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Jacob Sweetman: The Harting they come

As one of Germany's real favourites going into the Olympic games, Robert Harting had said that it was difficult to deal with some of the external pressure. It didn't show last night as he won the gold. We salute the prickly thrower.

Image for Jacob Sweetman: The Harting they come
Photo by Erik van Leeuwen (Wikimedia Commons)

The discus throw is as old as time. Almost. Myron, that dowdy old sculptor who the Sportsdesk reveres alongside Stevie Nicks as great historical artists who have depicted the sport (and who may or may not have spent their money on a lackey to blow cocaine up their arseholes) made his statue, Discobolus in around 450BC.

Although the actual throwing technique has been refined in the two millennia since then, the statue still retains its tightly coiled, highly sprung charm. In the late 1970s Nicks wrote the original lyrics to a song “You Can Throw Your Own Way”, about the statue and the benefits of naked athletics aligned to dubious freedom of expression, hard drugs, bad records and stupid floaty dresses. Rumour has it that Lindsey Buckingham won the subsequent argument and the song was changed.

None of this matters much to Robert Harting, the discus thrower from Cottbus who has refined the brutal skill with his coaches in Berlin, and who last night got to do his own traditional winning celebration as he added an Olympic gold medal to his European and World Championship ones. As he does, he did his trademark ripping the shirt from his colossal body – a move nicked from Hulk Hogan, and bearing all of the hallmarks of the wrestler’s humility and charm.

Harting told the Berliner Zeitung yesterday that he was used to putting pressure on himself – that he has done his whole life, be it in devoting himself to a discipline that hurts the body and taxes the spirit, or to his studies of business management that will form the next stage in the prickly throwers career. It is the pressure from outside that he was struggling to deal with.

But last night it was the pressure from the outstanding Iranian Ehsan Hadadi who was leading the competition until the very last throw that he had to deal with too. In fact, by this point he had been superseded by the Estonian Gerd Kanter as well.

He had one chance to try and match the two 70 metre throws he has already made this year. One chance to remain undefeated for almost two years. No pressure then.

At 2.1 metres tall, a soldier, Robert Harting is not to be messed with. He is a mountain, a monster, a giant with a dead eye, the coil, spring and launch of a viper and if he says that he trusts you as far as he could throw you it means a different thing completely to what most of us would mean.

He probably doesn’t trust you though. In a piece about him last weekend the Berliner Zeitung said that he was not an easy man to get along with. This is reflected by the storm he kicked up in 2009 at the Berlin World Championships, which he won, when he spoke out about a visible campaign by the victims of doping in athletics in the former GDR, seemingly (and seemingly mindlessly) to somehow try and stick up for his coach and mentor, the disgraced, but still working, Werner Goldmann. It was a PR disaster.

But Goldmann remained his coach, and he was in the stands last night. Harting approached him looking as nervous as a bear trapped in the body of a mountain can. Goldmann’s instructions were clear – just keep it simple, use your smooth technique allied to your unbelievable strength, and a flying start. You’ll be fine.

Harting took a moment before entering the circle for that final throw. Hadadi was after him, there was nothing he could do about that, but he had to make this one count. Unerringly, as he so often does, he did. It flew to 68.27 metres, he was in the lead for the first time in a competition that wasn’t hitting world-best targets, and just had to watch a single throw before his dream came true.

As Hadadi’s discus landed short, Harting was off, those ridiculous legs, with famously knackered knees, pumping underneath him as he made off round the track. He was excitable like a 200 kilo kitten, he bounded along the track, leaping the hurdles set out for the women’s final unconvincingly.

It is nice that in this fairly disappointing Olympics for Germany, the star of the show is an uncomfortable, and frankly ugly, man, whose discipline is unheralded, and whose PR skills are minimal. This one is a victory for the bears.