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The Diamond League Men’s shot record falls at the 2019 pre Classic. To Darlan Romani. No, You shut up.

It’s not easy being a shot putter these days.

Think of Joe Kovacs.

He fought his way to a World Championships gold in 2015 and established himself as one of history’s great putters with a massive PR of 22.57m.

But a year later, Ryan Crouser comes along, blasts out an Olympic record of 22.52m in Rio, knocks Joe down to second, and gets us all talking about a world record with his unprecedented combination of size and agility.

Of course, Crouser maintained his domination in 2017, right?

Nope. Sorry, mate, but New Zealand’s Tom Walsh, who finished third behind Crouser and Kovacs in Rio, stepped up to defeat them both that year at the London Worlds.

Which left Tom alone atop the shot put world for about three weeks, or until Darrell Hill bested him, Crouser, and Kovacs with a 22.44m PB at the Diamond League final in Brussels.

Crouser seized the spotlight again this season by surpassing twenty-two meters twice indoors then putting together a monumental series in Long Beach in April that culminated in a new PB of 22.74m.

So, heading into yesterday’s Pre Classic, Joe, still in his prime and still quite capable of mounting his own assault on the world record, was not part of the hype surrounding this meet.

As it turns out, he threw quite well—21.39m, a distance which not too long ago would put a guy on the medal stand at a major championship.

Yesterday at the Pre, it got him fifth place.

When I spoke with him after the meet, he had to remind me that throwing 21.39m in June with a couple of fouls in the 22.00m range is a pretty positive development when the World Championships is still three months away.

As always Joe, like Michelle Carter a great ambassador for the sport, provided a thoughtful take on his career and his season so far.

As for Crouser…

…he opened with a nice, smooth 22.17m and struggled from there. He never improved on his opener, and ended up finishing second.

It cannot be easy when folks expect you to threaten the world record every time you compete and are disappointed with a measly 72’9” effort, but that is the world in which Crouser now exists.

I have to say that based on his post-meet comments he’s handling the pressure quite well. It was fun talking technique with him, and he shared some interesting insights about how gliding during his formative years influenced his approach to spinning.

As with Kovacs, Tom Walsh seemed to be this close to smashing one yesterday.

Tom is a classic example of the downhill racer nature of the rotational technique. Once you tip out of that starting gate and start zooming down the mountainside, a little shift in balance one way or the other can make the difference between triumph and disappointment.

As evidenced by this practice toss taken the day before the meet, Tom relies on speed to make the shot go. In yesterday’s competition, the speed was there but he couldn’t quite get everything lined up.

Like Crouser, Tom is at a point in his career where a 21.76m toss (his best yesterday) seems pedestrian. The day before the meet we spoke about his season and his prep for Doha, and based on that conversation and on his natural buoyancy I expect that he will shake off his third-place finish at the Pre and come out ready to rumble at the Worlds.

As it turns out, he better be.

As if Kovacs, Crouser, Hill and Walsh weren’t enough to give each other and any other putter with pretensions of medaling at Doha vivid nightmares, along comes Brazil’s Darlan Romani.

It’s not that Darlan was invisible prior to yesterday’s meet (he finished fifth in Rio and fourth in the 2018 Indoor Worlds) but you tell me, were you looking for him to break the Diamond League shot record, put together one of the great series in the history of the event (full results here), and move up to tenth place on the all time list?

As you can imagine, his performance raised quite a stir among us folks in the grandstands overlooking the shot ring, so I was really anxious to talk to him after the competition.

Unfortunately, Darlan does not speak English, and I do not speak Portuguese.

Fortunately, he had a friend with him who stepped in to translate. I think you’ll find the resulting interview quite charming. Being surrounded by a pack of suddenly curious reporters firing questions at him in a language he does not understand was clearly not Darlan’s idea of a great way to celebrate a life-changing performance, but he showed a lot of class in humoring us as long as he did, and in the process won himself at least one new fan in the US of A.

The question of whether or not he can recapture in Doha the magic he found in Palo Alto will be one of the more intriguing subplots at the Worlds.

But for his American competitors, it’s on to Des Moines first. There they must pass through the crucible of the US qualification system in order to earn another whack at Walsh, Romani and their like.

Like I said, it’s not easy being a shot putter these days.

The glide is dead! The glide is…Hang on…China’s Gong dominates the 2019 Pre Classic Women’s Shot

I’m old enough to remember an era—the Pleistocene maybe—when it seemed perfectly right and natural for high jumpers to go over the bar stomach first. The straddle technique, I think they called it.

Then Dick Fosbury came along and flew over the bar backwards and the straddle went the way of the steam engine, the rotary phone, and politeness.

