Elon’s Laura Igaune competing in the Olympics for Latvia

Igaune, an assistant coach for Elon's track and field and cross country teams, will compete in the hammer throw at the Olympics in Tokyo.

Track and field competitions at the Olympics in Tokyo get underway today, and Elon Phoenix fans will find a familiar face among the competitors.

Laura Igaune, an assistant coach with Elon’s track and field and cross country teams, will be competing for her home country, Latvia, in the hammer throw. Currently ranked in the top 20 in the world in the event, Igaune landed a spot on the Latvian team and in the Olympics after posting a personal-best throw of 73.56 meters. Qualifications for the event take place on Sunday, Aug. 1, and the finals will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 3.

Igaune said she’s proud to represent her country, but her Olympic appearance is bigger than that. “Most importantly I will be representing myself and for me, it’s a huge step forward just to be able to compete at the Olympics,” she said.

Igaune came to hammer throwing while in high school, introduced to the sport by a coach who encouraged her to give it a try. At the time she was a jumper as well as a discus thrower, and she saw the hammer throw as a way to continue to expand her involvement in track and field. She really immersed herself in the sport while in medical school in Latvia and then competed for Western Kentucky University after moving to the United States to pursue a master’s degree.

“Track and field is particularly popular overseas,” Igaune said. “I like the individuality of track and field. You are part of a team, but when you train, everything you do depends on you.”

Igaune has already seen considerable success during her track and field career. She claimed the Latvian Junior Championship title in the triple jump and has won multiple titles as the Latvian National Champion in both the discus and hammer. She still holds the Latvia national record in the hammer.

A European Championship qualifier in the hammer throw in 2012, she competed at the 2019 IAAF World Athletic Championships in Doha, Qatar, in the hammer throw. She qualified for the Olympics that same year competing at the Duke Invitational, where she was also coaching her Elon student-athletes.

Igaune said the event is difficult, requiring a combination of physical fitness, footwork, timing and efficiency. The “hammer” is a nine-pound steel ball attached to a handle by steel wire. Igaune said she typically swings the hammer three times to gain momentum and then completes three full-body turns before releasing the hammer.

“Training for that perfect throw that may never come is just repetition, repetition, repetition,” Igaune said. “Every throw is going to be different in a certain way. Your body needs to be strong and agile.”

The health and safety measures for the Olympics began even before she left for Tokyo, with multiple COVID-19 tests required, and testing to continue during the games. Igaune said she felt comfortable with the measures that are in place to help keep everyone involved in the games safe.

“I am just excited,” Igaune said. “I want to soak it in. I don’t want to put much pressure on myself, because I think I’ve done enough and worked enough to get there.”