Australia is sending three female jav chuckers to Rio. Jav chuckers? Well, that's what they call themselves. You and I would be more likely to call them javelin throwers.
Meet Kathryn Mitchell, Kelsey-Lee Roberts and Kim Mickle. We had a fun chat recently about a bunch of spectacularly random stuff. Here's how that went.
Ant: I want to throw spears for a living like you guys. Tell me why I should dedicate the rest of my life to this.
Kathryn: No, no way. First there’s no money. Secondly by the end you won’t have a body and you’ll spend the end of your life maybe on a stick [note: we think she means a walking stick, not skewered on a pointy stick like the ones she throws.]
Kelsey: I would have to disagree maybe because I’m still quite new and green to the sport. Ask me this question in ten years and I’ll probably be like “no”. But I love throwing javelin so I’m going to say yes. Javelin’s the thing to do.
Kim: All three of us, the reason we picked jav is the training’s so diverse. Everyone just thinks we go out to a park and chuck a jav, but all three of us could be weightlifters, we could all be sprinters, we all could be CrossFit athletes. Javelin training is hard and it’s tricky and you have to be the best at a lot of things and I think that’s why we all do this. It's one of the most challenging events to master and to train for.
Ant: I love that you call it "jav", Kim. Does everyone call it jav? Is that what I have to say to get in with you guys?
Kathryn: Yeah, jav.
Kim: Or a chucker. We say 'I’m going for a chuck'. That’s what we say in the west anyway. [Kim’s from Perth.]
Ant: OK, so when you’re chucking the jav or javving the chuck or whatever you do, what’s the closest you’ve ever come to being skewered?
Kathryn: Well I’m at the good end because I release the javelin and I don’t really have to worry too much. I've never never really had a close call though I’ve seen a few. I throw it straight and if anyone’s in the way it’s their problem.
Kelsey: I skewered a drink bottle once. That was pretty good accuracy. It’s funny you ask though because I actually saw someone get speared in the hand during the national championships this year. One of the officials wasn't paying attention and an athlete put a javelin through her hand. She was in hospital and had stitches. There were no broken bones I heard, but it could have been a disaster. You do see some pretty nightmarish videos of people getting speared and becoming kebabs.
Kim: Well I have almost been hit. I was 15-years-old and working as an implement retriever or as I like to say an "implement retrieving technician" at the Sydney Olympics. I was standing at about 65 metres on the sideline and a girl threw it crooked and I thought it was going to land five metres ahead of me, which it did. But it hit the 60 metre marker and skimmed up and then went straight for me so I had to do a big dive out of the way. It was pretty scary but pretty funny too. I got put on the big screen TV and stuff!
Ant: So apart from the ability to not skewer yourself, what makes a good javelin thrower? The power’s not all in the arm, is it?
Kathryn: It’s in your whole body. Kelsey’s a lot taller than us but Kimbo and I have both been told many times we’re too short to be javelin throwers. But as long as you can get he power it doesn’t matter how tall you are. It’s definitely a full body sport and as Kimbo said, our training is so diverse. We have to take care of whole body conditioning because it’s a very hard event on the whole body.
Kelsey: I think Kim nailed it before by saying we’ve got to be fast we’ve got to be strong, we’ve got to be mobile. So it’s all those things in one. It’s the speed, the flexibility and the ability to generate power through into the javelin that makes it go faster.
Kim: The trick with jav is there are about 100 things that you need to get right for a great throw. If you get 99 of them right it still won’t go. It’s like a golf swing. You’ve got to hit it sweet and then you’ve got to put power after that. So you’ve got to get your technique right before you bash it. Often it comes down to the day or even one throw. People can just fluke one, and that’s the name of the game, You get six throws and someone who’s coming last can still win it. That's kind of cool.
Ant: I want you all to get very poetic on me here. What does a perfect throw feel like?
Kathryn: Well I was going to say I've never done a perfect throw, it’d be nice if I had. But a good throw, as soon as it leaves the hand it feels effortless. And the ones when you're a bit off, they’re the ones that hurt the body. But yeah, you usually know when you’ve let it go and you can see the little dot flying through the sky that it’s going somewhere.
Kelsey: Kathryn nailed it by saying it feels effortless. I’ve had a couple of throws with that feeling and you feel really light when you’ve finished the throw. It’s almost like you’re walking on clouds for a bit. But I think from start to finish, a good throw is seamless. It’s like threading a needle through the sky when you let it go.
Ant: OK, stop the interview. That's the most poetic thing I've ever heard anyone say. Can you beat that, Kim?
Kim: I actually can’t beat those two. Again I'd compare it to a golf swing. The sweet ones are the best with the jav. But I don’t think any of us have hit the biggest throws we can do. In terms of the perfect throw, maybe it doesn’t exist.
Ant: They were three great answers. I'm basically going home now because I can't throw a javelin and you guys are more eloquent than me. I'm feeling pretty useless here.
[Author's note. On the faint chance they were laughing with me and not me, I'll press on.]
Ant: I remember talking to Steve Hooker once about how hard it is to get pole vault poles through airports. Do you guys have any strange travel stories with javelins?
Kathryn: I do not envy pole vaulters at all. Javelins are within the size limit so there are normally few hassles. They’re also packaged up and in a tube so compared to pole vaulters we’ve got it very easy.
Kelsey: Kathryn and were competing in Adelaide in 2015 and we were waiting and waiting until eventually we found out that nether of our javelins had made it on the plane from Canberra. They'd left them in Canberra airport. They said they were too big so they just left them there.
Kim: I went to Finland in 2007 for my very first European season and my case was rattling. Obviously a truck [on the tarmac] had driven over my javelins and crushed them all, so I had to do a pretty much six month stint throwing other people’s javelins. In Finland, javelin is like their number one sport. You go to an airport in Australia and they go 'oh, are they fishing rods?'. In Finland they know exactly what javelins you have and they know who you are too and even what sort of distances you're throwing.
Kim's chuckin' this one all the way to Helsinki.
Ant: Wow. Hey I almost forgot. We ask every sportsperson this because we just do. Who would win a fight between a kangaroo and an emu?
Kathryn: A kangaroo. It boxes.
Kelsey: Yep, a kangaroo. The boxing kangaroo.
Kim: A kangaroo but maybe more because of the kicking than the arms.
Ant: I’m disappointed I didn’t get an emu out of you three because emus have a beak with a sharp point. Surely you all know how damaging a sharp point can be.
Kathryn: Well I have been chased by an emu before. I grew up near a pine plantation and we were chased by emus and we had to scramble up trees. Scary.
Ant: There you go. And you still think the kangaroo would win?
Kathryn: No, but my mum told me recently I went for a walk and there was kangaroos everywhere and I was a little bit afraid becasue I was on my own. I thought I was going to get attacked by a kangaroo. I don’t know if you can print this but apparently if you’re female and it’s that time of the month, the kangaroos can sense it and you can get attacked.
Ant: Really? I don't know what to say. This is a family publication. Maybe we should end this here. Kathryn, Kelsey and Kim, thanks for talking to the Huffington Post Australia, er, I think. And good luck in Rio!
Kathryn: Thanks, nice to meet you.
Kim: Thanks Ant.
Kathryn Mitchell. Age: 34. Best throw: 66.10m
Kelsey-Lee Roberts. Age: 24. Best throw: 63.92m
Kim Mickle. Age: 31. Best throw: 66.83m
The world record is 72.28m