London Predictions: Men’s Discus

As with the men’s shot put, the men’s discus competition in London will feature a giant dude who has spent the summer dropping bombs.

That would be the big Swede, Daniel Stahl, who has four competitions over 68 meters this season including a 71.29m blast on June 29th at the Folksam Grand Prix meeting.

In London, Stahl will seek to exorcise memories of an awful performance in Rio where a best effort of 62.26m did not get him to the final (this, after finishing fifth at the  2015 Worlds in Beijing with a toss of 64.26m).

Oddly, Stahl’s main competition in London will come from three other athletes whose experiences in Rio were also at least semi-disastrous.

Frederick Dacres produced a groan-inducing best of 50.69m in Rio, but has looked fast, powerful, and confident on the Diamond League circuit this summer, hitting 68.36m in Stockholm, 67.10m in Oslo, and 66.66m in London.  Also, like Stahl, he performed well at the 2015 Worlds, finishing 7th with a toss of 64.22m and thus proving that he has the ability to make the final at a big meet in a big stadium.

Philip Milanov staked his claim as next great thrower on the horizon by taking silver at Beijing in 2015, then bit the weenie in Rio where he finished ninth. He has looked sharp this season with his best effort of 67.05m coming in Stockholm.

Robert Harting, arguably the best big meet thrower since Al Oerter, looked ready to  pull off a major comeback in Rio after blowing out his knee in the fall of 2014 and missing the entire 2015 campaign. He won the German championships in 2016 with a 68-meter effort, but suffered a back spasm the night before the Rio prelims while bending over to turn out a light. His best mark this year is 66.30m, but if the young bucks tighten up a bit and those Rio memories start to nag, can he be counted out?

Three of the top four finishers in Rio will not be competing in London. Neither gold medalist Chris Harting, who suffered an early spring back injury that threw him completely out of kilter, nor bronze medalist Daniel Jasinski made the German squad. Fourth place finisher Martin Kupper managed a season’s best of 62.86m.

Last year’s silver medalist, however, will compete and in spite of a lackluster 2017 campaign must be considered a threat to make the podium.

That would be Beijing champion and perennial victim of various Hartings, Piotr Malachowski. His best of 65.90m puts him tenth on this season’s performance list, and for the first time in about a hundred years he did not win the Polish championships, but his experience and toughness make him a contender.

Speaking of contenders, there are twenty-two throwers who have gone beyond 65 meters this year, among them Gerd Kanter (65.87m) who even Malachowski probably refers to as “Gramps,” Robert Urbanek (66.73m) who  defeated Malachowski at the Polish nationals, and the Lithuanian Andrius Gudzius (68.61m).

That said, let’s make some picks.

Trofimuk

Gold: Milanov

 Reason: As Trofimuk humbly puts it, “He is the only sensible pick. His performance at Beijing gives him the edge over the guys throwing the best this season.”

Silver: Malachowski

Reason: “He always performs well at the World Championships.”

Bronze: Stahl

Reason: “He’s having a great year. He’s young and  hungry for a medal at a major championship. Plus, he’s bigger than a refrigerator.”

McQ

Gold: Harting

 Reason: When those young bucks Milanov, Stahl, and Dacres start warming up in London, everything had better go right for them or those Rio-inspired doubts might be tough to suppress. Those guys are only human, right? Harting might be too, but he’s that odd, Michael Jordan kind of human who performs best in situations where others would be mired in doubt. In 2009, Malachowski throws a national record 69.15m in round five at the Berlin World Championships putting Harting in the position of having to conjure up a PR in  round six. We all remember how that turned out. At the London Olympics, he felt like crap. At the Moscow Worlds, he had a back injury. He still found a  way to win. If nerves or what have you keeps the best throwers in the 67-meter range next week,  he’s my pick to squeeze out a winner.

Silver: Stahl

Reason: Like Trofimuk, I respect a man who could punch out a dinosaur. Even if he has a kind-of-crappy day, he’s going  66 meters.

Bronze: Malachowski

Reason: Sentiment. Watch this ESPN vid and tell me you won’t be rooting for him:

http://www.espn.com/videohub/video/clip?id=19906682&categoryid=null

 

London Predictions: Men’s Shot

It is time for my former thrower, Pat Trofimuk, and I to make our annual Big Meet predictions. I’m a bit worried that this will be Trofimuk’s last time helping me as he is but a few days from getting married and I know from experience that what a fiance puts up with a wife may not. If the little woman makes him choose between spending time keeping track of throws stats and spending time watching professional wrestling…. I’ll need a new partner.

That said, here we go.

Men’s Shot

When I played little league baseball, there were always one or two kids in the league who were legitimately eleven years old but through some quirk of nature looked to be in their mid-20’s.

I exaggerate, but you know what I mean. There were always a couple of guys who were way more physically mature than all the  other kids, and when they pitched against your team you knew you had no shot.

And I don’t mean you had no chance of winning the game. You had no shot at making contact with the ball.

You’d slouch your way to the batter’s box knowing you were about to strike out and just hoping that you could get through it without taking a fastball to the head.

Three or four pitches later you’d be on your way to the safety of the dugout, glad to have survived.

Competing against Ryan Crouser must be kind of like that right now.

In a world filled with outstanding shot putters (14 have gone over 70 feet this year) he appears to be unbeatable.

Twenty-two meters in an Olympics or World Championships is a great performance.  Throw that in London, and you’ll for sure be in the hunt…for second place.

Consider Joe Kovacs.

The 2015 World Champion, Joe is a super explosive, technically excellent putter. Just entering his prime, he can already make a case as being one of the best of all time.

Accordingly, he came up huge this past June at the USATF Championships with a sixth round bomb of 22.35m (73’4″for you provincial types).

That’s a monster put, and because of it, Joe only lost by a foot when Crouser responded with 22.65m.

