All posts by Daniel McQuaid

Arizona State coach Brian Blutreich on the sensational career of Maggie Ewen

If you have an hour to kill some day, try reading through the list of Maggie Ewen’s accomplishments on the Arizona State Track and Field web page. Four national titles spread over three events. An NCAA record in the hammer (74.53m). An NCAA record in the shot (19.46m). Eleven all-American finishes. One could make a heck of a case that she is the best all-around thrower in NCAA history.

But Maggie’s career has not been free of heartbreak. As a junior, she broke the collegiate record in the hammer  and won that event at the 2017 NCAA meet. This spring, she extended her record and looked to be a strong favorite to retain her title, but she fouled all three attempts in that event at this year’s regional, and lost the chance to defend in Eugene.

Two weeks later, she arrived at NCAA’s devastated but determined to make her final collegiate competition a memorable one. She left as newly crowned NCAA champion in the shot and disc.

Maggie’s coach for the past two years at ASU, Brian Blutreich, has also had a remarkable career, mentoring numerous Olympians and NCAA champions.

Recently, Brian was kind enough to answer a few questions about Maggie, her remarkable talent, her recent triumphs and tribulations, and her future as a professional.

Winning NCAA titles in three events is pretty unusual. What is it about Maggie that has allowed her to achieve that?

Obviously, she has a ton of God-given talent. She’s got the patience to learn three events, to be able to figure out three events. She’s still not great at any of the three at this point, but she can do things that other people just can’t do. That’s the bottom line.

This is only the second year we’ve been together, so we’re far from where we want to be, or where we are going to be. There is s lot more left in her, for sure.

I feel like I’m behind because usually the way I try to run my program it’s year three when you really start to get it. And this being year two and her doing three events, it feels like we’re behind in terms of correct repetitions. You need a certain amount of correct repetitions to change muscle patterns. Then, once you change them you have to develop them. So, it’s a longer process that people might think.

How did you divide the events in a typical training week?

We tried to do a regular practice with each event twice a week, then a short practice with each event once per week. And when I say short, I mean maybe fifteen minutes. So, if she did a shot workout she’d finish with fifteen minutes of hammer. If she did a hammer workout, we’d do fifteen minutes of discus. Just to be able to touch each implement as many times as we could without burning her out.

She couldn’t do a full session of shot, a full session of hammer, then a full session in the weight room–she would break. So, we’d hit one event pretty good, and just kind of drill another event for fifteen or twenty minutes, then move on to the next day.

It has worked pretty well so far, but we’ve really had to be careful with how she feels. The biggest thing is communication in terms of how her body is. She knows her body pretty well, so she can tell the difference between “sore” and “hurt” and “tired,” compared to “in the hole.”

And if you get “in the whole,” you have to stop everything for two weeks. Once your neural system is trashed, then you can’t do anything. So we have lived on that fine line between how much is enough and how much is too much. To do all three is very difficult.

Is Maggie’s super power that she can get really good at an event in less time than most athletes?

Well, obviously she worked with Dave Dumble for three years, so she was at a certain level when I took over. She works really hard at trying to figure stuff out. She’ll do a lot of dry drills to work on stuff, and she’s a classic top athlete in that once she leaves the track, it doesn’t stop for her. She’s always thinking about training and technique, always watching videos. Doing drills in the kitchen or the garage. She’s been a very good student of the sport.

She’s all in, and that has made it really nice for me, because I know she’s constantly trying to figure stuff out.

At the end of an amazing outdoor season, you guys had that…

One glitch.

Yes, that one glitch. And anyone who has been around the sport knows that what happened to Maggie in the hammer at regionals is the type of thing that happens to everyone, even the very best throwers. But, how did you deal with the aftermath of it?

It was very, very difficult. After things calmed down that day and we went to dinner, I said to her, “You’re going to have to put this behind you mentally, or it’s going to affect you big time.”

You know, when you’re young and passionate, it’s just hard. You’re defending NCAA champion, you’re NCAA record holder, and you’re not going to the meet in the event you won last year.It was difficult. She wasn’t sleeping very well, so there were times I had to push back training and tell her, “Just go home and sleep, if you can.” Obviously, it was very hard for her.

But I also told her, “Hey, true champions become champions because they deal with adversity.” I kept preaching to her that this wasn’t the first time she’d had to struggle, and it won’t be the last.

That first week after regionals was rough. Then, coming into the NCAA finals week, it started to get a little bit better. Fortunately, the hammer was the first event, and after it was over she said, “I think I’m doing better now.”

She’s done incredibly well the last two years, being in the spotlight and winning. People came to think that it was easy for her and started to think that she should win all the time. I think towards the end it started getting to her a little bit.

We only had about two weeks off last year because she made the World Championships team in the hammer, so now we’re at the end of a two-year period with basically just a couple of weeks off, and I think it was starting to get to her a little bit. “The  triple has never been done” and all that. When regionals happened, it just kind of popped a big bubble and all the air went straight out.

