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London Predictions: Women’s Shot

There has been a recent development.

Just last week, China’s Lijiao Gong

…cracked the 20-meter barrier for the first time this season. Her 20.11m put in Bohmenkirch, Germany vaulted her into the world lead by a substantial margin over Raven Saunders, whose 19.76m blast at the USA Championships in June announced her as  a serious  gold medal candidate.

After finishing a disappointing fourth in Rio with a 19.39m toss (she had thrown 20.22m to take silver at the London Games) Gong appears to be in excellent trim as she seeks a fourth outdoor World Championships medal.

Standing in her way is a formidable female foursome.

The aforementioned Saunders has been something of a riddle during this long collegiate indoor into collegiate outdoor into World Championships season.

She won the NCAA Indoor meet with a massive 19.56m effort, then sank to 4th at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Buried in fifth place as she stepped in for her final  throw at the USA Championships, she detonated that 19.76m bomb. (You  can read more about that incendiary moment here: http://mcthrows.com/?p=1820)

The question is, which Raven will show up in  London? The confident butt-whipper who PR’d in Rio and came up big in Sacramento, or the foul prone, sulking Raven who could not find her bearings in Eugene?

And how about Dani Bunch?

She is exhibit A for those who argue the superiority of the rotational technique. Certainly, her switch to the spin (detailed here: http://mcthrows.com/?p=1829 ) has paid off.  She went from a really good Big 10 shot putter as a glider to one of the top throwers in the world as a spinner.

The question is, will her technique hold up under the pressure of her first really, really, I mean really big meet?

And what of the most decorated female rotational thrower of the past few years, the Hungarian Anita Marton?

She was fourth in  the Beijing Worlds.  Second at last year’s Indoor Worlds in Portland. Third in Rio with a 19.87m PR.

With that track record in major competitions,  there is no question about Anita keeping her stuff together in London.

Her best throw this year is 19.63m, but it came on April 30th. Has she slipped a bit since last year, or has she simply been biding her time all summer, waiting to shine on the big stage as she did in Rio?

And let’s not forget the defending Olympic and Indoor World champion Michelle Carter. 

Her best this year is the 19.34m that got her third in Sacramento. That’s more than a meter less than her gold-medal-winning toss in Rio, but considering that she won her World Indoor and Olympic titles with titanic sixth round chucks, there will be no such thing as a safe lead in London until she’s  had her say.

Aside from these five, I  see no one who has  a reasonable chance at getting on the podium. So, it is time for some predictions.

Trofimuk

Gold: Carter.

Reason: Even after Gong’s recent twenty-meter toss, Trofimuk has not lost faith in Carter’s ability to rise to any occasion. She is, according to him, “Much in the clutch.”

Silver: Marton

Reason: Trofimuk’s gut tells him that Marton is ready to go big, and he suspects that Raven’s loooong season will make it tough for her to rise to the occasion.

Bronze: Saunders

McQ

Gold: Gong

Reason: If the women’s shot consisted only of Gong versus Saunders, it would still be enough to set this man’s heart aflutter. The world’s best glider against the world’s best spinner. China against the United States. Monolithic communism against Coach John Smith.

Forget NBC Gold, this match-up should be available only on pay-per-view.

And if I were NBC, I’d arrange a bunch of Mayweather v. McGregor style press conferences with lots of posturing and Mandarin cuss words.

Anyway, as  much as I love the pure, sometimes malevolent energy that Raven has brought to the sport, I’m giving the nod to Gong based on her extensive international experience.

Either way, don’t miss it.

Silver: Saunders

Reason: From a fan’s point of view, the great thing about Raven is that every time she enters the ring, it is possible that something amazing might happen. She might foul a huge throw then go headbutt Coach Smith, then get back in the ring and throw 20 meters. It’s like watching Nascar. You don’t want to see somebody get into a huge wreck, but the fact that it might happen really keeps your attention.

I’m guessing that Raven will avoid a ten-car pileup in London, but if Gong is as fit as she appears, it will be hard to match her consistency.

Bronze: Marton

Reason: God knows I love and respect Michelle Carter. She has personally made the United States a dominant force in women’s shot putting. But it might take 19.70m to medal in London, and based on the year she’s had, I just don’t see her getting there.

