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An Illustrated History of the Hammer Throw

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The early days of the hammer throw
An Illustrated History of the Hammer Throw

John Flanagan

IOC Olympic Museum/Allsport/Getty Images
Like the other throwing sports, hammer throwing has a long history. Competitive hammer throwing dates back to at least the ancient Irish Tailteann Games (circa 1800 B.C.), where competitors threw a weight attached to a rope. Other Tailteann Games descriptions speak of competitors throwing a chariot wheel gripped by its axle, or a large rock attached to the end of a wooden handle. Eventually, British contests included genuine hammer throws. A 16th Century drawing shows King Henry VIII throwing a blacksmith’s sledgehammer. Over the next few centuries the hammer returned to its roots and became a metal ball attached to a wire with a handle grip on one end. It became an Olympic event in 1900.

The drawing, above, from the 1908 Olympics depicts American hammer throw champion John Flanagan, who won the first three modern Olympic hammer events in 1900-08. Irish-Americans, including Flanagan, Matt McGrath, Patrick Ryan and Fred Tootell, won every Olympic hammer throw event through 1924.

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