Impressions of the 3rd World Javelin Conference, Kuortane, Finland, by Duncan AtwooA series of fortunate events this year made possible for me a terrific opportunity – to be a speaker at this wonderful conference in the heart of javelin country. I’d heard about the other World Javelin Conferences and dearly wanted to go, but like so many, it was out of my budget.
But I was invited to speak at a weekend clinic in England just before the Finnish conference, so it made sense to piggyback the two trips. I felt very lucky indeed.
The conference took place at the Finnish Olympic Training Center in Kuortane (QUAR-ton-hey) Finland, about 3 hours by fast train north of Helsinki. It’s a somewhat rural setting with perhaps two dozen buildings ranging from huge indoor track/sporthall setups to smaller, specialized buildings for things like spa-type therapy. In the hydrotherapy building, they have a cold-dip pool. It’s cold – the water is about 40 degrees. Makes you tough.
Most of the presentations were made in a very nice, modern lecture hall, with seating for perhaps 100+. This was attached to the Sport Hotel complex, so for me, it was a 3-minute walk from my beautiful room to the lecture hall.
The organization was perfectly fine, with the organizers working tirelessly but always seeming to be relaxed and approachable for any questions that might come up. They were as accommodating as you could ever hope for.
As the time came for the first speaker, the distinguished Dr. Frank Lehmann of Germany, I got to get my first look at the conference attendees. A big group of javelin enthusiasts! Many nationalities and experience levels were represented. Many coaches had been sent to the conference by their home sport federation, but more than a few paid their own fares. Some very dedicated people, to be sure.
The conference language was English, which meant it was time to be impressed again with Europeans and their amazing language skills. Dr. Lehmann began by apologizing for his English, which was excellent, but he said it wasn’t so good because it was his 3rd language, after German and Russian. He was able to express complex ideas in English about javelin that are hard for native
English speakers. Quite impressive.
Much of his presentation (the first of two) included technical discussions of javelin biomechanics. What they measure, how they measure, and what it all means were discussed in enough detail to tell the story but not so much that it bogged down. He talked fast to get it all in.
He was meticulously prepared and had tons of information. For such complicated subjects as this, you have to study the printed summary of his presentation. I’ve worked in the biomechanics world, and it was part of my undergraduate degree, but he lost me a few times… nonetheless, of course it’s interesting and valuable to see what’s being studied and what’s being left out.
My presentation on Javelin Flight was next. It was focussed on methods to help throwers learn how to make accurate flights with javelins and so avoid the trap of working hard to generate a lot of power only to give away meters to the competition by having an inefficient flight. After Dr. Lehmann’s talk, I felt like mine was a little on the light side, but feedback I got afterwards included comments that the audience appreciated the practical aspects of learning good flights.
It was great to have my talk out of the way so I could just soak in everything else.
The other presentations included:
Medical Aspects of Training for Javelin – Dr. Ilkka Tulikoura, surgeon to the top throwers in Finland. He presented a discussion of the various medical issues for throwers. Lots of stories of big injuries and how they recovered. All the top throwers love this guy for saving their careers. There was a big show of appreciation from some of Finland’s javelin “royalty”.
Technical and Training Discussion with World Champion Aki Parvianen. Aki doesn’t speak so much English, so his points were translated, but we still got a look into how he trains his European Champion, Anntti Ruuskanen. I noticed that not everything seemed to match – it seemed that Aki was saying one thing but the films show Ruuskanen doing something else. Maybe it was lost in the translation, maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe…
Technical Demonstration. We all walked down to the indoor track, to the javelin area at the end of the second turn. Aki explained (via translator) various technique points while the demonstrator athletes were warming up. I observed the athletes, well off to the side of the main area, undergoing a very complete and impressive series of upper body and torso stretches before throwing, like we used to do back when I was throwing in the 70’s and 80’s. Surprisingly, no mention was made of this.