Same for Dani. She has had an amazing year, and on a given day she can outgun Marton (as she did at the Shanghai DL meeting) but when it comes to the Olympics and World Championships, experience can make a big difference.

London Predictions: Women’s disc

Could anyone blame Sandra Perkovic for being distracted or just plain tired?  Traveling all over the  world doling out ass-beatings for years on end has got to take something out of you.

And I’m not being facetious.

I interviewed Valerie Adams a few years ago when she was near the end of a fifty-meet undefeated streak, and though clearly determined to maintain her domination, she also seemed worn down by the effort it took to stay on top for that long.

Same for Robert Harting when I spoke with him in the summer of 2014, while everything was still going his way. He was three-time World Champion. Defending Olympic Champion. The next day, at the New York stop on the Diamond League circuit, he smashed a 68-meter throw on a humid morning with the smell of garbage in the air. (Apparently, Icahn Stadium was built over a landfill.)

Robert was at the height of his uber mensch phase, capable of willing the disc 68 meters whenever he wanted, and yet…talking to him you could tell that like Val, he was weary of the  grind and looking ahead to retirement.

So when I started seeing photos like this…

…posted by Sandra on Instagram early this year, I began to wonder if maybe she was a little bored with the incessant training and travel, with maintaining the laser focus necessary to win two Olympic and one World Championships gold.

She had always been in great shape, but in the pictures she posted this summer she seemed to be noticeably thinner than in the past.

Could it be that looking glamorous had become more important to her than winning medals?

Uh….no.

Two weeks ago, she hammered a PR of 71.41m, thus serving notice on any knuckleheads out there who might have doubted her that they were mistaken.

Yes, Sandra, that sound you hear is me munching on crow.

A quick digression. I fear that my remarks on Sandra may come across as  sexist. What, can’t a woman look good in an evening gown and still throw 70 meters?

But another fine thrower, the American shot putter Jordan Clarke…

…also had me wondering this winter when he frequently posted images of himself powering through high volume, cardiac-heavy workouts–not the kind of training one would  indulge in if one’s main goal in life was to make a sixteen-pound ball go far.

The  slimmer Clarke became from those workouts, the more I wondered about his intentions for the upcoming season. And, as it turns out, he did retire from the sport.

Anyway, I just want everyone to know that I’m an equal opportunity doubter.

And Jordan, I know that it has always been your dream to appear in an article about female discus throwers. so…you’re welcome.

That said, if Sandra Perkovic is indeed in top form, does anyone have a chance of beating her in London?

How about Cuba’s Jaime Perez?

Built like a long jumper, she is an ardent practitioner of the “haul ass and knock the crap out of it” approach to discus throwing.  And she has had a sensational year, hitting a PR of 69.19m and beating Sandra head-to-head on more than one occasion.

How about Australia’s Dani Stevens (formerly Dani Samuels)?

After winning the 2009  Worlds in Berlin as a nine-year-old (that’s what it seemed like, anyway) her best finish in an Olympics or Worlds since is fourth in Rio.

But she threw 66.78m as recently as March, and she has tons of big meet experience.

How about Melina Robert-Michon of France?

Her tenth-place finish at the Beijing Worlds in 2015 prompted me to leave her out of my Olympic preview last year. She responded to that slight by belting a PR 66.73m in Rio to nab silver.

Her best throw so far this year is 63.63m, good for 14th on the world list. At the age of 38, she might be over the hill but she also might be lying low in an effort to make me look ridiculous again.

How about Gia Lewis-Smallwood of the United States?

She is the same age as Melina, but a very nasty back issue prevented her from even competing in Rio. It is something of a miracle that she is once again in fighting trim and currently ranked fourth in the world with a toss of 65.81m.

A throw like that wouldn’t win in London, but would likely get her on the podium.

The best of the German women this year is the veteran Nadine Muller.

A two-time World Championships medalist, her season best of 65.76m has her tied for fifth on the world list. As far as I can tell, she did not compete at the German championships this month, which made me wonder if she was injured, but she is on the team for London, and if healthy surely a threat to medal.

The best of the Chinese is Xinyue Su, currently ranked eleventh in the world with a season’s best of 64.08m.

She finished fifth in Rio.

Time for predictions.