Former indoor World Champion Ryan Whiting, another all-time great, also showed up big in Sacramento. After enduring a couple of sub par years due to injuries, his  21.54m demonstrated that he is once again ready to fight for a spot on the podium at big meets. It also left him nearly four feet behind Crouser.

How about New Zealander Tom Walsh, the Rio bronze-medalist who nailed a 22.04m toss just the other day at the MF Athletics Shot Put Invitational?  (By the way, how in the heck does a guy from New Zealand, where the season begins in January, still make great throws seven months later? Tom, you need to give a seminar on that some time soon. Until then, we will all start eating vegemite.)

But again, even if Tom goes twenty-two meters in London (and he may well do that) he’s not walking away with the gold.

How about my guy David Storl? I love the glide technique, and this two-time World Champ may be the best glider ever. Like Whiting, he has been limited by injuries the past couple of years, but his recent 21.87m put suggests that he’s in great shape.

If he matches that distance in London, he’ll have an outside shot…at a bronze medal.

Anyway, you get the idea.

So, without further ado, here are our predictions.

Trofimuk:

Gold: Crouser

     Reason: Duh!

Silver: Walsh

     Reason: To quote Trofimuk, “He has been tearing it up on the Diamond League. At his last Diamond League meeting, his worst throw was 21.46m. Plus, he’s no wussy. Plus, I love New Zealand.”

Bronze: Kovacs

      Reason: Trofimuk says that three spinners will medal, (is it just me, or does that sound a tad biased?) and that Joe is the only contestant aside from Walsh and Crouser who can throw 22.00m.

 

McQ:

Gold: Crouser

     Reason: At the 2013 NCAA Championships in Eugene, a young, skinny Crouser was sitting on two fouls as he entered the  ring for his third throw. According to Dan Block, probably the greatest thrower in Illinois prep history who was competing for Wisconsin at that time, Crouser took a slow motion safety throw. The result? Twenty meters thirty-one for the win. Crouser beating a stacked NCAA field, which included two-time defending champ Jordan Clarke, with a half-speed throw suggested the possibility of  future dominance. Now, four years and forty pounds later, the future has arrived.

Silver: Kovacs

     Reason: Joe is the only putter in the field aside from Crouser who can  go 22.20m on a “good” rather than “insanely great” day. Insanely great performances are rare at the World Championships.

Bronze: Storl

     Reason: At the risk of sounding like that friend who just can’t accept when a relationship is over…”If only she’d give me another chance!”…”Dude, she’s been married for five years”…”I know, but if only she’d give me another chance!”…I am not ready to give up on my favorite glider. Have I told you about the time I sneaked into a press conference for the German team at the 2014 European Championships to ask Storl why he had switched to throwing non-reverse? Some might call that stalking. I prefer “loyalty.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Rebholz rotational shot webinar August 3rd

A few years ago, I had a quick, tough, undersized (5’9″, 160 lbs) thrower named Branden Miller. I was  very proud of Branden when he threw 47′  with the 12 lb shot and 157′ with the 1.6k discus his senior year of high school. After all, he  was undersized.

He then moved on to Carthage College and in four years of throwing for Jeff Rebholz he reached 54’7″ with the 16 lb shot, 163′ with the 2k disc, 189′ with the hammer, and 168′ with the javelin. Apparently Jeff did not notice that Branden was too small to throw those distances.

Jeff moved on to Towson University last fall, and he is currently working on converting one of his glide shot putters to the rotational style.

On August 3rd, at 6:00pm central time, he will share his strategy for helping that athlete develop solid rotational technique.

This webinar is free. Jeff will field questions throughout.

I invite you to set aside the time to attend. Jeff is a great young coach, and anyone who trains rotational putters at any level will benefit from interacting with him.

Please register here:

https://zoom.us/webinar/register/6ae3a0a8a377754ec5b9141539e44ee6

 

 

 

Dani Bunch spins her way to relevance

If you were surprised to see Dani Bunch dueling Raven Saunders and Michelle Carter for the national title and world lead last weekend in Sacramento, you were not alone.

I crossed paths with Dani twice over the last five years, and neither time did I walk away thinking “Holy cow, she might be national champion some day.”

The first instance came during the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, back in the days when world class track meets were occasionally held in the Midwest.

Dani, a sophomore at Purdue, threw 16.21m and finished ninth in her flight. At that time, Tia Brooks, a junior at Oklahoma who won in Des Moines with a toss of 18.44m, and Michelle Carter, who a year later would break the American record with a throw of 20.24m and then break it again with a gold-medal winning put of 20.63m in Rio, seemed to be the ascendant putters among American women.

The next time I ran across Dani was at the Chicagoland  Throws Series in 2015. She was in her first season as a professional and had, just three months prior, switched from the glide to the rotational shot technique.

She threw 17.28m that day, more than a meter under her glide PR. The fact that she was able to function  at all as a rotational putter so quickly after making the change was impressive, as was her determination to continue in the sport when she appeared to be a long way from cracking the upper echelon of throwers.  But, if you watch this video, you’ll see that she had a lot of work to do if she hoped to develop a level of comfort with the spin technique similar to the other elite putters in the competition, Brittany Smith, Becky O’Brien, and Tori Bliss.

Here is an interview I did with Dani at the  Chicagoland meet. Please ignore my stupidity in  occasionally using the words “glide” and “glider” when referring to the rotational technique.

After the Chicagoland meet, Dani went back to Lafayette, Indiana, and hunkered down with her college coach Keith McBride to pursue her dream of becoming a world class putter.

For the rest of 2015 and all of 2016, she toiled in relative anonymity.

Last year, at the Olympic Trials, she thew 17.37m in the prelims then fouled all three throws in the finals.

As noted above, Michelle Carter grabbed gold in Rio with a sensational sixth-round effort. Also in Rio, Raven Saunders established herself as the thrower of the future by hitting a PR of 19.35m to finish fifth.

