Category Archives: Meets

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

Chicagoland Throws – Elite Javelin

Event 11  Women Javelin Throw Elite
==========================================================================
 NSAF Girls Javelin: 600 g
    Name                    Year Team                    Finals           
==========================================================================
  1 Hamilton, Kimberly           USATF                   58.08m     190-07 
      FOUL  54.37m  52.56m  50.51m  55.00m  58.08m
  2 Ince, Ariana                 USATF                   57.72m     189-04 
      57.72m  54.54m  50.85m  54.38m  FOUL  52.74m
  3 Petranoff, Leigh             USATF                   51.94m     170-05 
      51.06m  51.13m  45.93m  51.94m  49.14m  51.23m
  4 Kearney, Gabby               NSAF                    49.62m     162-09 
      46.21m  47.00m  FOUL  49.29m  49.62m  48.60m
  5 Fitzgerald, Emma             NSAF                    45.21m     148-04 
      41.67m  43.20m  43.36m  45.21m  FOUL  43.64m
  6 Bower, Morgan                NSAF                    32.58m     106-11 
      30.37m  32.58m  FOUL  FOUL  FOUL  31.70m

 

Event 12  Men Javelin Throw Elite
==========================================================================
 NSAF Boys Javelin: 800 grams
    Name                    Year Team                    Finals           
==========================================================================
  1 Dolezal, Riley               USATF                   79.71m     261-06 
      77.02m  79.49m  FOUL  79.71m  FOUL  FOUL
  2 Furey, Sean                  USATF                   79.04m     259-04 
      76.03m  FOUL  75.69m  72.39m  77.72m  79.04m
  3 Glover, Tim                  USATF                   72.78m     238-09 
      72.78m  71.64m  PASS  FOUL  PASS  FOUL
  4 Van Liew, Tim                USATF                   67.35m     220-11 
      65.66m  FOUL  FOUL  67.35m  63.66m  62.99m
  5 Howe, Nicholas               USATF                   66.52m     218-03 
      66.40m  64.90m  FOUL  FOUL  64.78m  66.52m
  6 Marsack, Michael             NSAF                    64.26m     210-10 
      59.46m  61.67m  59.67m  60.48m  64.26m  FOUL
  7 Biddle, Michael              NSAF                    62.25m     204-03 
      62.25m  61.44m  FOUL  59.45m  60.47m  60.38m
  8 Jones, Grant                 NSAF                    60.28m     197-09 
      56.83m  60.28m  57.90m  56.90m  52.60m  57.91m
  9 Hill, Grayson                NSAF                    58.36m     191-06 
      FOUL  57.30m  58.36m  FOUL  56.55m  FOUL
 10 Lenihan, Kiegan              USATF                   54.45m     178-08 
      50.49m  54.45m  49.63m  47.07m  FOUL  FOUL

Chicagoland Throws – Elite Discus

 

Event 9  Women Discus Throw Elite
==========================================================================
 NSAF Girls Discus: 1 kg.
    Name                    Year Team                    Finals           
==========================================================================
  1 Lewis-Smallwood, Gia         USATF                   64.01m     210-00 
      62.39m  FOUL  60.25m  FOUL  64.01m  FOUL
  2 Podominick, Liz              USATF                   57.39m     188-03 
      52.31m  53.70m  FOUL  56.26m  57.39m  FOUL
  3 Pierson, Summer              USATF                   57.12m     187-05 
      53.24m  52.65m  55.97m  57.12m  54.25m  55.15m
  4 Trafton, Stephanie           USATF                   52.40m     171-11 
      50.28m  50.71m  48.11m  51.26m  52.40m  51.72m
  5 Lockhart, Samantha           USATF                   50.69m     166-04 
      FOUL  50.57m  FOUL  50.69m  FOUL  50.64m
  6 Phelps, Kiana                NSAF                    50.20m     164-08 
      46.70m  47.18m  48.30m  48.75m  48.32m  50.20m
  7 Showalter, Haley             NSAF                    49.78m     163-04 
      43.99m  43.94m  49.78m  FOUL  FOUL  FOUL
  8 Szkowny, Alison              USATF                   49.41m     162-01 
      45.27m  47.46m  FOUL  45.57m  49.41m  FOUL
  9 Antill, Kaylee               NSAF                    47.72m     156-07 
      46.13m  47.32m  42.23m  44.64m  42.21m  47.72m
 10 Bruckner, Elena              NSAF                    47.56m     156-00 
      44.86m  45.80m  47.56m  FOUL  47.04m  42.52m
 11 Wilson, Alyssa               NSAF                    44.25m     145-02 
      41.19m  44.05m  42.67m  44.10m  43.90m  44.25m
 12 Young, KD                    NSAF                    42.86m     140-07 
      42.23m  41.60m  42.36m  40.32m  42.86m  36.21m
 13 Dawson, Khayla               NSAF                    40.78m     133-09 
      FOUL  FOUL  40.78m  FOUL  38.24m  FOUL

