Olympic Javelin Throw Rules

Keshorn Walcott won the 2012 Olympic javelin throw gold medal.
Keshorn Walcott won the 2012 Olympic javelin throw gold medal. Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Although today's javelin is commonly termed a "spear," the nickname isn't historically accurate. In ancient times, spears were used for stabbing and javelins for throwing, leading to the inclusion of the javelin throw in the ancient Olympics. The event became part of the modern Olympic Games men's program in 1908. On the women's side, the javelin throw entered the Olympics in 1932.

The javelin throw's basic rules are simple: dash down the runway and then throw the javelin as far as you can.

In practice, however, prospective throwers should learn the event's specifics before taking up the sport.

Equipment

The modern javelin consists of three main parts: a metal head, a solid or hollow shaft – which can be made of wood but is more typically made of a light metal or a composite material, such as carbon fiber –and a cord grip.

The professional men’s javelin weighs at least 800 grams (28.2 pounds) and is between 2.6-2.7 meters long (8 feet, 6¼ inches to 8 feet 10¼ inches). The women’s javelin weighs at least 600 grams (21.2 ounces) and measures between 2.2-2.3 meters long (7-2½ to 7-6½).

At the international level, the men's javelin was redesigned in 1986, moving the center of gravity forward. The change resulted in shorter throws and was implemented for safety purposes, as some men's throws were coming dangerously close to flying out of the designated landing area. A similar women's javelin redesign was implemented in 1999.

Throwing Area and Rules

The javelin throw is the only Olympic throwing event in which competitors run forward with the implement, rather than throwing from a circle. The javelin throw runway is between 30-36.5 meters long (98-5 to 119-9). Throwers may place as many as two markers in the runway, to help establish a consistent starting point.

As you would expect, the javelin is held at the grip; the thrower's pinkie must be the closest finger to the javelin's tip. A thrower may not turn his/her back to the landing area during the approach. This rule is designed to prevent throwers from spinning, the way discus throwers do. The javelin must be thrown over the shoulder or the upper part of the throwing arm, and the thrower may not cross the foul line at any time, even after the javelin has been released.

To constitute a legal throw, the javelin’s metal tip must break the ground within the designated throwing sector. The throw is measured from the spot where the tip first touches the ground.

The Competition

Twelve competitors qualify for the Olympic javelin throw final. In the 2012 Games, 44 men and 42 women participated in qualification round prior to the final. The results from the qualification rounds do not carry over into the final. Everyone who meets or exceeds the qualification standard set for the competition, or the top 12 throwers – whichever is greater – qualifies for the final.

As in all throwing events, the 12 finalists have three attempts apiece, and then the top eight competitors receive three more attempts. The longest single throw during the final wins. If two throwers are tied, their next-best throws determine the winner.