So thorough and abrupt was the transition that the term “Fosbury flop” was adopted then dropped seemingly over night. We now just call it “high jumping.”

Shot putting has been undergoing a similar if more gradual transition from the glide technique to the spin. If memory serves, the first Olympics to feature a rotational thrower was Montreal in 1976. Male spinners took Olympic gold in 1996, 2000, and 2004, but then Polish glider Tomasz Majewski led a counter revolution, winning in Beijing and London. Germany’s David Storl did his part to hold back the rotational tide by winning World Championship gold in 2011 and 2013.

But Storl is the last male glider who still gets invited to competitions like Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic. An injury prevented him from making the trip to Stanford’s Cobb Track and Angell Field, but had he come he’d have cut a lonely figure, a tall and relatively svelte glider surrounded by a pack of beefy, turbocharged spinners.

The transition has been slower among the women. No female spinner has ever won an Olympic or World Championship gold. Many fine throwers have adopted the rotational technique, with the American Jill Camarena-Williams first among them to medal at a major championships when she won silver at the Daegu Worlds. After that, Hungary’s Anita Marton nabbed Rio bronze and London 2017 silver, and just last year Jamaican Danielle Thomas-Dodd took second at World Indoors, but the likes of New Zealand’s Valeri Adams, Germany’s Christina Schwanitz, China’s Lijiao Gong and American great Michelle Carter have maintained the glider monopoly on gold medals.

It is possible, however, that women’s shot putting may have found its Fosbury.

The American Chase Ealey glided her way to a successful collegiate career, finishing second at the 2016 NCAA Championships. But after two lackluster seasons as a pro, she switched to the rotational technique last September and is now one of the top putters in the world.

After posting a 2018 season best of 17.78m, she has, in 2019 thrown at least nineteen meters in eight different competitions, including yesterday at the Pre when she hit 19.23m to take third behind Gong and Thomas-Dodd. (Full results for the women’s shot can be found here.)

So I ask you, if Ealey could add two meters to her average throw and vault herself into the elite level of the event merely by switching to the spin, shouldn’t every glider make the change?

Apparently, it’s a little more complicated than that. In this post-comp interview, Ealey discusses her glide-to-spin journey, her prosperous coach/athlete partnership with former World Indoor shot champion Ryan Whiting, and why taking long walks while wearing throwing shoes might be beneficial.

Watching Gong (here she is sharpening her technique on Saturday) also makes one realize that the glide is not going the way of the dodo bird any time soon. The simplicity of her technique, and her mastery of it, allowed her to put together this series yesterday: 19.00m, 19.46m, 19.55m, 19.52m, 19.79m, F.

That kind of consistency is going to make her very hard to beat in Doha, and is something that may never be available to rotational throwers like Ealey and Thomas-Dodd.

Ealey’s series featured four fouls. Thomas-Dodd was more consistent, producing three throws over nineteen meters (with a best of 19.26m). She seemed close to knocking out a big throw—in the words of her coach, Nathan Fanger, “had she stayed on the ball through the release” she could have reached the 19.60m range.

But to put it crudely, spinners throw far by hauling butt (take a look at this practice throw by Thomas-Dodd from Saturday) and hauling butt while maintaining precision is no easy task

So the glide/spin debate will likely rage on a while longer.

One matter that is not up for debate is the remarkable graciousness of Michelle Carter.

She is far from being in top form (she finished 6th yesterday with a best of 18.21m) but as always she took time after the competition to share some thoughts about her season.

In that interview, you’ll hear her refer to her “You Throw Girl” camp and an upcoming competition she is hosting. Check out her website for more info.

Next up for Carter and Ealey is a trip to Des Moines at the end of July where they will fight for a chance to lock horns with Gong in Doha.

If you happen to pass through Tucson and spot Ealey out for a walk in her throwing shoes, please know that it is all part of the plan to finally get a female spinner to the top of the podium.

Pre-Competition Video Interviews at the 2019 Prefontaine Classic

Danniel Thomas-Dodd has had an outstanding career already, placing second at the 2018 World Indoor Championships. In a conversation after her pre-Prefontaine Classic workout at the track today, she talked about what it will take to get to the top of the podium in Doha.

Poland’s Konrad Bukowiecki is another fine young putter competing in Sunday’s Pre Classic. He got the silver medal at last summer’s European Championships, and at twenty-two years old is hungry for more. In this video, he discusses his career and the great Polish throwing tradition. At some point, a large creature resembling a grizzly bear pops up behind him. As this is Northern California, I assume this qualifies as a Big Foot sighting.

