The hammer throw is an athletic event that conforms with the traditional ethic of the Olympic Games: higher, faster, stronger. The basic object of the event is to toss a 16-lb (5 kg) ball-shaped weight, thrown with a handle attached by a 4-ft (1.2 m) long chain, as far as one can, while the thrower remains within a ring marked on the ground. As with many Olympic sports, hammer throw athletes toil in virtual anonymity in the four-year intervals between games.
The hammer throw derives its name from an ancient throwing sport in which an actual hammer, fitted with an additional weight, was the object tossed. The modern hammer implement evolved to its current standard prior to the inclusion of the hammer throw as an Olympic event in 1900. Women were not permitted to participate in sanctioned international competitions until 1995. The hammer throw became a full-fledged Olympic event in the year 2000.
The hammer throw is a simple event that requires a more sophisticated combination of brute force, flexibility, agility, and sure footwork. There is no question that great muscular strength is essential to success in the hammer throw; muscle alone, however, will not take a competitor to the pinnacle of this sport. The hammer is thrown by the athlete first spinning his or her body while holding the hammer handle, within the throwing circle, to build up hammer speed. The athlete maintains a low body position as he or she spins with the hammer, with knees bent, making either three or four turns within the circle. Force and speed accelerate the hammer. As the hammer is a fixed mass, ignoring the effects of wind, the athlete's ability to accelerate the hammer and angle of release determine subsequent the distance of the throw.
The athlete delivers the hammer by making an explosive movement with the legs, arms, and trunk coordinated in one action, to send the hammer as far as possible. The athlete may not touch any part of the field outside of the throwing circle until the hammer has landed, or the throw is disqualified.
Competitors of the former Eastern Bloc countries dominated this sport from the period starting at the end of World War II. The hammer throw is a sport that attracted scrutiny as one highly attractive to athletes that would be inclined to use performance-enhancing anabolic steroids; the top results ever recorded in this discipline were achieved in the early 1980s, when steroid testing was far less sophisticated.