With the spotlight on those two ladies, Dani began the 2017 campaign no longer in “relative” anonymity. She had achieved a state of “complete” anonymity.

But, according to Coach McBride, he and Dani could tell long before the start of this season that she had the capability to become a nineteen or even twenty-meter putter.

The key was having the courage, patience, and possibly misplaced confidence to commit to the rotational technique.

McBride had actually broached the possibility of converting to the spin a couple of times during Dani’s career at Purdue.

“She had kind of a rotational finish anyway,” he told me in a recent conversation. “She was kind of up and turning all the time. She was that weird glider who would throw out of bounds to the left because she turned so far through it.”

This video provides a clear illustration of Dani’s glide finish:

“So, I brought it up with her once or twice in college, but she wasn’t mentally ready for it. Her argument was, ‘I can’t throw the discus, so how can I spin in the shot?’  If the athlete isn’t ready for it, you can’t shove it down their throat.”

Finally, in February of her first year out of college, Dani competed in a meet at Purdue. Still a glider, she threw well under eighteen meters.

Throwers from Southern Illinois University also competed in that meet, and their coach at the time, John Smith (now at Ole Miss) advised McBride and Dani to make the switch to the rotational style.

Smith remembers that moment well, and described it to me in a recent conversation.

“When Raven was a freshman, we went to a meet at Purdue. It was  Dani’s first year out of college, and Keith told me that he was thinking about switching Dani to the spin. I asked him how far does she throw from a stand? He told me fifty-two feet. I said if she wants to compete at the world level as a glider, she’s going to have to have a fifty-seven foot stand throw like Michelle or Tia Brooks. If you don’t think you can do that, then she needs to spin.”

With the US Indoor Championships looming, McBride and Dani decided to postpone the decision. After finishing seventh with a toss of 17.11m at that meet,  Dani came home ready to make the switch.

I asked McBride if it was hard on Dani to accept throwing shorter distances while she adapted to the rotational style, but as he remembers it, “She threw far right away. Her first meet with the spin, a little meet somewhere in Illinois, she threw 18.50m. Then she went to Tuscon Elite and threw 18.89m.”

As he anticipated, Dani’s rotational-style finish in her glide lent itself to the full out rotational technique.

“She had been a rotational finisher from day one,  and knowing how to strike in that position helped.  Out of the back we were just trying to hit that power position she had been using in the glide. We kind of melded the spin and glide.”

The most challenging part of the conversion turned out to be getting Dani to the point where her technique could hold up under the  pressure of big meets.

Her tribulations at the 2016 Trials typified her struggles. “The issue,” according to  McBride, “from the very first was not “Can we throw far?’ but ‘Can we stay in the ring?’ She was tattooing stuff right from the start.”

The 2017 season began in promising fashion as Dani hit 19.12m at a meet in Lafayette, which gave her the world lead at the time. That throw enabled Dani’s agent to finagle an invitation to the Diamond League meeting in Shanghai.

She finished second there with a toss of 18.98m.

That result earned Dani an invitation to a meet in Brazil.

She won that competition with a 19.55m bomb, and as a result was invited to the Diamond League meeting in Rome where she finished second with a put of 18.95m.

McBride considers the Rome meeting to have been a pivotal moment in Dani’s development. “In the fifth round, Michelle Carter passed her up, and Dani was like ‘I’m not losing to her’ and she came back and beat her in the sixth round. That showed us that she finally had the confidence she needed to make big throws in pressure situations.”

Dani proved that definitively with an epic performance at the US Nationals. She opened at 18.92m and followed that with a solid 19.18m that seemed likely to net her a spot in the top three. Not willing to take any chances against a dangerous field, Dani cranked up the intensity and after two fouls killed one in the fifth round. Her 19.64m put her into first, and after Raven blasted out a PR of her own (19.76m), Dani showed that the 19.64m was no fluke by powering her final attempt out to 19.57m.

She is now ranked second in the world with two competitions (the Portland and New York stops on the Tracktown Series tour) remaining before Worlds.

And what might the future bring, now that Dani is fully confident with the rotational style?

“As big as that throw in Sacramento was,” says McBride, “she can go farther. She definitely has twenty-meter power, and  if we keep progressing she will be challenging the USA record some day.”

From eighteen-meter glider to twenty-meter spinner in two years time? It sounds crazy, but combine Dani’s determination, her great working relationship with Coach McBride, her innate feel for the rotational style, and the intense rivalry brewing between her,  Raven, and Michelle, and you just can’t put it past her.

Pun intended.

 

 

 

 

 

John Smith on Raven’s bomb at USA’s

Holy crap, there is some great shot putting going on in this country right now, and if you signed up for the NBC Gold package you got to see a good chunk of an epic women’s shot competition at the USATF National Championships last week.

When the Sacramento dust cleared, the United States had the two leading women’s putters in the world, and the defending Olympic champion was, surprisingly, not one of them.

Unfortunately, NBC Gold coverage of the final three rounds was spotty, and throws fans were left to piece together the action as best they could by checking the live results page.

Luckily,  John Smith, coach of newly minted US champion Raven Saunders, agreed to provide not only his perspective on a truly amazing competition, but also to share some insights into the training that has made Raven the thrower to beat at the Worlds in London this August.

Here’s the way things played out on a sweltering afternoon in Sacramento:

Dani Bunch got the party started  with throws of 18.92m and 19.18m in rounds one and two. The latter toss seemed likely to have secured her a ticket to Worlds.

Michelle Carter,the aforementioned Olympic champ, got rolling in round three with a 19.34m toss, which appeared likely to guarantee  her a trip  to London.

Raven, meanwhile, struggled to find a groove. After an immensely disappointing fourth place finish at the NCAA meet two weeks earlier, it would have been good for her and Coach Smith’s state of mental health if she had killed one early, but it was not to be.

