Category Archives: Diamond League

The Journey to Randall’s

The Adidas Grand Prix meet in New York City is held at Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island, which sits in the East River off of the East Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan.

There are a couple of ways to get there.

If you are a genuine pansy, you can take a cab.

If you are a brave and indomitable urban warrior, you can take the subway to 103rd street and then hoof it the rest of the way.

Two years ago, my former thrower Peter Trofimuk and I took the manly route for the first time. It was bizarrely cold and gloomy that late May day, as indicated by this photo of me on the pedestrian bridge to Randall’s…

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…and we nearly died of hypothermia, but after surviving  the trek we vowed to repeat it whenever we were in town for the Adidas Grand Prix.

This year, we were joined by Peter’s twin brother Pat, also one of my former throwers and currently a coaching colleague at Wheaton North High School. Pat was not part of The Vow, but unfortunately for him, Peter and I insisted he accompany us on the long, rugged, character-building  journey to Randall’s.

The three of us gathered in the lobby of the Hyatt Grand Central on the day before the meet. It was a beautiful summer afternoon, warm and cloudless and we decided to head over to Icahn in hopes of seeing some of the throwers practice.

The intensity of the afternoon sun made Pat a bit dubious about the whole Manly Walk concept, but Peter and I would brook no dissent. We strongly insinuated that he was a wussy boy, and threatened to shun, nay, to scorn him openly if he did not join us.

Of course he caved (What human would not?) and we promptly embarked on what would become known as “Death March, Part 1.”

Things started out rather smoothly, as is the case with many disasters (Napoleon’s incursion into Russia comes to mind), as we descended into the bowels of Grand Central Station and caught an uptown express train.  Here are the Trofimuks, enjoying that ride.

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We had to get off at 86th street to switch to a local train,and that’s where things started to get iffy.

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First, we were viciously photo-bombed by a roving band of pre-teens…

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Next came the long walk through East Harlem, followed by the steep climb up and over the pedestrian bridge, the ever-intrepid Peter leading the way.

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Here is Pat, putting on a brave face at the summit of the bridge.

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This is before Peter and I informed him that once over the bridge, we had at least a mile’s walk ahead of us before we reached Icahn.

I’m a married man, so I can tell when someone is about to rip me a new one. I guess you could say that I’ve developed a sixth sense about that.

Luckily for Peter and myself, Pat spotted some large birds circling overhead and had to weigh his inclination to assault us against  the possibility that those might in fact be vultures coming to pick clean his dead carcass if we ditched him and let him find his own way to Icahn.

Long story short, we did make it to Icahn. All three of us.

And we had a great time once we got there!

Jordan Clarke, Tom Walsh, and Ryan Whiting were just finishing up some practice throws when we arrived, and I shanghaied Clarke for an interview straight away. You can read that interview here:

https://throwholics.com/2015/06/q-a-with-jordan-clarke-at-new-york-diamond-league-meeting/

We also had a nice chat with Ryan Whiting who, like Clarke and Walsh, is a really good dude.

Here are Pat and myself with Clarke…

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…sorry Jordan for dwarfing you with my buffness.

 

Here we are with Ryan.

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After doing our best to annoy these fine shot putters, we turned our attention to the discus cage where Liz Podominick was taking some throws:

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Like Clarke, Liz was nice enough to take a few minutes afterwards to talk about her season and her career in general. Here is that interview:

https://throwholics.com/2015/06/q-a-with-liz-podominick-at-new-york-diamond-league-meeting/

Once the pros cleared out, we had no choice but to get in the rings and demonstrate what great technique really looks like:

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After that, it was time for the long walk home.

I’m not going to say much about that, as my therapist says it does not do any  good to obsess over traumatic events. All I know is, the Donner Party  probably thought they had it tough, but they never had to restrain a large, desperate man from hijacking a jet ski.

Next up: great times and big throws at the 2015 Adidas Grand Prix.

 

 

 

A Question for Bolt

With the Adidas Grand Prix Diamond League Meeting in New York taking place on Saturday, June 13, Friday the 12th was a day for last minute arrivals and for loosening up at Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island.

The morning began with a press conference that featured some fine, engaging  athletes (the great vaulterJenn Suhr, the 800-meter world-record holder David Rudisha) but no throwers.

I still attended, however, because the final athlete scheduled to make an appearance was none other than Usain Bolt.

He seemed tired as he ambled his way across the room and up to the podium…

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…but I’m not gonna lie, it was exciting to be in the same room as him.

When I lived in New York in the 1980’s, Al Pacino appeared in a play on Broadway. I went to see it, and I still remember how jacked I was when he walked on stage. I kept thinking, “That’s Al Pacino up there! Al Pacino. Right there!”