Trofimuk

Gold: Perkovic

Reason: I quote: “She is the best there ever was and ever will be.”

Silver: Perez.

Bronze: Stevens.

McQ

Gold: Perkovic.

Reason: When Cuba’s Denia Caballero defeated Sandra in Beijing, she did so by dropping a 69-meter hammer on  her in round one.  At the time, Sandra was dinged up and 69 meters was beyond her range, so the competition was essentially over after one round. Perez would like nothing better than to follow her teammate’s example and kill one early, but Perk’s recent 71.41m suggests that she’s got the stuff to match anything Jaime can muster.

And, if it comes down to a battle of will, nothing against Perez, but…good luck.

Last year in Rio, Sandra showed her mettle when she walked into the ring for her third throw during the rain-soaked prelims sitting on two fouls. She threw 64.81m to advance.

The next morning, she opened the finals with…two fouls. A lesser person might have pooped the pants at such a moment. Sandra coolly drilled a 69.21m bullet that snagged her the gold.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of watching Sandra compete up close and personal at the New York Diamond League meeting. For some reason, the TV people wanted the discus out of the  way before the rest of the meet started, so I want to say warm-ups began at 9:30am.  Something like that. And it was fah-reeeezing out! Forty degrees with rain and a nasty wind. In late May. I like to have died.

Anyway, due to the early start and the conditions, I think Sandra’s coach Edis Elkasevic, my friend Peter Trofimuk (brother of Pat who helps me with these predictions) and I were about the only spectators in the stadium when the discus started, We stood where we could get the best view of the discus cage, and between every warm-up and competition throw Sandra came over to confer with Edis. I couldn’t understand what they were saying because they were not speaking English, but I could tell that in spite of the conditions, Sandra was jacked about competing that day.

She struggled on her first two or three attempts, and after one of them an official tried to block her from crossing the track to check in with Edis. Mind you, this was a couple of hours before the running events began, and the track was deserted, so I’m not sure what this guy was thinking, but no matter.  Sandra strode right past him, and when he protested she turned and said “You shut up, you!”

He did shut up, and a couple of throws later, Sandra got into that slick ring with a cold mist blowing sideways and knocked out a 68-meter throw to take over the world lead.

I wish I could say that the crowd roared in appreciation, but Edis, Peter, and I were too frozen to move our mouths.

Anyway, you get the idea.

Whatever happens in London, whatever Jaime or Mother Nature throw at her, Sandra will respond.

Silver: Perez.

Reason: She’s got more pop than anyone in the field aside from Perkovic. That will be enough to keep her ahead of a tightly packed group in which less than two meters separates those ranked numbers five thru thirteen in the world.

Bronze: Gia.

 Reason: Oh, why the hell not? If millions of Game of Thrones fans can convince themselves that there were dragons and people with perfect teeth running around during medieval times, why can’t I believe that a thirty-eight-year-old recovering from a serious back injury can conjure up  the performance of her life to win her first World Championship medal? I have one thing to say to those who doubt her. “You shut up, you!”

 

 

 

London Predictions: Men’s Discus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That said, let’s make some picks.

Trofimuk

Gold: Milanov

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

Silver: Malachowski

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

Bronze: Stahl

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

McQ

Gold: Harting

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

Silver: Stahl

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

Bronze: Malachowski

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

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

 

London Predictions: Men’s Shot

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

That said, here we go.

Men’s Shot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider Joe Kovacs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, you get the idea.

So, without further ado, here are our predictions.

Trofimuk:

Gold: Crouser

     Reason: Duh!

Silver: Walsh

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

Bronze: Kovacs

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

 

McQ:

Gold: Crouser

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

Silver: Kovacs

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

Bronze: Storl

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shadae Lawrence v. Maggie Ewen: a technical analysis

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

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

Shadae went 61.37m for the win.

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

You can see  those tosses on Macthrowvideo.com.

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

Here they are winding up:

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

And here that entry begins:

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Porzingis squats: a great example of intelligent weight training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think not.

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

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

 

 

 

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.

sondra

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: 

yaimi

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.

caballero

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

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

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

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.

julia

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)

Finleycrop_t640

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.

stahl

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.

gerd

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.

 

chris

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.

 

phil

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

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

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…

harting

…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