Her opener was an easy 18.30m safety throw, good enough to buy five more tosses and to briefly quiet her version of the little voice we all have in our heads that says things like, “You blew it at the NCAA’s so for sure you’ll blow it here!” but unlikely to clinch a spot in the top three.

A round two 17.75m gave any lingering doubts a bit more credibility, and after a foul in round three, the little voice in her head rose to a bellow.

Actually, it was Coach Smith’s voice this time.

According to Smith,  “the foul was sixty-three and a half feet. That  throw would have put her on the team! She nailed it. She watched it. She stepped out. So she got her rear end chewed for that.”

Meanwhile, Felisha Johnson bumped Raven to fourth place with a third round toss of 18.64m.

Maddeningly, NBC Gold went offline for a few minutes as the the top eight were re-ordered for the final three rounds.

At that point the top three were Carter (19.25m), Bunch (19.18m), and Johnson (18.64m).

I recall Charles Barkley once making fun of fans who listened to NBA games on the radio. Imagine what he’d think of us throws geeks reduced to staring at the live results page on the NCAA site in order to keep up with what was happening in the shot while NBC Gold went to break and, upon returning to the air, took us on a guided tour of downtown Sacramento. Loved that vid of the steamboat, though!

In round four, Raven hit 18.58m, which did not move her up in the standings.

Carter went 19.28m, but the top three remained unchanged.

All those marks were well within Raven’s reach if she could just find her rhythm.

According to Smith,  she was in shape to launch a big one.

“Two days before  the  competition, she threw sixty-five feet with an eight-pound shot, full reverse staying in the ring, so I knew she was ready. In a meet Raven can always match or throw a foot farther than what she does in practice with the eight.”

So, he was confident as Raven stepped in for a fifth throw that she was perfectly capable of moving into the top three.

Instead, she fouled again.

As a throws coach, I often imagine being in a similar situation and saying just the right thing to my athlete who then heads back into the ring and blasts out the throw of his life.  Usually, it’s something along the lines of “You got this! Keep your chest up going  to the middle and you’ll be fine!”

John Smith, however, operates in the real world where emotions run hot especially during a long afternoon in the searing California sun with a spot on the national team in the balance.

So what did he say to Raven after her fifth round foul?

“You’d better get your ass moving, because they’re writing your obituary right now!”

Moments later, Dani Bunch dropped a fifth-round 19.64m, for a new PR and the lead.

Moments after that,  Monique Riddick stepped in and killed her final throw of the day. It measured 18.89m and knocked Raven down to fifth.

Now, I’m no fan of zombie movies, but my friends who are tell me that it is possible for someone to look really dead but still not be dead.

That turned out to be the case here, and Coach Smith used an analogy from another movie genre to describe the moment:

“After Riddick hit that throw, Raven spit on the ground like Clint Eastwood would do in the movies before he got ready to kill someone. Connie {Price Smith, former Olympian and current head coach at Ole’ Miss} said that when she saw Raven spit on the ground, she knew Raven was going to hit that last throw.”

Hit it she did.

According to Coach Smith, “It wasn’t a pretty throw, but it was evil. It was an evil throw. It had no height on it, and she  was a little bit over-rotated.  But it was nasty.”

Nineteen meters and seventy-six centimeters worth of nasty, to be exact.

A PR.

A national title.

A world lead.

A redemption from the embarrassment of the NCAA meet.

And, definitive proof that at the international level the  glide shot technique is dead?

Certainly, Michelle Carter might quibble with that suggestion, but in Smith’s view, “On  the women’s side, we are the best shot putting nation in the world because we made the leap to the spin.”  

He argues that in order to be a world class glider, an athlete must have a huge stand throw. A glider striving to throw twenty meters would have to stand mid-eighteen meters to have a chance.

Smith believes that the rotational technique makes it possible for a less powerful but more athletic thrower to reach world class distances.

Watching the progress of Jill Camarena-Williams (the now-retired bronze medalist at the 2011 Worlds) convinced him of this.

“Jill was a fifty-nine-foot glider, then she became a sixty-six-foot spinner and I always felt like Connie was a better athlete than Jill. I always wanted Connie to spin when she was throwing, but she never wanted to do it. Back then, [the 1980’s-1990’s] you only did the spin because you couldn’t glide.”

As he became more and more devoted to the rotational method, Smith developed a practice progression for refining his throwers’ technique.

“The drill work is non-reverse stands, non-reverse half turns, then something called non-reverse ‘giant steps,’ where you start in the back, step to the center, pause, then do a half turn and throw non- reverse. Then we do ‘walking fulls,’ where you turn, step, turn and throw kind of in slow motion. From there we do non-reverse fulls and then reverse fulls.”

“With Raven, practice is a non-reverse full into a net followed by a  non-reverse throw into the field.  [Note: Coach Smith has a net set up at the outdoor throwing facility at Ole Miss] She starts with a sixteen-pound shot, then moves to a twelve, then an eight, and finally a three-kilogram. Then we start over with the sixteen.” 

“Some days, Raven might take seventy to eighty throws.  We keep going until the numbers die off so much that practice is over. She might repeat that progression three or four times and she might start out with ten to fifteen throws into the net (stands, half tuns, giant steps) before she even does fulls.”

She will continue with some variation of that system for the next six weeks then travel to  London where she and Dani Bunch will try to prove to the world that the glide is dead, with Michelle Carter along to make the counter argument.

And, while there are many amazing tourist attractions in that city that are suitable to dress up a broadcast, please NBC Gold, this time stay with the women’s shot from start to finish! Based on what happened in Sacramento, it will be worth it.

 

Gia for President

The Constitution says a person must be at least thirty-five years old to run.

Check. Gia is thirty-eight.

As we know, an ideal candidate should be someone who empathizes with rural America.

Gia lives on a farm.

They should understand the importance of having access to quality health care.

More on that  later.

They should be able to stand up to Putin.

