The Javelin Hotbed of Scandinavia

There is something visceral about the javelin throw. After all, it was one of the few Olympic events that harken back to ancient military weaponry.

There is also something quirky about the javelin throw. In this wikiHow page on how to throw a javelin, you can see that a javelin thrower runs with his body facing sideways and the upper half of the body learning away from the direction the athlete wants to throw.

javelin form
Javelin throwing form

But for whatever reason, the best javelin throwers have hailed from the Scandinavian nations of Finland, Norway and Sweden. In fact, out of a total of 72 javelin Olympic medalists since 1908, 32 or 44% have gone to throwers from Scandinavia. The site Peak Performance makes an attempt to provide reasons for Finland’s dominance.

Theory #1 is that the javelin throw was Finland’s everyman’s sport, according to the same site.

Sociology emeritus professor Paavo Seppanen has been following sport closely for more than 60 years. In his view, the javelin throw is a model of an individual pursuit which doesn’t need much equipment or facilities. “In the countryside, any small boy could make a rudimentary birch or alder javelin and throw it in any open field. Throwing things – along with lifting stones, putting shots, wrestling arms, climbing trees, etc – has always been part of Finnish physical exercise tradition.”

Theory #2 is the cold dark climate of the area. In this case, the writer refers to Finland.

“The Finns have been moulded psychologically by the extremes of their climate,” says [Chris] Turner (British journalist). “Long dark winters and short glorious summers have produced the archetypal strong but silent national character. The javelin suits the Finns, providing an emotional release for all their pent-up feelings. It’s the dual release of spear and emotion which the Finns so much enjoy.”

Theory #3 is a corollary on Theory #2, in that the reserved nature of the Finns provides a firm launching pad for explosive throws.

The site quotes 1964 Olympic champion, Pauli Nevala.

According to 1964 Olympic Champion Pauli Nevala’s amusing definition, “what a great javelin thrower needs is a combination of egocentrism, guts bordering stupidity, plus lots of ambition and limitless greed to succeed – all of which happen to be scorned by our society!”

Whatever the reason, the Scandinavian hotbed is still hot! Of the nine javelin medalists in the past three Summer Games, four have been from Norway and Finland.

Finnish Javelin Legends
The photograph of Jonni Myyr… (the winner), flanked by his countrymen Urho Peltonen, Paavo Johansson-Jaale and Julius Saaristo, remains one of the defining moments of Finnish sport.