 

 

Event 10  Men Discus Throw Elite
==========================================================================
 NSAF Boys Discus: 1.6 kg
    Name                    Year Team                    Finals           
==========================================================================
  1 Carlos, Davis                NSAF                    60.14m     197-04 
      60.14m  FOUL  57.88m  55.10m  FOUL  58.24m
  2 Davis, Khalil                NSAF                    59.50m     195-02 
      59.50m  58.21m  55.50m  55.31m  57.77m  58.04m
  3 Evans, Andrew                USATF                   59.27m     194-05 
      57.92m  56.48m  56.45m  59.14m  59.27m  57.83m
  4 Winger, Russ                 Asics America           59.14m     194-00 
      55.89m  58.26m  59.14m  FOUL  FOUL  57.24m
  5 Ribeiro, Lucas               NSAF                    54.19m     177-09 
      54.19m  52.17m  FOUL  51.73m  51.05m  FOUL
  6 Geist, Jordan                NSAF                    50.35m     165-02 
      50.35m  50.27m  48.76m  49.70m  50.00m  49.97m

Chicagoland Throws – Elite Hammer

This video shows the entire women’s elite hammer competition.

http://youtu.be/EZD7EIrG4uc

 

Event 3  Women Hammer Throw Elite
==========================================================================
 NSAF Girls Hammer: 4 kg
    Name                    Year Team                    Finals           
==========================================================================
  1 Berry, Gwen                  Nyac-Nike               69.60m     228-04 
      67.37m  69.60m  69.45m  68.98m  68.97m  FOUL
  2 Smith, Kristin               USATF                   68.90m     226-00 
      67.11m  63.93m  FOUL  68.90m  63.73m  66.75m
  3 Pleger, Brooke               USATF                   68.66m     225-03 
      64.68m  65.65m  63.05m  FOUL  68.66m  FOUL
  4 Henry, Brittany              USATF                   67.05m     220-00 
      63.15m  67.01m  FOUL  66.11m  FOUL  67.05m
  5 Bush, Taylor                 USATF                   65.10m     213-07 
      64.01m  63.22m  64.20m  FOUL  65.10m  64.26m
  6 Showalter, Haley             NSAF                    59.17m     194-01 
      58.46m  FOUL  FOUL  57.47m  59.17m  56.45m
  7 Jacobsen, Courtney           NSAF                    52.96m     173-09 
      51.90m  50.51m  50.83m  50.22m  FOUL  52.96m
  8 Wilson, Alyssa               NSAF                    51.89m     170-03 
      FOUL  FOUL  49.25m  47.35m  48.52m  51.89m
  9 Antill, Kaylee               NSAF                    51.47m     168-10 
      48.30m  50.09m  FOUL  51.47m  FOUL  FOUL
 10 Thomas, Makena               NSAF                    48.01m     157-06 
      FOUL  45.39m  46.56m  48.01m  FOUL  FOUL

 

This video shows the entire men’s elite hammer competition.

 

 

Event 4  Men Hammer Throw Elite
==========================================================================
 NSAF Boys Hammer: 12 lb.
    Name                    Year Team                    Finals           
==========================================================================
  1 Kelly, Adam                  NSAF                    74.10m     243-01 
      70.82m  74.10m  71.27m  73.65m  73.96m  73.92m
  2 Morse, Tim                   USATF                   66.70m     218-10 
      65.62m  65.46m  FOUL  65.49m  66.70m  FOUL
  3 Whitener, Seth               NSAF                    64.18m     210-07 
      FOUL  62.28m  FOUL  64.18m  FOUL  63.81m
  4 Thornton, Darian             USATF                   62.13m     203-10 
      FOUL  62.13m  FOUL  FOUL  FOUL  FOUL
  5 Alvernaz, Michael            NSAF                    60.78m     199-05 
      59.15m  FOUL  FOUL  FOUL  60.78m  FOUL

More US Championships throws predictions

How about that final round in the women’s shot?

