A German track and field official died Monday a day after he was struck in the face and throat by a javelin thrown by a 16-year-old competitor at a youth athletic competition in Dusseldorf.
Dieter Strack, 74, an experienced domestic javelin referee, was trying to measure the distance of a throw that was still in the air when he was hit.
“He ran to the sector while the throw was still in the air,” Jochen Grundman, an organizer of the 66th Wilhelm Unger Games, told ABC News. “He probably thought he would calculate the airpath correctly before the javelin touched the ground.”
The javelin, which weighs about 700 grams (1.5 pounds) and its steel tip struck the official in the cheek and went down the neck, Grudman said. He shouted, grabbed the javelin, taking it out of his body, and dropped to the ground as officials, a doctor and athletes rushed to him.
The 16-year-old competitor watched in shock from afar and cradled his head in his hands. “He and several of the 800 spectators at the event are receiving psychological counseling,” police spokesman Andre Hartwig said over the phone.
The referee had a ruptured carotid artery in the neck, was bleeding heavily and was immediately taken to a nearby hospital where he died early Monday morning, a police spokesman confirmed.
Officials canceled the remainder of the Wilhelm Unger Games.
The 74-year-old Strack was a “popular and experienced sports judge,” the athletics association for Dusseldorf and Neuss said in a statement on its web site. “He was the victim of a tragic accident. All of us who were there are horrified and in shock.”
“Although there is a rule not to go to the sector before the throw lands, most experienced judges rush to it while the throw is still in the air,” says Grundman. “They even do that at the Olympic Games.”
Accidents like this are rare. In 2007, a French athlete, Salim Sdiri, was hit in the back by a stray javelin and suffered ruptures of his liver and kidney during a competition in Rome.