HAMMER-THROWING, a branch of field athletics which consists of hurling to the greatest possible distance an instrument with a heavy head and slender handle called the hammer. Throwing the hammer is in all probability of Keltic origin, as it has been popular in Ireland and Scotland for many centuries. The missile was, however, not a hammer, but the wheel of a chariot attached to a fixed axle, by which it was whirled round the head and cast for distance. Such a sport was undoubtedly cultivated in the old Irish games, a large stone being substituted for the wheel at the beginning of the Christian era. In the Scottish highlands the missile took the form of a smith's sledgehammer, and in this form the sport became popular in England in early days. Edward II. is said to have fostered it, and Henry VIII. is known to have been proficient. At the beginning of the 19th century two standard hammers were generally recognized in Scotland, the heavy hammer, weighing about 21 Ib, and the light hammer, weighing about 16 Ib. These were in general use until about 1885, although the light hammer gradually attained popularity at the expense of the heavy. Although originally an ordinary blacksmith's sledge with a handle about 3 ft. long, the form of the head was gradually modified until it acquired its present spherical shape, and the stiff wooden handle gave place to one of flexible whalebone about f in. in diameter. The Scottish style of throwing, which also obtained in America, was to stand on a mark, swing the hammer round the head several times and hurl it backwards over the shoulder, the length being measured from the mark made by the falling hammer to the nearest foot of the thrower, no run or follow being allowed. Such men as Donald Dinnie, G. Davidson and Kenneth McRae threw the light hammer over no ft., and Dinnie's record was 132 ft. 8 in., made, however, from a raised mount. Meanwhile the English Amateur Athletic Association had early fixed the weight of the hammer at 16 Ib, but the length of the handle and the run varied widely, the restrictions being few. Under these conditions S. S. Brown, of Oxford, made in 1873 a throw of 120 ft., which was considered extraordinary at the time. In 1875 the throw was made from a 7-ft. circle without run, head and handle of the missile weighing together exactly 16 ft. In 1887 the circle was enlarged to 9 ft., and in 1896 a handle of flexible metal was legalized. The throw was made after a few rapid revolutions of the body, which added an impetus that greatly added to the distance attained. It thus happened that the Scottish competitors at the English games, who clung to their standing style of throwing, were, although athletes of the very first class, repeatedly beaten; the result being that the Scottish association was forced to introduce the English rules. This was also the case in America, where the throw from the 7-ft. circle, any motions being allowed within it, was adopted in 1888, and still obtains. The Americans still further modified the handle, which now consists of steel wire with two skeleton loops for the hands, the wire being joined to the head by means of a ball-bearing swivel. Thus the greatest mechanical advantage, that of having the entire weight of the missile at the end, as well as the least friction, is obtained. In England the Amateur Athletic Association in 1908 enacted that " the head and handle may be of any size, shape and material, provided that the complete implement shall not be more than 4 ft. and its weight not less than 16 Ib. The competitor may assume any position he chooses, and use either one or both hands. All throws shall be made from a circle 7 ft. in diameter." The modern hammer-thrower, if right-handed, begins by placing the head on the ground at his right side. He then lifts and swings it round his head with increasing rapidity, his whole body finally revolving with outstretched arms twice, in some cases three times, as rapidly as possible, the hammer being released in the desired direction. During the " spinning," or revolving of the body, the athlete must be constantly, " ahead of the hammer," i.e. he must be drawing it after him with continually increased pressure up to the very moment of delivery. The muscles chiefly called into play are those of the shoulders, back and loins. The adoption of the hand-loops has given the thrower greater control over the hammer and has thus rendered the sport much less dangerous than it once was.
With a wooden handle the longest throw made in Great Britain from a 9-ft. circle was that of W. J. M. Barry in 1892, who won the championship in that year with 133 ft. 3 in. With the flexible handle, " unlimited run and follow " being permitted, the record was held in 1909 by M. J. McGrath with 175 ft. 8 in., made in 1907; a Scottish amateur, T. R. Nicholson, held the British record of 169 ft. 8 in. The world's record for throw from a 7-ft. circle was 172 ft. n in. by J. Flanagan in 1904 in America ; the British record from g-ft. circle being also held by Flanagan with a throw of 163 ft. I in. made in 1900. Flanagan's Olympic record (London, 1908) was 170 ft. 4} in.
See Athletics in the Badminton library; Athletes' Guide in Spalding's Athletic library; " Hammer-Throwing " in vol. xx. of Outing.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)