Olympic Hammer Throw Rules

Details of this Track and Field Event

Tatyana Lysenko (center) earned the hammer throw gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Anita Wlodarczyk (left) earned the silver medal and Betty Heidler (right) the bronze.
Tatyana Lysenko (center) earned the hammer throw gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Anita Wlodarczyk (left) earned the silver medal and Betty Heidler (right) the bronze. Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

Hammer throwing, using actual sledgehammers, was popular for centuries in the British Isles. The modern version of the sport, employing a 16-pound steel ball at the end of a wire, joined the Olympics in 1900 on the men's side. The Olympics' egalitarian trend came to fruition in 2000, when women were permitted to fling a smaller version of the hammer.

Like the javelin, hammer throwing is not as common as shot putting or discus throwing among young competitors - for obvious safety reasons - so many aren't familiar with this sport. Indeed, if you've attended a local Highland Games event, the only hammer throwing you've seen probably involved men in kilts tossing real hammers.

Technique for Throwing the Hammer

As in the discus throw, hammer throwers spin to generate speed prior to the throw. The speed of the hammer just prior to release will largely determine the length of the throw, provided the competitor uses the correct release point.

Equipment for the Olympic Hammer Throw

The hammer is a three-part device that includes a metal ball, called the “head,” attached to a steel wire not longer than 121.5 centimeters (3 feet 11 3/4 inches), and a grip or “handle” on the end. The hammer is the only throwing competition in which athletes may wear gloves.

Men throw a 7.26-kilogram ball (16 pounds), with a diameter ranging between 110 to 130 millimeters (4.3 to 5.1 inches), while women throw a 4-kilogram version (8.8 pounds) with a diameter of 95 to 100 millimeters (3.7 to 3.9 inches).

Throwing Area and Rules 

The hammer is thrown from a circle with a 2.135-meter diameter (7 feet). Competitors may touch the inside of the circle's rim but cannot touch the top of the rim during the throw. The thrower cannot touch the ground outside the throwing circle during an attempt, nor can he/she leave the circle until the hammer hits the ground. The circle lies within an enclosure to ensure the safety of the bystanders.

The Hammer Throw Competition

Athletes in the hammer throw must achieve an Olympic qualifying distance and must qualify for their nation’s Olympic team. A maximum of three competitors per country may compete in the hammer throw. Twelve competitors qualify for the Olympic hammer throw final. The results from the qualification rounds do not carry over into the final.

As in all throwing events, the 12 finalists have three attempts apiece, then the top eight competitors receive three more attempts. The longest single throw during the final wins.

Olympic Hammer Throw History and Memorable Moments

Some believe that hammer throwing evolved from an Irish weight-throwing contest. So it's fitting that Ireland-bred throwers dominated the early Olympics. Irish-born Americans won the first five Olympic events, starting with three-time champion John Flanagan. Ireland's Pat O'Callaghan then won twice (1928-32). Eastern Europeans have dominated since 1948, but Japan's Koji Murofushi won Asia's first hammer throw gold in 2004. 

American Harold Connolly held the world record going into 1956 Olympics. In the fifth round Connolly, whose left arm was dysfunctional due to an accident at birth, topped a 20-year-old Olympic record with a winning throw measuring 207-3 (63.19 meters). Connolly also found time to pierce the Iron Curtain and romance Czechoslovakian discus gold medal winner Olga Fikotova. The two were eventually married, but divorced in 1973.

World record holder Gyula Zsivotzky of Hungary and Romuald Klim of the Soviet Union – who’d defeated Zsivotzky in nine consecutive competitions – staged a stirring duel in Mexico City. Klim took the lead with a 237-foot throw in the first round, but Zsivotzky responded with a toss measuring 237-9 in the second. Klim grabbed the lead back, throwing 238-11 in the third round, then increased the margin with a 240-5 toss in the fourth. Zsivotzky then took charge in the fifth with a gold medal-winning throw of 240-8 (73.36 meters), to set the Olympic mark. See more of the history of the hammer throw.