RIP Stewart Togher: ‘The best hammer coach in the world, bar none’

EUGENE, Ore. – Stewart Togher, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the hammer throw and a longtime throws coach at the University of Oregon, passed away at the age of 80 on March 28 after a long battle with leukemia.

Togher, a former Scottish weightlifting champion, came to the U.S. in the early 1980s to be a part of the Olympic development program for American hammer throwers.

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He served as the U.S. national hammer coach for 10 years, and spent 15 seasons as the UO throws coach from 1983 to 1997. Four of the top five men’s hammer throwers on the Ducks’ all-time list were tutored by Togher, including NCAA champions Ken Flax and Scott McGee.

Born in Portobello, Scotland, Togher also mentored athletes from Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, Australia and Japan. He coached athletes at each Olympic Games from 1976 to 2004. One of his pupils, Japan’s Koji Murofushi, won the gold medal in the hammer throw at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“The guy was brilliant,” said Lance Deal, a longtime Togher disciple and silver medalist in the hammer throw at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. “He was the best hammer coach in the world … bar none.”

Deal first met Togher in 1985. It was Togher’s third season at Oregon, and the raw but talented left-handed discus thrower from Montana State showed up at Hayward Field at the behest of his collegiate coach.

The idea was to spend a couple of weeks in Eugene being tutored by the hammer guru.

After working out under the watchful eye of Togher for just a few days, Deal threw a personal best of 207 feet, good enough to qualify for the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. At the end of two weeks, he was consistently throwing the hammer over 220 feet.

At that point, the gruff Scotsman approached Deal with one question: “Are you staying, laddie?”

The answer was an emphatic “yes,” and the coach-athlete relationship which blossomed over the next 18 years produced a string of historic achievements which still stand today.

“If it wasn’t for Stewart, I wouldn’t be here,” Deal said. “I wouldn’t be this guy.”

A four-time Olympian, Deal was the first American to medal in the hammer throw since Hal Connolly won gold in 1956. Deal went on to earn 21 national titles during his professional career: nine in the hammer throw and 12 in the indoor weight throw. He still holds the American record (270-9/82.54m) in the hammer throw and the world record (84-10/25.87m) in the indoor weight.

Deal, who once described Togher’s relationship with the hammer as a “magnificent obsession,” had this to say about his former coach when he was inducted into the USATF National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2014.

“Stewart had a huge impact on my life as both an athlete and a person,” Deal said. “The guy doesn’t sleep. He sits up and thinks about things, and I was real fortunate that he sat up and thought about the hammer as it related to me for a long, long time.”

Togher, whose coaching prowess spread worldwide, never did stop thinking about the hammer throw.

Eight years ago, he purchased a secluded 13-acre parcel of pristine countryside overlooking the McKenzie River Valley. He transformed the land into a “hammer thrower’s paradise,” complete with a cement throwing circle and steel cage at the bottom of a gently sloping hill. From inside the cage, the thrower’s target was a 100-foot tall cedar tree.

The distance from the circle to the tree was measured at precisely 86 meters – the world record.

“I can’t believe I didn’t do this earlier,” Togher said at the time. “This is perfect. There’s no wind. There can be a storm blowing over the top of the hill and it doesn’t even move the net. You can hear your feet here. You can hear yourself work.”

The hammer sanctuary, located a few miles south of Springfield, was described as “a slice of heaven” by Jake Freeman, one of the American hammer throwers who visited the facility as often as possible. It was one of many innovations which Togher brought to the sport throughout his career.

“I go to Stewart to perfect my technique,” Freeman told The Register-Guard in 2010. “A lot of coaches don’t have the eyes like he does to know if you’re an inch off. He knows everything and he’s strict enough to make you do it right.”

For his part, Deal fondly recalled Togher’s reaction the first time he threw over 80 meters, a long-stated goal and a measuring stick of world-class talent. It was a piece of wisdom he has never forgotten.

“After I threw 80 meters for the first time, (Stewart) told me, ‘OK, now it’s time to throw well. Stop worrying about throwing far, now throw well’” Deal said.

“And that carried me through.”

There will be a Memorial Gathering at Gatehouse Pizza in Pleasant Hill on Sunday, April 15 from 1:30-4 p.m. in Togher’s honor. His longtime companion, Kathy Campbell; their two daughters, Carly and Heather; and his brother, Justin, will be in attendance. The public is invited.

Said Deal: “Guiness will be served.”