I’ve never met an American thrower who did not struggle in their first year as a pro. Finding your bearings while trying to make it on your own is treacherous business. In a conversation at Stanford’s Cobb Track and Angell Field, former Arizona State great Maggie Ewen discusses the trials and tribulations of life after college and trying to make it as a pro in both the shot put and hammer.

New Zealand’s Tom Walsh is one the world’s great putters and a very nice guy to boot. In this chat, he talks about his early season struggles and his preparations for Doha where he hopes to defend his 2017 World title.

These are just a handful of the magnificent putters who will be battling at the Pre on Sunday. It promises to be an epic day of chucking!

For Big Dogs Only: A Prefontaine 2019 Men’s Shot Preview

The 2019 New York Yankees have put together the type of lineup that could give a guy a bladder infection. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Edwin Encarnacion, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, and Gleyber Torres can all hit the long ball, so you have to sip your beer slowly at a Yankees game. Head to the bathroom, and you risk missing something spectacular.

Same thing this Sunday during the 2019 Prefontaine Classic men’s shot.

Olympic champion Ryan Crouser (22.74m PB) leads a stellar field of putters including 2017 World champion Tom Walsh (22.67m PB) 2015 World champion Joe Kovacs (22.57m PB), 2017 Diamond League champion Darrell Hill (22.44m PB), and 2018 European champion Michal Haratyk (22.08m PB).

Add in 2019 NCAA Indoor champion Payton Otterdahl (21.81m PB), former World Junior champion Konrad Bukowieki (21.97 PB), five time Brazilian national champion Darlan Romani (22.00m PB), and World Indoor bronze medalist Tomáš Staněk (22.01m PB) and you have one outstanding group of shot putters.

Any one of these gents could mash a huge throw on any attempt and all of them enter Sunday’s competition with something to prove.

In his short career as a pro, Crouser has accomplished a lot. He’s got an Olympic gold and the Olympic record. He doesn’t have the American record yet, though, which also happens to be…I’m not going to to say it…I refuse to say it…if I say it, I’ll jinx it…the WORLD RECORD. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. No pressure, Ryan, but I did fly all the way from Chicago to see this meet, so if you could maybe toss one out there around 23.13m I would appreciate it.

One person who seems to have had enough of this world record talk is Crouser’s rival, the courtly kiwi Tom Walsh who, in a recent interview, took pains to remind the mammoth American that he is not the only big dog in the kennel.

Walsh took a while to get rolling this season. His inability to hit the 22-meter mark early on prompted his coach, Dale Stevenson, to describe his results during the winter months (summer in the Southern Hemisphere) as “disappointing.”

They spent, according to Stevenson, “about six months in a holding pattern before making the necessary changes.”

Those changes paid off starting in May when Tom hit 22.06m at the Doha DL meeting. He has maintained a nice groove since, going 22.18m and 22.27m in two competitions leading up to the Pre, and there is nothing he’d like more than to interrupt Crouser’s march to the…you know what.

Back in 2015, talk of the “you know what” revolved around Joe Kovacs as he won his World title and gained notoriety for a massive warmup throw (at an earlier competition) well beyond the “you know what” line. He took the silver behind Crouser in Rio and the silver at the 2017 Worlds behind Walsh. Joe told me yesterday that he is “slow playing” things this year with the Worlds in Doha still three months away. But he is a fantastic thrower in the middle of his prime and a highly competitive young man. If people start dropping bombs Sunday, he will not sit idly by.

Nor will defending USA champion Darrell Hill.

His season so far as been fairly quiet. Like Kovacs, he appears to be “slow playing” in preparation for what promises to be a hellacious battle at the US Championships in late July. But he has gone 21.72m this year and is a big man with a big personality who loves a big stage. As he did at the Diamond League final in 2017 when he knocked out a huge 22.44m, he’d be quite happy to preempt the Walsh v. Crouser show.

The athlete in Sunday’s field with the most to prove is one with the least experience competing at this level.

A few months ago, Payton Otterdahl, a senior at North Dakota State University barged his way to the top of the world shot put rankings when he posted indoor marks of 21.64m, 21.81m, and an Indoor NCAA winner of 21.71m.

He maintained his form as the outdoor season got rolling, hitting 21.37m and 20.75m in the month of April.

Unfortunately, a lower back injury sustained while lifting weights just prior to the Drake Relays in late April forced him to curtail his training.

A couple of weeks later, just as he started feeling better, Payton aggravated the injury while warming up to throw the hammer at NDSU’s conference meet

After that, according to his coach Justin St. Clair, Payton had to drop serious weight lifting from his training. Even worse, he could barely throw in practice. During the two weeks between the conference and regional meets, Payton had “maybe two” throwing sessions.

