A look back at Coach Smith’s busy day in Rio

Qualifying two throwers in different events for the Olympics is a dream come true for any coach, including John Smith of the University of Mississippi who accompanied shot putter Raven Saunders and hammer thrower Gwen Berry to the Rio Games. Unfortunately, the women’s shot prelims and finals took place on the same day as the hammer prelims, making August 12 probably the busiest, most pressure-packed day of Coach Smith’s life. 

I talked with John a couple of days later, and asked about his impressions of the Rio Games in general, and more specifically how he survived his big day.

Coach, what were the accommodations like in Rio?

I stayed with the other coaches at the  hotel  for personal coaches of high performance athletes. It had air conditioning and toilet paper, so it was pretty good.

The US has a naval base that belongs to the Brazilian navy and there’s a track there and a weight room there.  Basically my time was spent going to the track, practicing and lifting. 

Did you lift at the naval base?

Yes. They had a US-only training place. It is right on the ocean. You could see the sailing competitions from it. If you saw the sailing competitions on TV that’s where our track was.

What was it like getting around?

They had shuttles for us to and from the practice track every day. Everything was there at the naval base. The weight room was like the Chula Vista weight room. They even had a safety squat bar that I requested. We were able to do everything training wise that we needed to do just like we would at home. Because of that, our athletes were prepared and ready to go. Compared to other Olympics, it was unbelievably accommodating for the coaches. USATF and the USOC gave us a chance to do what we needed to do.

This was my fifth Olympics and you could tell  the organizers weren’t ready. The day we finally got to go to the stadium. they had just put in toeboards at the practice track the day before. And they were building the cage inside the stadium the day before. But, at least  they had an Olympic lane on the streets so we could avoid the traffic. Even with that, for the athletes it took an hour to get to the naval base and an hour to go from the village to the stadium. It pretty much took an hour to go anywhere important.

Did the streets feel safe?

You had to be careful. Where we were at there were bars on the windows, metal doors.  There were even bars on the windows on the second story.

You had to be happy with Raven getting a PR of 19.35m and finishing fifth.

We were in great shape. In practice prior to the Games,  she did some fantastic things, but you never know if they are going to come out or  not.  We had a practice in the last six or seven days where she threw a sixteen-pound shot 45 feet, and a 3.75k 66 feet. She usually matches her 3.75k distance in a meet, so she was pretty excited. After she qualified for the final,  I said “Raven, go for it. On your first throw get into the top eight then just go after it. I don’t care if you foul.”

She was pissed afterwards that she didn’t throw 65. She only has one speed–all out. She is fearless and that is what makes her great. I expect her to throw 66 feet next year. The only think I may add to her repertoire is I may have her lose a little weight and I may add push jerks.

Are you planning on adjusting her  diet?

Yes. There is a lot of room for improvement in her diet. I’d like her weigh about 245.

How would the push jerks specifically help her?

As fast as she gets across the ring, she needs to get up quickly. I have her throw into a net every other throw in practice–one to the net, one to the field. And we emphasize getting up at the end of the throw.  But after seven days in Rio without the net, she lost her ability to lift at the end. Her speed has to go from horizontal to vertical. When she fouls it is because she doesn’t get up soon enough or hard enough, 

How did Gwen look leading up to the Games?

Gwen was ready to go. She threw the 3k 280 feet in training, but this was Gwen’s first time, and the failure rate the first time at an Olympics or Worlds is 85-90 percent.

Deanna (Price. who John coached at Southern Illinois University) was the same way last year. I asked her what was the difference between this year and last year, and she said, “Last year I was scared. This year I wasn’t.” (Note: Deanna made the World’s team last year, but did not make the final in Beijing. In Rio, she did.)

World qualifying is a bitch. Until they go through it…

Can you take us through your day on August 12 when both girls  competed?

I got up at 5:30 to catch the 6:30 bus, but it got lost on the way to the track, so it took an hour and fifteen minutes to get there when it should have taken 35 minutes. I had to go get my credentials to get in the practice track, and once I got in, I had Raven take a non-reverse half-turn and a non-reverse full, another non-reverse half-turn and non-reverse full.  I had her take a full throw to see that everything was balanced okay, then I took her to the waiting room and went inside the stadium.

She fouled her first throw then hit the automatic qualifier (18.40m) on her second throw (18.83m), which for someone in their first Olympics is fantastic.

I thought it would take 18-meters to qualify, so for several weeks we practiced twice a day where I would  give her four warm-up throws then she would get three throws to throw 18 meters with the 3.75k, then she would go home. We did that for ten weeks.

We got to the point where I was comfortable that she could  make it.

Then the day before the competition we were going to rest, but it started to rain, and there was a chance it would rain the next day in the competition, so I took her  to the track and had her take some throws to get used to those conditions. She threw about 63 feet with the 3.75k.

After the shot qualifying, they had a car for me, Michael Carter (father and coach of Michelle), and Larry Judge (coach of Felisha Johnson) to go back to the hotel. I felt bad for Michael because the airline lost his bags and he ended up wearing the same clothes for six days. We got back just after noon, and I went to have something to eat at a smorgasbord where you put your food on the plate and pay by the pound.

I left on the 5:30 bus to go to the track again, and this time I had Gwen getting ready for the prelims, but the warm-up area for the long throws was at a different practice track, so I had to go back to the stadium and then take a shuttle to the long throws track, which looked like a vacant lot with a hammer cage on it.

From there they took the girls to the call room, and they had another bus to take the coaches back to the stadium.

While you were at the warm-up track with Gwen, where was Raven?

She was at the warm-up track at the stadium and Connie was there. (Note: John is married to former Olympian Connie Price Smith who was the head coach for the women’s track team in Rio).

So you were positioned to manage that potentially difficult situation.

Yes. And if Gwen ended up in  the second flight, which competed when  Raven was throwing, JC would have coached Gwen. (Note: “JC” is JC Lambert who Smith coached at SIU and who took over as throws coach there when the Smiths moved to Ole Miss) He’s worked a lot with Gwen, so it would not have been a problem.

Anyway, it worked out well that Gwen was in the first flight, because the second flight competed during the women’s shot final, so when Gwen was done I just walked around to the other side of the stadium, and Raven was already warming up.

 I never did get to see Raven after the competition. Connie did, but I had to catch the 11:30 bus back to the hotel.

That was quite a day!

Yes. I had one fantastic performance and a girl that came up a little short and still had a lot of emotional baggage. Gwen felt like she had something to prove instead of just getting in there to throw. After the whole thing with the asthma medication, she felt like she had to prove that she wasn’t on drugs.

Will Gwen keep throwing?

I hope so. Whenever an athlete has a disappointing Olympics they sort of re-think their career. But I think she will. She has tons of potential. 



Olympic Predictions: Women’s Discus

The following is a public service announcement from Captain Obvious:

Sandra Perkovic of Croatia is going to win the women’s disc.


Here’s how we know:

-She opened the season with a 70.59m toss on March 6 in Split.

-She threw a 70.88m world-leader on  May 14 in Shanghai.

-She threw 69 meters twice in July, most recently 69.94m in London on the 23rd.

-All in all, she has six of the top ten throws of 2016.