But then in Eugene, she rallied and won the shot.

Yes, and we had a pretty good discus practice the next day. The discus is the event she loves the most, and I said, “Just have some fun with it.”

Then when she saw the weather forecast, she said, “I can’t wait! I hope it rains a lot!”

That’s a funny thing for a discus thrower to wish for.

Yes, but the rain kind of brings the field back to you. Remember, she was going against Shadae Lawrence (the defending champion) and Valarie Allman (a World Championship team member) so the more it rained, the better she thought her chances were to do well. 

And that’s the attitude you have to have at the next level. It’s forty-eight degrees and  raining with a stiff tail wind. At home it’s dry and a hundred degrees. We don’t train in the rain. We don’t train in cold. She’s from Minnesota, so she understands cold, but it’s her fifth year away from Minnesota. But she embraced it and never stopped competing. I tell my kids the meet is never over until it’s over and she got in on her last throw and just let it rip. That was a huge deal for her because she had never won a discus title, and against that field…I could just tell by the look on her face that that meant more than the hammer and the shot.

Did winning the discus wipe away all the hurt from not getting to defend her hammer title?

It definitely didn’t hurt. I told her, “Hey, you’ve got the career triple. It may not have been all in one year, but you’ve done something that no one else has ever done. Be proud of that and we’ll move forward.”

I think at some point she’ll be able to look back on it and enjoy it.

But now we’ve got USA’s and we are going to take a little different direction.

What do you mean by “a little different direction”?

She will not throw the hammer at USA’s.

What’s your reasoning behind that?

We haven’t touched the hammer much since the regional. At USA’s, it’s the day before the shot. She really loves the disc and she wants to throw it one more time before she’s done with it because she knows she’s not going to throw it next year. I just want her to be able to enjoy the meet and not get stressed out about the hammer.

If it was a World Championship or Olympic year, that would be a different story. But there is literally nothing on the line, so let’s just enjoy it and finish up the season.

After that, she’ll probably go to Europe and do one or two meets with the shot just to get her feet wet and learn how to travel. Different food and beds and training places. At the end of July, she’ll shut it down and start her new life.

I’m glad you brought that up. That’s kind of the million dollar question regarding Maggie. Moving forward, will she continue to throw the hammer and the shot?

Next year, she will for sure. Then we will reevaluate and see where she’s at and figure out the Olympic year. I think she can make the team in both, but that’s two years away and you never know about injuries, and this and that, and who’s throwing really far, so we’ll see. Right now, we’re still trying to figure out how to train to make the World team, especially with the World’s being so late, in October. That makes things harder. The US season is so early, and you don’t want to spend your whole season overseas either. So, it’s tricky figuring out when to start training and how to train. So after next weekend, we will figure out a plan and see if we can get her to the next level.

So, she’ll continue to train with you in Tempe?

For the next two years, yes. Then after the Olympic year, she’ll have to decide if she wants to continue to throw. But right now we have a two-year commitment to each other and we’ll see where her passion lies after that.

It will be really interesting to see how you two put together a competition schedule with Maggie throwing hammer and shot.

Exactly. There’s not a lot of hammer meets overseas that are part of the regular circuit. It can be hard to find a place to train it. Shot’s a lot easier. More meets have it. There are more places to train. But that’s the fun of it,. Trying to figure it out and see what happens.

I know she can be a 20-meter shot putter if she does things right, and a high 70’s hammer thrower if she does things right. So, we’ll see. It will be a fun challenge. For me, as a college coach, she’s already achieved everything I could ever dream for her, so I’m just trying to have some fun with this as well and see where it goes.

 

 

Georgia Throws Coach Don Babbitt on Denzel Comenentia and the Art of Coaching

One of the great moments of the 2018 NCAA Championships came early when Georgia’s Denzel Comenentia won the men’s hammer and shot put titles…on…the…same…day. His heroics gave Georgia the impetus they needed to take home the team title.

In order to get some insight into how Denzel pulled off this remarkable double, I spoke with his coach, Don Babbitt.

Followers of the sport know that Don has long maintained a powerhouse throws program at Georgia in addition to guiding all-time greats Reese Hoffa and Adam Nelson to the top of the professional ranks.

After reading this slightly edited version of our conversation, I think you’ll understand why Don has been so successful and why Reese and Adam trusted and relied on him for all those years.

So, how did Denzel manage his historic double? The short answer is, he’s a supremely talented athlete who rises to the occasion at big moments. The long answer is a bit more complicated and reveals much about the art of coaching the throws.

Coach, I was in Des Moines when Cory Martin won the shot and hammer at the 2008 NCAA Championships, and I thought that was an amazing accomplishment. But he didn’t have to throw both in the same day.