Gia has taken on another terror from the East,  Sandra Perkovic, many times and during the 2013 and 2014 seasons handed the Croatian Sensation her only losses.

They should be tough as nails.

A year ago, Gia was so hobbled by a back injury that she could barely bend over to pick up her discus. This past weekend, she won the USA Championships.

I know how injured Gia was last summer because I saw her throw at North Central  College in a last ditch attempt to see if she’d be able to compete at the Olympic trials. She literally hobbled over to the cage during warm-ups and limped out of the ring after each attempt.

It was really tough to watch. I don’t know anyone in this sport who does not love and respect Gia, and to those of us who were at North Central that day it was pretty clear that Gia’s career was over. At her age (Sorry, Gia. I know we often talk about you as if your expiration date as an athlete has expired) it was hard to imagine her coming back from that severe of an injury.

But come back she did.

According to Gia’s coach, University of Illinois head track coach Mike Turk, her back problems first emerged in August of 2015, as she was preparing for the World Championships in Beijing.

“The day before she left for the USA team training camp in Tokyo, her back got really tight. Then, she got a bad seat on the plane and had to endure the thirteen-hour flight overseas in pain the whole way. She spent most of the time in Tokyo trying to get better. USATF did everything they could for her. They even took her to one of Japan’s team doctors for acupuncture.”

Unfortunately, nothing helped and according to Coach Turk, Gia “almost pulled out of the meet before qualifying.” She gutted her way though the prelims, but finished 11th with a throw of 60.55m, almost nine meters below her PR.

Her back problems (it turned out to be herniated discs in  L4 and L5) plagued her throughout the 2016 campaign.  Coach Turk recalls the low point coming at a meet in April when Gia told him though tears that she “could not do this anymore.” Her back hurt so much that she had to have someone hold her place in line during warm-ups so she could rest between throws.

Two months later, she was forced to withdraw from the Trials.

No one would have blamed Gia if she had decided to call it a career, but having fought for nearly fifteen years to make it to the world class level (she threw her PR of 69.17m at the age of 35) she was determined not to give up.

Coach Turk says that Gia’s agent, Karen Locke, was instrumental in turning things around.  Locke referred Gia to a medical team in Los Angeles, and one of the first things they did was to treat a leg length discrepancy that apparently caused a lot of undue stress on her lower back.

After being fitted with an orthotic, “she made an incredible commitment to weeks and weeks of therapy in LA followed by months of therapy in Minnesota (at the Hopkins Health and Wellness Center). It was a big financial burden to her family. A lot of people would have given up, but she wanted to show people that it could be done.”

 

Late in the fall of 2016, Gia was able to start training like a discus thrower again.

“When we started training, it was a real slow process. We started training in conjunction with the work in Minnesota. She would go up there for a week periodically through the fall and winter. Some time in January we actually started doing some full throws.”

But progress was slow, as she had missed an entire year of serious strength training.

“When we opened the season, she was throwing 55 meters because the strength wasn’t there. She was a little down about it, and I had to remind her that she’d been off for over a year.  I really believed her power would come back, I just couldn’t tell her when.”

Finally, in May, her  power made an appearance.

She hit 62.95m to get the A standard, then followed that up on June 2nd by drilling 65.81m at the Tuscon Elite meet.

Coach Turk was pleased, but not shocked by those distances.

“I knew about that time that she was ready to throw well. I could see things flying in practice a bit more the week leading up to Tuscon.  I could see especially the heavy implements going farther.”

Though her winning toss in Sacramento (62.65m) was, by Gia’s standards, not a bomb, she and Coach Turk were happy with it for several reasons: the 100-degree temperature, the 10:00 pm in Illinois starting time, the fact that she had been for all practical purposes crippled twelve months earlier.

“The goal was to make the team,” he explained. “For sure you want to win, but she really wanted to prove that she wasn’t too old, that she could come back at the age of 38 and make another team. And when people wonder how much longer she can throw, that’s the answer: as long as she keeps making teams.

Next up is a short trip to Europe, the first time this year that she will be road testing her back overseas. Turk is not worried about her ability to withstand the rigors of such a trip.

“We’ll make sure she gets herself set before she leaves. We’ll make sure she recovers when she gets back. If she can make trips to the west coast, she can make trips to Europe.”

In terms of strength, Gia’s lifting numbers (she focuses on dead lifts, power cleans and bench press) are close to 90% of what she was lifting when she threw that 69.17m.

Around the first of August, she will pack up that strength, a couple of discs and an over-sized load of determination for a trip to Birmingham where she will make her final preparations for the Worlds in London.

Coach Turk says that he and Gia have a theme for this season: The Story is Not Over.

 

With luck, the story will continue all the way to Tokyo and the 2020 Olympics.

After that, Gia might need to find a new passion.

I have just the thing.

Gia. The country needs ‘ya!

What I Learned from Talking with Gwen Berry

In the  days leading up to the USA Championships, one’s thoughts turn to big throws and  those that produce them.

One of my favorite contenders to make the team for the World Championships in London is the American record holder in the women’s hammer, Gwen Berry.

Gwen was nice enough to chat with me for a few minutes recently. Here are some things I learned from our conversation.

The woman can handle adversity.

In May 2016, Gwen broke the American record in the hammer with a toss of 76.31m at the Ole Miss Classic in Oxford, Mississippi. That throw earned her $30,000 in performance bonuses.

She got to keep none of it.

I wrote in detail about this situation last summer. You can find that article here: http://mcthrows.com/?p=1511

Basically what happened was that Gwen got suspended by USADA in the days following her American record throw because several weeks earlier she had self-reported her use of a common asthma medication called Breo. She never failed a drug test. There was never a question of why she took Breo. Simply put, she has asthma and like many people with asthma she needs medication once in while to be able to breathe.

Apparently, none of that mattered to USADA, and for a time last summer, it looked like the infraction would cost her a chance to compete in the Olympic Trials. Gwen was devastated.  According to her coach, John Smith, the stress of the controversy, of seeing her reputation tarnished “nearly killed her career. It took a lot to keep her going.”