-Beyond that, she is quite simply the best women’s discus thrower in history, and at the top of her game. I know, I know, her PR of 71.08m is the 85th best throw of all-time. But throws 1 thru 84 on that list took place between 1981-1992, and all but one of them was made by an athlete from the Eastern Bloc. That one throw (71.22m, number 78 on the list) was produced by Ria Stalman of the Netherlands who, earlier this year, shocked the world by admitting that she took supplements other than vitamin C during her career.

These throwers will be vying for the silver and bronze: 


Yaime Perez of Cuba threw 68.86m in Havana in February. She followed that up with a 67.91m in June, also in Cuba. For the past two months, though, she has not been impressive.


Yaime’s teammate, Dania Caballero, won the  World Championships last year by hammering a 69-meter first round toss that Perkovic could not answer. This year, her best of 67.62m came June 29 in Portugal after she was destroyed by Perkovic in Stockholm and  Oslo.


Nadine Muller of Germany took the silver last year in Beijing with a 65.53m toss. This year she won the  German championships with 65.79m–her season’s best. We are wondering, though, if something is up with her health, as she finished fourth at the Euros (62.63m) and then threw 59.95m at the London DL meeting.



Shanice Craft, also of Germany, has thrown 64.62m this year, and finished third at the Euros. She is super consistent, but at twenty-three-years-old may not be ready yet to bust a 66m and get in  the hunt in Rio. Then again, I did not think her countryman Daniel Jasinski had a prayer of getting on the podium, and we know how that turned out.


Dani Samuels of Australia was the World Champion in 2009 but has not medaled at a major meet since. Why, I do not know. This year, she hit  67.77m in Shanghai in May, so she has the horsepower to get on the podium in Rio if she can find her form.


Germany’s Julia Fischer finished fifth in Beijing last year with a 63.88m toss, and earned this season’s European silver (65.77m).  She also threw a huge PR of 68.49m in May.

Here are Trofimuk’s predictions. I disagree, which is why he is currently locked in the basement.

Bronze: Muller

Silver: Caballero

Gold: Perkovic

Here are my picks:

Bronze: Cabellero. She’s not producing the results  she was last year, but is for sure capable of going 66+.

Silver: Fischer. Is she ready to pull a Chris Harting and take the leap to the big time? Why yes, she is. Unfortunately, and this is not a dig at Piotr Malachowski, no matter how far she or anyone else throws, Perkovic will throw father.

Gold: Perkovic. She  was banged up last year, and  could not respond in her usual honey badger style when Caballero killed one in the first round in Beijing. That will not be the case in Rio. If she has to, she will go 70+ to get the win.


Olympic Predictions: Men’s Discus

Trofimuk and I disagree on this one, but twenty years of marriage   has trained me to avoid conflict by employing subterfuge, and since I have the password to the blog and he doesn’t…here’s what I think.

This is going to be a two-man battle for the gold, with the bronze medal totally up for grabs.

The Contenders (for the bronze)


Mason Finley of the United States  created great expectations for himself at a very young age by one, being ginormous, and two, breaking the all-time high school record in the disc.  Seven up and down years later, he came up yuuuuge at this year’s Trials, hitting a PR 66.72m in the prelims and following that up with 63.42m for the win in the rain-soaked final.  Trofimuk and I became fans of Mason when we interviewed him in Des Moines at the 2012 NCAA meet. At the time he was getting a lot of career advice from courageous internet trolls who were outraged that he was taking too long to develop into the next great American thrower, so we were afraid he might be a little surly with us media types. But he could not have been more gracious. He kind of fell off the map after graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2014, and we had no idea what he was up to until last summer when Mac Wilkins told us that Mason had spent a few months at the Chula Vista training center and had shown a lot of potential while there. He picked a great time, this Olympic year, to start realizing that potential and even though he is unlikely to get near the  podium in Rio, if he can make the  final and then stay in the  game for another four years he may fulfill those expectations after all.


Daniel Stahl of Sweden finished fifth in Beijing last year.  Twenty-five-years old, athletic and having just hit a PR of 66.92m last month, he is definitely a threat to medal in Rio.


Can it be eleven years since Estonia’s Gerd Kanter announced himself as the next great discus thrower by blasting a 68.57m toss at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki? Virgilius Alekna came up big on his last throw to prevent Kanter from claiming the gold that night, but for Kanter, Helsinki was the beginning of a streak of dominance that included winning the Beijing Olympics and breaking the 70-meter mark in six consecutive seasons.  The emergence of a certain German as maybe the  best big-meet thrower in history (more on that below) pushed Gerd out of the  limelight, but he remains a fierce competitor who rises to the occasion. Don’t forget, he came within a few centimeters of defeating that…uh…German fellow in London. Kanter’s best this season is the 65.27m he threw to take bronze at the European Championships.  That won’t be enough to get him a medal in Rio, but don’t be surprised if this cagey veteran nails a season’s best and gets himself into the hunt.



Younger, taller, and mellower than his famous brother, Christoph Harting of Germany has flashed signs that he might be ready to succeed big bro as the best discus thrower in the world. 2015 was a breakthrough season for Chris, as he upped his PR nearly three meters to 67.93m and came within a phantom foul of medaling in Beijing. This year he threw 68.06m early and has been consistently in the 65-meter range since, taking fourth at the Euros with 65.13m. It can’t be easy operating in the shadow cast by big brother, and you hate to place too much importance on a single competition, but medaling in Rio would be a giant step in this young man’s career.



Philip Milanov of Belgium threw 66 meters in June of 2014, then must have gotten either injured or kidnapped because I was at the European Championships that August and do not recall seeing him throw. So, I was surprised as anyone last year when he broke the Belgian record with a 66.90m toss that got him the silver in Beijing. He hit a PR 67.26m this May, and finished second at the Euros with a 65.71m toss. If anyone could challenge the  two Big Dogs (more on  them in a moment) should they falter, it would likely be Milanov.


Robert Urbanek of Poland announced himself as a world class thrower with a 66.93m toss in 2012,  and helped Poland to a 1-3 finish in the disc last year in Beijing by tossing 65.18m to take the bronze. He struggled at the Euros last month, finishing ninth at 62.18m. His best this year is  65.56m., and in spite of his struggles in Amsterdam, I see him as a twenty-nine-year-old version of Kanter in that he can be relied on to throw  65-something under pressure in a stadium. However, if things get nutty in Rio and it takes 68.00m to medal he will likely be out of luck.

The Contenders (for the Gold)


Piotr Malachowski of Poland is like those fantastic NBA teams of the 1990’s (Karl Malone’s Utah Jazz, Shawn Kemp’s Seattle Supersonics, Patrick Ewing’s New York Knicks, Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets) who had no shot at winning a title as long as Michael Jordan was at his ass-kicking best. Piotr’s 67.82m silver-medal-winning toss at the Beijing Olympics should have set him up as the heir apparent to Kanter, and a 69.15m national record throw at the 2009 Worlds in Berlin seemed, for a few minutes anyway, to indicate that he was ready to assume the throne. But we all know how that turned out. (Buy me an iced tea and I’ll be glad to re-enact the BBC coverage of round six for you).  Piotr had nobody but himself to blame for a lousy 9th place finish in Daegu, but he came back strong in London (67.19m) only to finish fifth, and even stronger in Moscow (68.36m) only to finish second to “He Who Shall Not Be Named Until the Next Paragraph.” Back to the basketball analogy, it wasn’t until Michael Jordan briefly retired that another team (Olajuwon’s Rockets) was able to win an NBA title.  In Malachowski’s case, he  finally broke through and became World Champion last year (with a 67.40m toss) when that Certain Someone was unable  to compete in Beijing  due to a knee injury. This year, Malachowski leads the  world at 68.15m, is dominating the Diamond League race, and seems primed to make a run at his first Olympic gold.  However…


…Robert Harting of Germany, the Dark Prince of the Discus, the Beast from the former East is back, and the beast…is…hungry.

