Category Archives: Meets

Experience Not Required…But It Sure Helps. Part 2 of our Look Back at Doha

Based on post-Doha conversations with various athletes and coaches, it seems that previous big meet experience–sometimes painfully acquired–was a major factor in allowing throwers to flourish at these World Championships.

Rudy Winkler is a prime example.

The 77.06m PB he nailed in round three of the Doha prelims was the result, he said afterwards “of just following the plan set forth by my coaches. Every practice we would work on the same cues, so I knew if I just worked on those cues in the meet, I would throw far.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it? But when a thrower is new to international competition, sticking to a plan can be quite difficult.

Rudy discovered this while struggling mightily at the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2017 London World Championships. He arrived in Rio after setting a new PB of 76.76m at the Olympic Trials, but managed a top throw of only 71.89m in the qualification round there. His performance in London was equally disappointing as he failed to dent the 70-meter line.

Those were not pleasant experiences, but they laid the groundwork for Rudy’s success at the 2019 Worlds.

“At past international competitions,” he explained, “ I tended to change what I did because I saw other people doing things that I liked. This time around, I stuck to what I knew and did on a daily basis. Plus, you get used to these meets the more you go to them. The first ones you attend are exciting because you see all these athletes you’ve admired for years, and it’s like being at Disneyland. Now they are acquaintances and friends of mine, which makes it easier to focus.”

Rudy’s performance in Doha confirmed that he has gotten much better at competing at championship-caliber meets. It also revealed the next hurdle he has to overcome if he wants to contend for a World or Olympic medal. 

Unable to match his prelim distance in the finals, he finished eleventh with a best of 75.20m.  Rudy attributed his drop-off to one, being tired after having given his all in the previous day’s prelims and two, letting himself get a bit too excited. 

“I was going after throws a little too hard,” he said in retrospect, “instead of just doing what I did the day before.”


It is likely that no thrower in the world gained more experience in 2019 than Laulauga Tausaga. Her IAAF profile lists her first competition of the year as having taken place on January 11. That was an indoor meet at the University of Iowa where she was just beginning her junior season, which would not end until ten months later with the women’s discus final in Doha.

Like Rudy Winkler, Lagi launched a PB in the prelims at Doha, reaching 63.94m in the second round. Unlike Rudy, Lagi had never before competed in an Olympics or World Championships. 

Luckily, she is a quick learner and competing in the USA v. Europe match in Belarus in September provided her with some valuable experience that she put to use at Worlds.

I recently wrote about the challenges presented by the heat and humidity in Doha. On the days they competed, athletes were forced to choose between exposing themselves to 120-degree heat by taking warm-up throws in an outdoor facility next to Khalifa Stadium, or accepting the possibility of having to make due with only two warm-up throws inside the stadium just prior to their flight. 

That’s a lot of pressure to put on an athlete as young as Lagi (she turned twenty-one in May), but according to her coach, Eric Werskey, she had taken only a few warm-up tosses in Belarus prior to drilling a 63.71m PB, and that experience gave her the confidence to lay low and avoid wearing herself out in the hours before competing in Doha. 

Another aspect of the USA v. Europe meeting that helped prepare Lagi for Worlds was competing against two-time Olympic and two-time World Champion Sandra Perkovic. Though she faced tough competition at the NCAA and US Championships, Lagi had never before gone head-to-head with a thrower of Perkovic’s stature, and as Rudy pointed out, the first time you are around people like that in person it can be hard to maintain one’s focus.

But tossing that PB and finishing second to Sandra in Belarus prepared Lagi well for the Doha “Disneyland.” 

According to Werskey, Lagi showed up at Worlds feeling confident. Her 61.33m opener in the prelims was “maybe her best opener all year,” and her 63.94m gave her the automatic qualifier and turned out to be the best throw among the American women at the Championships.

Lagi’s experience in the final was similar to Rudy’s in that she couldn’t recapture the rhythm she’d found in the qualifying round. She entered the finals determined to contend for a medal, and ended up with three fouls. Werksey said that she might have been a little “overzealous” on those throws, but all in all “the biggest thing for her was that despite three fouls she walked away with her head high, knowing that she was one of the youngest in the field and she can hang with the best in the world.”

No one in Doha demonstrated the value of accrued big meet experience as clearly as DeAnna Price. 

DeAnna has been throwing world class distances in the hammer since the 2015 season when she earned a spot in the Beijing World Championships with a toss of 72.30m at the US Championships.

Her best throw in Beijing, though, was 68.69m which put her in 18th place.

In 2016, DeAnna hit 73.09m to take third at the Olympic Trials and qualify for the Rio Games. This time, she advanced to the final with a throw of 70.79m. She then slightly improved on that mark in the finals and finished eighth with a toss of 70.95m. 

The following year she raised her PB to 74.91m, finished third in the US Championships with a throw of 74.06m and advanced to the World Championships in London where she produced the fifth best throw in the prelims–72.78m. 

She was unable to match that distance in the finals, and finished ninth with a toss of 70.04m.

According to J.C. Lambert, DeAnna’s coach and husband, a breakthrough came during the 2018 campaign when DeAnna finished first at the Continental Cup in Ostrava. Though her winning throw of 75.46m did not match the PB 78.12m she tossed earlier in the summer to win her first national title, J.C. says that finishing first in Ostrava was a “confidence booster. It showed her she could win overseas.”

Armed with a wealth of championship meet experience, DeAnna and J.C. were ready for anything in Doha. Job one was to shake off the rigors of travel and establish a comfortable sleeping pattern. J.C. says that he’s “learned as a coach how to deal with travel and jet lag.” He and DeAnna rely on an app called Timeshifter. “You plug in your schedule, info about your normal sleep habits, plug in all the info about your trip, and it tells you when you need to go to sleep, to wake up, when you need to have some coffee to help adjust, when you need to go outside or open your blinds up to get the most light possible, when you should avoid caffeine, when you should take melatonin.”

Timeshifter helped DeAnna fall into a healthy daily rhythm. According to J.C. she had trouble sleeping only once, after a heavy lifting workout.

J.C. says that the ups and downs of competing at two previous Worlds and one Olympics taught DeAnna that “those who learn to roll with the punches will be successful.”

That lesson came in handy the night of their first throwing session in Doha when they arrived at the practice facility to find that the hammer ring was unavailable. “They were redoing the rings,” J.C. recalled, “because apparently someone said they were too fast, that they were dangerous.”

Not wanting to completely lose a day of training, DeAnna took one full throw from the javelin runway. It traveled seventy-two meters. (Fun fact: it ended up taking 71.35m to make the final in Doha.)

The qualification round went smoothly as DeAnna surpassed the automatic qualifying distance on her first throw with a toss of 73.77m.

As noted above, DeAnna had made the final in both Rio and London but then turned in disappointing performances and did not challenge for a medal. 

Now, in Doha, she and J.C. put to use a lesson they’d learned from those experiences. 

According to J.C., “DeAnna did a quick lift that night after qualifying. She throws her best when she does a quick lift the night before competing. In London in 2017, I’d set her up to do her quick lift the night before qualifying so she could make it to the finals. She qualified no problem, but for the final she was completely dead and finished ninth She just did not look like herself. She was flat and said she was tired and sore after the qualifying round. This time around we treated qualifying like a practice.”

It worked.

DeAnna came out smokin’ in the final, drilling a 76.87m opener and extending that to 77.54m (the eventual winning distance) in round three. Joanna Fiodorow of Poland took silver PB of 76.35m.

Next year in Tokyo, Rudy and Lagi will hope to follow DeAnna’s example and translate hard-won experience into a spot on the medal stand. As for DeAnna, defending her title (especially with the expected return to health of world record holder Anita Wlodarczyk) will present an entirely new challenge. 

For throws fans, watching this battle-tested trio go against the best in the world should be a highlight of 2020.

A Look Back At Doha, Part 1: Handling the Heat

The International Olympic Committee recently announced that the men’s and women’s marathon and race-walking events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will take place not in the city of Tokyo, but some five hundred miles north in Sapporo.

Thomas Bach, the head of the IOC, was quoted in the New York Times as attributing the change in venue to concern for “athletes’ health and well-being.”

The last two summers have brought record-setting temperatures to Tokyo, including an all-time high of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in July of 2018. Heat like that, combined with the high level of humidity (often in the 80% range) typical of the region in July and August, make Tokyo a potentially disastrous choice to host a marathon.

Sapporo was chosen as an alternate location because, according to the Times, “temperatures there in late July and early August are expected to be ten to twelve degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler than in Tokyo.”

