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June 15, 2011

Hammer Time - Marcel Lomnicky started his athletics career as a figure skater, but he has become one of the nation's best in the hammer throw

By: Jimmy Robertson

These days, many parents are the most delusional creatures on earth. They gaze at their children with fondness, refusing to see the flaws, or denying that those flaws will morph into something worse.

But Viera Lomnicka certainly isn’t like most moms.

Roughly 10 years ago, Viera, a mother of two, looked at her oldest child and saw a tubby-looking boy whose hindquarters were starting to make permanent imprints on her couch. Not wanting him to become another statistic related to childhood obesity, she forced her son to enroll in the sport of figure skating.

Yes, it’s true. Marcel Lomnicky, Tech’s All-American in a sport that features burly men, primal screaming and a 16-pound metal ball, actually began his journey in athletics learning delicate toe loops, axels and lutzes.

“I didn’t decide for myself to do figure skating,” Lomnicky said with a smile. “My mom decided for me.

“The truth is I was very fat as a kid. She wanted me to start moving and do something, so she picked that sport.”

Lomnicky certainly has moved – into elite territory, that is. Thanks now to a regimen that consists of weekly weight lifting and plyometrics, he has turned himself from a portly kid into a muscular 220-pound athlete who is among the nation’s best at the hammer throw.

The Slovakia native just missed his second national championship in the event after teammate Alexander Ziegler edged him at the NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, in early June. Yet that shouldn’t diminish a career that includes a national championship, three ACC titles and five All-America nods.

These are exceptional results for a once-pudgy kid who first took up figure skating. Though in fairness, a lot of young boys in Slovakia learn to skate early on. It’s a prerequisite for those who want to play ice hockey, the passion of choice among the 5 million people in this Central European country.

Lomnicky tried figure skating as a kid. He tried ice hockey. He tried other sports.

“I tried all the balls,” he said, referring to baseball, basketball and the like.

The hammer throw actually came about as somewhat of a last resort. He got involved in track and field as a teenager in his hometown of Nitra, an old city in southwest Slovakia. That sport offers numerous opportunities, with its diverse array of running options (track) and physical alternatives (field), and Lomnicky tested them all.

“In track and field, there are a lot of events, and I tried them all except the pole vault,” he said. “I was too scared – and too heavy. But all the sprints and jumps, I’ve tried them all.

“I tried all the events and nothing was working out for me as good as hammer throwing. I think I was used to the motion from all the figure skating, just all the turns. The technique for the hammer throw was very easy for me to pick up. It was no problem at all. That’s how I started. I was around 16 years old.”

It led to him tossing his figure skates into his closet and tossing that 16-pound ball toward greatness. He became the Slovakia junior record holder, and he won the bronze medal at the World Junior Championships held in Beijing in 2006. In 2007, he finished third at the European U23 Championships.

Most of what he accomplished came through work ethic and talent and not necessarily through coaching. After graduating from high school in 2006, he continued to compete for a year, but he wanted to get even better. To do that, he realized he needed better coaching.

“I didn’t have a coach back home, and I was training by myself,” Lomnicky said. “I didn’t want to go to the United States, but I started looking at coaches all over the world. Then I started looking at universities here.”

Enter Greg Jack, Tech’s acclaimed throws coach. Jack, who is wired into the track and field scene in Europe, managed to bring Lomnicky over for a visit to Blacksburg. Lomnicky also took a visit to Clemson, where his sister, Nikola, was at the time.

In the end, Lomnicky decided to come to Tech. The process, however, was arduous. A thrower, he needed to find some way to hurdle the SAT.

Lomnicky took German in high school and lacked the English needed to pass the test. After taking a class in his hometown and after multiple attempts at the SAT, he finally received the necessary score and made his way to his new home, enrolling at Tech in January of 2009.

Contrary to most international student-athletes, the transition was a breeze. Start with the food, for example.

“I really like the barbecue and all the meats. I like the burgers. I’m not complaining,” he laughed.

And as for the weather and the mountains?

“Slovakia isn’t that different from here,” he said. “The climate is similar – we have winter, summer, spring and fall. The people here are different. I think the people here are friendlier and more open-minded. But Slovakia is a beautiful place. We have a lot of mountains. Nature is big there. It’s not very different, so the transition wasn’t very hard.

