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Spear of destiny

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Tom Fordyce | 13:43 UK time, Friday, 15 May 2009

Session Three of training for my decathlon-in-an-hour, and suddenly we've gone caveman.

This is a welcome move. There are insufficient opportunities for modern urban man to access his inner hairy ancestor, and the prospect of throwing a spear around a field had quickened the pulse all week.

Not that I've got much pedigree in the javelin. There was a brief lesson at school at the age of 12, but that mainly concerned how to carry one to the playing-fields without jabbing the bloke in front or behind you. Beyond that, it comes down to some monkeying around with garden canes in the long hot summer of '91 and the occasional launching of driftwood back into the sea on subsequent beach holidays.

Indeed, javelin once got me into considerable trouble at a Christmas dinner, when guests were taking it in turns to read out the jokes from inside their crackers.

"What do you call a bird that can lift heavy weights?" asked one old boy. I jumped to my feet, misjudging both the mood and the number of mulled wines I'd stuck away. "Fatima Whitbread!" I shouted. There had been a horrified silence before the old boy piped up again, his voice quavering with fury. "No," he had said. "The answer is 'a crane'."


On the plus side, I have thrown a lot of cricket balls in my life. Sadly, it turns out that the technique is almost entirely different.

Coach Ian Grant begins by showing me the two alternative types of grip. The first, which involves wrapping your index finger tightly around the top of the grip, feels unnatural and uncomfortable. The second hooks the javelin into the groove between first and second fingers. Not only does it instantly sit more easily, but it also goes by the pleasing name of 'The Claw'. The decision is an easy one.

The first surprise is how long a javelin is - far in excess of my height. The second is how weird it feels to hold it out in the correct position - tip alongside head, arm not quite locked out, elbow high and wrist in line with forearm.

Your arm wants to drop, your wrist to fall out to the side, your front arm fall across your body rather than staying out in front with fingers pointing forward and thumb towards the ground.

Like the fine coach that he is, Ian keeps things simple. No run-up at first, just a simple stance with front foot perpendicular to the back, front leg strong and straight.

"Paint the ceiling," he says, describing how the throwing hand has to come through long and straight, palm upwards, staying in contact with the javelin for as long as possible.

That first effort flops out to 10 metres. Backleyesque it is not. My action is all arm, and not even a fast one like Jan Zelezny's. I need to snap my hips round, store the power in my chest, back and shoulders.

One of the problems is the disconcerting presence of the spear's glistening point in the corner of my vision. I keep thinking that the slightest change of angle in my wrist will see me ram the javelin through my right eye socket and out of my left ear.

Fatima, I owe you an apology. You were strong. I am weak.

We go again, this time with a gentle three-step approach. I try to leave the arm behind, drag it all the way through and keep the elbow high.

This time something clicks. The javelin pings out to 16m. I pluck it from the turf and fling again, marching down the length of the infield like an angry Athenian.

Some throws flop down tail-first as I inadvertently release them like a leg-break. Others go spinning sideways as the below-the-shoulder cricket throw sneaks back into the action.

When it comes out properly, there's no mistaking the feeling. It's like hitting a sweet golf shot. It feels effortless, the timing rhythmical, the movement unhurried.

My final throw, still off three steps, flies out to 20m. It feels delightful. Admittedly it's not a distance to shout about. It's not even a distance to boast to Kelly Sotherton about, but it's a start, and at least double the distance I ever got a garden cane to fly.

It's also enormous fun. The caveman in me clearly lurks mere millimetres below the surface. "Why don't people throw spears around more often?" I find myself wondering, before slowly coming to the realisation that practising my new skill could be problematic.

I live in a crowded built-up area. I don't own a javelin. I don't even live near a park. Anyone got a cane and a garden I can borrow?

I'll need to throw around 33m on the big day to hit the 400-points-per-event target. By then I'll have had maybe five more training sessions, plus a full-length run-up to factor in.

It's got to be possible. Hasn't it?


  • Comment number 1.

    I want to throw a javelin.

  • Comment number 2.

    when i was at school i was asked to participate in the javelin, in addition to two or three other events that i had signed up for as we had no representative from our school. I had never touched a javelin before but feeling brave i agreed to throw, my first two were disallowed as the javelin turned mid air and landed the tail end first

    i had managed to get some good distance though and so on my final attempt i managed to throw a decent distance, it landed point first and i was through to the next round, or so i thought, one of the others school sports coach complained to the judges that i had thrown the javelin illegaly....

    upon owning up to deliberately throwing the javelin tail first i admitted my own cheating and got chucked out of the event.

    didnt understand what was wrong with it myself.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Tf, 30 plus metres is doable...33 ummm..,need yer man grant to show you some magic,or ask dt for 1/2 hour at battersea, get over cold i hope, and press on..,

    as we both know you'll be broken , due to the effort, but hey it's a challenge right?...