Before you wear yourself out applauding Bach’s magnanimity for championing the “health and well-being” athletes though, keep in mind that all other events will remain in Tokyo.

Readers of this site might reasonably wonder how throwers will fare if Tokyo does indeed experience another heatwave next summer. As it turns out, we have a pretty good idea about that because the extreme temperatures that occurred the past two summers in Tokyo are similar to those that the athletes had to deal with at the 2019 World Championships in Doha.

In order to gain some insight into how throwers adapted to the heat in Doha, and will likely adapt in Tokyo, I spoke to several athletes and coaches upon their return from the Worlds. 


If the IAAF (now known as World Athletics) thought that they could spare athletes from exposure to dangerously hot conditions in Doha by bumping the start of the World Championships to late September, they were wrong.

During the ten days of competition at the Worlds (27 September to 6 October), the temperature surpassed 105 degrees Fahrenheit four times. The lowest high temperature on any of those days was 96 degrees. Making matters worse, the humidity level stayed consistently in the 80% range.

These factors combined to produce a heat index that regularly topped 120 degrees.

Qatar sold the IAAF on their bid for the Worlds at least in part by promising to provide an air-conditioned, open-air competition venue, arguably an obscene notion in a world beset by climate change. Whatever qualms IAAF officials may have had about encouraging the Qataris to move forward with such a plan were apparently assuaged by back room financial shenanigans, the details of which are likely to come out when former IAAF president Lamine Diack and his son Papa Massata Diack stand trial for corruption next year in Paris. 

Regardless, the Doha bid was accepted and the Qataris made good on their promise. Khalifa Stadium, with a capacity of 40,000, was ringed at three levels by vents blowing hard enough to keep the humidity at bay and the temperature inside the stadium manageable. I’m told that it may have gotten as warm as 85 degrees Fahrenheit within Khalifa, but most athletes and coaches I spoke to agreed that excessive heat was not an issue during competition.

It was a big issue, though, as athletes sought to stay sharp in the days leading up to their event.

Typically, competitors in a World Championships or Olympics arrive in the host city well before the day of their qualification round in order to give themselves plenty of time to shake off the effects of travel and to get acclimated to their surroundings.

Most of the athletes I contacted showed up in Doha a week to ten days prior to qualification only to find themselves confined–because of the heat–to their hotel during daylight hours. After sundown, they would venture out to one of two practice facilities, the old Doha Diamond League stadium at the Qatar Sports Club or the Aspire Zone sports complex located next to Khalifa Stadium, where they struggled to make their final preparations in grossly humid conditions.

Rudy Winkler, the American hammer thrower, recalls needing “multiple gloves, towels, and a change of clothes” to make it through the evening workouts.

J.C. Lambert, husband and coach of DeAnna Price, had a similar experience, even though he was not the one doing the training: “I did not think there were places much worse than southern Illinois in terms of humidity,” he said, “But I was wrong. I was at practice for an hour and a half one night in Doha, and I was absolutely soaked. My shoes were sloshing with sweat. I’m out at practice at SIU for seven or eight hours a day, and I’ve never been that soaked.”

Ashley Kovacs, official throws coach for Team USA (which included her husband Joe) at the Worlds, described the heat as “unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.” She said that at the nightly practice sessions it was common to see the ball slide right off a thrower’s neck mid-spin. It was so humid that, “you’d put the shot down and there would immediately be condensation on it. A lot of people were mad and flustered by the conditions.”

Kara Winger, who probably could have taught Fred Rogers a thing or two about staying positive, made light of the nightly practice conditions when I spoke with her after Worlds, suggesting that they weren’t much worse than what she’d experienced in Austin, Texas, or at a 2015 training camp in Tokyo which she called her “sweatiest practice in memory.”

She also found herself awash in positive vibes while practicing at the Doha Sports Complex. “I competed there at the 2014 Diamond League meet,” she explained. “It was my first Diamond League meet after recovering from knee surgery, which was a big moment for me, so getting to throw there again was an unexpected, encouraging surprise.”

Tom Walsh took a different approach in the days leading up to the men’s shot competition. He and his coach Dale Stevenson set up camp in Cyprus right after the Diamond League final and did not arrive in Doha until four days before the men’s shot qualification. 

“We didn’t want to be in Doha too long,” Dale explained. “With the lack of things to do because of the heat and the type of country it is, we knew we’d be hotel bound once we arrived there. Cyprus is in the same time zone and the weather is much nicer, so it seemed like a good idea to cool our jets there.”

Because of their late arrival, Tom ended up having to endure only two throwing sessions in the Doha heat which Dale described later as “shocking, oppressive, and inescapable.”

The question of when and where to warm up prior to competing was also greatly complicated by the heat and humidity.

At competitions like the Worlds, the host has to provide a warm-up facility outside the stadium as athletes are often given a limited number of tosses (sometimes no more than two) in the competition ring prior to their flight.

In Doha, the athletes were given a choice of two different areas at which to prepare prior to entering the stadium: the outdoor throwing facility at the Aspire Zone, or the climate-controlled Aspire Dome. Athletes were not allowed to take any throws inside the dome, so they had a decision to make. Knowing they might only get two warm-up throws once inside Khalifa, should they expose themselves to heatstroke-level conditions by taking some tosses at the outdoor facility, or should they limit their activities to literally chilling out in the dome?

NCAA discus champion Lagi Tausaga, competing in her first World Championships, took no warm-up throws outside of the stadium prior to the women’s disc qualification. 

Her coach, Eric Werskey, said afterwards that “Lagi reminded me that she didn’t take throws on the outside track in Belarus for the USA v. Europe meet, and she threw a PR there, so I trusted her.”

“Our plan was to do drills in the call room holding her shoe, then do a dry throw in the ring once they brought her into the stadium, then two full throws. If they had given her another, that would be icing on the cake, but you always have to go in with the mindset that you are getting two throws.”

“When warm-ups began inside the stadium, they set the clock at twenty minutes, but they wouldn’t open the cage for throws until about fifteen. They let people walk in and feel the ring one time through, then I think everyone got two throws before they cut it short to put them in order for the competition.”

Rudy Winkler wanted to avoid overheating at the warm-up ring… so like Lagi, he took no throws there prior to the prelims or finals. He did do some drills at the outdoor facility, but frequently retreated to an air-conditioned tent to stay cool. 

Also like Lagi, he was not worried about getting minimal warm up throws inside Khalifa, having “worked on feeling ready in my first few throws at practice.”

On the day of the women’s hammer final, J.C. Lambert estimates that the temperature outside of Khalifa Stadium was “anywhere from 100 to 110 degrees” with the heat index topping the 120-degree mark, so DeAnna stayed indoors prior to competing.

Kara Winger braved the heat and reported to the warm-up track prior to her qualification round even though that meant ducking into a non-air-conditioned bathroom to change clothes before competing. 

She was able to find an air-conditioned bathroom after warming up for the final the next day, but it was so small that she “had visions” of dropping her uniform into the toilet while changing. Such is the glamorous life of the professional javelinist.

Tom Walsh took no throws outside the stadium prior to the men’s shot prelims or finals.

One reason Tom might have felt comfortable with a truncated warm up was that he had been throwing very well in the days leading up to Worlds. According to Dale, “Tom was clearly ready. He threw PRs with our tracking shots in training, and traditionally he throws better in competition. Going by some of the marks he threw in Cyprus and the sessions we had in Doha, it was evident that he was in the best shape of his life.” 

Joe Kovacs has been known to take a lot of warm-up throws before competitions, many of them at a high level of intensity, but even he was forced to adjust to the conditions in Doha. According to Ashley, Joe took no warm-ups outside the stadium prior to the qualification round.

He did, however, take several throws (Ashley estimates about eight) at the outdoor facility prior to the final before reporting to the call room where he stripped down to his boxers and put on a fresh outfit. Once inside Khalifa, he took three or four more throws. 

As you can see, each of these athletes took a somewhat different approach to getting themselves ready to compete in the awful conditions they experienced in Doha.

Each found a method that worked for them.

Both Rudy and Lagi PB’d in prelims and advanced to the final. Kara got off a nice toss of 63.23m in the fifth round of the final and placed fifth. DeAnna dominated the women’s hammer competition.

And Joe Kovacs and Tom Walsh finished first and third in the greatest shot put battle of all time.

In hindsight, it is hard to say that there was any “best” way to handle the heat at Worlds. Arriving a week or more before prelims and pounding away in the ghastly humidity of those evening practices worked just fine for some of the throwers I spoke with for this article, but there were plenty of others who followed a similar schedule and then performed poorly.