I know this from personal experience. In March of 2015, four months his surgery for a torn ACL, I attended one of Harting’s practices. At the time, he was determined to get the knee ready for a defense of his World title that August in Beijing. I had interviewed him a year earlier and he had seemed like a pretty friendly guy, so of course I said hello as I approached the discus cage. He turned around, shirtless and looking mighty buff, and  literally growled at me.  A sane person probably would have dropped his notebook and made a run for it, and don’t think I didn’t consider it, but instead I just wet myself a little and then stuck around to watch as he treated every stand throw, every full, every imitation like it was round six of the Olympic final. His intensity was so intimidating that I climbed to the other side of a small fence that surrounded the throwing area just to signal that I was staying the  heck out of his work space.

In hindsight, I think that accounts for the difference in his demeanor between the  first couple times I met him and this particular moment. He didn’t mind having a semi-annoying American asking him a bunch of questions in a hotel lobby or as he relaxed at the  track after a competition.  But when it was  time to work on his craft…well, that was a very different story.

As noted above, he was not able to make it back for the 2015 World Championships, and there were a couple of moments this spring when a torn pec and  more trouble with the  repaired knee threatened to derail his career for good. Then came the final round of the German Championships. The winner would receive a guaranteed spot in the Olympics. Everyone else would have to continue battling another three weeks for the remaining two slots. Robert wanted to secure that automatic bid so he could begin to focus strictly on Olympic prep, but as he stepped in for his final effort his  brother sat in first place at 66.41m. I doubt anyone in that stadium was surprised by what happened next. Certainly Malachowski wouldn’t have been. A 68.04m bomb. Robert’s best throw in two years. The automatic bid secured. Order restored.

And the medals go to…

Trofimuk is a big guy, and it would hurt to be punched by him, so I am going to go ahead and give his predictions even though they are completely wrong.

Bronze: Robert Harting

Silver: Milanov

Gold: Malachowski

 I…ahem…beg to differ. 

Bronze: Chris Harting. He was also at that March 2015 practice and was super nice. Didn’t growl at me even once. For that, I am forever grateful.

Silver: Malachowski.  I met Malachowski at the New York Diamond League meeting a couple of years ago. He is a really nice guy, and after we chatted for a while I thanked him for his time and  told him I thought he was a great thrower. “Maybe,” he replied, “but Harting always beats me.” Unfortunately for Piotr, that trend will continue in Rio.

Gold: Robert Harting.


A Coach Prepares for Rio

For a track coach, having one or your athletes make the Olympics has got to be an amazing feeling. What I wondered though, watching the recent Olympic Trials, is “What happens next?” How do you deal with the logistics of coaching your athlete through the biggest meet of their career, especially when you factor in the unique difficulties presented by the current situation in Rio?

University of Wisconsin throws coach Dave Astrauskas was kind enough to talk about his experience in  preparing to coach discus thrower Kelsey Card at the Olympics.

First of all, Dave, as a coach you work non-stop to get an athlete to the Olympics. Then, what happens? Does USATF or the USOC support you with info/advice on how to proceed?  Does the University support you? Can you give me an idea of how you even knew where to begin in terms of logistics, scheduling, etc…?

I guess I had a general idea of what to expect from being at several USATF High Performance Summits when I coached a javelin thrower named Alicia DeShasier a few years ago. After the discus competition at the trials I went through USATF team processing with Kelsey the following morning. This was when I learned A LOT about how the next 6 weeks would play out. While at processing, we had to decide on a Rio arrival date, a Rio departure date, whether to participate in opening/closing ceremonies, and when to go to the ‘other’ team processing. I also learned about the lay of the land in Rio and how long travel times may take to get from one location to another. I was introduced to the women’s Olympic throws coach and she explained how communication between myself, Kelsey, and USATF would work. I was made aware that a US practice venue had been secured and that would be where we would train leading up to the qualifying round. A practice schedule for the venue was also presented. I also learned the pros and cons of lifting at the weight room located at the Olympic village. I was told what implements would be made available at the practice facility and we were able to request some additional discs. They shared with me some precautionary things I could do to ensure better health while in Rio. It was also explained to me that USATF had secured housing for some of the personal coaches and that there was a pecking order so I would have to wait to see where I would end up if I got housing at all. I was also made aware of the ‘other’ (USOC) team processing in Houston, TX, that was also mandatory.
As for me personally, I am blessed to be employed by the University of Wisconsin. Wisconsin treats me well and UW supports our track & field / cross country program in almost every possible way. Wisconsin will cover my airfare and room & board. I ended up getting housing that was secured by USATF and is only 10 minutes from the practice venue. I called our UW travel agent and I had my flights to Rio before I left Eugene, OR. I learned from our agent that a rental car was not the way to go and that public transportation and taxis would suit me better. Our UW travel agent was helpful because she had already been through this with our swimming coaches. I also received advice/suggestions from several people from the time I knew I was going to Rio until now and they are Nate Davis (UW Assistant Coach), Connie Price-Smith (Women’s Olympic Head Coach), Jerry Schumacher (Bowerman Track Club Coach), John Smith (Ole Miss Throws Coach), Bonnie Edmondson (Olympic Throws Coach), Art Venegas (USATF Coach), Greg Watson (Kansas St. Throws Coach) and Brett Halter (Mizzou Head Coach).
What were the pros and cons of working out at the weight room in the Olympic Village?
The pros were basically the location and you are able meet a lot of athletes from different countries. The cons were it is open to all types of sports so it will be crowded. As a coach I would have to commute approximately 40 minutes. Also, it is not near the US training facility so we’d be unable to lift directly after a throw session. Ultimately, Kelsey will lift at the Olympic Village one time and lift at the US training facility 3 times.
What advice were you given about the Zika situation?

I was made aware of the risk and was told to find an insect repellent. So, I bought Sawyer’s Fisherman Formula with picaridin which was ranked the best by Consumer Reports in a recent study with the aedes mosquito which carries the zika virus. Yes, I am a research/science geek!

Speaking of science, did they talk at all about the possible ramifications of contracting Zika? Did they give you any updates regarding testing and transmission? I know that part of being an elite athlete is blocking out distractions, so I’m wondering how you all are dealing with this cloud hanging over the situation.

Not much else on Zika other than what I stated. I did not go through USOC processing with Kelsey so maybe she learned more there.

The other cloud hanging over this Games that is not normally a factor is security, Not in the sense of terrorism, the prevention of which has been a worry of Games organizers for quite some time, but in the sense that the streets of Rio have a reputation for being somewhat dangerous. Were you given any advice on that?
They only told us to travel in groups and only take as much money as you need when you leave

Olympic Predictions: Women’s Shot

The contenders:


Like Tom Walsh on the men’s side, Michelle Carter of the United States rolled the dice on a double peak in this Olympic year and the early returns were outstanding: a monumental 20.21m toss on her final throw in Portland for the win. Unfortunately, she injured her back on  that attempt and has yet to regain top form. Her best toss so far outdoors was her 19.59m winner at the Trials. Her ability to medal will depend entirely on her health. When fit, she has the experience, toughness, and horsepower to compete with anyone.