In the end, Gwen was given a short suspension, which ended just in time for her to compete in the Trials. She was, however, stripped of her American record and the $30,000 she had earned in setting  it.

Then,  shortly after Gwen’s case was adjudicated, USADA published a decision in a case involving a swimmer who was charged with exactly the same violation…and let off with a “public warning.”

You can read about that case here: https://www.usada.org/sam-tierney-receives-public-warning/

I don’t know about you, but were I Gwen, I’d have been more than a little chapped. And I, for one, would not have blamed her if after breaking the American record again this  spring–this time with a toss of 76.77m–she’d have directed some choice words and perhaps a celebratory middle finger USADA’s way.

But, Gwen is not like that.

I asked her if she uses that whole controversy as motivation, if she enters the ring during competitions thinking “I’m going to kill this one to stick it to USADA.” Here was her reply:

“I don’t necessarily think of it like that. When I get in the ring, I want to kill one for everyone who doubted me early in my career. It took me a long time to figure out the hammer. The weight came easy for me, but not the hammer, so I guess when I get into the ring I think ‘this throw is for everyone who doubted me in the past.’ I don’t worry about USADA. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I know that life sucks sometimes, but the whole thing made me a stronger thrower and person.”

Indeed.

 

Gwen Berry and Morgan Spurlock have something in common.

Remember him? He’s the guy who made the Super Size Me documentary.  IMDB describes its premise this way:  “While examining the influence of the fast food industry, Morgan Spurlock personally explored the consequences on his health of a diet of solely McDonald’s food for one month.”

The main consequence was that subsisting on a McDonald’s-only diet made him feel like crap.

Gwen can relate.

After qualifying for the Olympics last summer,  she arrived in Rio two weeks before the women’s hammer competition. The plan was to get acclimated to her surroundings and develop a routine that would help her feel comfortable when it was time to compete.

But she could not stomach the food in the athlete’s village, and McDonald’s was her only alternative other than a two-week fast.

So, in the days leading up to the biggest meet of her life, Gwen took every meal under the golden arches.

Like Spurlock, her McDonald’s binge made her feel awful, and she did not qualify for the hammer final.

She is ready though, if she makes the squad for the World’s in London, to try a different tack.

“I will not go there early,” she vowed. “I will try to keep my normal regimen for as long as I can. If I qualify for London, I’ll go there a couple of days before my competition.”

According to Coach Smith, jet lag tends to hit athletes three days after arriving in a distant land, so Gwen will have to cut it pretty close and literally show up  two days before the hammer prelims.

She is confident she can make it work.

“That’s what I did in Japan,” she said (referring to her IAAF Hammer Challenge win in Kawasaki last May). “I’d never thrown 73 meters overseas before, and I threw 74.13m there.”

 

Gwen can throw great, even when her back is killing her.

When my back spazzes on me, I like to lie on the floor and whine so that  my wife will bring me snacks.

Gwen is made of sterner stuff.

This  past February, a month before the USA Indoor Championships where she was scheduled to compete in the 20-lb weight throw, Gwen strained her back so badly that she could barely throw or lift. According to Coach Smith, her workouts during the four weeks prior to the championships  consisted almost entirely of back rehab.

Two weeks out, she was convinced that she would not be able to compete.

Ten days out, she was able to throw a 25-lb training weight about 18 meters, and Smith convinced her to go to Albuquerque and take a whack at competing.

She did, and ended up throwing 25.60m to break the world record.

 

College kids these days are really soft.

Back in my day, if you stayed up late reading Goethe and got a craving for a freshly baked cookie you were out of luck. Even if you could convince a fraternity brother to take a break from his quantum mechanics homework and drive you to Seven Eleven, the freshest thing you could get was probably a pack of Chips Ahoy that had been on the shelf since the mid Phanerozoic Eon. It was balderdash, I tell you.

But times have changed, and now if you are a student at Ole Miss you can get freshly baked cookies delivered to your door any time between the hours of 9:00am and 3:00am.  And the person who delivers them to you might just be the American record holder in the women’s hammer.

Let her explain.

“I can’t work a real job,” Gwen told me when I asked how she was supporting herself. “So I deliver for Insomnia Cookies.  I practice every day at about 2:00pm, and then I go to work until 3:00am. I don’t mind it, though, and they are great about letting me take time off when I need it.”

One of those times is right now as she prepares for the US Championships. If she makes the team for London, her hiatus could be  extended for a couple of months.

Coach Smith says that she is ready not only to make the team but to extend the American record. His hammer throwers train with a wide variety of implements–heavy and light on both regular and shortened wires–and he keeps meticulous track of how  far each thrower throws each implement each practice.

Based on her training throws, he says that Gwen “is in much better shape now than when she broke the American record.”

So, if you happen to be in Oxford, Mississippi this fall and find yourself ordering up a late-night cookie, be ready. When you open your door you may well come face to face with a World Championships medalist.

And one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shadae Lawrence v. Maggie Ewen: a technical analysis

Watching the NCAA women’s discus final via the ESPN webcast last weekend I was struck by two things. One, it’s not only high school officials who are nuts.  The college guys are as well. Two different throwers whanged a disc off the cage so hard that it ricocheted straight up before coming to rest on the turf a few meters from the ring.  Both walked away assuming it was understood that they did not want those throws measured. Both assumed wrong. Ten meters forty. Eight meters sixty.  You can  look it up.

The second interesting thing about the competition was the sixth round when Kansas State’s Shadae Lawrence and Arizona State’s Maggie Ewen hammered great final throws.

Shadae went 61.37m for the win.

Maggie, after being pushed into third place by Shadae’s toss, responded with her best effort of the day, 60.11m, to take second.

You can see  those tosses on Macthrowvideo.com.