This was pretty amazing to me, too. Denzel’s freshman year we went through the same thing with having to compete in the hammer and shot on the same day, and last year as well, so we knew what to expect and we’ve been practicing for it. The key for Denzel was knowing him and how his body was going feel.  Having the two trial runs in 2016 and 2017 was really helpful.

How did your approach to getting him ready for the hammer/shot double evolve over the years?

What’s interesting is that even before he enrolled at Georgia, he made the final of both the hammer and shot at the World Juniors in 2014. And the schedule for that was just as bad. On the same day, he had shot prelims in the morning, then hammer qualifying right afterwards, and then he had the shot final that night.

So he had three things in one day, and I wondered, is he going to crash and burn in the shot final? But he ended up throwing 20.17m in the first round, and that held up for the silver. And  I thought, wow, that’s incredible that he was able to do that.

So I knew before he even came to us that he could handle something like that mentally.

His freshman year, 2016, at NCAA’s, he had the hammer first, and he had thrown 69.42m  that year and he ended up throwing 68.80m. He didn’t make the final, so he only had three throws. Then we went to the shot and he threw 18.85m and just couldn’t get it going powerwise. He had thrown 19.54m that year. So, he dropped a little in both. And he told me that he was kind of tired for the shot.

In getting ready for the next year, we had to figure out how to treat the season, the training pattern, and we made one big change. Denzel was a guy who, when we threw the shot in practice, he just kind of went for it. He was kind of wild and crazy, and he fouled a lot. Then in competition, he’d catch one throw maybe two throws, kind of like the way Adam Nelson used to compete. He’d just swing for the fences. If he caught one, it was big, and if he didn’t it would be a foul or it would be short. 

So the next year, we came into the fall season and we decided that he needed to be a little more steady so that whatever energy he had in major competitions, he could make the most of it. So, we held everything in in practice. And at first, his practice marks weren’t as good as they had been, but after about five months he was throwing just as far as he used to but was way more steady. 

Indoors his sophomore year, he got second in the shot at NCAA’s. We didn’t throw the weight that year; we just worked on his movement in the hammer with the main goal of making him steady in both in major competitions.

Outdoors, at the 2017 Southestern Conference meet, he won both and was really steady. There the hammer was first and shot second, but they were two days apart just like Cory had it in 2008. When we came to Eugene last year, he threw  71.75m.to get fifth in the hammer. He missed the Dutch record by two centimeters That was a PR for him, and he had another throw that was a PR for him too, so he had a really good competition. Then he went over to the shot, where he got fifth as well, but he had six fair throws. His best was 19.63m–his PR at the time was 20.33m–and his worst throw was 19.54m. So he was really steady, he just didn’t have the pop to get near his PR in the shot.

So, we got the equation partly right.  We got the good performance in the hammer, and in the shot we thought if he threw well he could have gotten third, but he just didn’t have the power left from throwing the hammer.

So for this year, we had to figure out a way for him to have more power in the second event.

This last year we really worked on power training. All his Olympic lifting went up in terms of max strength, and he was also able to move fairly heavy weights fast. His freshman year he cleaned about 310 pounds for a single, and this past year we got to a point where he could do a set of five with 310 in about six seconds. So his power output was way up.

This past winter we started throwing the weight as well, and I think it really helped to steady his pattern in the hammer. He threw 23.71m in the weight his first year throwing it. When we went to indoor NCAA’s the shot was first and he threw really well–20.29m to finish second. When we went to the weight the next day he was a little tired, and he wasn’t used to competing with the weight tired. He threw 22.45m which was the second best throw of his life, and he got sixth but he just didn’t have the power to go over 23 meters.

The last thing we had to figure out with his training was he usually threw the hammer a bit better when he was in heavy training. With the shot though, we had figured out that he needs a long taper to be explosive.

So how did you reconcile that?

We had to choose one.  We decided he’d be able to figure out the hammer even after the long taper, so we chose to appease the shot.

That brings us to this past Wednesday.

Right. To start off, the hammer went well. If he could have thrown 76.41m earlier instead of round five, we might have passed the final rounds, but you can’t underestimate your opponents,  so we only passed the last throw after he had it won.

Warming up for the shot, it was obvious that he had more power than last year. Last year he was really steady at about 19.50m;  this year he was steady at around 20.00m. But, it looked like even though we had raised his threshold throwing shot after the hammer to 20 meters, that wasn’t going to be good enough. It looked like it would take 20.50m to win. So, he was sitting there in  fifth place going into the final, then all of a sudden he was in sixth, seventh, eighth place. All those guys got hot. And he just responded and hit that 20.61m in round five.

The one thing that Denzel does really well is he responds. The best way to get him to throw really far is to have someone throw far right in front of him, which is great for a big meet. He dug deep to get that 20.61m out there. That wasn’t coaching, that was just him responding

But I thought we did a good job of trying to put him into a position of success.

