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Murofushi breezes in first round of hammer

by Ed Odeven

BEIJING — Hammer thrower Koji Murofushi, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, is right where he wants to be: in position to defend his title.

It didn’t take a long time, either.

Murofushi tossed the hammer 78.16 meters, or just above the qualifying standard of 78.0, on his first and only throw at National Stadium on Friday morning.

“I got my qualification after finishing one throw,” the 14-time national champion noted. “But this is not my best, merely enough for me to get to the finals.”

Competitors were given up to three attempts to make the cut.

Murofushi has coped with a rash of injuries since the Athens Games. He missed the 2008 Osaka Grand Prix with a back strain.

In 2006, he skipped the Asian Games in Doha due to a right calf injury and he missed the 2005 IAAF World Athletics with what is listed as a left-side muscle injury.

He placed third at the season-ending World Athletics Final last September in Stuttgart, Germany, with a throw of 77.95 after placing sixth at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka.

Murofushi had the fifth-best throw in the qualifying.

Hungary’s Krisztian Pars enters Sunday night’s final as the No. 1-ranked thrower. He earned the top spot with a throw of 80.7 meters.

Poland’s Szymon Ziolkowski secured the No. 2 spot with a season-best mark of 79.55.

Slovenia’s Primoz Kozmus is third (79.44) and Belarus’ Ivan Tsikhan, the two-time defending world champion, is fourth (79.26).

History hasn’t been kind to the reigning hammer champion. The last repeat winner was Yuriy Sedykh of the Soviet Union in the 1976 Montreal Games and 1980 Moscow Games.

“Everything is good, but in the final there will be great competition,” said Murofushi.

“I trained hard for a few years to participate in this event. It’s a great feeling to be here.”

Murofushi owns the fifth-best throw of all time (84.86 meters), which was set on June 29, 2003, in Prague. He set his top mark of 2008 (81.87) on July 21 at a tuneup meet in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture.

When he won the gold in Athens, Murofushi clinched the victory with an 82.91-meter effort.

(Hungary’s Adrian Annus was stripped of his gold medal after refusing to take a post-competition gold medal.)

Two days away from his next competition, Murofushi realizes his goal of a second gold won’t be easy.

“It’s totally different,” he said, comparing the past two Olympiads. “It’s difficult to get into the finals with only one throw.

“I need everybody’s support.”