In order to maintain his feel for the throw, St. Clair said that Payton needs to do a lot of full non-reverse throws, “to make sure that his balance and direction are all in line.” Payton also normally took a lot of throws that St. Clair calls “up and overs,” basically non-reverse attempts that he would finish by stepping over the toe board.

He could do neither of those once his back flared up.

The lack of training made it difficult for Payton to maintain his mojo as the outdoor NCAA meet approached.

St. Clair says that physically Payton felt pretty good when they arrived in Austin, “but his confidence wasn’t where it needed to be.” The day before the shot put competition he threw twenty-two meters in training, but the fact that Payton wanted to throw the day before he competed told St. Clair that “he wasn’t confident. Traditionally, we will never throw the day before a meet, but he felt the need to go throw, and that tells me he was doubting himself.”

The next day Payton managed a best of 19.89m, a fine throw but good for only fourth in the hyper-competitive men’s shot competition.

To his credit, he followed that up with an outstanding discus performance two days later, his third-round toss of 62.48m snagging him second place, just five centimeters behind the winner.

After that, he and St. Clair returned immediately to hard training, as the US Championships and a chance to qualify for Doha loom.

He received an invite to the Pre, his first competition as a professional, after two-time World champion David Storl of Germany had to bow out with a back injury of his own, sustained, according to Storl’s coach Wilko Schaa, just before the Doha DL meeting. Storl went five weeks without being able to take serious throws, so he is now focused solely on preparing for Doha.

For Payton, throwing at the Pre offers a huge opportunity. A solid performance might get him invited to more DL meetings, which would give him a chance to prove that he belongs among the world’s best, which would bolster his case when applying for a USATF grant, which could make or break his ability to focus on training during the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.

Bottom line, as Payton said recently to Coach St. Clair, “If I want to be a big dog, I’ve got to show I can beat the big dogs.”

The kennel will be filled to bursting on Sunday. Tune in.



The ladies who Launch: A Prefontaine 2019 Women’s shot Preview

This Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic—to be held at Stanford University due to the ongoing overhaul of the Temple of Track in Eugene—will feature a rollicking women’s shot put competition. Some of the best putters in the history of the sport will be there, along with a corps of youngsters vying to make their mark. Here are three questions for throws obsessives to ponder as the meet approaches.

Can Michelle Carter Recapture the Magic?

It’s not easy to stay on top in this business.

For Michelle Carter, it was a long climb just to get there. She was U20 World Champion in 2004. In 2008 she won the first of her seven outdoor national titles. In 2009, she competed in her first World Championship, taking fifth in Berlin. In 2012, she took silver at the Indoor Worlds and fourth at the London Olympics. Finally, in 2016 she broke through with a dramatic final-round 20.21m bomb to take gold at the Indoor Worlds.

She repeated that feat a few months later in Rio, launching an American record of 20.63m on her sixth attempt. It was one of the great moments in the history of American shot putting and definitively established her as the best thrower in the world and possibly in the Carter family as well.

Unfortunately, she has struggled since, slipping to third at the 2017 World Championships with a 19.14m effort. Last year she posted her lowest season’s best (18.16m) since 2007, and in her only competition so far this season put 18.28m.

I had a pleasantly rambling chat recently with Nathan Fanger (coach of Danniel Thomas-Dodd who will also be competing at the Pre) and he pointed out how difficult it is to compete at the highest level of this sport over a long period of time.

He made the point that a professional athlete has to be selfish. “You wake up in the morning and your breakfast has to be just right…you train hard all day and you might come home exhausted and edgy. Then you have to go to bed at a certain time. Day in and day out, everything has to revolve around you, which is fine when you’re young and single, but when you get married and have a family that gets tough.”

Michelle got married last year. And had knee surgery. And turned thirty-three.

Not many throwers compete for World or Olympic medals at that age, but count me among those who hope that she returns to her butt-beating ways. Round six in Doha might be kind of dull without her.

Is it Possible to Throw Twenty Meters on No Sleep?

Germany’s Christina Schwanitz had a heck of a 2015 season, winning the World Championships and setting a massive PR of 20.77m. She followed that up with a lackluster sixth-place finish at the 2016 Olympics. She followed that up by giving birth to twins.

A guy I teach with became the father of twins two years ago, and it transformed him from a fit, happy-go-lucky sort of man into an exhausted, haunted-looking creature who no longer gets asked to play on the faculty dodgeball team.

Schwanitz, obviously made of sterner stuff, was able to come back last year after sitting out the 2017 campaign and post a remarkable 19.78m season’s best.

She is the same age as Michelle Carter, and likely shares the same goal: to close her career with medals in Doha and Tokyo.

Sunday’s Pre, Schwanitz’s first outdoor meet ever on American soil, should provide some indication of how likely she is to achieve that.