Tom Walsh had a fantastic showing after chilling out in Cyprus, but that plan did not work for everyone. The German throwers also trained in Cyprus, but 2016 Olympic discus champion Chris Harting failed to make the final in Doha. His coach, Torsten  Lönnfors, told me that Chris had problems with his blood pressure during the qualification round. Like Tom Walsh, Chris chose not to take any warm-up throws outdoors prior to the competition, but the difference in temperature between the Aspire Dome where he sheltered from the heat and Khalifa Stadium was still enough to throw him off.

In the end, any lesson that might be learned from what these athletes overcame in Doha was best summed up by Dale Stevenson. “To compete at this level,” he reminded me, “you have to be able to handle anything.”

That advice should prove useful next year as athletes will face similarly daunting weather conditions while struggling to adapt to a much greater time difference (at least for those living in the Western Hemisphere) in Tokyo.

Also, the 2020 Olympic stadium will not be air conditioned. 

Tokyo, for that the planet thanks you. The athletes may not.

Sandra Perkovic is not here for funny

 

A few nights ago, I visited a beer garden in Berlin with some friends, one of whom absentmindedly walked past the bouncer whose job it was to examine people’s bags. The bouncer was German, but he could tell we were not so he switched to English to chastise us.

”Listen,” he scolded. “I ‘m not here for funny!”

There’s poetry in that declaration, and  it captures perfectly the attitude that Sandra Perkovic, two-time Olympic champion, two-time World champion, and winner of forty-two Diamond League meetings, brings to each and every competition.

I was present for the first of those Diamond League wins, at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York in 2010, and it was apparent right away  that the nineteen-year-old Perkovic was something special. On that humid morning when the dead air seemed to suck the life out of the rest of the field, Sandra competed with a passion that demanded attention.

A couple of years later, I saw her throw at the Adidas meeting again, this time in a driving rain with temperatures in the forties. On that day, I stood near Sandra’s coach, Edis Elkasević, both of us freezing the buns off, and watched as he and Sandra conferred between throws. At one point during the competition, an official decided (in spite of the fact that the running events did not even begin for another hour) to block Sandra as she crossed the track to speak with Edis. She did not even break stride.  “You, shut up, you!” she commanded. And he did.

Her adrenaline pumping, Sandra launched her next attempt sixty-eight meters.

So, she is not one to mess around, this Sandra Perkovic.  No less an expert than René Sack, coach of the highly decorated Nadine Müller, told me that Sandra’s ferocity might be the quality that separates her from the other top-notch women’s disc throwers. “She is a nice person,” he said, “but during the competition, she wants to kill you.”

And, at the risk of some throws fans wanting to kill me, can I just get this out of the way right now and state that Sandra is very close to establishing herself as the greatest discus thrower of all time?

I know, I know. No one will ever match Al Oerter’s four Olympic golds, or his remarkable comeback when, as a forty-three-year-old geezer, he finished fourth in the 1980 Olympic Trials. I mean this as no dis to Al. He is deservedly a legend.

So is Virgilius Alekna, with his two Olympic golds and two World titles.

So is Robert Harting, who a few days prior to the women’s disc final, made his last appearance as a member of the German national team. Robert will retire at the end of this season with one Olympic and three World Championship golds.

The one thrower whose list of achievements may still outshine Sandra’s is Lars Reidel, winner of one Olympics and an incredible five World Championships.

Keep in mind that though the Olympics are special and attract a tremendous amount of interest, the World Championships are, for track and field athletes, the same thing minus the synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics. Winning a World Championship gold means surviving a qualification day then defeating the very best in your event inside a huge, often raucous stadium. It is just as difficult as winning an Olympics.

If we can agree that World and Olympic golds are equal in value, then we can say that Al won four major titles, as did Alekna and Harting. That leaves Lars on the top of the heap with six.

As mentioned above, Sandra has two Olympic and two World titles to her credit, so she’s short of Lars in that department. But, consider her forty-two Diamond League wins. Since 2010, she has competed against and defeated her main rivals five times a year at Diamond League venues all over the world. That’s a level of consistency that no other thrower in  history can match.

If Sandra can maintain that level for the next two years, pick up another World title in Qatar, another Olympic title in Tokyo, push her total number of DL wins into the fifties…to me that would make her the best there ever was.

I imagine that Sandra came to Berlin last week quite conscious of the opportunity these Championships offered to further burnish her legacy. A win in Berlin would be her fifth consecutive Euro title, a feat that no athlete in any event had accomplished.

And with a season’s best throw of 71.38m, seven meters farther than anyone else in the field, her odds of winning that fifth title seemed more than deece.

Thursday morning’s qualification round exposed no chinks in Sandra’s armor. She settled matters quickly with a first attempt of 64.54m to lead all qualifiers.

It seemed likely that the battle for silver and bronze would come down to the three German entries,  Shanice Craft…

…who reached 61.13m in qualification…

…Claudine Vita…

….who hit 59.18m, and Nadine Müller…

…who produced the second best throw of the prelims, 60.64m.

Another intriguing qualifier was Italy’s Daisy Osakue, the US Division II collegiate champion for Angelo State University in Texas.

Coming nearly three months after the end of a long collegiate season, Daisy’s qualifying throw of 58.73m was impressive. Making her achievement all the more remarkable was the fact that two weeks earlier, while training in Turin, Italy, she had suffered a scratched cornea when struck in the eye by an egg thrown from a speeding car. The incident put Daisy squarely in the middle of a recent controversy over the anti-immigrant stance of the newly elected Italian government led by Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte. It has been suggested, much to Conte’s chagrin, that the assault on Daisy was inspired by his government’s inflammatory and often racist rhetoric.

Either way, it was a traumatic and extremely ill-timed experience for Daisy and made it seem unlikely that she’d make an appearance in Berlin, let alone advance to Saturday night’s final.

But advance she did.

A storm that rolled through just after the men’s javelin final on Thursday left pleasant weather in its wake and helped to create absolutely lovely conditions on Saturday.  Here are Coach Sack and Nadine Müller enjoying the cool evening air at the warmup ring outside the stadium…

…as Edis Elkasević and Sandra Perkovic plotted their assault on that fifth straight Euro title.

Eventually, the athletes were loaded aboard carts and transported inside…

…where they were greeted by 60,000 spectators ready to support a solid lineup of German athletes including medal contenders in the men’s high jump, women’s long jump, and of course the disc.

And for a while, Germans held the lead in all three of those events.

I know nothing about the high jump or long jump, so I can’t say whether or not things played out as expected there, but you can count me as very surprised when Nadine Müller entered the fifth round with a three-meter edge over Sandra in the disc.

Here’s how it came about.

Nadine entered the meet with a season’s best of 62.73m (a bit subpar for her as she has surpassed the 65.00m mark every year since 2009) and in round two, she bumped that season’s best to 63.00m.

It’s hard to imagine Sandra being rattled by Nadine’s throw, but for the first four rounds, she clearly was not her normal butt-kicking self.

This was odd, as Sandra seemed in excellent shape at the warm-up track. Here she is smashing a pre-meet power position throw:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1Tyh3SX6nec

She caged her first attempt of the competition, though, then went 59.09m in the second round on a throw that looked like it might have gotten a piece of the cage as well. She followed that up with a round-three 59.97m.

I’m not gonna lie, it was weird. The crowd was understandably pro-Deutschland, and they were going nuts the whole time over the high and long jumps and over their discus trio, but those folks appreciate great throwing and they clearly wanted to see Sandra go 70.00m. They  gave her plenty of love each time she entered the ring, and she was the only non-German thrower afforded the honor of having a quick burst of rock music blasted through the PA system before each of her throws to signal folks to stop watching the jumps for a second and pay attention to the discus.

Sandra usually thrives on that stuff, but on this night, she looked lost.

Meanwhile, Claudine Vita put herself in second place going into the reordering with a third-round toss of 61.23m, while Daisy (58.09m) and Shanice (59.73m) each earned the full six throws with their second-round efforts.

As the fourth round began, the place was going absolutely bonkers. The German high jumper, Mateusz Przybylko, was locked in a duel for the gold medal and his every attempt inspired huge cheers from the fans. At the same time,  German long jumper Malaika Mihambo, was contending for gold as well, so there were lots of reasons for folks to make noise.