Right now, I’d like to take a look at some stills from the vids of those throws because I think they reveal why Maggie came up short in her effort to add a discus title to the hammer gold she’d won a couple of days earlier.

Here they are winding up:

Shadae has an unusually wide base here, and she uses a rigid right leg to keep her center of gravity from sliding to the right during her wind. I assume she does this to expedite the all-important transfer of weight to the left prior to entry.

And here that entry begins:

At first glance, both throwers appear to be in good shape. Each keeps the disc back as they swing their left side open. Their shoulders are level. The difference I see is that Shadae has turned her left foot harder and pushed her hips farther to the left than has Maggie. In fact, it looks like Maggie’s hips are sliding to the right a bit as her upper body turns and her left arm reaches left.

A couple of frames later, we can see that Shadae has continued to turn her left foot more aggressively than has Maggie, and that Shadae’s hips are opened much farther towards the direction of the  throw.

 

They both do a nice job of getting their right leg out wide, but Maggie’s left foot has stopped turning, leaving her in the position of having to run one direction while her left foot points in another. You can see that her discus is rising up a bit, which may indicate that her shoulders are too far out in front of her hips and she is falling into the throw.

 

Here they are just before right foot touchdown. They look pretty similar at this point, but if you take a close look at the video, you’ll see that as Maggie lands, her right leg has to absorb quite a bit of shock– another indication that she is falling rather than running as she travels  the ring.

 

You can see some of the effort that Maggie has to exert here to absorb the extra shock of landing off balance. It is probably that shock that has caused her discus to drop just when she’d like it to be rising up to a high point.

 

Here is the moment of left foot touchdown. Both have done a nice job of keeping their weight back on their right leg, but Maggie’s disc has dropped while Shadae’s is in an ideal position.

 

Both do a great job here of getting the right heel up before the disc sweeps past it. Unfortunately for Maggie, her center of gravity has shifted prematurely to her left leg while Shadae has stayed back on her  right.

 

Notice the direction of their hips at the moment of release. Maggie has a nice left side block and a super long right arm, but her momentum is pulling her toward the left foul line while her throw ends up landing near the right foul line. Shadae is on balance, her hips squared up in the direction of the throw.

 

The follow through on a throw is often a good indicator of how well the athlete maintained their balance while running the ring, and you can see that Maggie is falling off to the left. It took every ounce of her considerable athleticism to save this throw.

Most coaches will tell you that the success of a discus throw is determined by what happens at the back of the ring. That is absolutely the case here. Shadae did a better job of shifting her weight over an aggressively turning left foot. This allowed her to run the  ring on balance and produce a more efficient throw.

Let me conclude by noting that Maggie’s throw, though not technically perfect, was a big time clutch effort.  As was her NCAA record throw in the hammer. As was her sixth place performance in the shot. Clearly, she is one of the finest throwers in NCAA history, and fans of the throws have a lot to look forward to next year as Maggie and Shadae will both be back.

Porzingis squats: a great example of intelligent weight training

My coaching partner Bellini (he’s kind of like a “life partner” except our relationship consists entirely of coaching and talking about coaching over lunch) sent me this video last night, and I love it so much I have to write about it.

In the vid, the star NBA player Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks performs some body weight squats and  static single leg squats while a muscular man helps him with his posture. Take a look:

What I love about this vid is that the strength coach looks like the stereotypical meat head weight room guy (Why do they never have a full head of hair?) but there is nothing reckless or ill-conceived about what he is doing with Porzingis.

I know that every strength coach wants to be able to brag about how strong they get their clients. It’s good for business.

So, I’m sure this guy would love to Facegram all his friends the news that he got Kristaps Porzingis to squat 500 pounds! It would be his legacy, the thing he would be remembered for long after he is forced into retirement because his neck has gotten so big he can no longer find a shirt that fits.

But putting any amount of weight on Porzingis’ shoulders would be crazy at this point because Porzingis, like many tall young athletes, can barely maintain a safe posture while performing a squat with only his body weight.

By “safe posture” I mean torso upright, shoulders aligned over the hips, like this:

You can see in the vid that Porzingis has to fight like crazy not to lapse into this kind  of posture…

…during his squat reps. Doing so with even a light load  would put him at a high risk of injuring his back.  His trainer clearly understands this and so is putting him through the hard, tedious work necessary to prepare him for some sort of loaded squatting–if and when Porzingis can handle it.

That, in my humble opinion, is excellent strength coaching.

The guy has ascertained Porzingis’ weaknesses and has designed a plan to address them.

And I’ll bet if a different kind of athlete, say somebody like Olympic javelin champion Thomas Rohler…

…walked into that guy’s gym he would not use the same workout that he uses with Porzingis.

Rohler is literally a foot shorter than Porzingis and has great core strength and flexibility. I’ll bet he could do a set of 50 of those single leg squats that Porzingis struggles with in the video.  What would be the point of putting those two very different athletes on the same routine?

And what if world champion shot putter Joe Kovacs walked into that gym?

Joe is stout, super explosive, and not very flexible. He could probably rip my Prius in half, but he’d flunk the sit-and-reach test in gym class. Would he, Porzingis, and Rohler all benefit from the same training program?

I think not.

So, when I watch the  Porzingis video I see two important facets of strength training  displayed: patience and individualization.

And those are things that all of us who train kids in the weight room should try to include in our programs.

 

 

 

Michigan to open throws palace in 2018

 

michigan field house

 

Next January, the University of Michigan will inaugurate a new indoor and outdoor track facility. Currently under construction, it is  known as the “Stephen M. Ross Athletic Campus Athletics South Competition and Performance Project” but it won’t be long before it picks up a catchier name among throws aficionados, something along the lines of “The Stephen M. Ross Palace of Awesomeness.”

Ok, it won’t just be a throwing facility.