Like Carter, Anita Marton of Hungary went all-in for Portland, blasting a sixth-round 19.33m to take the silver. Unlike Carter, she has been able to surpass that sterling  performance outdoors, hitting 19.49m earlier this month.  Twenty-seven years old and possessing  fine rotational technique, she is in her prime and throwing great. Unfortunately, at this Olympics it may well take 20 meters to medal, and that is out of her range.  She’ll make the final, but  not the podium.


Another rotational thrower likely to make the  final in Rio is Raven Saunders of the United States, the twenty-year-old enfant terrible of the women’s shot. She set the NCAA meet record of 19.33m in June, followed that up with 19.24m to take second at the Trials and, under the direction of veteran Coach John Smith, will likely surpass 19 meters again at the Olympics. A top five finish would be a huge accomplishment, and if we had to  pick an early favorite for Tokyo, it would be her.



My money is on Felisha Johnson to make the final as well. She hit a PR of 19.26m in a low-pressure meet at North Central College in beautiful Naperville, Illinois, this summer (full disclosure: I live there) and backed that up with a 19.23m toss at the highest high-pressure meet of her life: the Trials. A similar distance won’t get her anywhere near the podium in Rio, but hopefully she will find a way to stay in the sport and put her Olympic experience to use in Tokyo.



China’s Gong Lijiao has thrown at least 20 meters  in seven of the past eight years including a PR of 20.43m two months ago, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say that she will very likely throw 20 meters in Rio and contend for the gold.  Her most recent effort was a 19.73m toss on July 29.


Since finishing 7th at the 2004 Olympics, New Zealand’s  Valerie Adams has won two Olympic golds, four outdoor World Championship golds, and three Indoor World golds. She could finish 57th in Rio and still be considered by folks in the know (well, by me anyway) the best shot putter in history.

Not that it’s been easy for her lately. Multiple surgeries kept her from throwing 20 meters last year for the first time since 2005. This winter, she took third in Portland with a 19.25m toss and began the long, slow climb back to the top.

Unfortunately for the rest of the world, she appears to have made it. Twice this month, she surpassed 20 meters with a best of 20.19m on July 18th.

It turns out that Val’s beloved coach Jean-Pierre Egger will not be able to make the trip to Rio due to a bum knee, but my guess is that his absence will only make Val more determined to bring home the win. And a determined, healthy Valerie Adams will be hard to beat.




Germany’s Christina Schwanitz won gold at the Worlds last year in Val’s absence, but got a late start this spring due to knee surgery.  Like Val, though, she seems to be rounding into form just at the right time winning the European title with a 20.17m chuck. I’ve heard that a German biomechanics study determined that the  base in her power position is inefficiently wide, but her fixed-feet glide technique reliably produces 20-meter throws with no fear of fouling. That makes her a formidable opponent in any big meet.


Our picks:

Bronze: Carter. Having grown up in Texas with a former NFL defensive lineman (and Olympic medalist) for a father, she is not going to let a little thing like back pain slow her down.

Silver: Schwanitz.  The fixed feet glide can be deadly in a high-pressure meet.

Gold: Adams. She’s been a dominant competitor and tireless ambassador for the sport for a dozen years. Plus, her brother (NBA star Steven Adams) can beat up your  brother.


Olympic Predictions: Men’s Shot

With the Olympics just around the corner, it was time for me to sit down with my colleague Pat Trofimuk and come up with predictions for the throwing events.  As always,  predictions that turn out to be ridiculously inaccurate should be attributed solely to Pat.

Just last week archaeologists digging at the sight of the original Olympic Games uncovered a stone tablet from 547 BC predicting an American sweep in the shot put. We’re still waiting on that, but with another powerful trio of putters heading to Rio,  might this be the year when the prophecy finally comes true?

Let’s take a look at the contenders.


Sports psychologists tell us that in order to  excel in  pressure-packed situations–say the  Olympic Games, for example–you have to maintain your poise in the face of adversity. Just made a bad throw? Relax. Breathe. Remind yourself of all the times you’ve come through in  the clutch. The last thing you want to do is to stomp around trying to rip out clumps  of your own hair like some giant, demented opera singer. And yet, the latter approach has somehow netted Poland’s Tomasz Majewski two consecutive Olympic golds.

Injury and age have had their way with him in the four years since his 21.89m performance in London, but he is a 6’9″ glider who rises to the occasion better than anybody.  Raise your hand if you are willing to bet against Majewski throwing 21 meters in Rio… I’m waiting.



My brother-in-law who runs an elementary school in Switzerland tells me that New Zealand produces the best teachers in the world. They also do a pretty decent job of cranking out shot putters, as evidenced by double Olympic champ Val Adams and  reigning Indoor World champ Tom Walsh.

Walsh  is sort of the Kiwi version of Joe Kovacs. Compact build. Friendly personality. Super explosive spin technique.

Unlike Kovacs, though, Walsh chose to gamble that he could peak once indoors for the World Championships and then again five months later in Rio.

His recent 21.54m performance at the London Diamond League meeting  indicates that his gamble might well pay off.


Darrell Hill of the United States hit a PR of 21.63m at the Trials–a huge throw under immense pressure. He lacks international experience, but for the past year has been training with Art Venegas, the Yoda (if Yoda was perpetually chapped) of American throwing, and if anyone can get him ready to withstand the rigors of the Olympic pressure cooker it is, well…Chapped Yoda.


Ryan Crouser of the United States won the Trials with a monster put of 22.11m, a distance that will likely get him the gold medal in Rio if he can replicate it.  In order to do that, he is going to have to overcome his lack of international experience. In his favor is his unique ability to throw 20 meters going half speed as he did when he won the 2013 NCAA meet with a safety throw of 20.31m–his only mark of the competition. So, we know he will get six throws in Rio. The question is will one of them be far enough to earn a medal?


Trofimuk and I first met Joe Kovacs of the United States at the NCAA meet in 2012 when he was a senior at Penn State. At that moment, he was not sure whether he was going to continue throwing. After notching a PR at the 2012 Trials, he ended up moving to Chula Vista and teaming up  with Venegas. Fast forward four years, and he is now the defending World Champion and owner of  five of the top ten ten throws in the world so far in 2016.

So, it looks like he made the right decision.

You could say that Joe is the American version of Tom Walsh, a great thrower and better person with one World title on his resume. The difference? Walsh’s win in Portland came against a weak field–all the other top putters (including Kovacs) sat that one out. Joe, on the other hand,  took down the best of the best in Beijing, including…


…Germany’s David Storl , the two-time World Champion and defending Olympic silver medalist who since injuring his left knee in 2014 has employed an extremely reliable fixed-feet glide. I’ll bet the house, the car, and my VCR tape from 2000 on which the Olympic shot final is sandwiched between Teletubbies episodes that Storl throws over 21 meters in Rio. But the fact that he is still using the fixed-feet finish tells me that his knee is not quite right, which makes it unlikely that he’s capable of hitting 22.00.