“The biggest transition was the language. I didn’t speak English all that well, and I had to go straight to all those classes and listen to those professors. It was rough. My first semester, I had the easiest classes I could get, but it was still hard for me. Other than that, everything is pretty similar. I actually like it more here.”

It took him only a few weeks to make an impact on Tech’s track and field program. In need of points from his throwers, Jack decided to have Lomnicky compete in the weight throw – an event different than the hammer throw – at the ACC indoor meet at Rector Field House. Despite a lack of familiarity with the event, Lomnicky won the ACC crown with a toss of nearly 69 feet. He then finished eighth at the NCAA Championships, earning All-America honors.

During the outdoor season, he dominated at his specialty, winning all five hammer throw competitions in which he competed, including the ACC title. Then, six months after his arrival in Blacksburg, he won the national championship, besting the field by tossing the hammer 235 feet, 6 inches.

“I wasn’t surprised I won, but it was much closer than I thought,” Lomnicky said. “There were three or four guys who could have won and I won, so I was happy about it.”

A year ago, he had hoped to capture back-to-back NCAA crowns, but he broke his rib throwing not long after he won his second straight ACC title, and while he competed in pain, he wasn’t nearly as effective. He finished in a tie for third and earned All-America honors at the NCAA meet, but he lost out on the coveted honors of being the top thrower in the family. Sister Nikola, a little more than a year younger than Marcel, transferred to Georgia after a year at Clemson, and she won the women’s national title for the Bulldogs last summer.

“We have a great relationship,” Lomnicky said. “We Skype every day or talk on the phone. We talk about everything. It’s good because when I have bad days and I’m on the phone with her, she cheers me up. When she has bad days, I can do that for her.”

Lomnicky concluded his outdoor career at Tech with the NCAA Championships, and he departs with the school record in the hammer throw (75.84 meters, or 248 feet, 10 inches), the 2009 national title and the three ACC titles. But he plans on returning to Blacksburg next fall for his final season of indoor eligibility. It gives him the opportunity to work with Jack and continue his education, but it may not possess the same pizzazz for him because he hates the weight throw, track and field’s indoor throwing event.

“It’s my duty,” he said. “I have to throw it. Everybody knows I’m not a fan of weight throw, but I have to throw for points for the team. Coach knows I’m not into it. I’m not really good at it. I guess that’s why I don’t like it.”

In the immediate future, he’ll be competing in the hammer throw at the World Championships held in South Korea in late August. Then he’ll come back to Tech.

But his eyes remain focused on the event that takes place a year from now – the 2012 Olympics in London. He predicts he needs a toss of 78 meters to qualify. To put the mark into perspective, Slovenia’s Primoz Kozmus won the gold medal in the Beijing Olympics with a toss of 82.02 meters. All of the medalists threw at least 81 meters.

Lomnicky has never thrown the hammer that far. Yet he remains optimistic.

“I need to improve my technique and get stronger,” he said. “I’m still weak compared to the elite throwers, but I feel confident.”

At the least, he’s come a long way from the chunky kid who used to sit around his mom’s house. And he’s come a long way from the kid who slid around awkwardly on skates.

Now, thanks to his mom, he’s on the right path. Hopefully one made of more gold.

(From Marcel Lomnicky)


“The ball is 16 pounds and is attached to a wire that is attached to a handle. You spin the ball over your head and then turn four times. The faster you go, usually the farther the ball will go. Everyone gets three attempts. Then the top nine get another three attempts.”


“You’ve got to be fast and have a lot of flexibility. A body builder would be strong enough to be a thrower, but not flexible enough. With the shot put, it’s all about how big and strong you are, but you wouldn’t have a chance as a hammer thrower.”


“I take one or two days off a week. I usually lift three times a week and throw four times a week when I don’t have a meet. I’ll throw twice a week during weeks when I do have a meet.”


“It’s all about the legs. That’s where you get your distance. I don’t do the bench press because I don’t want a huge chest. I want to be as loose as I can be in the upper body. I do squats for pure strength and then do a lot of box jumps, standing jumps, short sprints and clean and snatch [lifting the bar from the floor to over one’s head].”


“All the great ones [throwers] are in their 30’s. Throwing the hammer requires more time. There’s a lot of throwing and practicing that you have to do. The top eight at the World Championships will be over 30, so I’m still young. I’ve got a lot of time to put in.”