Edmonds resident George Mathews, 75, competed in Malaga, Spain last month, placing third in the hammer throw and also claiming a world champion title in the weight-throw at the World Masters Athletic Track & Field Championships. This was his sixth world championship title. Add to that an additional 23 medals in 16 world championships plus 61 national titles.
To the uninitiated, his sport of hammer throw may conjure up a beefy, red-faced man, perhaps in a kilt, spinning and grunting and hurling a huge, metal ball across a field.
That surely was the case hundreds of years ago in the Scottish Highlands, but today, the sport is open to both men and women where strength, but not necessarily beefiness, is required.
Matthews was a mere 165 pounds and 5-feet-10 in college. “I won a scholarship for the shot put and discus but I was pretty small for those,” he said. “I found that I didn’t have to be a giant for the hammer throw. Speed and finesse were more important.”
He grew up on Long Island, N.Y. where the sport was popular going back to the early 1900s. “In the early days of the hammer throw, there were these giant Irishmen, New York City firemen and cops, who dominated the Olympics,” he said. “The sportswriters called them the ‘Whales.’ A New York Times writer saw me compete and named me the ‘Baby Whale.’”
He’s been competing ever since, while raising a family with his wife of 53 years, Kate. “She has always my greatest supporter, even in college,” he said.
A year ago, Matthews took a break for hernia surgery at the Cascade Hernia & Surgical Solutions at Meridian Surgery Center in Puyallup. He credits his excellent care for getting him back to training in six weeks and competing a few months later.
This August, Mathews won the 2018 US National Ultraweight Pentathlon in Seattle, an event with 16-, 35-, 44-, 56- and 98-pound weight throws. He’s currently ranked No. 1 in the world for his age group, men 75-79, in the ultraweight pentathlon as well as the weight and super-weight (35 pound) throw.
“You have to keep at it,” he said. “If you don’t, you won’t come back at the same level. I have to lift weights at Harbor Square Athletic Club in Edmonds and throw at least two or three times a week.”
In addition to competing, Matthews served six years as national chair of USA Masters Track and Field, the national governing body for more than 8,500 athletes across the nation, and is a member of the USA Track and Field Masters Hall of Fame.
For many years, Matthews coached high-school track and field, and now offers private coaching at a hammer facility he constructed at the West Seattle Stadium more than 25 years ago. He also organizes several masters track and field meets every year.
Matthews does lament a lack of attention on his sport. “Only one state offers it in high school so there’s no feeder system to the college level,” he said. Because of that, high school athletes who learn the sport are in demand and have many scholarship opportunities. He’s proud that a few of his past high-school athletes are now competing in the college hammer and weight throw at the highest levels.
The larger category, track and field, remains popular, and Mathews considers it the great equalizer outside of football and basketball. “It’s an opportunity for young people,” he said. “Rather than sit on the bench for four years, in track and field, if you show up regularly, are on time, and do your work, you’re on the team. It’s also unique because you get to excel on your own and at the same time, you’re part of a team.”
Of his coaching expertise, Mathews said, “I’m willing to talk to anybody who has the interest. I have a kid who comes all the way to West Seattle from Bonney Lake for coaching. It’s all about drive. And dedication.” For those interested, Mathews can be reached at Mathewshammer@gmail.com.
— By Connie McDougall