It was the same way with Bolt.

The British guy that they brought in to announce the meet ran the press conference, and he started by asking Bolt a bunch of questions. I had a hard time listening because I knew at some point they would open it up for others to ask questions, and I was trying like heck to come up with a decent one.

I know nothing about sprinting. I’m a throws guy, so to me sprinters  are just a bunch of skinny people who love drama.

A few years ago, I was covering the USA Championships in Des Moines, and I happened to be in the mixed area when one of the marquis sprint races ended and they brought the winner in to be interviewed. “Get me a chair!” he commanded. “I’m not talking without a chair.”

This was ridiculous behavior for two reasons. One, there were chairs all over the place and all he had to do was reach for one or to ask nicely and about twelve people would have offered him theirs. Two, he had just run a total of 200 meters. Or maybe 100, I can’t remember exactly which race it was. But seriously, he was that exhausted that he couldn’t stand up? I was in the media room again at that same meet when Ashton Eaton came in after competing in the decathlon for God’s sake and he stood there and happily answered about a thousand questions. But then again, for three tenths of each competition, Eaton is a thrower.

Jumpers, too, can get distracted by their own awesomeness. The New York press conference was meant to feature a very prominent jumper, but she arrived late and stood in the back of the room with her gaze focused firmly on her cell phone, acknowledging no one.

Like Eaton, though, Bolt has not a hint of the diva about him. He graciously answered the British guy’s questions, and laughed when asked what it was like to have to constantly pose for selfies. “Sometimes, they don’t even know how to take one!” he marveled. Reese Hoffa told me later that he had seen Bolt patiently oblige his fans, shaking hands and posing for pics long after his race had ended, not wanting anyone to leave disappointed.

When the moderator invited us to ask Bolt some questions, my hand shot up.

“Has your weight lifting routine changed at all as you’ve gotten older?”

It was the best I could do. Like I said, I know nothing about sprinting.

“Not really,” he replied. “I work a lot on my back and hamstrings.”

He answered tons more questions after that, and when the moderator finally cut everybody off we applauded politely if a bit perfunctorily.

Bolt leaned into the mic. “By the way, that was lame applause.”

Everybody laughed, delighted with his ability to make fun of his own celebrity.

And when he walked out of there, he left with at least one new fan.

 

Two of my favorite women

The night before the night before the Adidas Grand Prix meet in New York I got to spend some time shooting the breeze with two of my favorite women.

One was my wife Alice.

Alice is the kind of person who, about eight years ago, decided she wanted to publish a book. Many of us pointed out that one does not just “decide to publish a book.” The book-publishing industry generally has something to say about whose books get published and whose don’t, and that industry had already entered the precipitous decline that continues to this day.

Alice chose to ignore our sage advice, and within two years of declaring her intention, Simon and Schuster commissioned her to write a book. Which they then published.

And her adventures with magical thinking continue. Today, Father’s Day, she ran out to the store ostensibly to purchase a grill (a good, manly Father’s Day gift if there ever was one) and instead returned home with a magenta-colored bicycle. For herself.

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She figured that it would make me happy to see her happily pedaling around on that bike, and once again she was correct.

The other person I got to shoot the breeze with was the fine American discus thrower Gia Lewis-Smallwood.

2011 IAAF World Outdoor Championships

Gia is as friendly a person as you will ever meet, and like my wife an ardent practitioner of magical thinking.

As evidence, I will offer up Gia’s year-by-year progression as listed on her IAAF profile page.

Gia graduated from the University of Illinois in 2001 with a PB of 57.76m.

Eight years and three coaches later, she finally broke 60 meters for the first time.

Compare that with Sandra Perkovic who became Olympic champion (with a throw of 69.11m at the London Games) a few weeks after her twenty-second birthday.

By the age of 33, Gia had bumped her PB up to a respectable 63.97m, but that throw came in Hawaii and hardly served as an indicator that she was ready to compete with the big gals in the big stadiums in Europe–which is what you have to do to be considered a legit world-class thrower.

Bottom line, approaching her mid-thirties, Gia had no concrete evidence that delaying entry into the “real world” in order to continue as a full-time thrower was in any way a good idea.

But continue she did, and in September of 2013 she threw 66.29m to hand Perkovic her only defeat of the season.

By July of 2014, Gia had thrown over 65 meters in European stadiums on four occasions, a feat that prompted me to post an article arguing that she was the greatest American female discus thrower ever. Here is that post:

http://mcthrows.com/?p=530

Then, last August, Gia made me look like I sort of knew what I was talking about when she obliterated the American record not on the wind-swept coasts of California or Hawaii, but in a stadium in France. Her throw of 69.17m established her as a legitimate threat to medal in Beijing and Rio.

