Category Archives: Rotational Shot

Dani Bunch spins her way to relevance

If you were surprised to see Dani Bunch dueling Raven Saunders and Michelle Carter for the national title and world lead last weekend in Sacramento, you were not alone.

I crossed paths with Dani twice over the last five years, and neither time did I walk away thinking “Holy cow, she might be national champion some day.”

The first instance came during the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, back in the days when world class track meets were occasionally held in the Midwest.

Dani, a sophomore at Purdue, threw 16.21m and finished ninth in her flight. At that time, Tia Brooks, a junior at Oklahoma who won in Des Moines with a toss of 18.44m, and Michelle Carter, who a year later would break the American record with a throw of 20.24m and then break it again with a gold-medal winning put of 20.63m in Rio, seemed to be the ascendant putters among American women.

The next time I ran across Dani was at the Chicagoland  Throws Series in 2015. She was in her first season as a professional and had, just three months prior, switched from the glide to the rotational shot technique.

She threw 17.28m that day, more than a meter under her glide PR. The fact that she was able to function  at all as a rotational putter so quickly after making the change was impressive, as was her determination to continue in the sport when she appeared to be a long way from cracking the upper echelon of throwers.  But, if you watch this video, you’ll see that she had a lot of work to do if she hoped to develop a level of comfort with the spin technique similar to the other elite putters in the competition, Brittany Smith, Becky O’Brien, and Tori Bliss.

Here is an interview I did with Dani at the  Chicagoland meet. Please ignore my stupidity in  occasionally using the words “glide” and “glider” when referring to the rotational technique.

After the Chicagoland meet, Dani went back to Lafayette, Indiana, and hunkered down with her college coach Keith McBride to pursue her dream of becoming a world class putter.

For the rest of 2015 and all of 2016, she toiled in relative anonymity.

Last year, at the Olympic Trials, she thew 17.37m in the prelims then fouled all three throws in the finals.

As noted above, Michelle Carter grabbed gold in Rio with a sensational sixth-round effort. Also in Rio, Raven Saunders established herself as the thrower of the future by hitting a PR of 19.35m to finish fifth.

With the spotlight on those two ladies, Dani began the 2017 campaign no longer in “relative” anonymity. She had achieved a state of “complete” anonymity.

But, according to Coach McBride, he and Dani could tell long before the start of this season that she had the capability to become a nineteen or even twenty-meter putter.

The key was having the courage, patience, and possibly misplaced confidence to commit to the rotational technique.

McBride had actually broached the possibility of converting to the spin a couple of times during Dani’s career at Purdue.

“She had kind of a rotational finish anyway,” he told me in a recent conversation. “She was kind of up and turning all the time. She was that weird glider who would throw out of bounds to the left because she turned so far through it.”

This video provides a clear illustration of Dani’s glide finish:

“So, I brought it up with her once or twice in college, but she wasn’t mentally ready for it. Her argument was, ‘I can’t throw the discus, so how can I spin in the shot?’  If the athlete isn’t ready for it, you can’t shove it down their throat.”

Finally, in February of her first year out of college, Dani competed in a meet at Purdue. Still a glider, she threw well under eighteen meters.

Throwers from Southern Illinois University also competed in that meet, and their coach at the time, John Smith (now at Ole Miss) advised McBride and Dani to make the switch to the rotational style.

Smith remembers that moment well, and described it to me in a recent conversation.

“When Raven was a freshman, we went to a meet at Purdue. It was  Dani’s first year out of college, and Keith told me that he was thinking about switching Dani to the spin. I asked him how far does she throw from a stand? He told me fifty-two feet. I said if she wants to compete at the world level as a glider, she’s going to have to have a fifty-seven foot stand throw like Michelle or Tia Brooks. If you don’t think you can do that, then she needs to spin.”

With the US Indoor Championships looming, McBride and Dani decided to postpone the decision. After finishing seventh with a toss of 17.11m at that meet,  Dani came home ready to make the switch.

I asked McBride if it was hard on Dani to accept throwing shorter distances while she adapted to the rotational style, but as he remembers it, “She threw far right away. Her first meet with the spin, a little meet somewhere in Illinois, she threw 18.50m. Then she went to Tuscon Elite and threw 18.89m.”