And who is Jessica Ramsey?

This person.

Ramsey

Who is this person, and how many of you had heard of her before she opened with 18.42m last night?

Turns out she is a Western Kentucky grad who now trains with John Smith in Carbondale. After the competition, John described her as “dynamite in a box.”

I guess.

And watch out for her in Saturday’s hammer competition. She threw 69.47m in May and she’s got the SIU mojo going for her.

Speaking of which, I’m a little embarrassed that I picked Raven Saunders to qualify in the shot and not Jeneva Stevens.  Raven is a sensational young thrower, but in hindsight I should have realized that it was going to take nearly 19 meters to make the top three and she is not quite ready for that yet.

Jeneva, on the other hand, had the physical maturity and the big meet experience to trade punches with that very, very formidable field of putters.

Ah well, live and learn.

And congrats to Jeneva, who may very well make the team in the hammer as well.

One more thought regarding the women’s shot.  The top two finishers were gliders: Michelle Carter and Tia Brooks. Jeneva, the third place finisher, is a spinner who used to be a glider and still glides on every other practice throw. Could it be that the key to succeeding in major shot competitions is either to glide or to make your spin as glider-like as possible?

More on that at another time.

Right now, here are our picks for the remaining throwing events.

Women’s Javelin (“A” standard = 61 meters)

No need to equivocate here. Two throwers will qualify for Beijing.

Kara Winger…

kara

…who made it quite clear earlier in the season that she had finally recovered from major knee surgery thank you very much by tossing 66.47m on May 2nd.

Kara will be joined by Brittany Borman…

bormann

…who hit a season best 64.75m, also in May.

To quote Forest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Women’s Hammer (“A” standard = 70 meters)

The contenders:

Amber Campbell…

amber

…a two-time USATF champion who has the best throw by an American this year, 72.81m.

Amanda Bingson…

bingson

…the defending USATF champion who has thrown 70.94m this season.

The John Smith Crew…

DeAnna Price…

price

…the freshly crowned NCAA champion with a PR of 71.49m…

Jeneva Stevens…

js

…who qualified in the shot put last night and has hit 72.69m this season.

You can find an interview I did a couple of weeks ago with Jeneva here: https://throwholics.com/2015/06/q-a-with-jeneva-stevens-prior-the-usa-championships/

…and, the aforementioned Jessica Ramsey.

Another potential contender is Britney Henry…

britney henry

…a veteran who broke 71 meters this year (71.08m to be exact) for the first time since 2010.

Who goes to Beijing?

Campbell: In what will likely be a very close competition, experience will see her through.

Bingson:  American record holder. Two time defending national champion. She has not thrown any bombs this year. Actually, she has not thrown much this year at all. Our guess is that, like Michelle Carter in the shot, she is picking her spots.

Stevens: After that performance in the shot, how can we bet against her?

 

Women’s Disc (“A” standard = 61 meters)

There are four legit contenders for three spots here.

Whitney Ashley…

whitney ashley

…who has thrown 64.80m this year. That throw came in Claremont, California, but over the years she has shown that she can consistently break 60 meters in stadiums.

Shelbi Vaughan…

shelbi

…the NCAA champion with a PB of 64.52m.

Liz Podominick…

liz 2

…who hit 63.87m earlier this year (although again at Claremont) and has finished in the top 3 at the last two US Championships.

You can read a recent interview I did with Liz here: https://throwholics.com/2015/06/q-a-with-liz-podominick-at-new-york-diamond-league-meeting/

Gia Lewis-Smallwood…

gia 2

…one of the most successful American discus throwers ever. She has thrown 69 meters and defeated Sandra Perkovic twice in the past two years.

Who goes to Beijing?

Gia: She has struggled this season. An infection in the index finger of her throwing hand has held her back. But, like Michelle Carter, she  is the dominant American in her event until proven otherwise.

Ashley: She will very likely throw 60 meters in this meet, and that will be enough. Also, Trofimuk and I saw her come out of nowhere to win the NCAA title in Des Moines. And we…have not…forgotten.

Vaughan: Has dominated at the collegiate and junior level. Last year, she threw 63.60m in Lexington, Kentucky. This year, she threw 64.52m in Starkville, Mississippi.  We are not saying that they don’t have wind in those places, but it is refreshing to see an American whose PR was not set in California.