My guess is that it’s assumed by the Finns that everyone knows how to do this, like tying one’s shoes. But there is a trend now, at least in the US, to do only a dynamic warmup and no stretching before throwing. My opinion is that the studies that say stretching is detrimental to performance are missing it when it comes to the big ranges of motion needed for javelin, and that eventually there will be a return to attaining that range (we used to call it “stretching out”), like the Finns do, before throwing as part of a javelin warmup.
The audience was diligently videotaping nearly everything, including each other videotaping each other. Lots and lots of posing for pictures, lots of postings to all kinds of social media, lots of discussions about those postings. One of the best aspects of this conference was how small groups of coaches and athletes would form to discuss some part of what we just saw, with lots of arms making throwing motions and sideways twisting to be seen everywhere. Javelin people doing their thing. I enjoyed wandering around trying to eavesdrop on what was being said. But many of the groups were conducting their discussions in their native languages, probably trying to sort out what they’d just heard.
That was it for the first day. An hour later at dinner, groups of coaches would hang together, and a few were alone. By the second evening, there was more mixing and it seemed that the camaraderie
was first class.
The next day, superstar Dr. Lehmann went over how all this measuring they do actually gets worked into the system of coaching they have in Germany. I was surprised to learn that, just like in the US, there are coaches who don’t like being told what to do by the biomechanists! But mostly, their system involves the athletes and scientists getting together to see how the progress (if any) is going. Dr. Lehmann said there is a big problem in Germany with injuries among top javelin throwers – something like 6 of the top 10 have significant problems. His conclusions included the need to keep injury avoidance as a top priority.
A few of the coaches there remarked that this information was interesting but it couldn’t help them much because they had no sport institutes with dedicated throwing biomechanists measuring trends in the training of their throwers. For example, in France, they have a sport institute with biomechanists, but all the work is dedicated to the pole vaulters because the French lead the world in that event. In the US, lots of work is done with the sprinters. In the end, it seems to be a question of resources.
The next presentation was on…hammer throwing! Interesting, well presented, and possibly useful to some of the coaches there, but I thought it was an odd inclusion to the program. We watched some good demonstrations and heard a fine commentary and perspective by Olli-Pekka Karjalainen, Finland’s top hammer thrower for many years.
We then walked to the Gymnastics hall for a fantastic demonstration of gymnastics for javelin. The demonstrators included 87m thrower Teemu Wirkkila. He and an 84m+ guy, guided by a former top Finnish female gymnast, put on quite a show of floor exercises and apparatus moves that showed top-level skills and strengths. Everyone thought this was a highlight of the conference – useful, well-thought-out exercises that could be adapted to athletes of many levels. The only hitch was that not many fully-equipped gyms are available, which is why the excellent floor routine was so useful – it can be done on any reasonably soft surface.
Back to the lecture hall for a statistical analysis of the history of javelin results from major competitions around the world. Interesting patterns were revealed, such as nearly all the medallists in the Olympic Games were in the top 10 in the world the year before, and of course, it was
pointed out how the Finns have done very well internationally.
Our last presentation told the story of Julius Yego, the amazing Kenyan who taught himself to throw using YouTube in Kenya, where javelin throwing is very poorly supported by their national federation. Julius achieved an incredible 4th place finish at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. I saw pictures of Julius in the year before finally meeting him, and thought he was a much bigger guy than he really is. This makes his achievements even more impressive. He’s also a very kind and thoughtful person – a pleasure to be around. He stood to have his picture taken with different coaches many, many times.
The conference wrapped up with the 1988 Olympic Gold Medallist Tapio Korjus leading a discussion about improving the globalization of javelin throwing. This meant sharing information, organizing training opportunities, and trying to find ways to get young athletes interested in the event. Like some of the other discussions, the big stumbling block was resources, but it got everyone thinking about ways to improve the javelin around the world.
If you love javelin, and want to be surrounded by other who feel the same way, this is a unique chance to immerse yourself in a very cool section of the global javelin family. Even the topmost performers and coaches are very approachable and willing to discuss everything javelin. And there was great wisdom to be gotten by simply listening to discussions of the average attendees going over the information of the day. The organizers did a first-class job, the facilities were as good as they can get, and I came away from Kourtane recharged about javelin in a way I wasn’t expecting. Highly recommended.