As he anticipated, Dani’s rotational-style finish in her glide lent itself to the full out rotational technique.

“She had been a rotational finisher from day one,  and knowing how to strike in that position helped.  Out of the back we were just trying to hit that power position she had been using in the glide. We kind of melded the spin and glide.”

The most challenging part of the conversion turned out to be getting Dani to the point where her technique could hold up under the  pressure of big meets.

Her tribulations at the 2016 Trials typified her struggles. “The issue,” according to  McBride, “from the very first was not “Can we throw far?’ but ‘Can we stay in the ring?’ She was tattooing stuff right from the start.”

The 2017 season began in promising fashion as Dani hit 19.12m at a meet in Lafayette, which gave her the world lead at the time. That throw enabled Dani’s agent to finagle an invitation to the Diamond League meeting in Shanghai.

She finished second there with a toss of 18.98m.

That result earned Dani an invitation to a meet in Brazil.

She won that competition with a 19.55m bomb, and as a result was invited to the Diamond League meeting in Rome where she finished second with a put of 18.95m.

McBride considers the Rome meeting to have been a pivotal moment in Dani’s development. “In the fifth round, Michelle Carter passed her up, and Dani was like ‘I’m not losing to her’ and she came back and beat her in the sixth round. That showed us that she finally had the confidence she needed to make big throws in pressure situations.”

Dani proved that definitively with an epic performance at the US Nationals. She opened at 18.92m and followed that with a solid 19.18m that seemed likely to net her a spot in the top three. Not willing to take any chances against a dangerous field, Dani cranked up the intensity and after two fouls killed one in the fifth round. Her 19.64m put her into first, and after Raven blasted out a PR of her own (19.76m), Dani showed that the 19.64m was no fluke by powering her final attempt out to 19.57m.

She is now ranked second in the world with two competitions (the Portland and New York stops on the Tracktown Series tour) remaining before Worlds.

And what might the future bring, now that Dani is fully confident with the rotational style?

“As big as that throw in Sacramento was,” says McBride, “she can go farther. She definitely has twenty-meter power, and  if we keep progressing she will be challenging the USA record some day.”

From eighteen-meter glider to twenty-meter spinner in two years time? It sounds crazy, but combine Dani’s determination, her great working relationship with Coach McBride, her innate feel for the rotational style, and the intense rivalry brewing between her,  Raven, and Michelle, and you just can’t put it past her.

Pun intended.

 

 

 

 

 

Ryan Whiting goes to a static start

After what has been, by his standards, a disappointing season Ryan Whiting unveiled a new static start this weekend and used it to produce an excellent 21.68m toss.

After Ryan posted a vid of that throw on Twitter, I asked him to comment on his reasons for the switch to his new approach.

If you follow the throws (and if you are reading this post, clearly you do) you know that Ryan is very generous with sharing information about his training. It was not surprising then, when he tweeted this reply:

Jordan Clarke recommended it to me in July. My ankle was really bothering me and I couldn’t get out and around my left on my entry. Our reasoning was to eliminate one variable (the wind) and be able to work on a consistent entry which enables me to get into a more consistent power position. Once I do that I know how to finish a throw. Today my conversion from stand to full was 4.18m. Once I get used to finishing with the new start, I think that will increase quite a bit. A little over a month of work on the new start and 21.68m, A good sign.

Here is a pic of Ryan’s old start:

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As you can see, he used to turn about as far to the right as he possibly could with most of his weight shifted to the right foot.

 

In his new start, he does not wind at all, but simply pauses here…

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…before beginning his entry:

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As a high school coach, I am a big fan of Ryan’s new approach. For young throwers in the rotational shot and the discus a static entry  provides less opportunity for the athlete to lose his or her way when coming out of the back of the ring.

Young throwers often feel like they are creating force when they do an extended wind, but as Ryan pointed out the key to producing long throws is a consistent entry leading to a consistent power position.

If you don’t already follow Ryan on Twitter, you might want to do that as he is likely to comment further on his switch to the static start.

A chat with shot putter Bobby Grace

 

Bobby Grace raised a few eyebrows (mine included) when he bombed a 20.51m toss out of the first flight of the US Championship men’s shot on Sunday.