 

Men’s Shot (“A” standard = 20.45m…but really, who cares? You will have to go nearly a meter beyond that to make the US team)

All the contenders should take turns treating Reese Hoffa to dinner, because by winning last year’s Diamond League shot title he earned an automatic spot in Beijing, thus opening a place for three additional US putters.

The Contenders:

Too many to talk about.

Who (besides Reese) goes to Beijing?

Joe Kovacs…

joe

…who, for the first time since Adam Nelson in 2000, has  made 22-meter throws look pedestrian.

Jordan Clarke…

clarke

…who has thrown 21 meters in each of his two Diamond League appearances. Great under pressure. Coach Dave Dumble once described him as “having it between the ears.” Translation: he does not choke. Plus, Trofimuk and I saw him win two NCAA titles in Des Moines, so we are big fans.

You can read an interview I recently conducted with Jordan here: https://throwholics.com/2015/06/q-a-with-jordan-clarke-at-new-york-diamond-league-meeting/

Ryan Whiting…

whiting

…who, by his standards, is not having a great year. However, his standards are too high for most mere mortals. He will throw 21 meters and make the team.

Here’s hoping for an action-packed weekend of throws!

 

Predictions for the USA Championships

Coach Trofimuk and I finally had a chance to sit down and ponder on this day before the USA Championships begin. Day One features several throwing events. Let’s get at it.

Men’s Javelin (“A” standard = 82 meters)

The contenders:

Tim Glover (the dude on the left)

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He has the best throw by an American this year: 84.09m.

He and Sean Furey…

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…are the only two throwers who have hit the standard. Sean has thrown 82.59m.

However, Riley Dolezal (the dude on the right)

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…may be the most consistent American jav thrower at the moment. At the New York Diamond League meet, he threw 80 meters on four of six throws in a stadium with a less than ideal javelin wind.

Oregon’s Sam Crouser…

 

 

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…just won the NCAA title in his home stadium (where the USA Championships will be contested) with a respectable toss of 79.19m.

Who is going to Beijing?

Glover: He already has the A standard.

Furey: He also has the A standard.

Dolezal: He has the hot hand. We predict that he will win and achieve the A standard in the process.

 

Men’s Hammer (“A” standard = 76 meters)

The contenders:

Michael Lihrman…

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…who is coming off a heart-breaking performance at the NCAA meet in which he fouled his first two throws and then did not make the final. Lihrman has yet to reach the A standard.

Kibwe Johnson…

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…who is currently two centimeters under the A standard.

AG Kruger…

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…who has been national champion about a billion times and has the A standard.

Conor McCullough…

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…who has thrown in excess of 75 meters two meets in a row and has the A standard. He threw 76.91m at the NCAA championships and has recently transitioned from Irish to American.

Who is going to Beijing?

McCullough: He has the standard and is on fi-yah! Plus, he has the natural awesomeness of the Irish on his side.

Kruger: He is very, very old, but he has the standard, and in this competition that will mean a lot.  Plus, the hammer will be held early enough in the day that he won’t have to DVR that night’s Matlock rerun. This eliminates a major potential distraction.

Men’s Discus (“A” standard = 65 meters)

Three throwers currently have the standard.

Jared Schuurmans…

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…who is currently the US leader (66.10m) but that throw came at Claremont College in California, a notoriously friendly place to throw.

Chase Madison…

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…who hit 65.42m in a meet at Augustana College which featured an epic discus wind. His next best throw was 61.58m May 2nd at the University of Iowa.

And Rodney Brown…

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…who was my pick to win the NCAA title and made me look really, really bad by finishing 9th.

Who is going to Beijing?

Honest answer? ZZzzzzzzz.

It is quite possible that Schuurmans, Madison, and Brown will all make the team because no one else will hit the standard. But what does that say about the status of the men’s discus in this country right now?

Women’s Shot (“A” standard = 17.75m)

This will be a war. There are currently thirteen American women over the standard, so if you want to make the team you will have to strap it up and  finish in the top three.

Here are the contenders:

Michelle Carter…

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…the American record holder who has tons of big meet experience. Also, she is a large, powerful glider and if you don’t recognize what an advantage that is in a tough shot put competition, you have not been paying attention.

Tia Brooks…

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…another veteran powerhouse glider.