Take that, oh ye of little faith!

Anyway, it was fun to get my two favorite magical thinkers together, and we talked about all kinds of things. Rome (Gia had just competed there and found it to be awfully crowded and dirty, my wife had visited during college and remembered having to hold hands with another woman to discourage men from harassing them on the streets)…step-parenting (Gia has a 23-year-old stepson, my wife had two boys when we got married)…farming (Gia lives on a farm in western Illinois, my wife’s mother owns a farm in Nebraska)…finances (my wife’s book was about managing money, Gia talked about the challenge of managing  money as a professional athlete.)

Every once in a while I snuck in a question about throwing. Gia’s best performance of the year so far was a 62.99m toss in Rome, and she explained that an infection in the index finger of her right hand (a very important appendage to a right-handed discus thrower) had limited her training earlier in the season, but that the finger was feeling much better and she was confident that she would soon regain her top form.

My wife actually asked an interesting question regarding throwing. Which thrower did Gia most admire?

It terms of straight up awesomeness, the answer was Virgilius Alekna, the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Lithuania.

But Gia also has great affection for the Estonian thrower Gerd Kanter, the gold medalist at the Beijing games. Kanter, it turns out, is a humble guy and very generous in sharing the many lessons he has learned over his long career.

A piece of advice that stuck with Gia was that the prelim rounds in major competitions can be harder than the finals, and that she shouldn’t lose confidence if she doesn’t get off a big throw in the prelims. Just get through the qualification rounds and you’ll be able to relax in the finals.

That is advice that Gia hopes to put to good use this August in Beijing.

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That’s Gia on the left. I think the guy might be Brad Pitt.

 

Behind every great woman…

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There is a large man handling the baggage. Literally and figuratively.

After a pleasant chat with Moscow discus silver medalist Melina Robert-Michon in the lobby of the Hyatt Grand Central, I turned around and ran into the gold medalist from that meet and from the London Olympics, Sandra Perkovic.

There is not a more dominant athlete on the planet right now than Sandra. Unlike the elite sprinters who for some reason get all the attention in track and field, she will show up anywhere, anytime, take on anybody, and more often than not  smash them.

One thing I’ve noticed in talking to a couple of the dominant throwers of the past few years, and in observing Usain Bolt over the weekend in New York (more on that later) is that the effort required to stay on top can be exhausting.

The first time I spoke to Valeri Adams was at the New York Diamond League meet in 2010 when she was twenty-five years old, and the strain of the incessant travel and competition was already apparent. Granted, Val was going through some personal and professional upheavals at the time, but it sure didn’t seem like she was enjoying being the greatest shot putter in the world.

I interviewed  her in New York again last year, just after she had nailed down her 50th consecutive victory making her arguably the greatest putter ever. She was polite, as always, but there was no sense of celebration about the milestone she had just achieved.  On the brink of turning thirty and nursing a bad shoulder which would require off-season surgery, she seemed to look forward to a not-too-distant retirement.

When I talked with Robert Harting in New York last year, he too seemed to be looking forward to the end after several years of dominating his event. And that was before he injured his knee. I had a chance to watch him practice this past March, as he fought to regain his form following surgery on that knee and he literally seethed his way through the training session. He looked pissed off while stretching, while throwing, while retrieving his discs, while packing up his stuff.  I initially took up a spot along a fence that ran behind the cage, but I was so intimidated by him that I finally hopped the fence just to have some kind of barrier between us.

But I don’t blame him for being upset. It must suck to feel mortal when you are used to being…well, a hell of a lot better than mortal. When you’ve entered the ring needing a PR on your final throw at the World Championships and nailed that PR in front of 60,000 fans, when you’ve won the Olympics and another World Championship on days when you didn’t have your best stuff, when you’ve always been able to conjure up the strength, will, savvy or whatever you needed on a particular day to gain a victory…it has to be very disconcerting to think that you might not ever be able to do that again.

Sandra, queen of the women’s discus for the past four years, seems, in contrast, still to be enjoying her reign. And I think the main reason for that was standing a few feet away as she checked in at the Hyatt.

Wrangling a small mountain of luggage was her boyfriend/coach, former NCAA shot put champion Edis Elkasevic.

Edis is a very large, very good-natured man and, I think. the perfect buffer between Sandra and the demons that can beset an elite athlete. I’ve seen Sandra compete three times since Edis became her coach, and it is really fun to watch them interact.

John Smith has said that the job of a coach during a competition is to “keep the train from going off the rails.” Edis does this masterfully.