As soon as the competition ended (Bobby’s throw held up for 8th place) I set about tracking him down. It turns out that Bobby, a graduate of Youngstown State,  is both a fine shot putter and a very articulate young man. The following is an interview I conducted with him yesterday via email.

Thanks for agreeing to an interview. Let’s jump in. As someone who coaches throwers, I want to personally thank you for providing a left-handed role model! I’ve been coaching for 25 years, and I can tell you that excellent lefty throwers are a rare commodity. Do you ever feel self-conscious being the only left-handed thrower at meets? And was learning technique from (I assume) right-handed coaches while watching film of right-handed throwers difficult?

Thanks Dan, I appreciate that. No, I’m never self-conscious going to meets being a left-handed thrower. To be honest, until the end of my collegiate career I didn’t realize that I was the only lefty in finals most of the time. As far as coaching goes, I’ve always been coached exactly as a right-handed thrower. My coach in high school would give me technical advice as a righty; and I had to learn to translate that to lefty. So now I just hear everything right-handed and it processes lefty. As far as video I’m the same way. I actually prefer to watch right handed throwers and break down technique. It feels more natural at this point to translate righty to lefty.

The German discus coach Torsten Schmidt told me that it is important to have your throwers take regular left-handed throws because they have to really think about what they are doing, and this helps ingrain their technique. I wonder if the process of translating everything righty to lefty has had a beneficial effect on your technique?

I would agree with that most definitely. I think that all of the constant translation from right to left has given me a good mental picture of what my technique should feel like. I also think that has helped me to self-diagnose technical issues on a day-to-day basis so that I can keep focusing on big picture issues that I am trying to work on.

I am a throws obsessive, but to be honest when I saw your 20.51m pop up on the flash results page, my first thought was “Who in the bleep is that?”  Can you tell us a bit about where you came from, how you got into the sport, how you ended up at Youngstown?

I’m assuming most people thought the same thing you did. I’m originally from Cleveland, Ohio and I started throwing in 8th grade. I was very much a late bloomer physically and finished with a best of 57ft in high school. I had a few smaller schools recruiting me out of high school but I knew I wanted to compete against the best. I chose Youngstown State which was my biggest offer at that point. I lucked into getting three great coaches (Brian Sklenar, Willie Danzer for all of my programming and Brent Shelby for all of my technical work).

Can you tell us about your progression while at Youngstown?

Freshman: 15.85 (52 ft)

Sophomore: 16.90 (55 ft)

Junior: 18.84 (62)

Redshirt: 19.31 (63 5)

Senior: 19.90 (65 5)

So senior year rolls along, and 19.90m is a great throw. But in this country, you’ve got to get to 21.00m to have any hope of making the National team for a Worlds or Olympics. What was it that convinced you to stay in the sport and take your shot? (sorry for the lousy pun)

The decision to stick with throwing after I graduated was relatively easy for me. Aside from figuring out obvious money/living situations, I knew I was going to throw. I’ve always known that my progression would be a long-term process. I just need to keep working hard and that takes time. I also have an extremely supportive family and coaches that encourage me to chase my dream.

Can you describe your current situation? Where you live, how you support yourself, where and with whom you train?

I currently still train at YSU. I work part time at a consulting company to help pay some of my living expenses. I typically throw by myself or with a few of the collegiate guys and work with my coach Brian Sklenar on an everyday basis. Periodically I will go to Ashland and throw with Kurt Roberts which has been a huge help this year as well.

Can you tell me about the cues you use for your entry? For example, when do you want your left foot to leave the ground? Some would say “as soon as possible.” Others try to leave it down to create a stretch in the groin/hip area. What is your approach? (Note: Bobby graciously agreed to send me a recent vid of one of his throws. The following pics are stills from that vid.)

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I usually don’t have to think of much out of the back.  That is easily the most natural part of the throw for me.  Occasionally if my legs are tired and I am moving somewhat sluggish I may think about activating my left foot toward the middle more.  But to answer your question about any cues I use for entry, most of my issues out of the back are upper body.  I think about keeping my right arm passive out of the back and keeping my shoulders level through the entire throw. 