Poland’s Konrad Bukowiecki just broke Storl’s World Junior record with the 6k shot. He is big, aggressive, and being a teen-aged male probably too dense to realize that he’s not meant to medal at the Olympics. This makes him a dangerous  dark horse candidate, and Trofimuk (himself a large, aggressive Polish man) came this close to predicting a spot on the podium for him.

Our Predictions

Bronze: Storl

Silver: Crouser

Gold: Kovacs

This was a rare case where Trofimuk and I came up with identical predictions and did not have to settle our differences with a tickle fight. We also consulted with former University of Wisconsin all-American Dan Block, who threw against both Crouser and Kovacs in  college.

All of us agree that you can’t count out Storl, but with the bum knee Crouser may have surpassed him on the Freak-O-Meter. Joe may be in  the perfect situation to win this thing.  He has the horsepower, he has the international experience, he has Venegas in  his corner.

In Rio, that will be a winning combination.

Art Venegas talks about Whitney Ashley and the fine art of fixed feet discus throwing


In June of 2012, my colleague Pat Trofimuk and I drove to Drake University in Des Moines to cover the NCAA Championships for the now-defunct Long and Strong Throwers Journal.The five-hour drive across the cornfields of Illinois and Iowa gave us the opportunity to examine the lineups for the various throwing events and to predict which would be the most hotly contested. One event that we agreed would offer very little in the way of drama was the women’s discus. Arizona State’s Anna Jelmini was the clear favorite, the only thrower in the field who had consistently thrown in the 58-60 meter range all season and certainly the only one likely to reach that distance under the pressure of an NCAA Championship final.

True, Anna had also been considered the favorite going into the previous year’s NCAA meet only to be denied when Northwestern Louisiana’s Tracey Rew nailed a three-meter PR to claim the title, but the odds of that kind of ridiculousness happening again seemed remote.

Once the competition began late on a humid Iowa afternoon, Anna did her part by hitting a 58.79m opener that, as far as I could tell, assured her of the win.

Then, a funny thing happened in round five.

As the evening progressed and the humidity dropped and a gentle breeze floated in, a young lady from San Diego State with two first names, a violent fixed-feet finish and the rather odd habit of carrying the discus next to her right hip as she turned out of the back of the ring stepped into the cage and deposited a throw just short of the 60-meter line.

The exact measurement was 59.99m,  a four-meter PR.

That young lady’s name was Whitney Ashley,and that throw made her the NCAA champion. It also began a series of events that led to her qualifying for Rio by winning the Olympic Trials last weekend.

Whitney trains at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, and to get some insight into her improbable rise to the top of her sport, I spoke with her coach, Art Venegas. Here are excerpts from that conversation.

Coach, the first time I ever noticed Whitney was when she won the NCAA title in Des Moines in 2012. When did you first start working with her?

I was at Chula Vista while Whitney was at San Diego State, and her head coach had just hired a new throwing coach, the shot putter Dorian Scott, and she knew that Dorian had a lot of shot put background but needed help with the discus so she sent them over to me to get information and then Dorian worked with her off the stuff we were doing together. Her average was in the 180’s, and I was very interested in having her go to the training center, but the people in Indianapolis said unless she throws within two percent of the “B” standard–which was in the mid-190’s– she could not come no matter what you say. Interestingly enough, it was that one throw in Des Moines that got her over the “B” standard. Her next best throw was way under what she would have needed, so that throw in Des Moines had more implications than just “wow what a great moment!”

She started at the training center in the fall of 2012 and she immediately had a breakout year. In the spring of 2013 she was able to get second at the USA’s and make her first international team, She went to Russia for the Worlds and had foul issues there, but she trained extremely well while in Russia which told me there were some good possibilities here.  She didn’t cave in. She was throwing good enough to make the final if she did not foul out. She had to get used to keeping her focus that deep into the season. Then, by 2015 the goal was to make the finals at the World Championships, which she did, and now the minimum goal is to get six throws in Rio, to be in the top eight.

She is one of the few fixed feet throwers that you’ve coached. Can you talk about that?

Well, more and more now people in the US are doing it. Dave Astrauskas, the coach from Wisconsin, came over to the training center and I told him everything about how I teach it, and he said he was going to give it a go and now Kelsey Card is doing great with it.

The belief used to be that fixed feet throwing was best for someone with super long levers like Franz Kruger,

You’re talking about the two-kilo, and with the men it is still true. You rarely see a guy 6’1 or 6’0 be successful throwing fixed feet. It’s still nice to have long levers with the 1k, but the one-kilo discus changes the whole equation. I’ve always said that women are like two-thirds the power of men, but their disc is one half the weight. Even in the bench, there are not many guys benching 600, but there are quite a few girls benching 300,

How strong is Whitney right now?

She is just getting strong. Her future is completely out ahead of her. We’ve got to keep growing the engine and keep the athleticism, but her bench is around the 260-270 range, and her best power clean is around 105-110k. Her jerk is 110k, and her squat is about 175k with a nice deep squat,

For the women how do you decide who should stay fixed feet and who should reverse?

It depends on who the coach is and how much they know about each technique. In the reverse in most cases, you work the ground early and are loaded up over the right more. In the fixed feet you are more upright and you barely stay on the right leg before you transfer to the left leg. But, the big thing that I want to emphasize is that fixed feet throwing is a complete sequence that is different in every way than just a regular throw without a reverse.

So, the throw is set up differently?

It is so simple for a young coach to say, “look, we do traditional technique like Wolfgang Schmidt and now I’m going to have my people throw non-reverse.” But that is not the true fixed feet technique.

Who would you say is a great example of a pure, fixed-feet technique?

Most everybody who does it in Europe. There’s only one woman who does a traditional pivoting action and does the fixed feet finish–and does it very well by the way–and that is Melina Robert-Michon. She lands early, turns her foot on the ball of her foot, and then transitions out. But, if you look at all the top German men and women, you look at Imrich Bugar, you look at Whitney, they turn in mid-air and they turn their hip around at least to twelve-o’clock and then they quickly transition out to the left leg–you don’t want to spend too much time on the right leg

It’s a more exaggerated hip and foot turn in the air?

Yes. Get pre-turned in the air and then transfer quickly to the left leg. And there are a lot of other things involved. The whole thing I’m telling you is that you have to have a whole sequence that takes you there.

Do you feel like fixed feet throwers have to be a little more patient?

No. It’s actually a little more violent. What it comes down to is that they have to have a good feel for the different factors that make the form work. One thing we find is that if you transfer quickly onto the front leg you don’t need a high and low orbit like you do with the other technique. The discus can stay pretty much flat the whole way around because of the counter movement. When the hip gets ahead, you throw your arm opposite–you wrap it around,

What’s  the plan for Whitney between now and the Olympics?

We need to get back into a good training phase. She will go to London to compete and will be pretty beat up in London from our training, so don’t expect big marks. Then, after that we will start tapering down. We will take off for Rio, the whole training group together and come back from Rio together so we can train together for the Diamond League final.

How long will you be in Rio?

Two and half weeks.

There was a little of a controversy about the scheduling of the women’s discus in Rio with the finals the morning after the prelims.

It is a little bit of a controversy because it hasn’t been done before. We are fine with it.

Is that why they scheduled the women’s disc that way at the Trials?

Yes, we wanted to approximate it. The only reason its not the same is that the time zone is different, but by the time we are there a few days that won’t matter.  When they make the final they are flying on air anyway. They could throw at three in the morning and it won’t matter, they will be so happy

What advice are you going to give Whitney about the qualifying?