The field house will also contain a state-of-the-art, 200-meter, banked, hydraulic track surrounded by a three-lane, 300-meter practice track, a weight room with 42 platforms, training facilities for the rowing, soccer, tennis, wrestling, lacrosse, and  gymnastics teams, and enough locker room space for a good chunk of the civilized world.

But, the fact that you are reading this article on this site tells me that you are not terribly interested in banked tracks or gymnastics facilities, so let’s get to the good stuff.

Four years ago, Michigan hired this man…

…Jerry Clayton, as head coach of the men’s track team.  He brought with him thirty years of experience at the University of Illinois, Southwest Texas State, the University of Florida, and Auburn. During that time he coached…

• 2 World champions

• 2 Olympic Medalists (Silver, Bronze)

• 16 individual NCAA Champions

• 80+ All-Americans

He also accumulated quite a bit of expertise in the construction of track and field facilities, so when  the athletic department acquired two old warehouses on the edge of campus and decided that the land they occupied would be an ideal spot on which to build new indoor and outdoor track arenas, Jerry was the perfect guy to have on hand.

Fortunately, the  administration at Michigan realized that and gave Jerry lots of leeway in designing the new facility.

Those of you who have been involved in the construction of a track venue know that this is a rare and wondrous occurrence. When my school rebuilt our athletic facilities a few years ago, our principal called me into his office and demanded to know why we had to have a concrete pad from which to throw the discus. “Can’t they just spin around on the grass?” he fumed. We got our concrete, but I always felt like he resented it as an unnecessary expense.

Jerry’s experience at Michigan has been just the opposite.

“During the fall of my second year, they really started serious planning,” Jerry told me in a recent interview. “They knew that I had built facilities at three of my previous four jobs, and it was incredible how much the administration allowed my input.”

Jerry is one of those guys who could probably coach any event in track and field, so he was able to pitch in with advice on everything from the layout of the track to the ideal seating capacity (2,000 permanent seats, which can be expanded to 3,500 if he gets his wish to someday host the Big Ten and NCAA championships).

But his area of expertise is the throws, and three decades of coaching world class shot putters and discus throwers  such as Mike Lehmann, Gabor Mate,  Edis Elkasevic, and Cory Martin gave him a chance to visit a great variety of training and competition venues  across the United States and Europe. Jerry also encouraged his athletes to send him pictures of the facilities they came across on their travels overseas.

Given the opportunity to design the new facility at Michigan, he tried to combine the best features of all these places, some as close as Lincoln, Nebraska, others as far afield as Berlin, Germany.

A top priority was creating a space that would allow for year-round training of the long throws.

“At one end of the indoor facility (see the illustration above) we will be able to throw the hammer and discus into nets outside of the oval and also outside of the 300-meter track so athletes can still train on those tracks while we throw.”

The finished product will look something like this…

One trick to constructing an effective indoor training space is  to find the right material in which to throw the  hammer. It has to be flexible enough so that the implement does not rebound back at the thrower, but sturdy enough to withstand a lot of abuse.  Luckily, Jerry’s former putter Eric Werskey spent a lot of time in Germany over the past couple of years and was able to obtain the exact specs for the materials the Germans use in their indoor throwing facilities.  According to Jerry, “they  throw the hammer into strips of  PVC vinyl, one quarter inch thick (see photo below). You hang the strips so that they overlap and you can throw a hammer into it and it will only deflect maybe a foot and a half.”  The Michigan space will use that exact grade of PVC.

While many coaches working in a northern climate would be thrilled for their athletes to have the ability to launch hammers and discs into a net all winter, the new facility will allow Jerry to take cold weather training a step further.  If you are a true throws geek, you have likely seen this video of Robert Harting:

He is throwing from an indoor ring through a large open doorway onto an outdoor grass field. Here is another view of a similar facility:

Notice how misty/rainy/crappy the weather looks outside. Kind of like a typical day in the Midwest between November and March.  But with a setup like this, who cares? Your athletes can throw from a dry, covered ring and still know how far their attempts are traveling, which is a distinct advantage over throwing into a net.

Here is a closeup look at the end of the field house where Jerry’s rings will be located:

Two of those rings will be like the ones in those videos, where the athletes will be able to throw from inside the field house onto…

…these outdoor throwing fields.

What makes the Michigan facility potentially better than the German training centers will be the ability to throw the javelin from indoors to out as well. Notice on those blueprints that an extended straightaway from the practice track ends just short of the throwing rings. Jav throwers will be able to use that section of the track as a runway while launching the spear out onto the grass.

One more aspect of the Michigan facility bears mention, though it does not pertain strictly to the throws.

As much as I love the sport of track and field, I  think I can speak for most coaches, athletes and fans when I say that sometimes meets, especially indoor meets, can drag on a bit too long, A lot too long when you have a field of elite pole vaulters.

Jerry has sought to remedy that situation by setting up his new facility so that not only can the weight, shot, and  high jump be run concurrently, but so can two long jump and two (Thank you, Jesus!) pole vault runways.

The facility is set to open in January, 2018, with a quad featuring Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan State. Jerry predicts that meet can be completed in two hours.

He is also trying to put together a Big 10 v. ACC challenge featuring at least nine teams, which he believes will take no more than five hours, start to finish.

And speaking of making track and field more fan-friendly, Jerry also designed the new facility to allow live streaming of practices and competitions.

“I made sure they put the conduit in, and also put in  locations for cameras, with a toggle switch in a control room so you can cover the meet live.  The parents will be able to sit at home and watch. That’s the direction that track needs to go. We need to get it out to more alumni, fans and parents. We will have to purchase the cameras later, but when we do the facility will be ready for it.”

Whatever they end up calling this new athletic complex, kudos to Jerry for envisioning a cutting-edge venue that will provide a great track and field experience for coaches, athletes, and spectators.

And kudos to the Michigan administration for hiring a coach with vast experience in his sport and then trusting his advice.

Maybe they should call it the Palace of Miracles.