How about here? Can you tell us about your left leg sweep? And at what point do you try to get your right foot out of the back? Sorry to press you on all these details, but the people who read these interviews like to know how the sausage is made. 

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No problem at all. So this part of the throw is one of the bigger issues I concentrate on.  As you can see in the picture, my left foot is somewhat high off of the ground. I am constantly working on trying to keep both of my feet as close to the ground as possible so that I can get that left foot down in the middle and start turning through the ball.  My hip level usually goes hand in hand with how high my feet are off the ground. Basically, when I get tall through the throw good things don’t happen.  When I can keep my hip level down and work my feet the throw lines up.  

As far as thinking about getting my right foot out of the back, I never think of both getting the right foot out and the left foot sweeping at the same time.  Depending on how a particular day is going I will think of one or the other, for me that is just too many things/issues to try and work on during one throw. 

Absolutely. But is there a cue that you use, like…there is that big yellow house out beyond your landing area. Do you ever think something like, “I want my right foot off the ground while my chest is facing the yellow house”?

No I don’t really have any cues that work off of landmarks.  Mostly all by feel so that I can self correct and feel what I am doing through the throw. Typically, I find that if my right leg is hanging in the back too long, it is a result of my left leg not being active enough from the start. So, my cue for getting my right leg out of the back would then work backwards and become “OK, I need to be more active with my left leg” and I would work through that particular issue that way. 

Almost done! Looks like you are in great shape here. Your feet are down and you are wrapped. What’s next?

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So here I would like to be a little more upright in the shoulders and also give myself a bit wider of a base with my feet. The finish is the area of the throw where I feel I have the most to work on. I still have a pretty big pull away with my right shoulder and my block could get substantially longer.  If I can consistently correct those issues at the finish and stay longer on the ball, I will be a much more consistent 20.50+m thrower. 

So you feel like you have pulled away a little prematurely here?  And you anticipated one of my final questions. What do you have to do to get to the level that Jordan Clarke just reached? Also, what does the rest of the summer look like?

 

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Yes, this throw is one of my better ones with the pull-away but could definitely keep getting better, and is very visible in the picture. 

One of the major things I need to do to reach that 21+m level is get bigger. I’m currently about 265 lbs and need to get that closer to 285-295 lb range, which will help a lot of things. As far as technique goes, I am planning to concentrate on all of the key points I told you about so far, along with getting more throws under my belt. The more special strength I can accumulate, the better. I am not sure what the rest of the summer holds for me. As of now I believe I am an alternate for NACAC and Pan Ams. Currently, nothing is set in stone in terms of scheduling.

You can find the vid of Bobby’s training throw here:

 

IS THE ROTATIONAL SHOT PUT TECHNIQUE THE NEXT STEP FORWARD FOR WOMEN IN THIS COUNTRY? (by John Smith)

In the last two years, I have been conducting a personal case study involving the glide and rotational techniques performed in shot putting. In this personal study, I took a glider with six years of experience that had thrown 17.23m with the technique, and started working a glide/spin combo throwing protocol for all implements for entire practices. My findings, after thousands of throws, showed that using the spin technique averaged 11-11.5% better than the glides taken during the practice sessions. This led me to strongly believe that women shot putters could once again approach the distances achieved by men in the event. The women of this country will simply have to make the same transition the men did roughly twenty years ago.

In the early days, the spin technique emerged when gliders began experimenting with new methods of throwing the shot put. At first, the distance between the two techniques wasn’t great. The majority of throws taken with the spin were the same or no more than two feet farther than the glide. Yet, as testing became stronger, throwers became weaker and more guys started playing with the spin. The result of the experimenting with the new technique was that the distance between the two systems started to expand.

At some point, rumors of guys putting ten feet on top of their standing throw started to surface, which was very hard to believe at the time. Then the next generation of rotational throwers started talking about their full throw as being 12-14 feet further than their standing throws, and ten feet on a standing throw became an accepted number.  This is significant because the glide in the past required certain qualities to throw 70-73 feet. It mainly demanded a large standing throw because a glider could typically only add 4 to 7 feet on top of their standing throw, which required a 72-foot glider to have at least a 65 to 68 foot standing throw to attain that distance.  Although making a standing throw that great seems hard to believe in this day and age, 65 to 68 foot standing throws were commonplace at the world class level during the 80’s and  early 90’s. I have not seen an american 65+ standing throw in 20 years.