I kept wondering how the throwers dealt with all the distractions they faced in a competition like this. For sure, noise and excitement must be preferable to throwing in front of the docile and comparitively sparse crowd that showed up for the morning qualification rounds, But on this night it was not unusual for a discus thrower to be midway through their windup only to have 60,000 people erupt over a high jump clearance. And the masterful way that the Germans managed the proceedings on this night, using the large video screens and the PA system to cue the fans when a big moment was unfolding, caused frequent delays at the discus cage. Whenever a race was about to start, or even when the runners were being introduced, all throwing stopped.

So I can see why some athletes, especially those who had not experienced this type of atmoshphere before, might struggle to maintain  focus.

But Perkovic? There is nothing she hasn’t seen and contended with throughout her long career.  Bad weather. Bad officiating. Huge crowds. No crowds. At the Rio Olympics, she opened with two fouls in the qualification round and in the finals and still came away with the gold medal. And clearly, someone with forty-two Diamond League wins knows how to squeeze out an excellent throw even when feeling “off” on a given day.

So I knew for sure that Sandra would regain her composure during the reordering  and set everything straight on her fourth throw.

Which she proceeded to whang into the cage.

I’m sure Nadine would have loved to take advantage of Sandra’s mysterious loss of rhythm and put a little more distance between them, but in round four she managed only 61.99m. Daisy, seemingly oblivious to any and all distractions, nailed a near-PB of 59.32m in round five to move into fifth place, while Claudine and Shanice each fouled their fourth and fifth attempts.

The swallows returning to Capistrano. My mother-in-law ringing the doorbell while I am taking a nap. Some things in life are inevitable.

And so it was with Perkovic. She finally found her rhythm on her fifth throw, a toss of 67.62m, which secured the gold medal and restored natural order to the throwing universe.

Both Sandra and Nadine fouled in round six, but Shanice Craft drilled a 62.46m which jumped her past Vita into third place.

Here are the happy medalists:

Daisy ended up fifth, and the experience left her utterly stoked.

”This year has been so wonderful!” she exclaimed after the competition. “I did my PR (59.72m) at the Angelo State Relays in April, then I won the DII nationals, then I came to Italy, went to the Diamond League meeting in Rome, won the U23 Mediterranean Championships, came her and got fifth. So, like…wow!”

“My first goal was to make it to the finals, so I got to the finals and I was like ‘Wow, what did I just do?’ Then I tried my best to get in the first eight so I could get three more throws, and I don’t know, I just ended up fifth! I ‘m super overwhelmed, so I think I ‘m talking too fast. It is something crazy! I would never have expected it, fifth place in Euro from nowhere?”

And what was it like throwing in front of 60,000 fans?

“I loved it! The cheering! It’s a big stadium, so I was scared that I wouldn’t react to it the right way, but I think I got the right thing!”

I was curious how she managed to stay sharp over the course of a very long season, and Daisy gave equal credit to Nathan Janusey, her throws coach at San Angelo State, and Maria Marello, her coach in Italy.

“They talked a lot and coordinated everything.  And our head coach Thomas Delbert helped me a lot. He knows that I am a transfer student from Italy. He says ‘Don’t worry. Just do this, this, this for San Angelo, then you can do this, this, this for Italy.’ So it worked out great.”

I was also curious how a thrower from Italy ended up attending a university located in San Angelo, Texas.

“They chose me! I got a message from Coach Janusey on Facebook ‘Would you like to come to San Angelo?’ I was like, ‘Uh, I don’t know.’ Then I talked  to my parents and my coach, and they said ‘It will be a great experience, so you have to try it.’”

“It was hard adjusting at first, but we have athletes from all over the world. After a month, I got friends. This is thanks to my biggest problem—my parents say that I can talk to walls, that I can talk to any living thing or not living thing!”

Like Daisy, Shanice Craft was positively giddy over her performance.

She moved to Berlin a year ago to join the training group of Robert and Julia Harting under the direction of Coach Marko Badura, and she was very happy with her new situation.

“I love it! Before, I was in Mannheim and I didn’t have a training group. Now I have two very good teammates. We have a lot of fun, and we push each other. It gives me so much motivation to see them work!”

I asked her if it was difficult to maintain focus that night with all the delays interrupting the flow of the competition.

“I should be able to block that out, but today I had big problems. There were so many breaks from the competition that it was very hard for me to stay focused, and I just felt like I couldn’t do anything in the ring.”

“Lots of my friends and my family were here, and after the fifth attempt I thought, ‘No, I can’t do that to them.’  The last attempt, I wanted something big. I came here to get a medal, and I thought ‘No, it’s not possible that I will get fourth place.’  For my last attempt I thought of Robert Harting’s last throw at the World Championships in 2009. I was here at the stadium that night! Before my final throw, I was watching that competition in my head. I had it in front of my eyes.  I wanted to do the same thing that Robert did that night!”

I reminded Shanice that after winning the gold in 2009, Robert had picked up Berlino—the large, cuddly bear mascot—and romped around with him on his back.

“I have to go to the gym more so I can do that next time!”

I spoke with Nadine Müller next, and it turns out that her less than stellar season up to that point had been due to a back injury she sustained in April which cost her several weeks of training.

“In April, before we were to fly to a training camp, during the final training I injured my back so I could not fly. I missed a lot of throws, I could not throw for three weeks.”

“I have lost so many throws this season,” she lamented. “I hope the rest of this season I can be fine and the next competition throw past 63.00m.”

As with the other throwers, Nadine loved the level of excitement in the stadium, but did not appreciate all the delays.

“I think it’s okay when they start a race to have us break, but there were so many other breaks where they made us wait two or three minutes,  But it is the same always in major competitions.”

Nadine would know, having competed in two Olympics and five World Championships. She won silver in Daegu in 2011 and bronze in Beijing in 2015. I asked if over the years she had been able to develop a method for handling the interruptions.

“Yes,” she laughed. “I‘m the old lady who has so many finals! I think by now it is easier for me. I ‘m a cool down girl, so I can stay focused better than the young ones,”

Just then, the  queen of focus happened by, carrying a large stuffed animal and reveling in another moment of triumph.

She attributed her struggles on this night to an uncharacteristic bout of overconfidence, “Because I was in really good shape, and in the first or second round I was thinking ‘If my discus just go out of the net, I will be European champion.” Maybe I was thinking is going to be easy job for me.”

“Then in the third round  I messed up again, and I said to myself, ‘Oh my god, what is going on? You cannot be yourself?’ Then I also had a nice try in the fourth round, which also went into the net. Then, before the fifth round I started saying ‘Oh my god, your training! Your goals! You have four European gold, and this is your chance for a fifth one like nobody did. You want to miss it?'”

“I told myself before my fifth throw, ‘You want to wait for the sixth attempt in front of a German crowd?’ And then I saw it fly, and I know it is 65.00m plus, minimum. Then I saw 67.62m,

‘All the girls know they need to wait for me and in one round I will get it. I’m used to throws like last year in London, where it was like 69.00m then 70.00m then 70.00m again then 69.00m again. It was an easy peasy competition for me, but this time was strange.”

I asked if she noticed that the crowd was on her side.

“Yes,” she said. “I was fighting against the Germans but they support me! But I didn’t have good, positive vibes around me. It wasn’t the other girls or the crowd.  I was confused, and I never felt that before.”

“The last few days, I had some problems. A bee stung me in training! And one day I was was working and I flipped my ankle. Maybe these things distracted me.”

Having seen how much she relies on Edis during competitions, I wondered if Sondra worried that the stress he must feel on nights like this was might be shortening his life span.

“No, he is a very strong person! After the third round, he really woke me up. He was like, ‘You want the crowd to enjoy this moment or not? Will you waste all your training or will you win a fifth gold like nobody has before?'”

“He knows that if you start talking shit to me, I’ll be like, ‘Are you serious? Now you’re gonna see!”

I ran into Edis a few minutes later. He was slowly making his way through the stands with a friend at his side. He looked drained.

“Come on,” I teased him. “You knew she’d come through.”

His friend spoke up.

“That’s right! We did. It was her fifth European title, so she waited for the fifth throw to win. It all makes sense!”

With that they strode off in search of Sandra.

This was my final night in Berlin, so  I made one last leisurely lap around the stadium then headed for the subway.

Thanks, Berlin, for the most amazing track and field experience  of my life.

Thanks to all the coaches, shop owners, concession stand workers, ushers and and everyone else I ran across on my trip, including my favorite bouncer. Without fail, they did their best to make up for my ignorance of their language by communicating with me in English.  I will never forget their kindness.

And thanks to all the athletes who took the time to chat. I was at the bottom of the media food chain at the Euros, so by the time they got to me in the sweltering mixed zone some had been answering questions non-stop for an hour. I’m sure all they wanted to do was to get the heck of there to celebrate or commiserate with their friends and family, and they were under no obligation to talk to me.  But they were so friendly and so polite, it makes a guy think that maybe he fell in love with just the right sport.