We took notes over the past couple of years, and I was always asking him how he felt, asking him in different ways to get him to be more introspective to help me devise the training plan.

The one other thing that we considered is that he is a pretty good discus thrower. I’m dead serious about this. We practiced the discus twice this year and he’d done three meets. So, he barely touched the discus and he threw 58.81m. So, in looking at the regional, the discus was in between the shot and  the hammer, and he’s good enough in the discus that he could make it through no problem. So, I said to him, “Man, that first day at NCAA’s is a bear with the hammer and the shot, but then you get two days to rest before the discus. You’re a good athlete. If you catch one, who knows? Maybe you could get some more points in the discus.”

But one thing I know about him is that to really do well he has to mentally prepare. Prior to a big competition he takes a day or two to really focus. And he really didn’t want to think about the discus at all.  He just wanted to focus on doing a good job in the shot and hammer.

It sounds like he’s a pretty mature young man, him being confident enough to tell you something like that.

He is. He’s a quiet guy. He told me early on, “I’m a simple guy to coach. You don’t have to tell me much.” But what separates him from almost all the athletes I’ve coached, if you tell him to make an adjustment, he can make it almost right away. He has a great feel. He knows his throw so well, that I don’t spend a lot of time cuing him and talking to him because he’s able to be so efficient. That’s a lot of reason for his success. He doesn’t waste a lot of time spinning his wheels trying to figure things out.

How would you compare Denzel to Adam and Reese?

I’m trying to think of what those guys were like when they were Denzel’s age. I’ll say this, he really rises to the occasion. He’ll show you a lot more in a meet than in practice like Adam did. I thought that was Adam’s special gift. Reese was a little bit more steady all the way through. He could practice really well once he figured out how to really be good. In terms of physical ability, Denzel is probably at the same age just as gifted as either one of those guys.

Having been through it with Reese and Adam, I can say to Denzel, “You’re probably at least a 71-foot guy.” I’ve seen enough people to be able to say that. A lot has to go right for him to do that, but he has the talent.

But I also look at the landscape and think he could be one of the top hammer throwers. There are not many guys over 80 meters. If you look at the guys who have a similar PR to Denzel, they’re a little bit up and down. But in the meets he cared about this year, he threw 76.29, 75.97, 75.92, and 75.41m. He’s basically a rock solid 76-meter thrower. So if you look at a major championship meet, he might get fifth place in the hammer, but probably not in the shot because the shot is on fire this year.

Which event will Denzel focus on as pro?

His first love is the shot. He’d like to be a great shot putter. If he really wanted to throw the discus, he’d be a 63-65 meter discus guy. But, you can’t do everything.

I told him to keep on doing both the shot and hammer. Each one seems to make the other better for him. And that would be a unique double. He could be a 21-meter shot putter and an 80-meter hammer thrower, something that nobody has ever done before.

The other factor is though, is that the shot pays the bills.

Cory Martin actually threw his hammer PR after college in a Grand Prix meet in Brazil. But, he made about one third of the money throwing a PR in the hammer as he did with an average performance in the shot.

For Denzel, if he wants international medals, maybe the hammer is the easier path right now. But if you’re talking about money, which he may need to keep throwing at a high level, he would make the same amount of money as an 80-meter hammer thrower as he would as a 20.80m shot putter.

So, do you want money or titles? Or do you try to balance both?

The thing is, you see how the distance runners do it. They get a little slower, they move to the 5,000. They get a little more slower, they move to the 10,000, then the marathon, so at the age of forty they are still competing. Maybe Denzel could be a shot guy and later on focus on hammer when he gets into his mid-to-late thirties.

So, there hasn’t been any decision made yet.

When he’s done at Georgia, will the Netherlands give him some support?

Yes. We’ve talked with the head coach of the Netherlands about that. Denzel is going to have one more year of school after he finishes his eligibility. They’ll give him some pretty good support. He’s an A-level athlete for them in two events, so he’s a bargain for them.

Will he compete in the European Championships this August?

That’s the plan. One thing that kind of sucks is that the shot and hammer are at the exact same time. They’re doing the shot in the street by the Brandenburg Gate, which will be pretty cool.

I’m sure your next question is “which one will he do?”

That is my next question.

I think throwing the street shot would be really cool, but he might have a chance at medaling in the hammer. So, we’ll see.

We’ll have to see how training is going. And he’ll have a couple more meets this summer to kind of gauge where he’s at.

Speaking of training, one thing that always amazes me is how some athletes  manage to compete at a high level for several months–like what Tom Walsh has done the last couple of years. You obviously did a peak for the NCAA’s. How will you regroup for the European Championships?

What we are going to do is based off of what we did last summer with the Euro U23’s. He got the silver in the shot there.

