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Shot to pieces

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Tom Fordyce | 14:40 UK time, Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Watching top sportsmen in action is usually hugely impressive, but it can also give you a dangerously deluded notion of how easy it is to do what they've just pulled off.

Many is the club cricketer who has worn a ball on the chops after having a pop at a KP switch-hit in the nets, while anyone who's ever attempted a Tom Daley from atop a high board will have a particularly keen appreciation of just how solid a liquid like water can feel.

It's something I have time to muse on as I watch Welsh decathlete David Guest ping his 16lb shot put effortlessly into the distance, just before mine flops out of my hand and narrowly misses crushing my toes.

Tom Fordyce tries the shot put

There is something rather obvious that strikes you when you first try the shot: it is very, very heavy indeed.

You know it's got to be pretty weighty. It's solid metal, for starters. What you don't expect is that it'll actually be hard to pick up, and take considerable effort to hold in one hand.

7.26kg. That's the equivalent of 16 bags of sugar, compressed into something the size of a softball.

You know you're meant to wedge it into your neck, your right elbow high, but gravity has other ideas. Possibly the only way you could get it to stay there comfortably would be to construct a small cantilevered shelf just above your shoulder, but the IAAF's rule book has already thought of that one.

Still, let's look on the bright side. With just six weeks to go until my one-hour decathlon, and a strained hamstring having cost me a month of training, I am at least back in action.

Running is still out; hurdling as yet a distant dream, but there is still work a man can do on a leg and a half - particularly when the community of multi-eventers comes to your rescue.

David and his coach and father, Mike, are making final preparations for the European Junior Championships in Serbia when they offer a 90-minute window down at the National Indoor Athletics Centre in Cardiff.

I'll confess to some dark nights of the soul since the hamstring went during the session with Dean Macey last month. At times, when the injury has steadfastly refused to improve and the tortuous tedium of aqua-jogging has shown no sign of relenting, I'd even started to wonder if I shouldn't just back out quietly now - admit that my body can't cope with the rigours of a decathlon, try to get myself gently back into fitness for a less demanding task, like walking barefoot across the Sahara or lending Sisyphus a hand.

Mike Guest coaches

David and Mike's generosity and enthusiasm came along just in time. When your mind is all self-doubt and doom, there's nothing like some heavy metal to shake the misery away.

Mike does the instruction, David the demos. Point your feet away towards the back of the throwing circle, fix the shot into the neck, bend low over your back leg, rotate the hips and explode up with your chest with a Neanderthal grunt, pushing the shot up and away. Or straight down, in my case.

There's even time for some high jump drills, flipping backwards over the bar from a box in a way that somehow leaves injuries untouched. It's heartening stuff, even if it isn't quite as impressive as this clip of Stefan Holm doing the same thing.

Backwards jumping high jump drills

Proper shot putters tend to choose between the glide and the spin techniques. That anything that involves such weight can be described in such graceful terms remains a mystery to me. Two days later I try again and manage 7.75m. For a moment I'm encouraged - this was off a simple push, with no gliding, spinning or even stepping - and decide to look up the current world record, just to see how I'm getting on.

23.12m. Thank you, Randy Barnes. My effort is the rough equivalent of running 28 seconds for the 100m.

Randy B, Ulf Timmerman, Reese Hoffa, Valerie Vili - I am sorry for ever daring to think I could do what you do.

A few years ago a journalist friend of mine kept finding that his spellchecker would cause him all manner of unexpected problems when covering athletics. He would write again and again of something called the shot putt, which presumably involved men with golf clubs made of titanium attempting to knock heavy balls of metal into small holes.

At 7.75m, maybe I should switch to his technique instead. It can't go much less far.

The same journalist would also occasionally describe another field event, something that came out as the discuss.

A competition of conversing, a ding-dong of debate and deliberation? Now that's something even a man with one hamstring would fancy. Where do I sign up?


  • Comment number 1.

    Good to see you up and at it again Tom.

    You'll get there pal!

  • Comment number 2.


    You need your head testing...

    Best of luck though.

  • Comment number 3.

    Get yourself some compression shorts!! Don't want that hammy going ping again...

  • Comment number 4.

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

  • Comment number 5.

    I don't think 7.75 is that bad for a first effort on one leg. What distance would you be happy with, bearing in mind that even the women throw 22 metres.

  • Comment number 6.

    ThomThomTiger - that's a beautifully disguised cuss. Even the women throw 22m? Lordy... Had another go out in the rain last night, and got as far as 8.25m - if I can get a slide going, maybe 9/9.40-ish might be possible. I'm scratching for peanuts, aren't I?

    SuperPaulyBoy, Mr_Twilight - big thumbs-up for the support. Waldo0 - I'm writing this in full-length compression tights, if that isn't the most disturbing clause ever penned on a BBC blog...

  • Comment number 7.

    Remember you are doing a decathlon! What is Randy Barnes pb for the pole vault?

