. 

"He was surprisingly calm, especially for being the medal favourite for your team in your home country," he says. "I couldn’t believe how calm he was. Seeing that relaxed me too. I thought, ‘We are all here doing something we love to do.’ That’s what it boils down to. Watching the best in the world compete that's pretty unique. Hopefully this time around I won’t be so caught up in what the others are doing." 

Steacy is OK with the lack of attention he receives in Canada.

"It’s all I have ever known," he laughs. 

Lives frugally

Athletics Canada provides him with carding money to the tune of $1,500 a month plus his university tuition. He has learned to live frugally. Video games and the occasional dinner or movie with family and friends fill the time when he is not training. He says his friends understand when he wants to call it an early night. 

Throwing the hammer requires a combination of speed, strength and coordination to spin around a throwing circle five and a half times then unleash the implement upward and across the infield. While shot putters are very strong and discus throwers are towering giants of 6’ 5" or more, massive size would be a detriment to the hammer thrower. 

Steacy says the 80m mark is the barrier hammer throwers seek, comparing it to the 10-second barrier in the 100m or 45 seconds in the 400m. When you have achieved it you are accepted in "the club" and invitations to some European throwing competitions will likely follow. 

With the Olympic standard now safely out of the way, Steacy needs only to place in the first four at the national championships.  

"Right now we are still in the very heavy training phase as far as throwing volume," he explains. "We do almost 60 throws a day. And I am in the gym twice a day.  As we get closer to the Olympic Games we will start dropping the volume down to 16-20 throws broken into two sessions." 

Within a week of the Olympic Games he will finally drop the weight training altogether in an effort to reach a peak. And he has another "key training element" in mind. 

"I will also force myself to take naps during the day and go to bed early at night to recover properly from training," he reveals. 

If he makes his goal of reaching the Olympic final he knows that he will be throwing in front of a massive crowd. The Beijing Bird’s Nest stadium holds 91,000 spectators. That will be quite a contrast to the venues in Lethbridge, Montana and Utah where he has thrown this season. But the experience could lead him to a magical 80m+ throw. That’s all part of Jim Steacy’s long-term plans. 

"My goal is to eventually get a medal at the world championships or Olympic Games," he declares. "Honestly, I really believe I have a chance at a medal in London in 2012. Like you said, I am only 24, I have only been in the sport nine years and a lot of the guys I am throwing against have been throwing since they were 13 that’s almost 15 or 20 years. Hopefully, I am just scratching the surface."  

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