We’ll rest up this weekend, then do a three-week hard training cycle that will take us up to about July first. Then we’ll start a four-week taper that will take him right up to the European Championships.  Basically, what we do in heavy training is 3’s and 4’s in a lot of the core lifts. We work off straight percentages, about 91 percent for 3’s, 88 percent for 4’s, 95 percent for sets of two, working off of one-rep maxes from the fall.  We don’t really try to get one-rep maxes during the season. Hopefully, if things are going well and he does a triple at 90 percent, he’ll do it easier than he did during the winter. So, we’ll know he’s getting stronger without having to execute a big single lift.

When I say a four-week taper, we’ll keep it at sets of three and four, but he’ll go like 80 percent, 70 percent, 60 percent, 55 percent, lifting for speed.

When we did a seven-week taper for the NCAA’s, we basically did three weeks heavy right at the beginning of outdoors then we went 80, 75, 70, 65, 60. We were just tapering all the way through the season.

That’s basically what he did before he came to Georgia. Then when he got here he wasn’t that strong, so I had him lift a little heavier and it kind of made him a bit tired, and he told me when he lifted like that he felt kind of slow and sluggish, so we went back to doing what he had done before–we just fine-tuned it to match up with the college season.

Then last summer, we tried the three-week build-up then taper, and it worked pretty well. He threw 20.33m during the college season last year, then he went back home in the middle of the summer and threw 20.20m. I was really happy that he could maintain such a high level, so we are going off of what we did last year to get him ready for the European Championships this year.

It’s not really what the textbooks say to do.

It’s great that you and Denzel can work together to figure out what works best for him.

I tell him “You have to help me to help you.” Having that feedback is really good. One thing I did with Reese over the years that helped him be so consistent was that we probably lifted a third as often as most of the top throwers. Most training is built off of fear and superstition. The idea that you have to outwork your opponent. But you don’t “outwork your opponent” when you are throwing six throws. It’s about quality.

The superstition is “the world record holder” trained this way. I’ve been around long enough where I’ve seen that not work out. Training from fear rather than really thinking about what you’re doing. So, when  Denzel started and we talked about that long taper, I thought “How are you going to be powerful if you taper that long?” But then I thought about how he had done it before and that I can’t be scared to do something that conflicted with my preconceptions. That’s how innovation happens. That’s how you make progress.  

Some people feel like they have to throw up a heavy max to make themselves feel good, but I’m not sure what that has to do with throwing far.

Is the key to have that relationship with each athlete to figure out what works best for them?

Definitely. And usually what happens is that a lot of times the training group ends up doing what the best athlete does. And that’s natural. You see how the top athlete trains and you want to reach their level, so you think, “If I train like them, I’ll be as good as them.”

But a saying I once heard is “To copy champions is to copy their mistakes.”

And what that means is you have to really understand what you are trying to do, otherwise you could be copying the thing that sticks out the most when it might be the thing that athlete is trying to get rid of the most.

Kind of like Reese’s heel turn in the shot. We tried to get rid of it and couldn’t, so after a while we just embraced it. But it stuck out, so people thought that must be why he was so good.

You really have to look at yourself to see what works for you. I always feel like great athletes find their own way. So when they get into a position that’s unique, maybe that’s a position that because of their musculature they feel comfortable in and then they can really  do what they want to do a little better, instead of trying to hit positions that someone else does well.

I’ve changed my coaching over the years a lot. As a younger coach, I tried to get athletes to be “perfect.” So, I ended up forcing some athletes to do things that I thought were “perfect” when in actuality they will often find their best self just kind of doing it. And when they hit positions that you haven’t seen before, you sometimes think “We can’t do that. We have to look like Mac Wilkins out of the back.”  But, maybe that’s the position that they are comfortable hitting because of their musculature.

I use the analogy of taking a log at the top of the Mississippi River, and you’re going to float this log all the way to the Gulf.

At the beginning, you have to push it out into the current to get it going. You have to do some work to get it going. But then as that log floats down the river, you sort of walk along beside it and and it takes the journey and you just make sure things are going okay. And eventually it hits a snag and you have to work with it to get it out and push it back out in the river again. So, you’re not pushing it down the river all the time. That would be pretty inefficient. You want to let go as much as possible. When there is a problem you step in.

I tend to do that now, coaching wise.

Denzel knows what he’s doing, but I’m always there to jump in when needed.

It was like that with Reese late in his career. Maybe three or four times a year he’d really need my advice and I was the best person to step in because we’d spent so much time together.

That’s kind of how it is with Denzel. So I think he’s got a good future.

Here are some throws from the men’s shot and hammer final:

https://vimeo.com/273902180

https://vimeo.com/273901134

A chat with Dale Stevenson after Tom Walsh’s big win in Birmingham

One nice thing about covering the throwing events is that the day after someone turns in a fantastic performance, say Tom Walsh breaking the Indoor World Championship shot put record in Birmingham last weekend (with a throw of 22.31m thank you very much) you can call up  his coach and have a really interesting chat with him while he’s sitting around an airport waiting for a flight to New Zealand.