How is Chase Ealey Doing What She’s Doing?

Here’s what I know about Chase.

She was a fine college shot putter, finishing second at the 2016 NCAA meet while representing Oklahoma State University. She also finished seventh at the Olympic Trials that year with a toss of 18.46m.

As a glider.

In 2017 and 2018 videos of her throws would pop up on social media occasionally as she tried to build a post-collegiate career. She notched season bests those years of 17.79m and 17.78m respectively.

As a glider.

This past winter, videos of Chase throwing began appearing on Ryan Whiting’s Desert High Performance Instagram page.

But now, she was spinning.

I happened to run into Whiting at a clinic this winter, and I asked him how Chase’s glide-to-spin transition was going. He said she was doing just fine, thanks.

I interpreted this to mean that she was struggling mightily as putters commonly do when switching techniques, but that she was staying positive. I also felt admiration for her courage in adopting the rotational style when it was clearly going to take her a few years to get comfortable with it.

Then, on February 9th, she threw a PR of 18.84m. “Good for her!” I remember thinking. “A PB during her first year as a spinner? Outstanding!”

Then, on February 24th, she won the US Indoor Championships with a toss of 18.62m.

Then, the outdoor season began and things got really strange.

She raised her PB to 18.95m on a trip to New Zealand in March, before returning home and blasting a 19.37m toss in Arizona, her home base when training with Whiting.

That earned her a May appearance at the Diamond League meeting in Shanghai. It generally takes throwers a couple of seasons to get acclimated to the rigors of traveling to compete overseas, even those who have not completely changed their technique over the past six moths. It would have been perfectly understandable for Ealey to wilt under the pressure of traveling halfway across the globe to take on the likes of Lijiao Gong, Anita Marton, and Danniel Thomas-Dodd (all World Championships medalists and all, by the way, appearing Sunday at the Pre) but instead she put 19.58m for the win.

She followed that up over the next few weeks by tossing 19.21m in Nanjing, 19.38m in Finland, and 19.20m in Norway, making it clear that it had not taken her long to adapt to the rigors of travel.

I asked Coach Fanger how in the world Ealey could be so consistent so quickly after switching to a technique whose best and most experienced practitioners experience bouts of maddening inconsistency.

He said that the secret may lie in Ealey’s particular version of the rotational technique.

“She is very slow out of the back, “ he told me, “and has a heck of a strike. She’s long and really drives the ball like a glider.”

“She starts slow enough,” he continued, “that she doesn’t lose control and then she’s still able to smack the finish. She’s similar to Ryan Crouser in that sense.”

As Coach Fanger sees it, rotational throwers are often erratic “because they are a little spastic out of the back, but if you can control the back it doesn’t have to be that way,”

He pointed out that some throwers, Joe Kovacs for example, have to be fast out of the back because of their stature.

“The shorter throwers like Joe or Adam Nelson back in the day have to use speed to throw far because they don’t have long levers. It’s a trade off, though. They are sometimes inconsistent because they have to be as fast and dynamic as possible even at the start of the throw.”

So what happens a couple of years from now when Ealey gets more comfortable with her technique and becomes more dynamic out of the back?

Tune in to the Pre this Sunday, and you might just get a glimpse of America’s next great putter.

Here is the start list for what should be a fantastic competition.


Rotational Shot Put webinar now on youtube

Cody Foerch and Kip Gasper of Deerfield (IL) High School have built an outstanding throws program, and yesterday they delved into their approach to rotational putting on a Mcthrows webinar.

It was a super informative session. These guys have an in-depth understanding of rotational technique and an ability to plainly explain their approach.

Much of the session was spent breaking down film of a 63-foot toss by current Deerfield senior Sam Liokumovich, who is the best skinny putter I’ve ever seen.

If you are a new coach wanting to get started teaching the rotational style, this webinar is for you.

If you have been coaching for a long time and have your own approach to teaching the spin, you’ll still love this presentation.

Take a look, and stay tuned for more webinars from Mcthrows.

Free Rotational Shot put webinar with deerfield throws force

Have you ever wanted to see a video of a high school kid who looks like a high jumper but is actually a consistent 60-foot-plus shot putter? Well, here you go:

Pretty remarkable eh?

If you are wondering how that kid (his name is Sam Liokumovich) learned to throw this way, you are in luck. Sam competes for Deerfield High School in the suburbs of Chicago, where he and the other members of the Deerfield Throws Force are coached by Cody Foerch and Kip Gasper. This Sunday, March 3 at 1:00pm CST, Cody and Kip will discus the fundamentals of the rotational shot technique employed by Sam and his teammates.

