Thorkildsen gets healthy start to 2009
As he made his way down the runway, Andreas Thorkildsen could feel the cramping in his back with each step, even though he was only pushing himself at about two-thirds strength. Generating enough speed to muscle the javelin out about 60 meters was all he could manage.
Needless to say, it was not the way the Norwegian wanted to begin training for the 2008 season, especially with the Olympics a mere eight months away.
“It went back to 2007 when I had a lot of back problems,” Thorkildsen said in a phone interview from Qatar. “Going into ’08 I was really sort of babying it and trying not to force anything too early. I really had to go gradually, starting out with 60-meter throwing in January. It took a while until I was really comfortable going down the runway. It was actually wasn’t until around the Stockholm meet last year (July 22) that I was really starting to get comfortable with it.”
Despite the slow start, Thorkildsen got it together by late summer and in Beijing, he was able to win his second Olympic gold medal (watch video) with a world-leading throw of 90.57m/297-1, also an Olympic record. Coming off that performance, Thorkildsen’s outlook for the 2009 season is much rosier than it was last winter. The biggest thing he said was coming into this year healthy. That enabled him to begin throwing at full-strength in January. He said his training has gone so well, he is optimistic of being able to get off a long throw on Friday when he makes his season debut at the IAAF Super Grand Prix in Doha.
“Last year, it took me a long time before I reached 80 meters in training,” Thorkildsen said. “But this year in training I could go out first time in January and throw close to 80 meters. Since then, things have continued to improve. As of now, I think I’m in good enough shape to go out and throw as far as I’ve ever done, hopefully right off the bat in this first competition.”
Thorkildsen said the thing that hampered him the most last season was not only the slow start caused by the back injury, which he called “wear and tear on the spine,” but the awkward throwing technique he fell into while favoring the back. “When you get an injury like that, it kind of destroys the system a little bit,” Thorkildsen said. “You start to pick up really bad habits, and it took a while to get rid of those and to start coming back to throw the way I normally throw. That is kind of what happened all of last year. It was about getting rid of the improper timing that I had gotten used to because of throwing when injured.”
Being healthy has been enabled him to avoid such pitfalls this year. Thorkildsen began his training by working on his technique indoors in Norway. Because the winter weather in Scandinavia is so brutal, Thorkildsen is forced to seek out warm-weather locales to get in “real throwing practice.”
This year, he traveled to South Africa in February for a three-week training camp. In March, it was off to Doha for a two-week stint of work at the Aspire Academy. He returned to Qatar on April 20 for another two weeks of training.
“Because Norway is cold as (heck), we can’t really throw outside and that’s why I have to travel a lot for throwing,” Thorkildsen said. “Last year we spent a couple of weeks in Dubai before coming over to Doha for competition. We figured out that that was a very good solution. This year, we chose Doha over Dubai for training camp. All the training has been going very well. The temperature here is so warm that you usually don’t get injured unless you do something really terrible.”
Thorkildsen said right now his confidence is near its high mark in 2006, when he topped the 90-meter plateau for the first time in his career and set his personal-best of 91.59m/300-6, the sixth best throw in history. He said if the conditions are favorable – wind tends to die down in the evenings in Qatar – he feels he could get close to a 90-meter throw off on Friday.
It would be a remarkable jump-off point in an important year for Thorkildsen. Historically, he has performed better in the even-numbered years in his career. That has left the 27-year-old still seeking his first world championship, the only major title he has yet to win in his career.
“Somehow it happens that way,” Thorkildsen said with a chuckle when discussing his shortfalls in odd-numbered years. “In Helsinki (2005 Worlds), my performance at the time was one of the best I’ve ever had under those conditions (heavy rain) and Andrus Varnik beat me by one meter.
“In ’07 at the Worlds I was struggling a little bit with my back and my technique was a little bit off compared to the year before. But Tero (Pitkamaki of Finland) also had a hell of a day. He went into the stadium and threw 90 meters. It’s been kind of weird that way but at those competitions I’ve put down a result that I can be pretty happy about. Someone else has just been better on that day. I hope this is the year that I can break that cycle up.”
Thorkildsen is also hoping to set a new personal-best mark during 2009. The ultimate, he said, would be topping 93.09m/305-5, the second-best mark in history thrown in 1999 by Aki Parviainen of Finland. Until reaching that mark, Thorkildsen said he couldn’t even begin entertaining thoughts of Jan Zelezny’s world record of 98.48m/323-1.
“I feel like I’m ready for some really good distances,” Thorkildsen said. “My goal for the year is to reach over 93.09m. Let’s face it, my PB is 91 and the world record is 98. The 93.09, which is the second best mark by a thrower other than Zelezny, is much more of a natural goal. I’ve got to make that first. I don’t believe in saying that I’m going to break the world record when I know that I’m far away from it at the moment.” All of that, of course, hinges on being able to stay healthy, which is often easier said than done in an event like the javelin, where the throwing motion is so violent.
“I know that last year every time I didn’t have a throw that was at least 85 it was because of the back or ankle problems or a groin or something like that,” Thorkildsen said. “Those types of things are what keep the results down at times. If I can go through a season reasonably healthy, then I can be a lot more consistent. “There are always going to be small things here and there. As long as you can go through it and finish the season without having surgeries or going through a lot of rehab training then it’s a good year.”