11 Jan 2020

Hammer time: Julia Ratcliffe aims for the Olympics

From The Weekend, 10:05 am on 11 January 2020

Hammer thrower Julia Ratcliffe won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Now she has her heart set on a medal at this year's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Ratcliffe holds the New Zealand women's record for hammer throwing – 71.39 metres – but that doesn't immediately qualify her for Tokyo.

To do that, she must throw 72.5 metres by 29 June.

Julia Ratcliffe in action at women's hammer throw qualification at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha.

Photo: Alisha Lovrich

Nobody is naturally good at hammer and you have to really work really hard at it, Julia tells Lynn Freeman.

She started at 11 with her father Dave as coach.

It's been great to share the athletic journey with her dad, Julia says.

"I know a lot of dads struggle to connect with their daughters and find some common ground. For us, it's been our thing."

Throwing a hammer feels very awkward and unusual the first time – it's nothing like throwing a ball, she says.

"People describe it as a 'dance with the hammer', rather than throwing the hammer. You have to have the rhythm, have the flow."

The hammer itself is a shotput (weighing 4kg) attached to a long wire with a triangular handle at the end which you put your hands through.

Once in the hammer throwing circle, athletes have one minute to complete their throw and cannot leave the circle till its landed, she says.

If Julia makes it to the Olympics she'll bring her own rubber-soled shoes – worn in so they're not too slippery – and her own hammer gloves.

But not her own hammer.

People are allowed to do that at international competitions, but most use the hammers supplied, Julia says.

The reason is that if you bring your own, everyone else is entitled to use it.

There's a high risk another competitor will pick it up and break it before your turn comes around, Julia says.

"I've both done that and had that done to me by someone else so I feel like there's a bit of karma in there.

"I was at a competition in France and I threw this girl's brand new hammer up a very tall tree."