Log into this free webinar to listen and watch as they break down Sam’s big throw. Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout the webinar.

Cody and Kip have built a fantastic throws program at Deerfield. We at Mcthrows.com invite you to join us for what promises to be an extremely informative hour with these two gentlemen.

Register here.

Cues and Corrections by Dane Miller and Trevor Stutzman: a Review

I really like this book.

One, it’s an actual physical book with pages, and I’m old so that puts it right in my wheelhouse.

Two, it’s laid out in a user-friendly way that will appeal to both new and veteran coaches.

It was produced by the folks at ThrowsUniversity.com, with Dane Miller and Trevor Stutzman credited as authors. Those two gentlemen have accumulated a ton of coaching experience at the high school, college, and international levels, and they do a nice job of distilling what they’ve learned into an easy-to-digest eighty pages.

They’ve broken down each throw (rotational shot, glide shot, and  discus) into various phases, and have identified anywhere from two to four faults common to each phase.

Each fault is illustrated with a photo like this…

…with the facing page containing three possible solutions to that particular error.

Anyone who has coached more than five minutes will be familiar with these flaws.  I had to ice my neck after reading it, so vigorously did I find myself nodding in recognition.

The corrections offered are generally simple and reasonable. For example, if a coach notices a rotational putter pulling out of the back of the ring with their left shoulder, the authors advise cuing the athlete to focus on a.) shifting their weight to the left foot, b.) rotating the left shoulder around the left foot, or c.)pushing down the right foul line on entry.

If you are new to the business, you’ll find it helpful to be offered three possible solutions for each problem. If you’ve been coaching for a while, you’ll probably be familiar with a lot of these cues, but it’s still nice to be reminded of them and to have this solid advice laid out in a simple, common-sense manner.

My only quibble with this book is that I disagree with some of their cues regarding the glide.  For example, the authors recommend that the right heel not touch down in the power position, and I don’t think that works for most gliders. The key, in my opinion, is to get that heel up again as quickly as possible.

But here’s the thing. We have won a lot of football games at my school with a 4-3 defense. Does that mean that the 3-4 is not an effective front? Or that a coach in a 4-3 system cannot benefit from learning about the 3-4?

No, it does not.

In my case, disagreeing with the author’s approach to the glide made me think more deeply about why I use the cues that I do, and that’s a healthy exercise for any coach.

Cues and Corrections: Fixes to Common Technical Errors goes for $24.99 and can be ordered from the Throws University website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing for Doha, Part 1

Winning a medal at a World Championships is never easy, but winning one in 2019 might be trickier than usual.

In most years, professional throwers practice and compete over a ten-month span. Serious training begins in November. Important competitions stretch from May through the summer with the most important–the World Championships or Olympics–generally taking place in early-to-mid August. At the Rio Olympics, for example, track events began on August 12th. The 2017 World Athletics Championships in London opened on August 1st.

The 2019 season, however, will be different. Due to the climate in Doha, where August temperatures tend to be unbearable, the 2019 World Championships will not begin until September 27th.

This creates a challenge for throws coaches who must design and manage a plan for their athletes that accounts for an extra six-to-eight weeks of training while somehow keeping them fresh for Doha.

Curious as to how different coaches would handle this predicament, I contacted a few.

One person I for sure wanted to check in with was Dale Stevenson, coach of the defending shot put World Champion Tom Walsh of New Zealand.

Dale and Tom have become experts at handling extra-long seasons because for them, every season is extra-long. As New Zealand is located in the Southern Hemisphere, their outdoor national championships take place in March, a full two months before the outdoor season even begins in North America and Europe where most of Tom’s competitors reside. 

So Tom and Dale have had to devise a system that allows Tom to maintain excellent form two-to-three months longer than many of his rivals.

And based on recent results, they seem to have figured out a way to do just that. 

Last year, for example, Tom won the Indoor World Championships in Birmingham on March 3rd with a monster toss of 22.31m.  A week later, he headed back to New Zealand and won his national championships with a put of 21.58m. He then stayed in great shape through the months of June (22.29m at the Oslo Diamond League Meeting), July (21.92m at Lausanne) and August (22.60m to win the Diamond League final in Zurich on the 30th of that month).

That’s six solid months of excellent putting.

I asked Dale, via email, how they’ll attempt to stretch that to eight months in 2019 and put Tom in position to defend his World title.

Dale seems confident that he and Tom can handle the challenge, and that confidence seems to stem in part from their use of block periodization.

According to Dale, he and Tom “always follow the same planning structure” for Tom’s training. That structure consists of a sequence of four training phases which Dale calls “Slow Eccentric,” “Fast Eccentric,” “Ballistic,” and “Competition.” The sequence can be modified to last anywhere from two-to-six months, and always consists of those four phases repeated in that order.