 

 

 

 

A sweaty and glorious night in Berlin

Have you ever watched the video of the men’s shot competition at the 1988 Olympics? The one where Randy Barnes throws 22.39m on round six to take the lead,  then Ulf Timmerman answers with 22.47m to grab the gold. That throw of Ulf’s is famous (at least among throws nerds) because he raises his fist in triumph even before he sees where the throw lands.

There is one other memorable aspect of that video. The stands are almost completely deserted. The average Saturday morning freshman football game in the US  attracts more spectators than showed up at the stadium in Seoul that day to witness maybe the greatest shot competition ever.

Last night, at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, the situation was a bit different.

One reason was that the gentleman pictured above, the incomparable Robert Harting, was making his final appearance as a member of the German national team. He has a couple more competitions on his schedule before he hangs up his throwing shoes, but this was his last night representing the Fatherland, and it meant a lot to him and it meant a lot to the fans packed into that end of the stadium.

Here’s a video I took when Robert was introduced last night. The quality is not so good, but the sound is what matters. Take a listen.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ftI7Q-g9Kg

Compare that to the sound of crickets that probably greeted Ulf’s winning throw in Seoul, and you’ll understand why every single thrower I ‘ve spoken with at these European Championships loves competing in Germany.

And if Robert’s fairwell appearance wasn’t enough to get folks fired up, just a few meters away in that same end of the stadium, the 2015 women’s shot World Champion Christina Schwanitz was competing as well.

As much as the Germans love Robert, I doubt many considered him a candidate to win the men’s discus title last night. After four years spent battling knee injuries, a bronze medal finish was probably the best that Dee Harting could hope for.

Not so with Schwanitz. After taking off the 2017 season while giving birth to twins (Dear God, please let her move to the US so that I can coach those children some day), Christina has returned to twenty-meter form, and in the absence of Hungarian rival Anita Marton, appeared to be a lock to win the gold.

And if that still wasn’t enough to get everyone excited, there were Germans in contention in the men’s long jump and decathlon, which took place concurrently with the throws.

Hence the noise. Hence the madness.

Surprisingly, Schwanitz was unable to feed off the  energy of the crowd to produce a big throw. She tossed right around 19.00m in warmups, opened with 19.19m and never improved.

But, for most of the competition, none of her competitors appeared capable of surpassing her. Poland’s Paulina Guba opened with 18.77m but did not add to that over the first five rounds.

Aliyona Dubitskaya of  Belarus pounded away at the high 18.00m range the entire competition, eventually settling for a best of 18.81m in round five.

The oppressive heat that has settled over much of Europe this summer seemed to take the life out of most of the putters. They had, after all, been through qualification in that same heat the day before. And on this night, they had taken their early warmups under a blazing sun at the throwing area outside the stadium.

Maybe they were all exhausted, and Christina would walk away unhappy with a subpar performance but happy to have won in front of an adoring crowd.

Then, things got a little nutty.

The Polish mojo that has been wreaking havoc in the men’s throws (so far, Poles have taken first and second in the men’s shot and hammer) appeared and lifted Klaudia Kardasz to an U23 national record of 18.48m.

Guba must have gotten a whiff of it as well. She stepped in as the final competitor with a chance to unseat Schwanitz and promptly…well…unseated her with a throw of 19.33m.

Here is a vid of Christina’s final throw. Again, the quality is pretty awful but it will give you an idea of the noise level in that stadium.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Qa8P6RIlFEs

Schwanitz could manage only 18.98m on her final attempt, and as Guba celebrated another triumph for the Polish throws crew…

…a disappointed crowd turned its full attention to the men’s disc.

Humid air. No wind. Enclosed stadium.

These are not the conditions which generally produce big discus throws. And for the first couple of rounds, it looked like anyone who could somehow reach 66.00m would have a good chance at winning.

Apostolos Parellus of Cyprus must love him some dead air, as he opened with a PB of 63.62m. No one else was close to their best.

Daniel Stahl, second at the 2017 Worlds opened with a foul. Andrius Gudzius, the defending World Champion started with, for him, a pedestrian 65.75m.

Gerd Kanter, who had hit the automatic qualifying mark of 64.00m on his first throw the day before, could manage only 59.30m in round one.

Robert, meanwhile, hit 61.09m, a distance that was not likely to buy him the full six throws.

In round two, Gudzius fell to 62.89m but maintained his lead when Stahl fouled a big one—at least 67.00m.

Robert pleased the crowd if not himself with a 63.45m toss, which at least prevented him making an early exit from the competition.

Stahl, facing an early exit himself, went 64.20m in round three. Gudzius answered with 67.19m, an impressive display of horsepower in these conditions.

For a moment in round four, it looked like Robert might be able through sheer toughness and force of will to seize a medal. His 64.33m put him into second place.

The moment did not last.

Stahl, exhibiting his own reserves of grit, blasted one 68.23m to take the lead and knock Robert into third. Gudzius replied to Stahl with another big toss, this one 67.66m.

Then, in round five, Lucas Weisshaidinger of Austria, who had struggled mightily in the qualifying, came through with a toss of 65.14m to oust Robert once and for all from medal contention.

A final round 64.55m from Sweden’s Simon Pettersson and a 64.34m by Kanter pushed Robert further back in the standings.

Here is Robert’s final throw as a member of the German national team.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj2VksB-yJs

Meanwhile, Stahl and Gudzius still had to settle the matter of who would go home with the gold.

Daniel fouled his final attempt, so Gudzuis entered the ring needing to surpass 68.23m.

Gudzius is a large man, and he is remarkably fast for his size. Sometimes, he seems a bit out of control, and this may be why he struggled in qualifying. He did not hit the auto mark until his third toss on Tuesday.

But when he hits one right, he generates an astonishing level of power. It took that kind of power to launch a 68.46m final throw for the win.

Afterwards, the competitors were exhausted, drenched in sweat, and very grateful to have experienced a competition in this environment.

Alin Alexandru Firfirica, a twenty-three-year-old Romanian who finished seventh was totally spent.

This European Championships was his first major international meeting at the senior level (he was European U23 champion in 2015) and the experience was a bit overwhelming.

”The stadium is great,” he said.  “And I am in good shape, but today I was tired. It is hot! I start with fifty-eight meters! Every time they stop us when a race starts. It was disturbing. I try to ignore because I don’t have anything else to do. My next meet will be throws only meet here in Germany. It will be fantastic! I hope there to throw sixty-six meters again. Here was hard because we don’t have wind; with wind is possible to throw sixty-seven meters.”

Alin recently wrapped up his studies, and is excited about his future as a thrower.

What did he study?

”Sports, of course!”

Simon Pettersson, who entered the meet with a PB of 65.84m and finished fourth with is sixth round 64.55m effort, said that he loved the energy in the stadium.

“It was very fun. The atmosphere was unbelievable, kind of like Worlds last year. I even like when they run the 200 and everybody is like ‘whoa!’It gives me energy. Sometimes I get too hyped!”

That was apparent tonight, as Simon fouled four of six throws, once literally falling down out of the front of the ring. But, his ability to regain his composure and drill a near PB in the final round bodes well for his future in meets of this caliber.

Daniel Stahl, the Swedish giant, was exhausted, proud, and defiant after the competition.

I asked him how he was able to keep his cool sitting on two fouls going into round three.

“It was mental strength.  I’m really happy. It was great conditions, and I’m very happy. I was focused all six throws. My goal was to win, but I’m really proud of 68.23m. This was great atmoshpere. Germany is really good to track and field. It was a great audience, great people. I really Like Germany. Now, I prepare to win in Doha.”

Unknown to me, these European Championships will also be the final international competition for Gerd Kanter, one of the true gentlemen of the sport.

Though the attention of the crowd was understandably focused on Robert, Gerd was happy to have made his farewell in this stadium.

”As expected, the environment was very good, I remember from 2009, and today everybody focused on the discus. When I was planning my retirement I wanted to have it here. Next year at Doha, I don’t think will be very exciting. This was where I wanted to have my last Championships.”

I told Gerd that the first time I ‘d seen him throw was in Zurich in 2005, and asked him if he remembered being overtaken by Virgilius Aleena in the final round there.

“Yes, but he fouled it! The winner got a nice watch, and he got it. He still owes me that watch.”

“We had just came from Helsinki, the World Championships. I was leading until last round there, too, and he threw a championship record to beat me!”

