Interview with National Hammer Thrower G. Martin Bingisser Interviewed by Luke Allison of CriticalBench.com - June 2011
CB: How did you become interested in the hammer throw originally?
G. Martin Bingisser: While I began the hammer throw earlier than most Americans, it was still relatively late when you look at the big picture. I started track and field in the eight grade as a shot putter and won my city's middle school title. I continued throwing the shot put in high school and had moderate success. If you asked me then, I definitely thought I was a big deal, but looing back I was just an average thrower that managed to qualify for the state championships a few times.
The school season was too short for me. I always felt like I was just starting to warm up when the season finished. So I started to compete in the summer USATF Junior Olympic program. That is where I first met the hammer throw. I would pick it up and throw it at the few events it was offered at, but I did not have a coach (or a hammer) so I never trained between competitions. This went on for a few years until my senior year when I met 1956 Olympic hammer throw champion Harold Connolly. He was touring the country promoting the hammer throw and was pretty blunt about my future prospects as a shot putter. He told me that I wasn't going to be an international-caliber shot putter. I think he actually said I wasn't even going to be a Division I level shot putter. I'm just not built like an NFL left tackle or freakishly explosive, as is typical for most top shot putters. But he said I had a chance in the hammer throw. He was my first mentor and for the past decade I have dedicated myself to the event.
CB: On your website you mention that your athletic and academic success improved when you found the hammer throw. Was this simply a matter of right place at the right time, or perhaps something a bit more substantial?
G. Martin Bingisser: My individual circumstances did play a big role. I was adrift in high school, but the prospect of competing at the NCAA level inspired me to get my grades up to qualify academically. But this happens too often for me to think that it was just a matter of right place, right time. I think it is extremely difficult to be successful in one area of your life and a complete failure in another area. Success carries over. Once you learn what it takes to succeed, and what it means to set goals, that skillset start to bleed over into other areas of your life. It'll happen whether you want it to or not.
CB: What has competing nationally and internationally been like for you?
G. Martin Bingisser: Competing internationally has been a difficult adjustment. When I was finishing up my collegiate career I was guaranteed to be near the top finishers in every meet. Even if I get didn't win, I was never crushed by the competition.
Now I'm currently in the second-tier of international throwers. I'm not good enough to make international finals, but still better than the vast majority of guys out there. In short, it's no man's land. There are so few top meets for the hammer that the Olympic finalists take fight for the spots at every top meet. And even they get underpaid and sometimes left out. So this has been the first difficulty: trying to plan my training when I don't know what the schedule will be or if I will even get into any meets when I'm in good shape.
The second difficulty is that even if I manage to get into a meet against a good field, I will just get three attempts, rather than the six attempts finalists get. In many sports, the great and the good athletes still get the same opportunity to compete. In the high jump, everyone gets to jump until they fail. In the 100m, everyone gets to run the race. Even in powerlifting and Olympic lifting, everyone gets the same number of attempts. But now I am in a situation where I get less attempts. This means I have to be prepared to throw far at all times. While I am working on it, I'm still adjusting to this too.
CB: Do you have any specific goals in terms of competing at this level in the future?
G. Martin Bingisser: By far my biggest goal is to make the finals at the 2014 European Championships. They'll take place at my home stadium in Zurich, which I have never been allowed to throw in before (they are worried about the damage to the football turf). The prospect of throwing in front of all my friends and thousands of others at home keeps me going at it.
CB: Various throwing athletes have described the interaction or feedback they get from an implement as being unique compared to the experience of other sports. Is there a specific appeal for you in this? Perhaps something more people should be aware of?
G. Martin Bingisser: It is very unique. You really can feel the smallest changes, especially when you throw alone as much as I do. I learned on my own, and even now that I have a coach, I still train by myself most days since he is halfway across the world. My only coach when I am alone is feeling. And after eight or ten thousand throws each year, you get very finely tuned. I played tennis and baseball a lot growing up, but I never felt the same connection to my racket or bat. On a good throw the hammer feels like it becomes part of you.
