Heaven is a place like Halle for the international throws community. Here are seven cracking good reasons why.
First staged in 1973, the annual Halle International Throws Meet has become an institution. Over the past four decades it has attracted a pantheon of throwing titans from Virgilijus Alekna to Jan Zelezny, from Robert Harting to David Storl, proving a regular calendar marker for the world’s elite.
The small German city of Halle (approx. pop. 230,000) has itself produced a pair of Olympic champion throwers: Silke Renk, who won javelin gold at Barcelona 92, and Ilke Wyludda, who was the Atlanta 96 discus champion.
“We have a long and deep tradition for throwing,” says Halle meet director Falk Ritschel. “When you have Olympic champions in your own vicinity it is easier to develop [a top class event].”
2. Something for everyone
The two-day Halle meet in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt has always prided itself on being a genuine “festival of throwing”. This year’s edition will attract 530 athletes keen to hurl their various implements far across the field.
Besides the elite action – which often comprises A and B events – there will also be competition across all four throws events for under-16s, 18s, 20s and 23s, as well as para-competition.
“From the start we always adopted the mantra ‘for all those who want to throw, can come and throw’,” explains Ritschel.
3. Big day out
Enthusiasm for the event among the citizens of Halle is matched by that of the wider throws community. Oceania discus record holder Benn Harradine argues that part of its appeal is the chance to see world-class throwers close up and eat German sausages all at an affordable price.
“It is difficult to go to an event these days and not pay a fortune, but beer and sausage is cheap [in Halle],” he explains. “It is a great family day out with the chance to see an Olympic champion or world record holder for about 20 Euros,” adds Harradine, a Halle regular and 68.20m discus thrower.
4. Great conditions
Hosted on a series of playing fields, there is no track to distract attention – the focus is 100 per cent on the throwers. Halle also benefits from having a range of throwing circles to choose from, allowing contests to take place in the best conditions available. Should the wind be unfavourable in one circle, no problem, just change the competition circle to one that is more favourable.
“The meet is always thrower-centred and you don’t really get that in any other event in the world,” explains British discus thrower Jade Lally, who is set for her eighth successive Halle appearance this weekend.
As a result the event is renowned for quality. In 2011 Betty Heidler posted a women’s world hammer record of 79.42m, while two years ago – in a competition won by Pole Piotr Malachowski with 69.28m – the top eight men in the discus achieved a mark of 65.50m or beyond, quality that Ritschel describes as “scary”.
Betty Heidler's 2011 world record throw
5. Intimate setting
The lack of a track gives spectators the unique opportunity to get up close and personal to the world’s elite throwers. Getting to stand just metres from the cage is a thrilling experience for both the fans and throwers alike, says Harradine.
“It is one of the few meets which allows spectators to hear the grunts and even the sounds of the throwers’ feet on the ground,” he explains. “This just helps add to the atmosphere.”
Because fans are able to get within a casual underarm shot lob of the action, the meet attracts serious throws enthusiasts.
“They know what is required for an Olympic or European standard and many of the throwers’ PBs,” explains Lally. “They are an educated crowd making it the perfect place for the throwers.”
6. Party people
The annual Halle party is a bucket list experience for any thrower keen to let off some steam and grab a post-competition refreshment (or eight). Among some of the highlights over the years are Betty Heidler singing to her fans following her world record, and Ilke Wyludda offering a version of Swan Lake.
“People get up from their beer hall stools and make fools of themselves [in a good way, it must be noted] and celebrate this big competition,” says Harradine. “It sounds like a mockumentary, but it is all about having fun. This year I’m sure there’ll be something done which is related to Rio.”
7. Open and friendly
Jade Lally describes the meeting as “unpretentious” and adds: “There is one floor in the middle to warm up in but everybody freely mixes together, even if you are new to the international scene.”
Harradine echoes the point, adding: “The athletes are not precious and very approachable. They give their time and mingle with everybody.”
The Halle International Throws Meet takes place this weekend (May 21/22). For more information click these words