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The making of a scholar athlete and leader: Senior thrower Hilmar Jonsson

The Iceland native credits his time at Virginia for his development as an athlete and person

<p>In the long term, senior thrower Hilmar Jonsson hopes to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.</p>

In the long term, senior thrower Hilmar Jonsson hopes to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Senior thrower Hilmar Jonsson has competed at an elite level since he first came to Virginia. Jonsson was ACC Champion in the hammer throw in his first outdoor season with Virginia — spring 2016 — and continued his streak of ACC championship wins in 2017 and 2018. His dominance has extended into the 2019 outdoor season during his senior year. Jonsson recently beat his own school record, in addition to setting Lannigan Field and Icelandic national records with a mark of 75.26 meters at the Virginia Grand Prix. Outside of collegiate competition, Jonsson became the Iceland National Champion in the hammer throw in the summer of 2016.

Born and raised in Iceland, Jonsson began competing in the track and field youth circuit at 10-years-old. Jon Sigurjonsson, his father, was a former hammer thrower, so Jonsson started out by throwing and lifting with him every Saturday.

In high school, Jonsson’s hard work began to pay off. He found major success in Iceland and on the international stage. At 16 years old, Jonsson became the Icelandic national champion in the hammer and placed seventh at the 2013 European Junior Championships. The next year, he qualified for the final of the hammer throw at the 2014 World Junior Championships.

After significant success in high school, Jonsson was recruited heavily by many Division I schools in the U.S. He decided to attend Virginia after fielding other offers from Florida State, Virginia Tech and Minnesota. 

“What attracted me most to U.Va. was former thrower Filip Mihaljevic and Coach [Martin] Maric, who both had the same experience of going away from home,” Jonsson said.

Jonsson made the decision at the end of December and arrived at Virginia in early January 2016. Jonsson hit the ground running in the field. However, the transition to Virginia academically was tough, at first.

“I definitely didn’t expect to devote so much time to academics,” Jonsson said. “It was quite a shock.”

After a tough first semester, Jonsson learned the ropes and grounded himself, significantly improving his studies. He learned how to balance school and track and was recognized in the 2017 outdoor season for making the ACC Academic Honor Roll. In 2018, Jonsson was named to the ACC All-Academic team in both the indoor and outdoor seasons.

Jonsson is graduating with a double major in women and gender studies and English. His favorite classes were WGS 4700, “Men and Masculinities” and CLAS 2010, “Greek Civilization.”

On top of international competition after college, Jonsson hopes to get a master’s degree in Iceland in either literature or linguistics. One day, he hopes to become a high school teacher or even a professor. 

“Hilmar is as exceptional off the track as he is at the track,” Coach Martin Maric said. “What distinguishes Hilmar from any other hammer thrower in NCAA is his immense work capacity and attention to details, which is also why he excels academically as well.”

Maric was crucial to Jonsson’s development inside and outside the classroom. Maric had been through a similar experience to Jonsson, formerly competing in the NCAA as a European, and that shared experience made him a great mentor.

“He was really influential to me,” Jonsson said of Maric. “He always stresses doing well in school and working hard. He’s definitely been a great person in my life in terms of what person I want to be. He encourages me to gain new experiences and meet new people — he’s more than a coach to me.”

With great mentorship throughout his time at Virginia, Jonsson has become a leader himself. He leads through the characteristic that has guided him from Iceland to Charlottesville — his hard work.

His leadership and selflessness has not gone unrecognized by his mentor.

“He’s … been a tremendous help to his teammates, leading and helping them whenever they needed him,” Maric said. “Along with all that, he’s one of the selfless people one will ever meet.”

Instead of mentioning an individual accomplishment, Jonsson’s favorite moment at Virginia was rooted in team success, a testament to his selflessness.

“My proudest moment at U.Va. is without a doubt when we ended up third at Nationals in 2016,” Jonsson said. “I was fourth in my event.”

While his career at Virginia has been great thus far, it is not over. With more than two meters of improvement at the Virginia Grand Prix, Jonsson is approaching world-class territory and will be a threat this year to take the individual hammer title at the NCAA Championships from June 5 to 8 in Austin, Texas.

After Jonsson graduates, he plans to return to Iceland and gear up for the World Championships in September. His long-term goal is to qualify for the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.

“He surely is one of the best student-athletes this program ever had,” Maric said.