As long as we were on the subject of the ones that got away, I asked him about the 2012 Olympic Games where he came within one discus length of taking a second consecutive gold medal.

“It was reallyemotional,” he recalled. “But it wasn’t like losing a gold medal, it was like winning a bronze medal. Compared  to Beijing, I was not the favorite. And it was first time I set my season best at a major championships, so I am very proud of that bronze medal.”

The last sweaty giant I spoke with was Lukas Weisshaidinger, who was about as happy as a man on the verge of heat exhaustion can be.

 

“It was my first time at European Championships, so to come home with a medal, I’m extremely happy,” he told me. “My whole family is here, so this is an awesome moment.”

Lukas had struggled in the qualifying rounds, going Foul, 59.48m, and then finally 62.26m which got him in the final. I asked him how he had been able to get his act together after almost failing to qualify.

“This was a new day. And also, I know that Alekna once placed eleventh in qualification and ended up with gold medal, so I knew I could make a medal today.”

Lukas also credited the atmosphere in the stadium for elevating his performance.

“It was awesome! They clap for everyone, not just the Germans. And there  were a lot of Austrian fans. That gave me power!”

I couldn’t resist asking Lucas how he had developed his rather unique setup at the start of his throw. If you’ve never seen it, he has his left foot back like Tom Walsh in the shot, and he winds the disc very high before beginning his entry.

“I’m not the biggest guy,” he explained. “Or the tallest guy, so I have to make something different, so we try this.”

Is his setup an attempt to increase the path of acceleration? Does it have something to do with creating a certain orbit of the disc?

“That I cannot tell you. It is top secret.”

Not wanting to offend a man that beefy, especially at the happiest moment of his life, I changed the subject and inquired about the future. Was he thinking ahead to Doha?

“It is really hard with the World Championships in October, then followed by the Olympic Games. It is really hard to make a perfect plan for those two competitions.”

I have asked a few coaches recently how they plan to handle their training schedule next year with the Worlds coming so late. But talking to Lucas, I realized that it wasn’t just next year, but the following year as well (when everyone will want to peak for the Olympics) that will be thrown off by the odd schedule.

Torsten Lönnfors, coach of Chris Harting, told me that Chris will be in an exceptionally difficult situation as he is required to put in four weeks of police training at the end of each season. So, if he competes in the 2019 Worlds in October then takes a break then has to do his four weeks with the police, that makes for a very late start for his Olympic preparation.

But those are matters for people much smarter than me to figure out.

This was a night to celebrate giant, sweaty men who devote their lives to throwing things far.

Speaking of which, after all was quiet I stood with a group of journalists waiting for a final word with Robert Harting. But the hour was late, and I had a long train ride ahead of me, so after a while I gave up and began the long walk up the stadium steps towards the exit.

And there he was. Signing autographs, Surrounded by fans. Happy and sad and probably wishing that this long, humid Berlin night would never end.

It’s not so simple, this qualification business

 

Tuesday morning at the European Athletics Championships featured an embarrassment of riches for throws fans. Two rings full of women shot putters vying for the automatic qualification mark of 17.20m that would advance them to Wednesday’s final. And, running concurrently with the women’s shot, two rounds of men’s discus featuring some of the best throwers in the world, among them 2016 Olympic Champion Chris Harting and 2017 World Champion Andrius Gudzius. The qualification line for the men’s disc was 64.00m, which many of these athletes had thrown in previous competitions. But, as it soon became apparent, 64.00m can seem awfully far if something knocks you off your rhythm. The early hour. The unusually hot conditions (Germany, like much of the rest of Europe, is in the middle of an historic heat wave). An unusually fast or slow throwing surface.

Some made qualification look easy.

Christina Schwanitz, much to the delight of the crowd (as she is German and the favorite to snag the gold here) went 18.83m on her first attempt. Thank you, and good day.

Daniel Stahl, the silver medalist at last year’s World Championships in London,  also launched his first throw well past the qualification line (it turned out to be 67.07m) raised his arms in triumph and headed off to rest for Wednesday’s final.

On his way out, I asked Daniel if he generally takes something off a first round throw in order to avoid fouling.

“No,” he replied. “Always 100 percent.”

This approach seems to suit the big man’s personality. Stahl is the kind of guy who, if you were a kid, would be your favorite uncle. Large. Easy going. Always smiling.  Not the kind of person whose confidence would be ruined by a first round foul.

For some, though, it was not so simple.

Poland’s 2015 World Champion Piotr Malachowski would appear to be cut from the same mold as Stahl.  He comes across as very even-keeled, and has been through many, many qualification rounds at major competitions.

Somehow, though, after warming up at 65.00m, Piotr simply could not find his timing when the throws counted. He walked out on his first attempt (it looked to be about 57.00m), caged his second, and misfired badly on his third, ending up without a mark and without an invitation to the finals.

Afterwards, he seemed perplexed.

“My shape today was very good,” he said. “My practice throws were good, then…I don’t know. I don’t know what happened.”

Piotr seemed ready to shake off this experience though. When I asked if he planned to continue throwing through the Tokyo Games, he replied, “Of course. It is my dream. A gold medal!”

While Piotr was suffering his inexplicable meltdown on one end of the stadium, two young shot putters came away from their first ever qualifcation rounds at a senior international competition smiling and utterly delighted to have made the final.

One, British Champion Amelia Strickler, threw a PB of 17.31 on her second attempt.

”I ‘m so excited!” she said afterward. “It was amazing being out there because this is such a big venue, and that’s what you want. You want the big stage. Even though the stadium wasn’t quite full, you could still feel the atmosphere. I can’t wait for the final!”

Like Amelia, twenty-year-old Alina Kenzel surpassed the qualifying line on her second attempt.

Her throw of 17.46m was the seventh best among qualifiers.

She told me afterwards that she was “very excited because it was my first big international event. I was very nervous at the first attempt, but the second it was like ‘okay just do your thing just like training’ and it was the standard for the finals!”

“After my first throw, everybody was saying ‘Alina go on!’ I was like okay,okay, keep going, keep going. Then, it was like boom! I ‘m done, so now I can go to the hotel and have some rest and tomorrow the final.”

Another competitor who seemed just as excited by his success in qualification was the great veteran Gerd Kanter. He threw 64.18m on his first attempt and was positively giddy after.

”I’m old,” he joked. “So, in this heat I have to do it on the first throw. Out there, we were like chickens in ovens.”

After all the success he’s had, including winning the gold at the Beijing Olympics, Gerd still prepares conscientiously for qualification days.

“I would say the qualification procedure is most difficult at these competitions. If you are in the final, it is already like regular competition, but in qualification, you only get two warm-up throws, it is the early morning, it’s not comfortable. So, in training, we practice making a safety throw.”

“We call it a safety throw because you don’t need to go full out. You don’t need 67.00m or 68.00m. The line is 64.00m, so that’s what you need. So, in a safety throw you take less risks. You are not going to go as far back in your backswing, you just make it very simple to avoid errors. One part of training for a championships is we always make two or three throws where the coach says ‘Okay, you need to do a safety throw.’ So not a maximum effort, but you must throw maybe 63.00m.”

The most surprising moment of this qualification day came when defending Olympic champion Chris Harting failed to advance.

Chris showed that he was in good shape two weeks ago by winning the German Championships with a toss of 66.98m, and most observers would have considered him a candidate to challenge Stahl and Gudzius for the title here, in the city where he lives and trains.

But, one chink in Chris’s armor is that his natural release point often sends the discus down the right side of the sector, and depending on the type of the cage, he sometimes has trouble getting off an unimpeded throw.

His coach, Torsten Lönnfors, told me later that the type of cage used for this year’s  European Championships makes it difficult for Chris to throw in his natural slot because it is shorter than cages normally used in international competitions, with the front support standard jutting out in just the spot where Chris’s throws often travel. Notice the difference between the cage in the photo above at a different competition, and the one below in a photo from yesterday’s qualification round.

I highlighted the front standard to make it easier to see. Torsten told me that they had tried (and apparently succeeded) in practice to get Chris comfortable throwing with this type of cage, and in warmups he was able to throw a nice, clean 65.00m toss. But, Olympic champions are humans, too, and maybe once that first competition throw ricocheted off the cage…maybe all of a sudden throwing in your home town with all eyes on you and the music turned loud each time you entered the ring…maybe it just got to be too much.

After three throws off the cage resulted in three fouls and a humiliating exit from the competition, Chris had to face a very disappointed German media.

Afterwards, he graciously spoke with me for a few moments. Heartbroken, he struggled for words to describe how this had come to pass.