What I tell  my athletes all the way from Godina to Brenner–everybody–I tell them the same thing: treat the qualifier as if it were the final.  Do not go through thinking you are too good for it. Go in with fire. Try to get the auto and get home early, but do not float around. I won’t mention names, but I saw some Americans who were very good throwing very easy in the prelims at Beijing, and then they couldn’t find the intensity later. It is very important to approach the qualifying with high intensity. It is so different in the field events than say a 100-meter runner who knows they are in control and can relax going into the finish line. Percentage wise there is so little difference between being stuck in a dead-end 57-meter throw and a real high-end 66-meter throw and once you get stuck you hit it and you hit it and you think you are going hard, but your implement doesn’t go anywhere.

You have to be ready to hit it. And in the final, I have nothing to say. That’s the only goddamned reason you are throwing. If I have to say something, there is something really wrong. That’s where my coaching ends as far as mental preparation because the final is what it is about.

What is Whitney like during competition?

Very independent. She and I have learned to work a system. She likes very few cues, and she likes the cues she is comfortable with. We practice those cues before the meet, and let’s say I said something to her that we hadn’t practiced before the meet, that would not go well. She like the cues she is comfortable with.

So you guys have a nice system.

I had to learn a system. She likes to be in charge. I’m a married man, I get it. And I learned from my great women throwers at UCLA, You learn what their different personalities are and Whitney feels comfortable if we establish early how it is we are going to approach the meet.  And I have both men and women who are like that, and I have throwers who say “throw it at me and see what happens”–  more loosy-goosey types, The other thing is she is very independent. She doesn’t need a lot of babysitting to get ready to compete. Some athletes feel better if I’m around them the whole time to keep them calm. With Whitney, I just need to let her know where I’m going to be and what’s going to happen and she’ll sit on her own for an hour or two hours getting prepared. I’ll give her a whistle so she knows where I’m at in the stands. One thing she had to get used to with me is I like to get close enough during the competition to be able to say “that looked great” or give them one little cue that has to be worked on for the next throw.

Now she is very comfortable with that.

When do you find out which flight she will be in at the Olympics?

The day before. And that can sometimes be tough in the long throws if you are in the first flight because you have to get there so early in the morning, but we won’t have that problem in Rio because both groups in the women’s disc will throw in the late afternoon or early evening.

Aren’t the flights sometimes huge in the Olympics and World Championships?

They can be. It’s two flights no matter how many total throwers have qualified. At the Worlds in 1995, John Godina threw in a flight of twenty-five. It took an hour and seven minutes between throws.

What will it take for Whitney to make the final in Rio?

It depends on the conditions. The discus is pretty great up at the top, and I think 62 or 63 meters will do some damage, and over 60 will make the final.

Do you think a fixed foot thrower has an advantage in a big meet?

Yes, if the form is properly developed because that technique, if properly done, the consistency is better. And the fouls are less. If you see Whitney with a foul by her name it’s because she stepped out.




The Mental Toughness of DeAnna Price


By any measure, DeAnna Price of Southern Illinois University had a great collegiate career. After winning the 2015 NCAA hammer title as a junior, she opened her senior season on March 19th with a 72.19m toss at the Alabama Relays and finished with an NCAA meet record 71.53m on June 9th in Eugene. In between, she broke the 70-meter barrier in nine of the ten meets in which she competed.

It was this ability to be consistently excellent under a variety of conditions that interested me most about DeAnna’s season, and her coach, J.C. Lambert was kind enough to answer my questions about her mental approach to competition.

First question. DeAnna was remarkably consistent this year. It seemed like she threw 70 meters every week. What was it about her personality and her preparation that allowed her to do that?

She’s a tiger when she competes, she will go after throws no matter the situation. The one thing we’ve been working on a lot this year is making sure her first throw makes finals and she gets a 70m+ throw within her first three throws.

Have you two worked at all on any sort of pre-meet ritual? Are there a certain number or types of warm-up throws that she likes to take?

As far as a pre-meet ritual, she does a light lift, she likes to eat either Olive Garden pasta or half a chicken with a baked potato the night before. Breakfast the morning of, she likes to have one pancake with syrup, no butter, some eggs and meat along with coffee.

For warm up throws, she likes to start with turns with a two ball system. That’s one thing we’ve used this year to help her turns and with pushing the hammer. After that, she usually goes to a left arm throw and 1-2 80% throws and then is ready to go.

What do you mean by a “left arm” throw?

With a left arm throw, it’s a drill we use a times to warm up. You just take the hammer with your left arm, wind it like a regular throw, turn and throw.

Here is something that gives me endless amounts of trouble as a high school coach. Over the course of a season, my guys will, like DeAnna, develop their own routine for warming up. But, there are times when that routine gets disrupted. Rain delays. Officials who for some reason decide to limit the warm-up period. This year, at our state meet, the guy in charge decided to move the shot competition indoors due to predictions of dire weather. So, after eight weeks of competing outside with an iron shot, the competitors were moved into the field house and made to share four indoor shots, three of which were egg-shaped. There went their routine. That’s an extreme example, but I’ve heard stories about having flights of 25 at the World Championships, or of Reese Hoffa getting a single warm-up throw at the Athens Olympics. Have you worked with DeAnna on staying focused even when her routine is disrupted?

Deanna does pretty good in tough situations. When it gets down to the bigger meets, your athlete should be ready to go no matter the situation as long as long as the preparation leading up to the meet is done right. I learned as a athlete a long time ago that there will never be a perfect meet, something(s) will always try to get in your way. You must learn to adapt and adjust. You have to go with the flow. Deanna understands this and has done a great job so far with her mental preparation.

If you have a lump of coal you think has the potential to be a diamond, you must put that lump of coal under extreme and intense pressure. If it survives, you have a diamond. If it breaks apart and crumbles, then you just have coal. Not all lumps of coal are meant to be diamonds just like all athletes aren’t meant to be world class competitors. During practice, you must put your athletes under various situations that may pop up at a meet. Some athletes can learn and adapt quick, some have to be guided and talked through, others can just never seems to get past the little things that get in their way.

Can you give me an example of something you might do in practice to help get your throwers ready to handle a pressure situation?

For handling competition- At any time of the practice, I will bring up a meet time situation that they may be faced with. For example, Deanna might be at the middle or near the end of her practice and I will bring up a situation to where I will have her imagine that she is currently 4th place at the Olympic Trials, just been jumped by someone. I will say she has 1 or 2 more rounds to beat her best mark to make the Olympic team.

What is your role during competitions? At the NCAA meet, were you in a position where you could talk with DeAnna between throws? If so, can you characterize your interactions? Dave Dumble once told me that between attempts he tried to give his throwers a compliment on something they were doing well, then give them a suggestion on what to improve, then finish with some encouraging words. Can you tell me about your approach?

During competitions, most times I am at a place where I am able to talk to her. Leading up to big meets, I try to keep my coaching towards her simple in practice. That way if she messes up, I can use a simple cue that she’s very familiar with and it clicks in her head fast. That means less thinking and more competing. I also will let her know what she’s doing great during her throw and then will follow it up with something simple to fix. I try to be confident, aggressive, and excited when I say explain something to her. She really feeds off attitude and excitement.