  • Comment number 8.

    PrawnHeed - exactly.

    Firstly, women throw 'only' 4kg shots so not worth the comparison.

    Secondly, most international Decathletes in this country throw somewhere between 12m-15m so anywhere approaching 10m is very good, especially with a slightly smaller frame than the average 6'2/85kg.

  • Comment number 9.

    Just remember the higher the release, the further it will go. You need to aim for roughly at 40 degree release and it is all about the intial velocity of the shot putt at release. The women throw 22m because the shot putt they use is so much light. You should work with a lighter shot putt (5kg) to try and perfect your technique.

    Good luck

  • Comment number 10.

    7.75m is worth a good 350 points, so that's not disgraceful in the least. If you can squeeze out an extra metre (easier said than done; translate as "if you can improve your PB by about 13%") then you're well past 400. I don't anticipate that you'll perform at PB levels in the one-hour event itself, because (a) you're trying to squeeze everything into an hour, (b) this will be knackering and (c) you might not even get three attempts at each throwing and jumping event because of the time pressure, but already you're at a very respectable level of performance.

  • Comment number 11.

    Anything in the 8's is a solid performance for a 4000pts target.

    Personally, I wouldnt recommend trying to add either a glide or a spin as they both introduce a lack of consistency in beginners. Better off taking a solid but consistent standing throw, especially with the limits on number of attempts and the time pressure.

  • Comment number 12.

    If you think the shot put is tough, spare a thought for 'International King of Sports' competitors when they do the underwater shot put.

  • Comment number 13.

    Good to see you back on the mend. I am currently injured while marathon training so know how it feels.

    BTW - sugar in UK usually (and for as long as I can remember) has been sold in 1kg (2.2 lb) bags therefore 7kg=7bags of sugar

  • Comment number 14.

    Good point, PrawnHeed. I'd like to see Randy Barnes hurdling. Then again...

    Hesperian - encouraging. I'll be in contact about that training session shortly, now we've got an Ashes window. apmhearn, jiggery_pokery - excellent shouts.

    kevinmorice - that's a very good point. It's got to be about nailing a decent one on the first or second attempt, hasn't it?

    rastafairy5 - full sympathy and luck as you recover. And you're right about the sugar. Now you know why I became a sports journo rather than a maths teacher....

    Everyone - any good shot put drills I can do at home? My access to shots is limited to once a week at best - is it worth utilising the javelin ball recommended by Javelin Sam the other week and working on the technique in the park with that?

  • Comment number 15.

    Tom - The men's shot it basically that a shot as in cannon-ball. there is nothing light about it. I officiate this event and whereas I can return two women's shots at a time doing that with the men is likely to sprain your wrists by about the third round!! For my sins I have occasionally been asked to fill in at lower division men's matches (I am really a distance runner) and probably throwing less than you ! I much prefer Hammer, there is no fun in throwing a shot its just about brute strength.... OK so there is a lot of technique but its still not fun if you're not built like the back-end of a bus.

  • Comment number 16.

    Tom - no sweat. Ran through a mock point-scoring calculation for you earlier. 4000 is more than achievable.

    With regards to things you can do from home for the shot, you need to decide whether it's worth doing the 'shift' technique at all. I'll have a look during the session at some point. If you decide you do want to then you can practice the drill of jumping backwards from start position to end position, concentrating on getting the feet in the right place.

    Beyond that... press ups!!

  • Comment number 17.

    Forders - you're a legend mate. I've been reading your blogs with huge interest (especially the Daley training session) and I, like many other silent followers I expect, am really willing you on for this. If I hadn't moved to Canada I might even come and cheer you on for the actual event. Anyway, hang in there Tom. In a funny kind of way, I'm finding myself supporting you in this as much as I do England in your Ashes commentaries. You don't need to be world class to have your efforts mean something. Look at the passion and emotion on the terraces at clubs like Darlington every week. So next time you're feeling like giving up, just say to yourself "No, Hitcho is gunning for me and I'm not letting him down". There's likely a small army of BBC blog readers like me. Don't give up on us Forders, you've started this and you've got yourself a following. Finish it!

    (And best of British to you by the way)

    PS - why aren't Dirs, Cheese and Stevo doing this with you?

  • Comment number 18.

    there may or may not be footage of Randy doing hurdles, but there certainly is of Werner Gunthor doing said hurdles, and all manner of other stuff. You tube has a few clips of his 'preparation physique'. It's all in French, but nonetheless will get your jaw dropping at watching such a big guy (6'6", 20.5st) look like a ballerina!

  • Comment number 19.

    This blog reminds me of my PE days at school...i was great at atheletics..100m/long distances etc...great at football/cricket/badminton/hockey etc, for the cricket team i was a fast bowler. But when it came to the shotput or the javelin i was useless! confusing!

  • Comment number 20.