And that’s exactly what I did last Sunday.

I called up Tom’s coach, Dale Stevenson, and shot the breeze with him for a while about how things have been going for Tom.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who is so pleasant to talk to that it seems like you’re having a beer together even though you aren’t? That’s what it’s like talking to Dale. Actually, the first time I called him–last summer after Tom had won the outdoor World Championships in London–he was having a beer, in a London pub while celebrating Tom’s big win.  That did not prevent him, though, from taking the time to answer a bunch of questions about Tom’s career and training.

(You can read that interview here.)

This past Sunday, he was equally generous with his time. I’d actually caught him in a bit of a reflective mood.

He mentioned that they had to head straight back to New Zealand because the national championships were just a few days away, and I complimented him on his and Tom’s ability to manage the huge travel demands faced by someone living and training half a world away from most international competitions.

He replied that for athletes from “our sleepy little corner of the world” being away from home is “just part of the territory,” and pointed out the dichotomy faced by many coaches that “being away from loved ones sometimes makes you question whether this is something you really want to do,” but at the same time “steels your resolve” to do it well.

Right now, nobody is doing shot putting as well as Tom Walsh, and as a throws geek writing for the benefit of fellow throws geeks, I opened with some questions regarding Tom’s technique.

If you’ve seen Tom throw, you’ve likely noticed that his setup at the back of the ring is pretty unusual–his left foot on the center line and his right foot staggered back quite a bit. You can see it clearly in this still from a training session that Tom posted a couple of days before Worlds.

I asked Dale how Tom ended up adopting this method of setting up the throw.

“It was just a natural evolution,” he told me. “People learn to straddle the back of the ring initially just because of symmetry. You go from there, and as things evolve you see most throwers working their left foot back to the top of the ring, whether you call that the twelve o’clock or six o’clock position. We kept playing with it until we found the sweet spot, and as Tom gets stronger and can maintain his posture and rhythm, year upon year it is probably going to change and he will end up coming more around trying to maximize the rotation out of the back of the ring and the drive across the middle.”

Like other highly successful throws coaches I’ve spoken to over the years, Dale was careful to point out that just because something works for Tom doesn’t mean that it would work for most throwers.  

“We are not trying to copy anyone or change the game. It’s just playing around and finding what works. Tom also likes to start back away from the ring and not jammed up against it so he feels like he can have a nice, clean, flying entry to the throw.”

Another notable aspect of Tom’s technique is the way he throws open his left side when initiating the throw. As a high school coach, I am intrigued by this because I find myself constantly trying to get my athletes to slow down their left side out of the back. But, according to Dale, the active left side allows Tom to create energy that eventually enhances the drive across the ring into the power position.  (These photos of Tom’s entry phase should help illustrate Dale’s comments.)

“We see it as a coupling between the left hand or arm and the right leg. We want to create a diagonal sling. That creates more power than trying to push the right leg. It’s about timing that sling, keeping it on stretch and timing it so that you can couple that initial tension with the drive across the ring.”

I then asked Dale what, for me, is the vital question regarding the rotational throws: When should the right foot leave the ground when coming out of the back of the ring?

“For Tom, the right foot comes off sort of as a symptom. We don’t think about picking it up or kicking hard. It is kind of like the cracking of a whip–you crack the handle of the whip and eventually the end of the whip will come through faster as a result. If you crack the end of the whip, it’s not going to be as fast as if you let the chain of events play out. We never talk about it. We never train it. We see it as a symptom, not as a cause.”

With no outdoor World Championships or Olympics this summer, I asked Dale what would be the focus of their efforts the rest of the year.

He pointed to the Commonwealth Games in April (to be held in Australia). “Along with the Olympics, it is the one thing missing from Tom’s record. In 2014, he was beaten on the last round on a great throw from O’Dayne Richards. It burns a bit.”

Tom’s agent is also negotiating a couple of possible appearances in the United States, perhaps at the Kansas or Drake Relays.

Any thoughts of taking things a bit easy in this non-Worlds, non-Olympic year?

Nope.

According to Dale, “Each year leads into the following, and the way men’s shot is going you can’t afford to sit back and assume 22 meters is going to be enough to win a major championships. There is a chance that you will have to be around there just to make the finals.”

Alright then, since there will be no slacking off this summer, how about taking a whack at the world record?

“There are enough guys out there that can do it. Tom wasn’t throwing phenomenal at a young age. He’s been told a number of times that he’s not big enough or strong enough to throw 20 meters, then 21, then 22. Eventually, you run out of reasons to believe that you can’t do something. There are enough guys around that are pushing big numbers. We want to be in the mix.”

I told Dale that, in my humble opinion, if Tom stays healthy for the next couple of years he is one of three guys (along with Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs) who have a chance to establish a new world record. Did he agree?