Unlike weightlifting and powerlifting, we do not compete to failure. The goal in those sports is to get as close to your best as you can without failing. If it is too easy, then you didn't get your best result. The throwing events are the complete opposite. We go for maximum power and speed. As a result, our best results actually feel the easiest. They come when all the elements line up and every ounce of energy is focused on the hammer. This throw feels effortless since everything is efficiently working together. It sounds cliché, but it is almost a zen-like state. Once you get a taste of it, every thrower spends years chasing it.
CB: Track and Field seems to have numerous successful and advanced training practices (plyometrics, linear speed development, dynamic correspondence) that it does not always get credit for. Is there anything that should be said about Track and Field as a way of developing serious athletes and athletic attributes?
G. Martin Bingisser: Track and field, especially the throwing events, is a dynamic sport. For instance in the hammer throw, you use nearly every muscle in your body on a three-dimensional plane. We train speed, power, maximum strength, specific strength, flexibility, agility, etc. And that is not to mention the technique. With so many elements, you need advanced training practices.
Look at every top naming in training right now and they have all been involved with track and field at some point in their career. Gambetta and Poliquin both immediately come to mind. And while they have had success, even more top names have worked with track and field's best and failed to help them improve their results. That is a testament to how difficult the training can be figure out. Cookie-cutter programs just don't work for elite athletes. You have to take it to the next level and think not just about improving an athlete's bench press, but about improving their result on the field and increasing their overall abilities.
CB: You have written before about your training with Anatoliy Bondarchuk. Can you put Dr. Bondarchuk's success/expertise (athlete, coach, and applied sports scientist) into context for those that might not be familiar?
G. Martin Bingisser: John Wooden is considered one of the most dominant coaches in the history of America. His teams won 10 NCAA basketball titles in 12 years with a rotation of different players. He also won an NCAA title himself.
Now imagine that same success at the Olympic stage and you have Bondarchuk. He won a gold medal himself in 1972 and for the next 20 years his athletes won every Olympic medal in the hammer throw (with the exception of the boycotted Games), as well as medals in other events. He was a world record setter, as were his athletes. I don't think track and field has ever seen, or will see again, a coach that dominant.
CB: What it means to have access to someone like that?
G. Martin Bingisser: Having Dr. Bondarchuk as a coach has been the most valuable and enjoyable experience of my athletic career. Every time I am with him I learn something new and my love for the event increases even more. And knowing he has had so much success gives all of his athletes confidence in everything they do.
As I mentioned earlier, I learned the event on my own. I have several mentors throughout the years, but I also had to study the event and learn how to train by myself. At the time, nothing was available online. Luckily I was spent my first year of college in Los Angeles and became a frequent visitor of the LA84 Foundation Sports Library, a legacy of the 1984 Olympics. They have a thorough collection of all athletic journals and books, and I must have copied everything ever published in English by Bondarchuk and other top coaches. After that I travelled to eastern Europe to learn from other coaches first hand. One year later I found out that had moved just four hours from me and I couldn't believe I would have the chance to learn from him first hand.
Working with him in person has been more valuable than anything I'd read. You can look at his articles, but actually seeing how the pieces fit together in practice is the most valuable element.
CB: What is the largest or most important lesson you have taken away from working with Bondarchuk? Is any of it applicable to other sports or training goals?
G. Martin Bingisser: After working with Bondarchuk, I now look at every single exercise and ask myself "Why am I doing this?" That is a question that not enough people ask. If you don't have an answer, you don't have a good foundation for your training plan. Too many coaches just do an exercise because their own coach did it that way, or because they saw some Olympian do it. They don't ask if there is a better exercise to do or if that exercises may not work as well considering their athlete's individual background. I'm not saying that their choice is wrong, but they will never know if it is actually the best way to train without asking that simple question. That is the foundation of Bondarchuk's transfer of training concept: identify the exercises that give you the most benefit for your event.