    Am seriously impressed so far, to be doing all this with a dodgy hammy is pretty tough - how do you see it holding up during the hour? hopefully you'll be fully recovered by then!

    I always found (when I reached the lofty heights of 4th in the UK U13 Championships...) that the slide technique was great, it provides a bit of momentum going into the throw - and you're a talented enough athlete to manage that, I see that you've won triathlons in the past, good stuff! Don't do the stand-still throw, it won't go as far!

    I recently put the shot at a Chinese university sports meet, where I'm studying) - let's just say that a 6 feet 5 foreigner has a significant advantage in the Orient... Best of luck mate, I'll be cheering for you from this side of the globe.

  • Comment number 21.

    Best of luck Tom, I don't envy that sport haha!

  • Comment number 22.

    Hesperian - it's a plan.

    Hitcho - thanks so much for the support. Sitting here with my hammy on an ice-pack, feeling sorry for myself, and that's cheered me right up. Re Dirsy/Cheese/Stevo, I'll ask them now..

    ilikeALLathletics - I think I've found the footage you mean. If it's this one it's the funniest/most impressive thing I've seen in athletics for a long time. Get yourself to 3mins 30 and enjoy.

    0darroch - the way the hammy feels at the mo, it's fingers crossed. Physio on Thurs - we'll see what he thinks...

  • Comment number 23.

    Hitcho, ha ha ha ha ha ha. Obviously, Stevo and myself are decathlon regulars - but Dirsy??! Ridiculous idea.

    Anyway, yes, good luck Tom. I can't wait until you've done it... mainly so you can stop going about it, and I won't risk tripping over you in the office as you do your so-called stretches.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hi Tom

    Just want to say well done for getting back on the horse and carrying on what you've started. I had massive achilles problems last year which meant my taekwondo training was all shot up. Takes a fair bit of will power and mental strength to get back into it. Wishing you have a fast and uncomplicated recovery.

    Keep up the good work

  • Comment number 25.

    Tom - two words for you: Daley Thompson. If that doesn't get you through this, nothing will.

    Also, for the actual event can we have Cheese and Dirsy doing live commentary and a Stevo's Predo on your performance in each event? Just a thought...

  • Comment number 26.

    There's a secret to the shot put Tom! You need muscles.
    Looking at the pictures you should stick to egg and spoon.

    Still, best of luck

  • Comment number 27.

    Hitcho - I wholeheartedly agree. We're all pulling for you Tom, the athletic and the not-so-athletic who are regular readers of this blog, so keep it up for our sakes as well as yours. Best of luck with the rehab.

  • Comment number 28.

    Frankly Hitcho, I'd struggle to run 7.75m without getting out of breath, so thank God Tom's flying solo on this one.

    Though it'd be a different story were table-tennis involved...

  • Comment number 29.

    My work access won't let me check that link, but you will find them all at
    If you're keen to throw the discus at all in the last couple of weeks, I can probably lend some expertise.

  • Comment number 30.


    What you are throwing with the shot is impressive, especially if you have a leg injury. Be aware that adding a glide to your standing throw will only increase the distance by 2 metres at most. With limited time you may want to consider keeping with standing throw.

    If you don't have a shot do some imitation throws- simply practice the throwing action without a shot. Based upon the picture from UWIC make sure you are on the balls of your feet (not your toes)because you need to turn both feet to the front during the throw; bring your left shoulder further round so at the start of the throw so your upper body is facing the back of the circle and try and keep looking backwards for as long as possible through the throw as it will add height (and ultimately distance).

    Hope this helps and good luck!

  • Comment number 31.

    Stevo - according to Caroline you're a regular decathlete so I'll assume you're being modest. What's your predo for Forders' decathlon, event by event? I'd love to follow Tom live online while he's competing. Any chance of getting this set up?

  • Comment number 32.

    just read your blog for the first time
    i am impressed that you want to give the multi events a go
    and i dont think you should be too worried about times heights and distances as long as each time you measure your improving kepp plodding through and eventually it will all click into place
    as for the women throwing 22 in the shot all well and good to say that but there shot is a lot lighter

  • Comment number 33.

    Tom, if you would like some encouragement and a few laughs, have a look at You Tube and search for 'Bedford, Decathlon, Steve, Mad'. You will find a short clip about how three 50 yr olds, who had never done any athletics before, trained for 11 months and entered the Southern Championships last September for Charity. We raised £15000 and it was a fabulous experience. We each came in with about 2200 pts - expect you are a lot younger so must be aiming for 4000 pts at least!! Must B Mad (the charity) aims to help disenfranchised kids and any support you can give would be very welcome. Steve

  • Comment number 34.

    Fearless or stupid?

    Tf, was nervous the injury had 'come for you', and you were hiding behind the day job..,

    Having read about daley doing 370 mles on a push bike, with hugo porta et al..I'm with Hitcho, get dt to do some weight sessions with you, rather than amateur suicide by Macey, and that shot will feel like a cricket ball...




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