A quick note on terminology. In the past, when coaches referred to “periodization” they generally meant “linear periodization.” A training plan based on linear periodization would begin with a high-volume “preparation” or “hypertrophy” phase and gradually morph over a period of months towards a low-volume, higher intensity phase before ending with a maintenance phase during which an athlete would devote a minimum amount of time and energy to strength exercises–just enough to maintain the raw power necessary to throw far. This final phase would be timed to coincide with the most important competitions, and if calibrated correctly would allow the athlete to derive the benefits of all those months of hard training and throw their best when it counts the most. 

In a plan designed in the linear style, the various phases would not be repeated. Once an athlete moved past the high volume phase, for example, they would not engage in high volume training again until the following season.

A training plan utilizing “block periodization” would include the same basic phases as a linear plan, but over the course of the training year those phases would be repeated in segments or “blocks” of varying length. So, instead of engaging in say ten weeks of fairly high volume training during the winter months and then leaving high volume workouts behind for good as might be typical in a linear plan, an athlete training in the block style would engage in a shorter period of high volume training each time the block was repeated. And over the course of a ten-month season, the block would be repeated several times.

Here’s an analogy.

Linear periodization is like working hard at your job and saving all the money you can from November through May so that you can enjoy yourself on an extended summer vacation.  The more money you sock away during your “accumulation” phase, the longer your vacation will last. 

Block periodization would involve breaking up the save/spend cycle into a series of mini-cycles during which you’d save for a bit, spend that money on a shorter vacation, and repeat the process several times over the course of a year.

Advocates of a linear periodization system would argue that each phase of training must be maintained long enough to produce the desired training effect. If you want to produce hypertrophy in your athletes, for example, you must spend the time necessary to create that hypertrophy before moving on to another phase. Chopping the training year into blocks might not allow each phase of each block enough time to work its magic.

The challenge faced in 2019 by those using a linear model is that athletes cannot maintain peak fitness indefinitely. Once they begin a “maintenance” or “competition” phase and get farther away from their last strength-building phase, the clock begins to tick on their ability to generate maximum power. Eventually, the strength they accumulated during several months of preparation will diminish, like the savings of the aforementioned vacationer. With the Diamond League schedule beginning as usual in May, and the Worlds not taking place until late September, coaches have to figure out how to keep their athletes in competitive shape for a much longer stretch than they are used to.

Those like Dale Stevenson who favor a block periodization model might argue that it provides coaches the flexibility they need to manage this kind of situation. Each block contains a strength building phase, which would ideally restore an athlete’s ability to generate maximum power and produce peak throws.  Repeating the block ensures that an athlete never goes too long without rebuilding their capacity to throw far. 

Dale and Tom vary the length of each sequence depending on the importance of various competitions.

“If a short cycle is required (such as before World Indoors), then each phase is fifteen to eighteen days in duration, whereas a longer cycle might be forty-two days per phase. Pretty simple but it works for us.”

Rest will also be important if Tom is to be at his best in October.

He took seven weeks off after the 2018 campaign before starting back with twice-weekly sessions. Last week marked his return to a full training schedule.

Dale also plans to help Tom conserve some energy by de-emphasizing the Diamond League schedule.

“We will be sacrificing some of the meets in May-August next year to ensure we’re ready for October, some by reducing expectation of performance or simply skipping them altogether.”

Another coach who will be employing block periodization and emphasizing rest as he prepares his athletes for the 2019 season is René Sack, the German national coach for the women’s discus. René’s most prominent athlete is 2011 World Championships discus silver medalist Nadine Müller.

I spoke with René via the worldwide web, and he told me that the main adjustment he will be making in preparing Nadine for the 2019 season will be figuring out ways to include more rest in her training.

“I think you have to plan much more regeneration time,” he said. “I switched to the block periodization model last year. With Nadine, we do the European Winter Throwing Cup in the middle of March to see where we are at, then I will give her one or two weeks off. Then we will go to Chula Vista for three weeks for a training camp and begin the next phase.”

“The German Championships are on 3rd and 4th August, and the week after this she will get one more week free. You can’t train and do competitions for eleven months without finding ways to sneak in rest.”

René also plans to take special care to monitor the energy levels of his athletes throughout the season. He will regularly “do some surveys with the athletes where they answer a few questions to help me see how they are feeling so I can say ‘Ok, looks like you are really tired. Just go home and I’ll see you on Monday.’”

Like Dale Stevenson, René values the flexibility of block periodization and the way that the blocks can be stretched or shortened to suit an athlete’s needs.

