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