Which competition this year presented the biggest challenge mentally, and how did you two deal with it?  Will the challenge at the Olympic Trials be to treat it like it is any other big meet and not get overwhelmed by its significance? If so, how will you manage that?

The biggest meet of the year for Deanna will be Olympic Trials. At a lot of the meets this year, Deanna has been trying to throw for a mark (college record). When she tried to throw for a certain mark, she actually tries way too hard and thinks too much about it, compared to when she competes against someone.

If you watched her compete at NCAAs, you could see what I am talking about. Even though she had a big throw in her and had a big sector foul over the fence, she was “going for broke” for a big mark. So far this year, she’s only had one meet with some competition in it. During that meet, her opening throw was over 70m, she had 2 other 71m throws and her final toss at 72.49m. At that meet she was more focused on the competition and it helped produce a little PR at the time in heavy training.

We will treat the Olympic trials like any other big meet she’s gotten ready for in the past. She’s going to have other high class hammer throwers that she can chase down and they will push her as well. One challenge will be to keep her excitement and eagerness contained. Coach John Smith and Coach Connie Price-Smith refer to her as a tiger when she competes, so I came up with the term “keep the tiger caged and hungry”. But she’s learned over the past couple years how to relax and keep her self slightly distracted Leading up the competition. She has a very good “on and off switch”. During practice and the day of competition, the switch is on. Most other times it’s off. If it’s not, I will help by changing the subject of conversation.

The Discus Technique of NCAA Champion Kelsey Card




Not a bad NCAA meet for Wisconsin’s Kelsey Card. After finishing fourth in the shot put on Wednesday, she marched into the discus ring on Saturday and hammered out three throws over 63 meters. Her fifth-round toss of 63.52m was two meters farther than anything the rest of the field could muster.

Afterwards, Badgers throws coach Dave Astrauskas kindly agreed to go through a frame-by-frame analysis of Kelsey’s big toss. 

Here’s Dave:


And here is our conversation:

I just watched the video of the NCAA discus final and Kelsey was like a blonde assassin. Other throwers kept inching closer to her, and she just stepped into the ring three times and cool like a cucumber knocked out 63-meter throws. Was she always like that? Can you talk a bit about the arc of her career? What qualities did she show up on campus with four years ago and what has she developed over time?

I had a conversation with Kelsey prior to the discus competition which was basically about how Kelsey could not afford to be passive, but needed to be the aggressor in the competition. Her game plan was to go after the first throw, but at the same time make it look/feel as easy as possible to ensure six throws. After the first throw, the plan was for Kelsey to go after the remaining five with everything while staying within herself. In round one, we were shooting for high 57m ended up getting 59.50m. In between prelims and finals she went to the tent outside the stadium and we met and the plan was to again go after each of the remaining throws the right way – with the lower half.

Kelsey has not always been the aggressor in competition, but has always been a competitor while at Wisconsin. She historically has been one who generally starts off slow and builds throughout the competition. I cannot recall a competition where her first throw has been her best performance of the day. We continue to work on our round one efforts. Over the years I think the main thing she has learned is that big throws come from executing the proper technique, which as a result create the proper positions at which she can generate force.

When Kelsey showed up on campus five years ago, I noticed several traits. First, I saw right away that Kelsey knows how to deliver an implement whether it be a shot, discus, weight, hammer, discus tool, bowling pin, bat, etc. Second, she is one of the most coachable athletes that I have had. Over her time at Wisconsin she has worked with several of my throws volunteers and they’ve always indicated what a joy she is to work with. Third, I noticed her kinesthetic awareness. She has complete control of her body and extremities and can react to a cue and make an adjustment within 1-2 attempts. Lastly, she does not like to lose. I remember her first indoor meet at Wisconsin and she PR’d in the shot and placed 3rd, but was really angry with herself that she lost to two other girls on our team.



Let’s talk some technique. Here is Kelsey’s wind on her 5th throw in Eugene. Compared to a lot of discus throwers, it is a pretty abbreviated movement. Can you comment on that?

I feel the wind in the discus is all about what feels good to each individual athlete similar to a windup of a baseball pitcher. I’ve had several discus throwers that wind back 270 degrees, but they uncoil the wind quite a bit before they start the lower body and sometimes have difficulty shifting the weight from right leg to left leg early. In Kelsey’s wind all we are trying to do is lock the discus back behind the right hip to set up an early shift to the left side.





In these two photos we see Kelsey getting set up to run the ring. What do you emphasize in this phase of the throw?

First, try to keep the shoulders facing the back of the ring as long as possible. After loading the left, try to turn the left knee and left heel as early as possible. We talk about a feeling of high to low or turning downhill across the ring. Left arm is long, left, and loose. As the discus approaches zero (center back of the ring) we strive to get the right leg as far away from the discus as possible.

What is your cue for getting the right foot off the ground? Some say to get it off as early as possible. Others recommend leaving it down until the left foot is turned almost to the direction of the throw. Where are you at with this?

I tell my athletes that the left side rotation will pull on the right adductor making your right foot leave the ground. Once the right foot comes off the ground we try to send it out over the back of the ring.



Looks like Kelsey did a nice job of (as you said) sending her right foot out over the back of the ring. From here, do you want her driving at all with her left foot/leg? And how would you describe her right leg action as she runs to the middle?

The right leg whips around the left leg (axis) with a much radius as possible. I do not cue the left leg drive all that much. I feel if you whip the right leg around and reach to center you naturally end up driving off of the left. The other thing I think is important is to carry your toes under your right knee as early as possible to avoid a soccer style right leg.




Here we see Kelsey sprinting to the center of the ring. Can you talk about her right foot action, the orbit of the disc, and anything else you emphasize  regarding this phase of the throw?

I’ve talked with Kelsey about pre-turning her right foot while keeping the left arm wrapped and she has gotten better over the years. I have not discussed orbit with Kelsey all that much. She does a good job keeping the discus back and shoulders level so I think her orbit is fairly natural for her technique. We have also stressed that her right leg needs to land loaded ready to move and not extended and rigid. The main thing that we have worked on all season you can see in these photos. We have been trying to keep the discus locked in over the left leg until contact. So, after left takeoff in the back of the ring Kelsey is trying to make sure that the discus is not getting too far ahead of the left leg. We want the discus to travel with the left leg to the front of the ring so that at double support (power position) the discus is over the left heel. I believe that this terminology has developed a longer pull




