Unlike most of the traditional Olympic athletic events that were first contested at the modern Games in 1896, the shot put most likely owes its lineage to the Scottish Highland games competition, the stone put. The shot put is contested in both men's and women's categories at the Summer Olympics as well as the biennial World Track and Field championships.
As with all other field events, the shot put is a deceptively simple sport. The competitor is required to throw a 16 lb (7.2 kg) steel ball, using a prescribed method where the ball is held in one hand, in a position under the competitor's chin. From a 7 ft (2.2 m) circle, within which the athlete must remain during the throw, the ball is thrown in a thrusting motion; the ball must land within a sector of the field whose apex begins at the throwing circle. In Olympic competition, each shot putter is given six throws, with the best effort counting as the athlete's score.
The shot put is primarily a strength event, but the technique used to generate the efficient and powerful movement of the athlete in the throwing circle will usually determine success. Two different techniques are employed by shot putters to deliver the shot. The first is known as the glide technique, where the thrower moves across the throwing circle quickly to develop speed, and with one fluid motion throws the shot, twisting the body at the point of the delivery to ensure not to end up outside the throwing circle and fault, which will void the throw. The second technique is described as the spin, where the thrower begins the movement with the back to the target area. The athlete then takes a quick step and turns the hip as quickly as possible to generate maximum velocity in the throwing circle. The thrower then transfers the weight as forcefully as possible to the foot closest to the edge of the circle, thrusting the throwing arm to release the shot while the body is moving forward.
The angle at which the shot is delivered is also crucial. Unlike objects such as a discus or a javelin, which must be thrown with the aerodynamics of their intended flight considered, the shot put angle of projection will be the ideal combination of the speed of the shot as obtained from the movement of the thrower across the circle, and that will defeat the effect of gravity the longest.
It is the combination of the speed of the athletes as they move across the throwing circle and the angle of projection that will determine the horizontal motion of the shot after it is released. The vertical effects on the shot are determined by the force of gravity on the ball, which is a constant. The flight of the shot is always a parabola, due to the influence of the force of gravity on the horizontal speed of the shot.
Other than specialized track spikes, which give the throwers additional stability as they move through the throwing circle and then plant their feet to deliver the throw, and the chalk, which is permitted to improve the athletes' grip on the steel ball, the shot putters are not permitted to use any other aid or equipment to deliver the throw.
A successful shot putter will possess a very strong and well-developed upper body, powerful legs with which to drive across the throwing circle, and a measure of agility necessary to execute this maneuver in a confined 7 ft (2.1 m) circle. It is a testament to the difficulty of the shot put that it is one of the 10 events that form the ultimate track and field athletic challenge, the decathlon.
While there is significant differences in the technical approaches to each discipline, the training that is required to develop a shot put athlete is similar to that employed by a hammer throw specialist or a discus thrower. Intensive weight training that emphasizes the chest and the shoulders of the athlete will be stressed. Leg exercises such as squats, lunges, leg presses, and other forms of exercise to heighten the explosive ability of the thrower's legs to deliver upward thrust at the time of the release of the shot are crucial to success.
As with many Olympic athletics events, the limelight is on these competitors only once every four years. Shot putters and other field competitors toil in anonymity in other regional or collegiate competitions. It is noteworthy that in this strength event, unlike other Olympic competitions, the world records for men and women have not fallen since 1990 and 1987, respectively. This stagnation in record progress tends to coincide with the greater ability of the sport scientists to detect anabolic steroid use.
shot put • n. an athletic contest in which a very heavy round ball is thrown as far as possible. DERIVATIVES: shot-put·ter n. shot-put·ting n.