At Long, Long Last, Javelin Thrower Kara Winger Reached A Global Podium In Final Opportunity

by David Woods

Kara Winger celebrates after the women's javelin final at the 2022 World Athletics Championships on July 22, 2022 in Eugene, Ore.


EUGENE, Ore. — This was Ted Williams in his last at-bat. Or John Elway in his last Super Bowl. Or Bill Russell in his last NBA Finals.
All finished with a flourish.
Except those three icons had already achieved the pinnacle in baseball, football and basketball. Kara Winger had not. Never had she won a global medal in the javelin.
But here she was, at age 36, in her native Pacific Northwest, after two ACL surgeries, in her last season, in her last throw, in her last World Athletics Championships.
On a Friday with the sun setting in Oregon and on Winger’s javelin career, she had one last chance. She was in fifth place. Instead of a face of tension, hers was a broad smile as she urged the Hayward Field crowd to clap rhythmically.
“I felt every single person in the stadium was cheering for me. So why wouldn’t I be happy about that?” she said.
She crossed steps down the runway, holding the javelin above her right shoulder and aiming to throw through the point at which it would travel farthest. This time, the spear soared . . . and kept going. 
The tip stopped 64.05 meters away — 210 feet, 1 inch — and suddenly Winger was second.
That is where she stayed. She became the first American woman to win a javelin medal at a world championships. People talk about Hayward Field magic, she said, and she experienced it as never before.
“I’m amazed these results are coming after my second ACL tear,” Winger said. “When you do the right stuff, your dream can come true.”
The four-time Olympian was honored to be flag bearer at last year’s closing ceremony at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. This time, she was draped in the flag as she made her way around Hayward Field on a victory lap. She interrupted the celebration long enough to high-five Sydney McLaughlin after the latter’s historic world record in the 400-meter hurdles.
Winger’s result was no fluke. She had three other throws exceeding 200 feet and was briefly in fourth place. She was fifth at the 2019 worlds, previously the best by an American, and fourth in qualifying Wednesday.
“I walked into this stadium, this season, very much at ease with whatever happened,” Winger said. “I’ve always known that’s in me. So to actually have that finally come true is extremely gratifying in front of a home crowd.”

Noah Lyles, Athing Mu and Kara Winger of Team United States pose during the closing ceremony on day ten of the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 at Hayward Field on July 24, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon.


Australia’s Kelsey-Lee Barber repeated as gold medalist with a distance of 66.91 meters, best in the world this year. Haruka Kitaguchi of Japan won bronze at 63.27, also in the final around.
Winger, a native of Vancouver, Washington, would not have persisted another season if not for a world championships here on home soil. This was not her last meet because she plans to compete in Europe and in the North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) Championships Aug. 19-21 in the Bahamas.
She has speculated two surgeries on her ACL, plus one on her left (non-throwing) shoulder, prevented her from realizing potential.
Yet Winger has achievements no one else can match. She’s competed in all six world championships since 2009. In field events, no American woman has ever been on top so long — national championships 14 years apart, 2008 and 2022.
“And maybe that is what my legacy is, that consistency and that ability to have an American presence internationally, even if it’s not what my hopes and dreams were made of,” she said. “Even if I could have, ultimately, thrown farther without that first injury.
“I’m extremely proud I’ve gotten back up, over and over and over again.”
She introduced herself to the national scene when she exceeded 200 feet for the first time in 2008, throwing 202-0 as a Purdue junior to win the Big Ten. She subsequently won the U.S. Olympic Trials, also at Eugene, and was on her way to the Olympic Games Beijing 2008.
Two years later, she set an American record of 218-8 in the U.S. championships at Des Moines, Iowa. Twelve years later, that remains her best.
She was diligent during the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown, refining technique using a home contraption made by her husband, retired thrower Russell Winger. Kara Winger had a workout partner, close friend Ariana Ince, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. When the two did throw, they did so in an empty park.
“I’ve gotten so much more out of track than I thought I would,” Winger said. “And it’s not about the medals. It’s about the people you get to be competitors with, be teammates with, be coached by. I love all of it.”
In a post-javelin career, Winger will continue working for Parity, founded in 2020. The company strives to close the gender pay gap for elite women’s athletes.

David Woods, a native of Urbana, Illinois, has been covering Olympic sports since 1972 and is the only four-time winner of the Jesse Abramson Award, presented by Track and Field Writers of America for journalism. He is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.