”It took less than 63 meters to qualify,” he said, shaking his head in amazement. “I can throw that from a stand.”

Just one of those days?

“Yes,” he replied. “That’s a good way to put it. Just one of those days.”

 

 

 

 

Deutschland über alles

Call it “heaven” or “nirvana” or “Iowa.”

Call it what you want, but if you are a fan of the shot put, what took place in the shadow of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the heart of Berlin today was pretty close to perfect.

Especially when you consider that this spot, known as Breitscheidplatz, was the site of a terrorist attack in the winter of 2016. Typical of such incidents, the attack was meant to destroy Breitscheidplatz as a thriving public place (the attacker struck during a popular Christmas market).

Part of the German response to that effort was to wedge a world class shot put competition into the narrow confines of the Platz.

 

They built a wooden platform approximately four feet high, covered it with turf, erected some temporary bleachers, and invited people to come and watch for free.

And come they did.  The atmosphere (and I mean this as a compliment) reminded me of a high school football game on a warm September evening in a small town in the United States. People cheered and chanted and dressed in semi-ridiculous outfits. An entire section wore matching red hats and lime green t-shirts.

There was an endearingly lame pep band. There was recorded music (everything from Michael Jacksons’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” which elicited a 19.54m toss from Luxembourg’s Bob Bertemes, to Billy Squier’s “Slowly Stroke Me” which greeted Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Kemal Mesic as he walked into the ring for his third throw sitting on two fouls. He went 18.70m and missed the final).

There were large video screens. The one that I was facing showed a slo-mo replay of every…single…throw.

There was drama. In round three, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Mesud Pezer dropped one right at the automatic qualifying line of 20.40m only to have his effort nullified as a foul. He protested, and as the officials discussed the matter, the crowd was treated to several slo-motion replays of the throw, which caused them to boo lustily when it appeared that Pezer had commited no obvious infraction. It seems that he was called for the phantom right heel on the toeboard on his reverse, similar to what happened to Joe Kovacs in last year’s World Championships. This time, however, reason prevailed and the call was overturned. Pezer’s throw turned out to be 20.16m, enough to secure him a spot in the final.

There was big time homerism. Homegrown favorite David Storl received an ovation for warming up (two fixed-feet glides, one around 19.00m and another around 20.60m), for being introduced, and for hitting an automatic qualifier of 20.63m on his first attempt (he reversed on that one).

As round two ended for Storl’s group, the competition was briefly halted while the MC for the night interviewed David.

I ‘m not sure that was totally fair to those in the field who were still hoping to hit a qualifying mark, but the crowd loved it.

And that’s the thing. The crowd was active and happy and alive throughout the entire competition. How often can you say that about any track and field preliminary?

One thrower who thrived on the atmosphere was Nick Scarvelis, representing Greece.

”Qualifying situations are almost always in an empty stadium at nine in the morning on the opposite side of the track from some empty stands,” he told me after making it through to Wednesday’s final with a season best of 20.20m. “So I ‘d like to see more of this type of thing.”

I was curious as to where the throwers took most of their warmup attempts, as they seemed to be allowed only two on site. Had they warmed up at the Olympic Stadium practice facility before traveling to the Platz?

“No,” Nick explained. “We warmed up at another practice track. They actually put a ring in the middle of a park inside of a university. There was like a three-hundred-year-old column next to the shot put ring. But it was still a twenty-minute drive away, so it wasn’t exactly ideal.  A lot of guys were complaining, but I didn’t mind. The music. The atmosphere. Throwing in the shadow of the church. I loved It.”

Two others who prospered were Craoatia’s Stipe Zürich, the bronze medalist in last year’s World Championships, and Poland’s Michael Haratyk, the silver medalist from the 2016 European Championships in Amersterdam. Each surpassed the automatic qualifying mark on his first attempt, and they are the two most likely to give Storl some trouble as he strives to notch his fourth European Championships title.

The final will take place inside the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday night, and though there might well be 50,000 fans going nuts for Storl, I don’t know if the atmosphere there or anywhere else can match what the Germans created tonight.

At one point during the competition, the bells of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church rang out.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Xl4Zpe74t6c

I won’t say they were heralding a German shot put renaissance, a return of David Storl to his top form. There was something more to that sound. A little defiance maybe, and a lot of joy over thousands of people coming together on a warm Berlin night to…well…to have fun.

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Discus Indoor Nationals @ Grand Valley State

Thanks to all the participants and to Sean Denard and his staff at GV for hosting a great competition.

Round 1 – https://youtu.be/GEvUqYdJC1w

Round 2 – https://youtu.be/l-nxYaZUhEE

Round 3 – https://youtu.be/QtjnqZGGfwM

Round 4 – https://youtu.be/gBNJYZPlSNY

Round 5 – https://youtu.be/IF8Rmv0xCIg

Round 6 – https://youtu.be/-c2AVrPioHc

Bonus Round – https://youtu.be/E-PJqr2Xo74

Discus Results:
(1) Alex Rose 61.24
(2) Brian Williams 60.35
(3) Andrew Evans 59.77
(4) Sam Mattis 59.53

Heavy/Light Shot Put Competition – https://youtu.be/e66NZs-z_0U

Men’s Shot Put Results:
(1) Josh Freeman 8K-18.19 6K-21.27 Total-39.46
(2) Lucas Warning 17.68/20.12/37.80

Women’s Shot Put Results:
(1) Rachel Fatherly 5K-14.37 3K-19.22 Total-33.59
(2) Payden Montana 11.49/15.35/26.84

John Smith on Raven’s bomb at USA’s

Holy crap, there is some great shot putting going on in this country right now, and if you signed up for the NBC Gold package you got to see a good chunk of an epic women’s shot competition at the USATF National Championships last week.

When the Sacramento dust cleared, the United States had the two leading women’s putters in the world, and the defending Olympic champion was, surprisingly, not one of them.

Unfortunately, NBC Gold coverage of the final three rounds was spotty, and throws fans were left to piece together the action as best they could by checking the live results page.

Luckily,  John Smith, coach of newly minted US champion Raven Saunders, agreed to provide not only his perspective on a truly amazing competition, but also to share some insights into the training that has made Raven the thrower to beat at the Worlds in London this August.

Here’s the way things played out on a sweltering afternoon in Sacramento:

Dani Bunch got the party started  with throws of 18.92m and 19.18m in rounds one and two. The latter toss seemed likely to have secured her a ticket to Worlds.

Michelle Carter,the aforementioned Olympic champ, got rolling in round three with a 19.34m toss, which appeared likely to guarantee  her a trip  to London.

Raven, meanwhile, struggled to find a groove. After an immensely disappointing fourth place finish at the NCAA meet two weeks earlier, it would have been good for her and Coach Smith’s state of mental health if she had killed one early, but it was not to be.

Her opener was an easy 18.30m safety throw, good enough to buy five more tosses and to briefly quiet her version of the little voice we all have in our heads that says things like, “You blew it at the NCAA’s so for sure you’ll blow it here!” but unlikely to clinch a spot in the top three.

A round two 17.75m gave any lingering doubts a bit more credibility, and after a foul in round three, the little voice in her head rose to a bellow.

Actually, it was Coach Smith’s voice this time.

According to Smith,  “the foul was sixty-three and a half feet. That  throw would have put her on the team! She nailed it. She watched it. She stepped out. So she got her rear end chewed for that.”

Meanwhile, Felisha Johnson bumped Raven to fourth place with a third round toss of 18.64m.

Maddeningly, NBC Gold went offline for a few minutes as the the top eight were re-ordered for the final three rounds.

At that point the top three were Carter (19.25m), Bunch (19.18m), and Johnson (18.64m).

I recall Charles Barkley once making fun of fans who listened to NBA games on the radio. Imagine what he’d think of us throws geeks reduced to staring at the live results page on the NCAA site in order to keep up with what was happening in the shot while NBC Gold went to break and, upon returning to the air, took us on a guided tour of downtown Sacramento. Loved that vid of the steamboat, though!

In round four, Raven hit 18.58m, which did not move her up in the standings.

Carter went 19.28m, but the top three remained unchanged.

All those marks were well within Raven’s reach if she could just find her rhythm.

According to Smith,  she was in shape to launch a big one.

“Two days before  the  competition, she threw sixty-five feet with an eight-pound shot, full reverse staying in the ring, so I knew she was ready. In a meet Raven can always match or throw a foot farther than what she does in practice with the eight.”

So, he was confident as Raven stepped in for a fifth throw that she was perfectly capable of moving into the top three.