René calls the first phase of his blocks an “accumulation phase.” During the first block of Nadine’s training, he will have her perform sets of ten during that phase. As the season progresses, the accumulation phase will always be the highest volume segment of a given block, but that volume will decrease relative to the accumulation phase in the first block. If Nadine’s first accumulation phase requires her to perform five sets of ten reps on various exercises, that may drop to sets of seven or “maybe a pyramid” in the second block.

“I change exercises too, ” he continued. “They might do heavy squats and leg press in the first block to prepare the structures for heavy lifting, and the next block maybe squats only, then later single leg squats or step-ups.” This is also designed to keep the athletes fresh over the course of a long season.

Like many coaches of elite throwers, René also has his athletes train with a variety of implements as a way of developing “special strength.”  Nadine routinely throws 1.2k and 1.5k discs in practice, with a 2k mixed in on occasion. Over the last two years, they have “played around” with a 0.8k disc, which Nadine can throw over 70 meters when she can get a good flight on it.

René estimates that Nadine has taken 120,000 throws in her life, so unlike a novice who needs to build technique, “she just needs to remind the body how to do it.”

If he can calibrate her training correctly, Nadine’s body and mind will be fresh and  ready to launch some big throws in Doha.

For part two of this article, I will share insights from JC Lambert, (coach of hammer thrower DeAnna Price) and Torsten Lönnfors, (coach of 2016 Olympic discus champion Chris Harting) on how they will prepare their charges for the rigors of the upcoming season.

 

A reflection on Berlin

My sister-in-law lives in the old East Berlin, and every day when she walks out of her door she sees this statue in a park across the street from her apartment:

That fellow was a German communist who was executed by the Nazis. His bust is one of many statues that the Soviets erected across East Berlin after World War II to remind the Germans who was in charge.

One of the most popular parks in that half of the city was converted by the Soviets into a mass grave and memorial for thousands of their soldiers who were killed in the assault on Berlin:

As you can tell by how tiny the people sitting at its base look, that is one hell of a big statue.

But that’s typical of totalitarian architecture. That’s the aesthetics of intimidation.

And you can see those aesthetics at work on a stroll around the Olympiastadion, which hosted the recent European Championships.

This is a picture  of my daughter inside the stadium during the recent European Championships:

Can you see that tower rising up beyond the opening in the far end?

That’s a structure that looms over the grandstands of a giant parade ground built, along with the Olympiastadion, in the 1930’s by the Nazis.

Here’s a closer look at it:

This picture does not do justice. There are twenty-five acres of grass in front of those grandstands.  That’s about the size of twenty American football fields. And the entrance is bordered with statues like this:

When you walk around those grounds, you can’t help but feel the sense of grandeur that the architects of this vast facility intended to convey. Then, you remember who those architects were.

That’s a heavy load for the Germans to bear. How do you forget the horrors of those years, and at the same time, how do you remember so as never to go down that path again?

That’s the difference between attending a track meet in Berlin and attending one in Zurich or Eugene or Des Moines. I’ve been mulling this over quite a bit, and I think I’ve finally got it figured out. It’s not the quality of the beer and chocolate. Those are just as good in Zurich. It’s not the enthusiasm of the fans. The folks in Eugene get just as nutty. It’s not the quality of the competition. Lots of the marks posted at the US Championships in Des Moines this summer would have earned medals in Berlin.

It’s the weight of history.

The ghost of Hitler. The shadow of Jesse Owens.

And it’s the grace with which the Germans bear that weight.

My sister-in-law told me that the Germans have left many of the Soviet-era statues intact because they don’t want to forget the cost of being seduced by fascism. I assume that they have let the Nazi parade ground outside the Olympiastadion stand for the same reason.

But it’s more than just letting a bunch of old structures stand as memorials to human folly. It’s what they’ve done with those structures.

One of my daughter’s favorite novels is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. When she heard that we would be visiting Germany this summer, she asked if we could travel to Dresden, where Vonnegut was held as a prisoner during WWII. He and his comrades were used as laborers throughout the city by day, and were kept at night in the basement of a slaughterhouse, hence the novel’s title.

One night, the city of Dresden was bombed and at least 30,000 civilians were killed. Vonnegut and his mates, saved by their subterranean sleeping quarters, emerged to a scene of unspeakable destruction.

We did travel to Dresden, and engaged a tour guide to show us sights related to Vonnegut and his novel.

It turns out that the actual slaughterhouse five is still intact.

This cow marks the entrance:

But they don’t  process animals there anymore. The very spot where Vonnegut and the other POWs sheltered from the bombing is now a coat check room.

Above, the huge open halls of the slaughterhouse now host concerts and exhibitions. People gather there to drink and to dance and to remember never to forget.