She does an amazing job here of keeping her right leg loaded while driving her right knee and hip into the throw. How did you train her to do that?
This part of the throw is still a work in progress, but Kelsey continues to improve. Each day her warm-up primarily focuses on separation and moving the lower body and upper body independently. Kelsey has done thousands of reps of partial and full throws with light rubber balls, and dowel rods maximizing the right knee and right elbow separation. We often cue the power position with things like, “turn right knee into left knee so that the left heel is driven up,”  “face the throw before you throw,” and “turn your right heel out before you throw.” Kelsey has also became a bit more patient with the upper body in the power position this year due to understanding that the pull does not start violently but starts out smooth and long and increases velocity all the way to a very fast release. Since Kelsey’s shoulders have become more patient, her lower body rotation has improved
Let’s talk about my favorite part of her technique: her fixed feet finish. I’m a big fan of fixed feet throwing. But tell me, how did a rotational shot putter end up with a German style non-reverse finish in the disc? 
There are a couple things that led to the fixed feet finish. First, when Kelsey arrived at Wisconsin she had what I called a jump-turn finish in the discus, meaning at left foot touchdown she would jump in the air and rotate to throw. I wanted to change this immediately so Kelsey went on a heavy diet of non-reverse throws. Generally at Wisconsin 60% of our throws in training are non-reverse efforts. Kelsey was closer to 90% in years one and two. Second, Kelsey came in as a glide shot putter and while we were switching to rotational shot her sophomore season almost all of our training throws in the shot were non-reverse throws because it just gave her a better feel for the throw. With the mass amounts of non-reverse efforts in both shot and discus the technique became second nature to her. Now, most of my women are developing into or have become non-reverse discus throwers.
I had a chance to speak with Robert Harting’s coach a couple of years ago, and he emphasized pushing the right knee/hip out then sweeping the disc out and around the hip. The left leg blocks with a slight bend in it to allow the thrower to keep his/her hand on the disc longer while chasing it out. Do you use similar cues? It looks to me like Kelsey would fit in quite well at the German Championships.
I teach the same as you mentioned. When the left foot touches down in the power position Kelsey is trying to push her lower half out to the left. I think this is an easier way to make sure the athlete is more patient with the upper body. If an athlete tries to turn to the right side to the sector (instead of pushing the knee left and the throwing arm left) then it usually ends up with an early or rushed delivery. In the photo you can see Kelsey’s head tilted slightly to the right sector line. This is something she does to ensure maximum radius through the delivery. As I mentioned earlier the pull starts out strong with the lower half and  increases velocity, concluding with all energy going into a violent release.

Some Facts Behind Gwen Berry’s Suspension


If you follow the sport of throwing, you know by now that Gwen Berry, who in May set an American record in the hammer with a throw of 76.31m, has received a three-month suspension from USADA for “declared or admitted use of a prohibited substance.” Fortunately for Gwen, the suspension will end in time for her to compete in the Olympic Trials. Unfortunately, she will be stripped of her USA Indoors title in the weight throw and her record toss in the hammer. She will also lose $30,000 in prize money and performance bonuses that she had earned so far this year.

Probably most damaging, though, is the loss of reputation that comes with having one’s name associated with the use of a “prohibited substance.”  I know that any time I open the sports section and see that a baseball or football player has been suspended for using a “prohibited substance” I immediately assume that the substance involved was steroids and that the player was taking them to enhance his ability to crush a baseball or a running back. I tend to be especially cynical if the athlete has recently set a career high for home runs or RBIs or quarterback sacks. “Oh,” the little voice in the head says. “That’s how they did it.”

But it is important for Gwen’s sake, and for the sake of the sport, that it be understood that her achievements this year had nothing to do with using a “prohibited substance,” and that the substance for which she was sanctioned is a commonly prescribed asthma medication no different in its effect upon the human body than other commonly prescribed asthma medications that are on the WADA list of “approved substances.”

A little background.

Gwen competed collegiately for John Smith at Southern Illinois University, and planned to stay in Smith’s training group after graduation as she pursued her dream of competing in the Olympics. When Coach Smith took a job at the University of Mississippi last summer, Gwen followed him to Oxford.

Gwen had suffered from asthma much of her life, and the Mississippi weather aggravated her condition. According to Coach Smith, it got to the point last fall that she had trouble making it through more than ten throws per practice due to fatigue and dizziness. Seeking relief, she consulted a doctor who put her on an asthma medication known as Breo.

This doctor assured her that Breo contained nothing that could get her banned, that is was essentially the same as another commonly prescribed asthma medication called Symbicort, which is on the WADA list of approved medications.

This is where Gwen made a $30,000 mistake.  Athletes are ultimately responsible for what they put into their body, and it turns out that Vilanterol Trifenatate, a component of Breo, is not on the WADA approved list.

This March, after winning the weight throw at the USATF Indoor Championships, Gwen was drug tested and, per normal procedure, was asked to list any medications that she had recently used.  Coach Smith told me that he has always directed his athletes to report any medication they might have ingested, “even aspirin” to demonstrate that they had nothing to hide. Accordingly, Gwen indicated that she had been prescribed Breo.

In early May, USADA informed Gwen that she was facing punishment for “declared or admitted use of a prohibited substance.” Nothing had shown up on her tests in Portland, nor in any subsequent tests she was subjected to throughout the spring. Gwen was tested at the meet when she broke the hammer record, and during the 48-hour period afterwards WADA blood-tested her and USADA urine-tested her. All those tests came up negative for prohibited substances. The only reason USADA was aware that Gwen had ingested Vilanterol Trifenatate was because she wrote on the form in Portland that she had taken Breo.

There is no Big Book of Drug Sanctions out there that lists exact penalties for each prohibited substance. USADA is meant to consider extenuating circumstances and to assess a punishment appropriate to the specific violation.

Gwen’s best chance of receiving a minimal ban or possibly even a warning was to prove that she actually had asthma and that her condition was genuinely improved by asthma medication. For help with this she consulted Dr. Robert McEachern. Step one was to put Gwen through what is called “pulmonary function testing” which is essentially a measurement of a person’s ability to breathe. According to Dr. McEachern, this test proved that “Gwen had clinical symptoms that were consistent with asthma.”

Step two was to repeat the test after administering a dose of asthma medication. If Gwen’s ability to breathe improved at least 12% on the medication, then USADA would accept the fact that she genuinely needed to take asthma medication. Dr. McEachern found that Gwen’s breathing improved by 54% when on medication.

So it was clear that Gwen suffered from asthma and needed to be medicated. Unfortunately, this did not change the fact that the medication Gwen had admitted to using, Breo, was on the prohibited list even though Symbicort, which according to Dr. McEachern is so similar to Breo that “we use them interchangeably” was not.

Dr. McEachern was puzzled by this. “If they accept Symbicort, then they ought to accept Breo. If they said all this category of drugs for asthma are performance enhancing, that would be one thing. But to say that one is and one isn’t, that makes no sense to me.”

Dr. McEachern was also troubled by the lack of information readily available to physicians who may one day treat an aspiring Olympian. “I wish they (USADA) had sent something out a long time ago saying ‘if you have any competitive athletes, Breo is not on the approved list.’”

After accepting the fact that Gwen truly needs asthma medication, and that Breo has no more of a “performance enhancing” effect than the approved Symbicort, USADA sanctioned Gwen in a way that would not prevent her competing in the Olympic Trials.

Coach Smith says that after an agonizing month spent contemplating the possible end of her career, Gwen is now able to focus again and will be ready when she steps into the ring in Eugene.

I have been reading the New York Times for thirty years, and today for the first time in my memory a photo of a hammer thrower appeared in its pages. The occasion? A big article on the Russian doping scandal.

When the only publicity the sport of throwing gets is due to a massive doping operation, it is natural for observers of the sport, fans and non-fans alike, to dismiss all the athletes as cheaters. This is especially true when they read that a particular athlete, like Gwen, has been sanctioned for using a prohibited substance with an unfamiliar, impossible to pronounce name.

Hopefully, people will take the time to consider the facts of Gwen’s situation and to understand that though she made a mistake in taking Breo (a mistake for which she had paid dearly) she is not a “cheater” or a “doper.” She is a hard-working young athlete of whom we can be proud if we turn on the television this August and see her taking a flag-draped victory lap around the track in Rio.