My question brought out his inner diplomat.  

“I don’t know how to answer that question. How about this: I hope I’m there.”

Fair enough. And one thing is for sure, Dale. The day after it happens, I’ll be giving you a call.

Jim Aikens to host free webinar on coaching the high school thrower

Jim Aikens spent thirty years building a top notch throwing program at Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois, and has now undertaken the challenge of starting from scratch at Burlington  Central High School.

This has caused Jim to re-examine his approach to developing  throwers. Which drills, for example, will work best for athletes with no experience at learning the rotational shot put? How should a coach divide his practice time among throwing, drilling, and lifting when his athletes need tons of work in each of those areas?

We invite you to join us as Jim discusses these matters and more in a webinar titled “Coaching the High School Thrower: Drills, Skills, and other fun stuff.”

This live webinar will take place on Sunday, March 11 at noon Central Standard Time. Participants will be able to ask questions throughout Jim’s presentation. Registration is free. Follow this link to sign up.

Torsten Schmidt Lönnfors Discus Webinar Coming Tomorrow!

On December 9th at noon Central Standard Time, Torsten Schmidt Lönnfors, Coach of Rio Olympic Champion Chris Harting, will present a webinar on the German method of training young discus throwers.

Here is an outline of the topics he will cover:

  1. German Support Systems for Young Athletes

sports school

sports clubs

Olympic support center

the role of the German federation

2. Long Term Education Concepts

3. Possibilities for Training During Youth/School Years

4. Planning a Season for Youth Athletes

main training resources

build-up, progression, shaping

condition training

5. My Philosophy on Youth Training

general training

weight lifting/special strength training

training technique/motor learning

6. My Personal Coaching Principles

The cost for this webinar is $30. To register, first follow this link to pay on Paypal.

Next, follow this link to register on Zoom.

You will then receive an email invite allowing you to access the webinar.

Anyone who registers and pays will also be given access to a video of the webinar on Coachtube.

 

 

Just rehearsed with Torsten Schmidt Lönnfors for next Saturday’s discus webinar

After the 2004 Olympics I somehow got my hands on a CD with clips from the men’s discus competition, and I often watched it with my throwers. That was the year that the great Virgilius Alekna opened with a titanic 69.89m toss (still the Olympic record) and walked out of the ring looking pissed because he knew that his arch nemesis Robert Fazekas was capable of beating that mark.

Fazekas did, in fact, surpass Virgilius’s record toss (what did he throw, just under 71 meters, wasn’t it?) but then ran into a bit of trouble with the anti-doping folks when they insisted on watching very carefully as he…ummm…prepared to provide a urine sample. The testers had been tipped off that Fazekas had been pulling the old switcheroo and submitting someone else’s clean urine in place of his own.  Much vexed that the testers would not get out of his grill, Fazekas stormed out of the testing room and into infamy.

Also on that CD were clips of Franz Kruger showing off his long-levered fixed-feet style, the super smooth Aleksander Tammert, and a very tall young German named Torsten Schmidt.

Fast forward ten years, and I just happened to be walking through the lobby of a hotel near the Zurich airport when I spotted that tall, still remarkably fit German ambling towards the elevator.

He was in  Zurich coaching 2012 Olympic champion Robert Harting and Julia Fischer (now Julia Harting) at the 2014 European Championships. Another thrower in his stable, Chris Harting, was not competing in Zurich that week, but would go on to win discus gold in Rio.

I accosted him and unleashed a barrage of questions about discus  technique, which he patiently answered then and continues to patiently answer to this day.

Now married to a wonderful woman named Sanna Lönnfors (Torsten has since taken on Sanna’s last name) Torsten has agreed to share his insights on the German method of developing young discus throwers via a webinar to be offered Saturday, December 9th at noon Central Standard Time.

Roger Einbecker (my partner in crime with this website and with our webinars) and I rehearsed Torsten’s webinar yesterday, and I can tell you, it is going to be fascinating to anyone who trains teenage discus throwers.

One clip that Torsten shared with us was of a young thrower he is currently training performing discus steps in a gym while holding a small weight plate. It is the kind of drill that many of us have our athletes do, but Torsten has an approach to it that coaches will find really, really interesting.

Roger and I agreed afterwards that we could have spent the better part of an hour just asking Torsten questions about that clip.

And that is just one segment of what promises to be a super informative presentation.

The cost to attend this webniar is $30. I invite you to join us by following this link to Paypal, and then following this link to register for the webinar.

Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout the webinar. It will last somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours.

Afterwards, a video of the presentation will be posted to Coach Tube, where those who have paid the $30 registration fee will be given access to it at no additional charge.

The webinar will be limited to 100 attendees.

I hope you can join us!

 

Preparing your training plans for 2018? Get ideas from German Federation coach Torsten Schmidt.