Instead, she fouled again.

As a throws coach, I often imagine being in a similar situation and saying just the right thing to my athlete who then heads back into the ring and blasts out the throw of his life.  Usually, it’s something along the lines of “You got this! Keep your chest up going  to the middle and you’ll be fine!”

John Smith, however, operates in the real world where emotions run hot especially during a long afternoon in the searing California sun with a spot on the national team in the balance.

So what did he say to Raven after her fifth round foul?

“You’d better get your ass moving, because they’re writing your obituary right now!”

Moments later, Dani Bunch dropped a fifth-round 19.64m, for a new PR and the lead.

Moments after that,  Monique Riddick stepped in and killed her final throw of the day. It measured 18.89m and knocked Raven down to fifth.

Now, I’m no fan of zombie movies, but my friends who are tell me that it is possible for someone to look really dead but still not be dead.

That turned out to be the case here, and Coach Smith used an analogy from another movie genre to describe the moment:

“After Riddick hit that throw, Raven spit on the ground like Clint Eastwood would do in the movies before he got ready to kill someone. Connie {Price Smith, former Olympian and current head coach at Ole’ Miss} said that when she saw Raven spit on the ground, she knew Raven was going to hit that last throw.”

Hit it she did.

According to Coach Smith, “It wasn’t a pretty throw, but it was evil. It was an evil throw. It had no height on it, and she  was a little bit over-rotated.  But it was nasty.”

Nineteen meters and seventy-six centimeters worth of nasty, to be exact.

A PR.

A national title.

A world lead.

A redemption from the embarrassment of the NCAA meet.

And, definitive proof that at the international level the  glide shot technique is dead?

Certainly, Michelle Carter might quibble with that suggestion, but in Smith’s view, “On  the women’s side, we are the best shot putting nation in the world because we made the leap to the spin.”  

He argues that in order to be a world class glider, an athlete must have a huge stand throw. A glider striving to throw twenty meters would have to stand mid-eighteen meters to have a chance.

Smith believes that the rotational technique makes it possible for a less powerful but more athletic thrower to reach world class distances.

Watching the progress of Jill Camarena-Williams (the now-retired bronze medalist at the 2011 Worlds) convinced him of this.

“Jill was a fifty-nine-foot glider, then she became a sixty-six-foot spinner and I always felt like Connie was a better athlete than Jill. I always wanted Connie to spin when she was throwing, but she never wanted to do it. Back then, [the 1980’s-1990’s] you only did the spin because you couldn’t glide.”

As he became more and more devoted to the rotational method, Smith developed a practice progression for refining his throwers’ technique.

“The drill work is non-reverse stands, non-reverse half turns, then something called non-reverse ‘giant steps,’ where you start in the back, step to the center, pause, then do a half turn and throw non- reverse. Then we do ‘walking fulls,’ where you turn, step, turn and throw kind of in slow motion. From there we do non-reverse fulls and then reverse fulls.”

“With Raven, practice is a non-reverse full into a net followed by a  non-reverse throw into the field.  [Note: Coach Smith has a net set up at the outdoor throwing facility at Ole Miss] She starts with a sixteen-pound shot, then moves to a twelve, then an eight, and finally a three-kilogram. Then we start over with the sixteen.” 

“Some days, Raven might take seventy to eighty throws.  We keep going until the numbers die off so much that practice is over. She might repeat that progression three or four times and she might start out with ten to fifteen throws into the net (stands, half tuns, giant steps) before she even does fulls.”

She will continue with some variation of that system for the next six weeks then travel to  London where she and Dani Bunch will try to prove to the world that the glide is dead, with Michelle Carter along to make the counter argument.

And, while there are many amazing tourist attractions in that city that are suitable to dress up a broadcast, please NBC Gold, this time stay with the women’s shot from start to finish! Based on what happened in Sacramento, it will be worth it.

 

Sophia’s Busy Night in Cali

sohia 2

If, during a future job interview, Sophia Rivera is asked if she is able to multi-task, she now has a ready made answer.

Thursday  night, in the World Youth Games, she competed in the shot put and javelin finals…at the same time.

She literally had to take a throw in the shot, cross the infield, take a throw in the jav, and then head back to the shot.

And threw great in both events, finishing eighth in the jav with a throw of 50.85m, and second in the shot with a sixth-round put of 17.93m.

According to Sophia’s mom, “the IAAF officials allowed her to throw anywhere in the order but it had to be in the given round or it would be a pass. She warmed up for javelin at the practice track but once inside the stadium only warmed up for shot. The shot put start list had her throwing last – she chose to throw 2nd in the order and then it was off to the races!  She had time to change shoes, but not much…  After her 4th throw in the Jav, she knew her chances were better to medal in the shot, so she passed her last two javelin throws.”

Sophia’s coach, Ron Eichaker, was not surprised by her poise. According to Ron, “Her performance yesterday represented a culmination of all her training both physical and mental over the past several years.”

Ron pointed out that Sophia trains at least two and sometimes three different events at a typical practice session. “Each session lasts between 90 and 120  minutes. As we transition from one discipline to the other, I work with her on subtle mental imaging. Over time, it conditions her mind to compartmentalize.”

Providing an additional boost Thursday night in Cali, was the fact that Sophia was representing her country. “After all,” continued Ron, “it was all for her team. She knows that she is part of something bigger than herself and she was honored to answer when her events were called.”

Sophia’s next chance to represent the US will be at the Pan Am Juniors in Edmonton, Canada over the weekend of July 31st. Though she will be competing against older athletes (NCAA champion Raven Saunders for one) it promises to be a relaxing weekend for Sophia as she will be competing only in the shot.

 

 

Chicagoland Throws – Elite Shot Put

Event 13  Women Shot Put Elite
==========================================================================
 NSAF Girls Shot Put: 4 kg
    Name                    Year Team                    Finals           
==========================================================================
  1 Smith, Brittany              USATF                   18.12m   59-05.50 
      17.67m  17.40m  17.67m  17.64m  17.98m  18.12m
  2 O'Brien, Becky               USATF                   17.64m   57-10.50 
      17.64m  16.93m  17.57m  16.74m  16.52m  17.41m
  3 Bunch, Dani                  USATF                   17.28m   56-08.50 
      17.28m  FOUL  FOUL  17.08m  FOUL  FOUL
  4 Bliss, Tori                  USATF                   16.90m   55-05.50 
      15.87m  16.73m  16.41m  FOUL  16.90m  FOUL
  5 Wilson, Alyssa               NSAF                    15.20m   49-10.50 
      FOUL  14.95m  FOUL  15.15m  FOUL  15.20m
  6 Bruckner, Elena              NSAF                    14.71m   48-03.25 
      14.33m  FOUL  14.71m  FOUL  14.62m  14.35m
  7 Dawson, Khayla               NSAF                    14.15m   46-05.25 
      13.77m  13.91m  14.09m  13.85m  14.15m  13.69m
  8 Young, KD                    NSAF                    13.88m   45-06.50 
      13.37m  13.27m  FOUL  12.70m  13.67m  13.88m
  9 Antill, Kaylee               NSAF                    12.43m   40-09.50 
      FOUL  11.98m  12.03m  FOUL  11.99m  12.43m

 

Event 14  Men Shot Put Elite
==========================================================================
 NSAF Boys Shot Put: 12 lb.
    Name                    Year Team                    Finals           
==========================================================================
  1 Hill, Darrell                USATF                   20.19m   66-03.00 
      19.49m  20.19m  FOUL  FOUL  FOUL  FOUL
  2 Geist, Jordan                NSAF                    19.76m   64-10.00 
      FOUL  19.76m  FOUL  19.67m  19.55m  FOUL
  3 Werskey, Eric                USATF                   19.52m   64-00.50 
      19.52m  19.28m  19.20m  19.33m  19.11m  19.28m
  4 Favors, Eric                 NSAF                    19.28m   63-03.25 
      18.88m  19.17m  19.11m  FOUL  FOUL  19.28m
  5 Dechant, Matt                USATF                   18.85m   61-10.25 
      FOUL  18.05m  18.48m  FOUL  18.85m  18.64m
  6 Saenz, Stephen               USATF                   18.32m   60-01.25 
      18.32m  FOUL  PASS  PASS  PASS  PASS
  7 Davis, Khalil                NSAF                    17.83m   58-06.00 
      17.83m  FOUL  17.56m  17.39m  FOUL  17.44m
  8 Cartwright, Grant            OPEN                    16.06m   52-08.25 
      FOUL  FOUL  15.23m  FOUL  16.06m  FOUL