 

Felisha Johnson…

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…also powerful, also a glider…

Jill Camarena-Williams…

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…a former World Championship medalist making a comeback from time off to have a child…

Brittany Smith…

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…who threw 19.01m indoors and has been accruing valuable international experience during the outdoor season…

And Raven Saunders…

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…the precocious NCAA champion and Junior Record holder.

And don’t forget about Jeneva Stevens, Tori Bliss, Dani Winters and  Dani Bunch.

Enough equivocating, here are our picks:

Carter (a consistent dominator, and we saw her throw the American record in Des Moines so we love her)

Smith ( has been throwing well on the DL circuit, and was Trof’s college teammate so we love her)

(We could not agree on the third spot, and since I would likely lose any sort of fist fight, tickle fight or wrestling match, we have made separate choices)

Trof:

Camarena-Williams (she is a veteran and Trof loves the spin)

McQ:

Saunders (I know, I know. She’s very young, but if you had John Smith–the Dark Master of Peaking–on your side I’d pick you too)

 

 

NCAA Predictions: The Shot Put

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Pat Trofimuk is a large man with a sensitive side and an extensive knowledge of NCAA throwers. Pat competed at Illinois State University alongside NCAA javelin champ Tim Glover (who will be competing this weekend at the Adidas Grand Prix Diamond League meet in New York) and multiple NCAA medal winner Brittany Smith (who competed on Sunday in the Birmingham DL meet).

So when Pat talks, whether about choosing the proper stuffed animal or predicting NCAA throws winners, I listen.

I hope you will, too. This is the final part of our NCAA throws preview.

Women

Raven Saunders of Southern Illinois won the indoor meet with a titanic put of 18.62m.

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LSU’s Tori Bliss was a close second indoors with a nearly-as-titanic toss of 18.67m.

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Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s Kelsey Card…

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…Kansas State’s Dani Winters…

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…Missouri’s Jill Rushin…

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…and Kent State’s Danniel Thomas…

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…have all thrown 17.50m+ this outdoor season.

Not to be forgotten is Iowa State’s Christina Hillman…

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…the defending champion who has a PB of 18.15m from the 2014 indoor campaign and has thrown 17.45m outdoors this year.

And the champion will be…

Raven has gone 18 meters twice outdoors, most recently an 18.12m toss at her conference meet.

Tori has hit 18 meters just once outside, but it was a big one: 18.49m at the LSU Invitational on May 2.

No one else has the horsepower right now to hang with those two.

This is a tough one for me because I am friends with Tori’s high school coach Mark Harsha of Portage, Indiana, but I also have great respect for Raven’s coach at SIU, John Smith.

Trof is going with Tori.

I’m putting my money on Raven as Smith is the Dark Genius of big meet preparation.

Wild Card: Hillman. She has had, for her, a mediocre outdoor season, but she has been through the wars and has the consistency of the glide technique on her side.

 

Men

It takes a world class shot putter to win the NCAA men’s title.

Need proof?

Defending outdoor champion Ryan Crouser of Texas (21.14m)…

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…and indoor champ Stipe Zunic of Florida (21.11m)…

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…are currently ranked 8th and 9th in the world.

Darrell Hill of Penn State (20.86m)…

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…ranks 15th.

A few centimeters behind Hill lurks Buffalo’s Jon Jones …

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…who hit 20.70m on April 2, and has gone 20.33m as recently as his conference meet.

Throw in Cornell’s Stephen Mozia and his 20.18m toss from April 18,..

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…and you have yourself what could pass for a pretty good Diamond League field.

And the champion will be…

Hill is a brute. Fast. Strong. Technically sound. I would not be surprised to see him succeed on the international circuit a couple of years from now.

Jones is a monster as well. He hit that 20.70m throw in spite of training through a knee injury that has bothered him the entire year.

Mozia is fast! And really fun to watch.

Crouser is the  two-time defending champ who seems like he has been throwing at an elite level since he was about twelve. He is also incredibly powerful. Two years ago when he won his first title he had, I believe, one fair throw out of six. That was a “safety” throw that one of the other guys in the flight told me was the slowest, most deliberate spin he’d ever seen. The result? A toss of 20.31m to edge ASU’s Jordan Clarke for the win. So even if he is feeling messed up technically, Crouser can still use his immense talent to conjure up a big throw.

Unfortunately, that won’t be enough to beat Zunic. In a world class competition, Stipe has the most world class experience. He finished fourth at the European Outdoor Championships last August, and 6th at this year’s European Indoor Championships one week before defeating Crouser at the NCAA indoor meet.