Part of the fun and challenge of coaching throwers is figuring out how to organize their training over the course of the season. How much time should your athletes spend lifting weights? Which lifts are the most essential? What other types of exercises are important to a thrower’s development? How do you blend everything together into a training cycle, a training week, a single practice?

On Saturday, December 9th at noon Central Standard Time, throws coaches can get some expert advice on those matters from German Federation coach Torsten Schmidt.

Torsten was an Olympian himself in 2004, and in the years since he has coached many fine throwers including Rio men’s discus champion Chris Harting.

Torsten’s December 9th presentation will be available as a webinar. Here is an outline of the topics he will cover:

  1. German Support Systems for Young Athletes

sports school

sports clubs

Olympic support center

the role of the German federation

2. Long Term Education Concepts

3. Possibilities for Training During Youth/School Years

4. Planning a Season for Youth Athletes

main training resources

build-up, progression, shaping

condition training

5. My Philosophy on Youth Training

general training

weight lifting/special strength training

training technique/motor learning

6. My Personal Coaching Principles

7. Questions/Discussion

The fee for this webinar will be $30.

To register, follow this link to pay on Paypal.

Then, follow this link to sign up on Zoom.

After completing both of these steps, you will receive an email invitation giving you access to the webinar.

This webinar will be limited to the first 100 registrations.

 

Develop young discus throwers the German way: Upcoming webinar with Torsten Schmidt

Since 1992, the first Olympics after German reunification, Germany has produced a remarkable number of discus medalists at the Olympics and World Championships.

I don’t mean to insult the USA, and things are looking up for us after Mason Finley’s bronze-medal performance in London last summer, but take a look at these numbers:

Olympic  and World Championship Discus medals since 1992

German Men: 20  (10 gold)

US Men: 2  (1 gold)

German Women: 7  (4 gold)

US Women: 1 (1 gold)

These numbers illustrate what a great job the Germans have done in developing discus talent, and on Saturday, December 9th, at noon Central Standard Time, German Federation coach (and former Olympian) Torsten Schmidt will offer insights into how Germany has consistently produced excellent discus throwers.

This webinar will cost $30 and last from 90-120 minutes. Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout the presentation.

To register, follow these two steps.

  1. Follow this link to pay $30 on Paypal.
  2. Follow this link to register for the webinar.

Once both steps are completed, you will receive an email invite to the webinar.

This webinar will be limited to the first 100 registrants.

Unlike our previous webinars, a recording of this one will not be posted to Youtube.

 

 

 

Torsten Schmidt Webinar “German Discus Training for Young Throwers” to be presented December 9th

Torsten Schmidt, the coach of Rio Olympic gold medalist Chris Harting, will present a webinar on  “German Discus Training for Young Throwers” on Saturday, December 9th at noon Central Standard Time.

This is an unprecedented opportunity to get an inside look into the system which has produced many World Championship and Olympic medalists.

Torsten’s presentation will focus on the training of discus throwers under the age of twenty.

Here is an outline of the topics he will cover:

  1. German Support Systems for Young Athletes

     sports school

     sports clubs

     Olympic support center

     the role of the German federation

2. Long Term Education Concepts

3. Possibilities for Training During Youth/School Years

4. Planning a Season for Youth Athletes

     main training resources

     build-up, progression, shaping

     condition training

5. My Philosophy on Youth Training

     general training

     weight lifting/special strength training

     training technique/motor learning

6. My Personal Coaching Principles

7. Questions/Discussion

After making the discus final at the 2004 Olympics, Torsten transitioned to coaching and gained valuable experience mentoring young throwers at the Federation Training Center in Neubrandenburg. While there, he helped develop  outstanding young athletes  such as Anna Ruh, Patrick Muller, and Henning and Clemens Prufer,

For the past several years he has been based in the Federal Training Center in Berlin. In 2016, he coached Robert Harting, Julia Fischer Harting, and Chris Harting to the Rio Olympics where Chris won the gold medal.

The cost for this webinar is $30.  Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout Torsten’s presentation. This webinar (the presentation and the Q&A segment) will last somewhere around 90-120 minutes.

Unlike our previous webinars, a video of Torsten’s presentation will not be posted to Youtube.

Registration for this webinar requires two parts. First, fill out this registration form.

Next, use this link to pay the registration fee on Paypal.

You will then receive an email invitation to attend the webinar. This invitation will be sent by December 1st.

If you have any questions regarding this webinar, please contact Dan McQuaid at daniel.mcquaid@cusd200.org

 

Sean Foulkes webinar on building a great throws program now available on Youtube

Much thanks to Sean Foulkes of Portage Northern High School in Michigan for sharing the methods he has used to build a robust high school throws program. Sean detailed his program philosophy, his recruiting techniques, and his ideas about organizing effective practices.

Here is a video of Sean’s presentation:

Stay tuned for more webinars. We’ve got some great ones in the works that will help coaches prepare for the upcoming season.