The influence of steriods on this era were made clear in a report compiled in the former East Germany. Under a state-supported drug regimine, the average male thrower was expected to improve in a  four year time period 2.5m-4m in the shot, 10m-12m in the disc and 6- 10m in the hammer. The women were expected to improve in four years 4.5m -5m in the shot, 11-20m in the disc, and 8 – 15m in the javelin.These are the former DDR numbers who’s state-supported system developed and tracked these increases to the Stasi. Therefore, men who threw 62 to 65 foot throws clean, could make the jump to 70-73 feet with the glide, and become world class throwers within weeks. However, during the 1990’s when testing became better, the big standing throws went away and so did the big gliders in America. This is what happened, and the USA–maybe unknowingly– made the adjustment to the spin.

Due to the big standing throws falling about 2-2.5m from what it used to be, the men in this country turned to the rotational method to make up the distance lost. Because of that change, American men broke the 22m barrier clean, which many people still refused to believe. In my estimation, there have been six men to throw over 22m clean in this country with the rotational method. It is safe to say that after the rotational technique evolved  in this country, the glide is not what is used to be, even on a world level. All one has to do is look at the amount of world class gliders from the 80’s and early 90’s compared to today. The male 70 foot glider is definitely an endangered species–much like a high jumper still using the western roll was when the flop took over.

Many say this is a different deal with the women, but I say it has not been explored fully enough. The women throw a 4k. So the bodyweight to implement ratio is much different than the men. However, the standing throw to full throw differential is about the same. Just like the men, 115% on standing throw is considered great gliding. Still, the clean 70-foot throw for women most likely has not been done yet. World class gliding for women takes one of two great physical qualities. These characteristics involve a very big tall athletic woman (6.3 to 6.6 and 220 to 300lbs) or a girl with a golden arm  very much like the skinny kid that throws the 95mph fastball. I have seen a couple of golden arms in Terri Cantwell and Michelle Carter in this country. Both these women could stand 59-61 feet without world class strength levels, but these athletes are very rare. The only women we should consider for the glide shot technique are these two types of women. If you do not have a big standing throw, you will have a hard time reaching world class female levels in the shot. Now, question is what do we do with all the women that don’t have huge standing throws or huge levers and mass? Make spinners out of them. Jill Camarena  made the change from a 59-foot glider to a 66-foot spinner. Jill was the one thrower that made me take a very serious look into women with rotational technique.

All it will take is 1000’s of girls working at it from a young age, and it will happen. If guys can go 12-15 feet on standing throw, there is no valid reason why women can’t do this also. It’s just going to take one girl to break through like the men did years ago. The first step to this process is getting high school girls throwing a 3k shot to develop the CNS pathways to throw a shot  far. Training for the 3k would require work with a 2k, which would also further teach our girls how to throw something far.  So when the young girls are ready step up to the 4k, it’s just a matter of building physical and specific strength through lifting and throwing  heavy implements before they are able to match the collegiate men. We need high school girls throwing 20m with the 3k. The more girls that can accomplish this the more likely we will produce better marks at the next level.

The main concern with the execution of this theory would be establishing a throwing system that teaches high school coaches how to coach and teach the rotational method before the girls reach the college ranks. Then the  cream will rise to the top and a 70-footer will emerge years later from the system.

With the rotational shot technique, women should follow what the men have accomplished with the spin in the last 20 years. The glide for the men in this country has became obsolete with the explosion of male rotational throwers who reach “drug era” distances without using drugs. The same will happen for the women if the necessary steps are taken. I am convinced that a 21m throw could spring out of the hands of a female spin shot putter someday in this decade. Who will be the first is an unknown at this point, but it can be done.

Make no mistake about it, and as much as the Europeans like to point to one or two guys throwing far with the glide, our NCAA system produces 19m, 20m, 21m throwers like a machine. This we are doing right; however, my next article will be on what we are not doing and need to do in the disc. How to make up those 80’s and early 90’s discus differentials.

John Smith