That experience will get him through what looks to be an epic competition.

Wild Card: Virginia’s Filip Mihaljevic. Like Stipe, he has the eastern European  mojo going.

 

Stories from the 2014 European Championships, Part 2: the Men’s Discus

The discus qualification rounds were held during the evening session of the first day of competition (Tuesday, August 12) and the weather was excellent, as was my view of the cage:

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Those photographers did not linger very long, and I was able to take some nice vids from my seat, which was in the last row–a testament to the intimate layout at Letzigrund.

Here, by the way, is a link to those vids:

I was especially jacked up about the prospect of seeing two of the all-time greats appearing in this competition, one–Robert Harting–still at his peak, the other–Virgilius Alekna–nearing the end of the road.

I had the pleasure of seeing Alekna compete four times in the old Letzigrund Stadium when he was in his prime. Here is a link to a vid I made of the 2000 competition when he hit 70 meters on four of six throws:

And here is a link to an article I wrote about the 2005 Zurich meeting and a rather humorous encounter I had with Alekna the next day:

http://mcthrows.com/?p=96

Suffice it to say, I am a big fan of that man. He always carried himself with great dignity. After those 70-meter throws he might raise an arm to acknowledge the crowd, but at the same time he’d smile sheepishly, seeming almost embarrassed by the attention.

I’ve always wondered if he felt like murdering Robert Fazekas in 2004.  If you recall, Fazekas prevented Alekna from enjoying a well-deserved victory lap celebrating his second Olympic gold. Fazekas defeated Alekna but not the drug testers in Athens, so Alekna received his medal in a delayed ceremony. Fazekas also kept Alekna from collecting a share of that year’s Golden League grand prize money by handing the large Lithuanian his only Golden League loss that season (athletes had to go undefeated to get a piece of the big prize).

But to be honest, it is difficult to imagine Alekna getting really cheesed off about anything. He reminds me of the ancient Roman hero Cincinnatus, who in times of war would set aside his plow, lead the Romans to victory, then quietly return to his fields caring nothing for glory or acclaim.

Harting, on the other hand, is more like Achilles. He carries himself with an undeniable air of superiority. And, like Achilles, he has earned the right to do that by defeating all challengers. In The Iliad, the Trojans are full of piss and vinegar as long as Achilles is away from the battlefield. But the minute he shows up looking to avenge the death of his friend Patroclus, they know it is all over for them.

So it is with the world’s best discus throwers. When I ran into Piotr Malachowski, the Polish record holder and this season’s world leader with a throw of 69.28m, in New York last June the first thing I said to him was “It is great to meet you. You are a fantastic thrower!”

His reply?

“Yes, but Harting always beats me.”

What makes Harting an interesting character, though, is that in conversation he is very self-deprecating. I ran into him in that same hotel lobby in New York where I had spoken to Malachowski, and he was extremely gracious. He had just arrived from the airport after a trans-Atlantic flight but he patiently answered my questions, and then answered some more following his win the next day at the Adidas Grand Prix meeting. Here are links to those two interviews:

Anyway, it turned out to be an interesting juxtaposition watching these two great champions, both competing in flight one of the prelims in Zurich. Alekna looked as smooth as he ever did, but simply could not generate the power necessary to reach the 64-meter automatic qualifier mark. The best he could muster was a first-round 59.35m.

Harting, flush with power, qualified easily by hitting 67.01m on his first attempt.

Gerd Kanter also looked sharp in the prelims, throwing 65.79m to go one-and-done.

Malachowski ended up taking all three of his attempts, ultimately reaching 64.98m.

I left the stadium that night thinking that we might see a pretty good battle between those three in the next day’s final.

As mentioned in my last post, I headed over to the Hilton Hotel early the next morning in order to attend a German team press conference. Afterwards, I sat down in the lobby to make some notes and eventually looked up to see a very tall man ambling past the front desk. It was Torsten Schmidt, a 2004 Olympian and, since last November, the coach of Robert Harting.

From what I understand, Germans, unlike Americans, are not comfortable with casual friendliness. My brother-in-law has told me that when a German meets another German he must speak to that person in a formal way until given permission to switch over to a more familiar style of address. In the press conference I had just attended, for example, I noticed that at least one of the German reporters had addressed David Storl as “Herr Storl” even though the reporter was much older than the shot putter.

I was a worried then, that I might cause offense by springing upon the unsuspecting Coach Schmidt and interrupting a heretofore peaceful morning stroll.