    Fearless or stupid...hey the tattoo will rock..,trust the strength conditioning is moving on, as you have the stamina,

    Stay uninjured.


  • Comment number 5.

    I really want to try a decathlon now...

  • Comment number 6.

    Boring. I'm going to the shops in a few minutes. Shall I write about that?

  • Comment number 7.

    I was always good at throwing the javelin at school. Joined a club and started training properly. Unfortuantely I had to leave due to work commitments and really missed it.

    Now my evenings are free again so seriously considering taking it up again.

    33m is definately doable. Should I start training again, I'd like to be aiming towards 50. Would be hard graft, but it's all about pushing yourself :-)

    Good luck with your training

  • Comment number 8.

    33 meters is a very tough target for a beginner. Javelin is very technical, much more so than any of the other events except pole vault.
    There's about a dozen things you have to remember to do during a throw, putting them all together is very difficult.
    Work your triceps hard and you might have a chance, also invest in a practice ball and repeated ly throw it at a wall for half an our a day.

  • Comment number 9.

    Take it easy on the run, you'll need no more than 5 steps to get 35m-40m. You probably have this already, but it helps to end every session with a bit of throwing, shot, discus or javelin. If you don't have a javelin, a softball against a wall or a nerfball to a mate will do some bit - just picture it being a javelin and throw it as though it was.

  • Comment number 10.

    20m from 3 steps? looking at the muscles on your arms, even with the wrong stance and inefficient leg positions i would have been expecting you to be throwing 30m.

    session one with me would have been a quick introduction to the javelin... got you warm and then let you show ME how to throw. there is no point in me, as a javelin coach, showing you how to do it when unknown to me you may have a style which could break world records and me putting you in a position i want you to be in is nothing short of restictive to you thus rendering you useless.

    after 5 or 6 throws i would then begin to manipulate your throwing style to iron out obvious issues and avoiding injury.

    from the picture above you are very open on the left. the left side should be held as stiff as possible thus creating a block. any momentum then goes up over the block as you throw your arm forwards.

    my advice is keep the left arm/side closed off for as long as possible and then don't just drop the left arm to the side. pull the left arm tight into your side, fist clenched as if you are elbowing someone in the gut behind you.

  • Comment number 11.

    20 m off 3 paces in your first session is pretty good. Well done. But please stop the irritating 400 pts per event required simple maths statement. A decathlon is not like that. For example, my last decathlon was 4800 pts and I didn't even score 300 pts in one event and under 400 in another 3 events. At a meet last year one 6057 pts total included a 469 and 488 (well below the 600 pts per event average simple maths says is necessary).

    There is no reason why you shouldn't throw 30 m in the competition; just stop fretting that it won't be 400 pts. Your 1500m will be 600 pts plus, even at the end of a very busy, and tiring hour.

  • Comment number 12.

    sounds like it is going well so far!

    keep up the good work and I'm sure you have been told - Pull through the point! with a decent and fast arm - for an athletic guy 33m is definitely do-able

    good luck with the Jav training.

  • Comment number 13.

    nobody cares about the javelin,nobody cares what you say about the javelin,nobody cares about your stupid article about the javelin,nobody cares how far you throw the javelin,nobody cares about your existence,you mean absolutely nothing,you are of no consequence to my or anybody elses life,you are a waste of space,your article is a waste of space,utterly futile,nonsense excrement

  • Comment number 14.

    kjh777 - you're absolutely right. I'm going to get that sesh with Daley sorted out pronto.

    Jimsan - get involved. Sure the magic is still there.

    Harpy and Decaflop - good advice. I'll get on it.

    JavelinSam - big thanks for the tips.

    nmfmultisvet - you're absolutely right about the 400 points thing. Sure I'll go under that in some and make up the shortfall in others.

    jaysmith55 - you're not my ex-girlfriend, are you?

  • Comment number 15.

    Good to see you,re spending our license fee well Tom on this total excretia,keep it up mate

  • Comment number 16.

    Well Tom, I thoroughly enjoy your posts.

    It seems that some people don't understand that you guys are here to entertain and inform (indeed that's what you're doing) and that's what I pay my license fee for.

    It makes me want to take up the Decathlon challenge myself. Although it's been a while since I did a competetive 1500...


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