Throwing It All Away – Uwe Hohn: East Germany’s Star-Crossed Javelin Giant

In the annals of Olympic and World Champion Track and Field competitions, the name of Uwe Hohn is missing. Hohn, an East German national, was one of the greatest javelin throwers in history, but he never won a gold, silver or bronze medal at either of the sports premier competitions. It might be said that Hohn came of age in the wrong age. In 1984 when Hohn reached his peak he was not allowed to participate in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, since East Germany joined the Soviet Union and several other Eastern Bloc nations in boycotting the games that year in Los Angeles. As a substitute, East Germany and other nations of the same ideological bent held other competitions, one of these yielded Hohn’s most amazing achievements, a feat unsurpassed to this day.

Uwe Hohn - Ready to Launch

Uwe Hohn – Ready to Launch (Credit: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1984-0513-018)

Going The Distance – A Broken Record
On July 20, 1984 at the Olympic Day of Athletics, a track and field meet held in East Berlin, Uwe Hohn launched a javelin throw the likes of which has never been seen before or since. He flung his silver-grey spear so far that it landed on the edge of the field not far from the oval track. A few seconds after releasing the throw, Hohn raised his arms in triumph. He knew well before the javelin had landed that his throw was special. Alarmingly, the throw landed not far from a high jump mat that had been supposedly placed at a safe distance. When it finally landed, the judges rushed over to make the measurement. The distance was 104.80 meters (343 9 ¾ inches), a world record. Hohn had surpassed the existing world record by an incredible five meters. He had become the first and still only person to toss the javelin further than the one hundred meter mark.

Commentators began to worry that Hohn might one day toss the javelin onto the track or into the stands. Just how far Hohn might throw one of his wing tipped spears was open to conjecture. What was not in doubt was that Hohn, like so many of his fellow Eastern Bloc athletes, was capable of record breaking performances that were almost unimaginable. At that time and ever since then, whispers about doping were prevalent. Documentation that has been discovered since the Berlin Wall fell confirms that East Germany administered one of the largest state sponsored programs to provide their athletes with performance enhancing drugs. Some of Hohn’s record breaking achievements were aided by such a doping program. One document that came to light from the East German archives showed Hohn was given 1,135 milligrams of Oral Turinabol, an anabolic steroid, in 1985. The drug was also used to assist weightlifters. There may have been other instances of doping that have yet to surface. How much steroids led to Hohn’s sucess will likely never be known for sure. One thing is for certain though, the track and field record books were never the same after the likes of Uwe Hohn and his compatriots took to the field.

Uwe Hohn - threw the javelin a world record 104.80m in 1984

Uwe Hohn – threw the javelin a world record 104.80m in 1984

Getting Physical – A Barrel Chested Brute
Just two weeks after Hohn’s record throw in East Berlin, the 1984 Olympic Men’s javelin throw competition was held. Hohn was upset that East Germany had decided to boycott the Olympics, so much so that he made it publicly known. He ended up being reprimanded for speaking out. The gold medal was won by Arto Harkonen whose winning throw was covered only 86 meters. That was 18 meters less than Hohn’s, an almost unfathomable distance when it comes to the difference between world class javelin competitors. What accounted for Hohn’s otherworldly throws? The usual answer is performance enhancing drugs. Yet a case can also be made for Hohn’s physique, training and technique. The guy was a broad shouldered, barrel chested brute. He was 1.98 meters (6’5”) tall and weighed 112 kilograms (over 250 pounds). By comparison, his closest competitors looked slight. Hohn matured much faster than the mere mortals he competed against. At the age of 19 he was the European Junior Champion, a years later he was the European Champion.

At the time of his world record Hohn was only 22 years old. A year after setting the record Hohn was champion at the 1985 World Cup meet in Canberra with a throw of 96.96 meters, which turned out to be the best throw that year. It also turned out to be the last great performance of Hohn’s career. In 1986 he was irreparably injured in a weight lifting accident. The weights he was trying to lift fell on him, badly injuring his back. The sciatic nerve damage which resulted led to surgeries, but Hohn was never the same again. This robbed the sport of seeing how Hohn would have fared with the newly designed javelin instituted by the International Association of Athletic Federations around this time. The new javelin’s center of gravity was moved forward, which helped limit the distance it could be thrown by around 10 meters on average. It also led to less flat landings which made the distance of throws much easier to measure.

Uwe Hohn in 1984 at his peak

Uwe Hohn in 1984 at his peak (Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1984-0603-003)

The Eternal World Record – Going The Distance
There has never been a 100 meter throw with the newer version of the javelin. It is doubtful no matter how chemically enhanced Hohn’s performance, that he would have been able to throw that far. The closest anyone has come to a 100 meter toss with the newer javelin was the Czech Jan Zelezny with a throw of 98.48 meters at a meet in 1996. The mark Hohn set so long ago on a summer evening in East Berlin is often referred to as the “eternal world record”. Very few believe it will ever be broken. Whether it will be expunged from the record books is another matter. There are recurrent calls for anyone whose name was discovered in East German archival documents in connection with doping to have their records deleted from the books. Even if this is done, Hohn may end up with luck on his side since the type of javelin he set the record with is no longer in use. No matter what happens, Hohn is likely to remain the only man to ever toss a javelin 100 meters. An incredible athletic achievement, that much like the man who did it is now all but forgotten.

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