But doggonit, a fellow only lives once, and how often do you see the coach of the world’s best discus thrower wandering through a hotel lobby?

So, I pounced.

And it turns out he is a really nice man. I think he spent the first couple of minutes of our conversation wondering who in the hell I was and why in God’s name I was asking him questions, but eventually he understood that I was a fellow discus geek and we had a very nice chat.

He told me that he had retired from competition in 2007, and by 2009 was coaching young throwers at the German training center in Berlin.

I asked him if he felt a lot of pressure going from coaching teenagers to coaching the defending Olympic champion, but he said no because Harting has such a clear idea of what he needs to do to perform well, and that even when his form is a bit off he is strong enough to throw far.

In fact, according to Coach Schmidt, Harting’s entry was flawed on his qualifier, but he was able to muscle it 67 meters.

After a few minutes, I wished Coach Schmidt good luck in that night’s final, and headed off to the stadium to watch the women’s hammer qualifying.

It rained throughout the entire hammer competition, but the sun reappeared as I made my way towards the train station with the idea of heading back to Winterthur to relax for a couple of hours before returning to Letzigrund for the evening session.

On the way, I stopped at a plaza in downtown Zurich stocked full of track-related activities and displays, and dominated by this temporary wooden structure:

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The reason that all of the table umbrellas are tied up is that the wind was really whipping, and eventually blew so strong that the start of the evening session was delayed some 90 minutes.

After a nice nap back at my brother-in-law’s apartment, I saw news of the delay on Twitter but wasn’t sure how it would affect the start of the discus final, so I headed over to the Winterthur train station in plenty of time to get back to Letzigrund in case it proceeded on schedule.

And who should I run into on the train platform, but the fine Dutch discus thrower Eric Cadee and his girlfriend Kai Kand, the former heptathlete from Estonia.

I met Eric last June when I retrieved his shoe on Randall’s Island in New York. It was the day before the Diamond League meeting, and I had headed over to Icahn Stadium to see if any of the throwers were practicing. Eric was there with 2012 Olympic silver medalist Ehsan Hadadi, and they wanted to try out the ring but it was entirely filled with water from a morning shower.

I quickly snapped into Coach McQuaid mode, rounded up a broom and some towels, and cleaned up the ring. Eric just wanted to take some easy shoe tosses, and I shagged for him so that he didn’t have to keep walking through the wet grass. He and Ehsan were both very pleasant to talk to, and after they were done practicing I taped a quick interview with each. You can find those interviews here:

Unfortunately, Eric did not throw well in the qualifying in Zurich, so he was on his way to attend the discus final as a spectator.

It was great fun talking to Eric and Kai on the journey to the stadium, and I couldn’t help but fantasize about some day coaching their children. They are smart and friendly and just happen to be world class athletes. Eric and Kai, if you read this just know that the Chicago suburbs have lots of parks and excellent schools.

I mentioned that Malachowski seemed not to be at his best, and Eric said that he (Malachowski) was struggling with his timing and confidence. “I told him, just remember you are the defending European champion. You’ve thrown 71 meters!”

When we arrived at the stadium, the wind was swirling, the temperature was dropping, and the decathlon javelin was just getting underway. This meant that the discus final would not begin for another two hours.

Always one to make the best of a bad situation, I filled the time by eating brats and pretending to be interested in the decathlon.

Finally, the javelin sector lines were removed, the discus sector lines were set out, and the finalists were ushered into the stadium.

I had paid 140 francs for a second row seat hoping to be close to the cage for the final, and I was definitely close:

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The problem was that Harting’s presence made the discus a marquee event, and in order to give the folks watching at home a great view…

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…they totally blocked mine.

See that giant camera pointed at the stands? That was there to film the reaction of the coaches throughout the competition.

It is probably good that they did not point that camera at me, because while I do not speak German, I do know a universal hand signal that would have expressed my feelings precisely.

Ah well, it was still fun to be that close.

Shortly before they opened the ring for warmups, it began to rain.

The Zurich ring has a good reputation. In New York, Harting told me he really likes throwing at Letzigrund, and Sondra Perkovic has said the same thing.

But there was something about the combination of the misting rain and the cool temperature that made the surface almost unmanageable.

Harting actually fell down performing an imitation.

And I don’t care how confident you are, that has got to shake you up a bit.

Throughout the competition, Harting took frequent strolls across the track to check in with Torsten.

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Most of the competitors did the same. Here is Martin Wierig conversing with his coach, world record holder Jurgen Schult:

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Here is Robert Urbanek with his coach:

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Malachowski had several animated conversations with the Olympic shot champion, Tomasz Majewski.

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Malachowski had told me that he and Majewski were best friends, and they acted like it. I do not speak Polish, but based on their gestures and facial expressions it seemed like their interactions went something like this:

“Throw farther, you idiot!”

“I can’t! The ring is a mess!”

“I don’t care! Just find a way!”

That photo above was taken after the competition though, and you can see that Majewski was genuinely pained when his friend was unable to defend his title.

Harting opened with 63.94m, followed by a foul when the discus slipped out of his hand, followed by one of those throws that he always seems to come up with: 66.07m in round three.

He passed in round four, hoping that the rain might let up a bit and let him extend his lead…

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…then fouled both of his final attempts. On his sixth throw, his right foot landed on the rubberized surface surrounding the ring and I thought he was going to do the splits.

Kanter, who had spent time between throws performing imitations on the track right in front of me…

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…finished second with a 64.75m toss, followed by a very happy Robert Urbanik…

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…whose second round toss of 63.81m held up for the bronze.

You will notice that Harting is shirtless here, and that he is surrounded by a bunch of photographers.

After his final throw, the whole stadium was ready to see him rip his shirt off–his usual mode of celebration following a big win.

Harting, though, decided to have some fun with those expectations and performed a couple of fake shirt rips…

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…before peeling it off and pretending to take a nap on the track.

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His was not the only ecstatic celebration of the night, as French decathlete Florian Geffrouais seemed at one point about to jump on me:

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One last observation regarding the men’s discus. The Germans are huge! Harting is a big man. Wierig is bigger. Fellow finalist Daniel Jasinski is even bigger. And Jasinski’s coach is the biggest dude I’ve ever seen!

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Do you see Majewski there talking to Malachowski? The guy in the red jacket next to Tomasz is Jasinski’s coach, and he…is…bigger…than…Majewski! Bet he doesn’t have any trouble getting his athletes to listen to him.

So, a couple of days later, Saturday morning to be exact, I headed back to the Hilton for another German press conference. This one mainly concerned the women’s hammer, which I will post about later, but afterwards I walked out into the lobby and who should meander by but Torsten Schmidt.

The poor guy must have wondered what he had to do to make it through the lobby without some idiot American jumping out from behind a potted plant.

But we had another really nice conversation! He said that prior to the competition the discus throwers had been told three times in the holding area that they would be taken to the ring in “10 minutes.”  Somehow, ten minutes stretched into an hour and then nearly two hours before they were actually brought out for warmups.

Then, as mentioned above, it was very difficult to find comfort with the throwing surface.

Most of the throwers also quickly gave up trying to perform imitations between attempts due to the slickness of the rubberized surface around the cage. That is why Kanter came over to the track to work on his steps, apparently finding a dry patch just in front of the stands.

It all added up to a potential disaster for  Harting,the prohibitive favorite, and for Torsten who must have felt the weight of expectations as well.

One thing that I was struck by throughout my week in Zurich was how much it meant for these athletes to medal at this meet. Obviously, the Olympics and World Championships are a bigger deal, but based on the reactions of the winners and losers, I’d say not by much.

I got the sense, especially from the Germans, that they felt great pride in representing their country. Each time I passed through the Hilton lobby, I noticed several German athletes watching the live feed from the stadium and cheering loudly when their compatriots performed well.

So it could not have been easy for Torsten to have watched Harting bite the dust during an imitation and then struggle mightily to find a semblance of rhythm.

“So,” I finally asked, “what did you say to help get him through it?”

“We decided that he needed to keep more bend in his knees so he could keep his balance. Fortunately, that was enough.”

Just then, Harting showed up. He looked at Torsten and then at me and then his eyes widened and he exclaimed, “You again!”

I held out my hand.

“Hello, Robert. Dan McQuaid. Congratulations on your victory!”

As we shook, he looked again at Torsten and said, “This guy is always hanging around asking questions!”

“Yes,” I replied. “Your coach is telling me all of your secrets.”

“Secrets?” he shot back. “There is no such thing as secrets!”

“Secrets,” he continued, tapping a long finger against his temple, “are only doubts!”

And with that he turned and strode confidently away looking fit and ready to storm the walls of Troy.