He and Sandra confer after every  throw, and though I do not speak Croatian, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him goad her, encourage her, give her technical advice, whatever it takes.

Clearly, Sandra derives great comfort from Edis’ presence, and I suspect that it is largely due to their relationship that she has not yet been done in by the stress of travelling the world while taking on all comers.

I went over to say hello to Edis, and to inquire how Sandra was feeling coming into the New York meet. “Good! Good!” he replied in his usual jovial manner. “She had a small injury but now everything is good. Her timing is better. With the 1k disc, timing is everything!”

With that, he gathered up the baggage, excused himself, and joined Sandra for the walk across the large, chaotic lobby. Wherever they were headed, they’d go there together.

 

A Short Chat with Melina Robert-Michon at the Adidas Grand Prix meet 2015

This year’s New York stop on the Diamond League circuit featured the men’s javelin and shot put, along with the women’s discus. Accompanied by my wife Alice, a world class traveler and immensely patient woman, I headed to New York two days before the competition and took up residence in the lobby of the Hyatt Grand Central where the meet was headquartered.

My mission? Talk to some of the great throwers in town for the meet.

My method? Camp out in the hotel lounge overlooking the lobby and pounce on them like a panther from a tree when they least expected it.

My first victim…uh…new acquaintance? The fine French discus thrower Melina Robert -Michon, who made the mistake of lingering in the lobby after checking in.

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Melina was silver-medalist at the Moscow World Championships with a throw of 66.28m, which I believe is still her PB.

And she is really nice! I know in this country we love to disparage the French as a bunch of arrogant quiche-eaters, but Melina, in spite of having just gotten off a trans-Atlantic flight could not have been more gracious.

She talked about what a crazy week it had been with a competition June 4th in Rome where she threw 63.09m, another June 7th in Birmingham where she threw 63.23m, still another June 9th in France where she threw a season-best 65.04m, and now the New York meet on June 13.

For her to travel and compete that much in that short a time and still act happy to talk to some knucklehead reporter when she probably wanted nothing more than to head to her room and collapse…well…maybe all of us should start eating  quiche.

Melina lives and trains in Lyon, with the same coach she has had for fifteen years. She has a four-year-old daughter named Elyssa whom she misses terribly when traveling to competitions. She has a degree in sports management and hopes to compete for at least two more years. “I want to do Rio and maybe London because the 2012 Olympic games was my first competition after I was pregnant and there is another competition in London (the 2017 Worlds), so London to London…it would be nice.”

In terms of training, she does a lot of jumping, some squatting and snatching, and not a lot of bench pressing.How much can she snatch? “Not much. I don’t do a lot of exercises with a lot of weight. I do mostly exercises with low weights. Sometimes with squats I do 120 kilos, very slow going down and fast coming up.”

After a short chat, I wished Melina luck and of course requested a selfie, which came out blurry.

There must be something odd about the length of my arms because I suck at selfies. Here is an example of one I took a couple of days later, during the meet.

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It was a perfectly sunny day! And yet, I am shrouded in shadow.

But, I digress. Meeting Melina was a great start to what turned out to be a fantastic weekend.

Expect Big Throws this Weekend at the Adidas Grand Prix

While the kids are battling it out this weekend in Eugene, some of the best professional throwers in the world will be competing at the Adidas Grand Prix Diamond League Meet in New York.

Here is a preview of what promises to be a fantastic day of competition.

Men’s Javelin

It has been a long time since the United States developed a javelin thrower with the pop to medal at a Worlds or Olympic games, and the Adidas Grand Prix will feature three young Americans who hope to make that leap.

Riley Dolezal…

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Sean Furey…

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and Tim Glover…

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…whose season best of 84.09m is the farthest throw by an American this year.

 

The goal for the Americans will be to show that they belong in a competition that also features 2013 World Champion Vitezslav Vesely of the Czech Republic…

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,,,,two-time World Championship medalist Guillermo Martinez of Cuba…

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…and one of the finest young throwers in the world, Thomas Rohler of Germany…

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…who threw a PB of 87.63m at the Zurich Diamond League meet last August.

 

Women’s Disc

Watching Olympic champion Sandra Perkovic throw the discus is alone worth the price of admission. Nobody competes with more passion than the Croatian Sensation, who is always a threat to break the 70-meter mark.

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That is especially true when Sandra is going against stiff competition.

Included  in the field in New York will be the only woman to have defeated Perkovic over the past two years: Gia Lewis-Smallwood, a veteran American thrower who posted a huge 69.17m personal best last August.

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Looking to gain ground in her attempt to secure a third Olympic berth in 2016, the 2008 Olympic champion Stephanie Brown-Trafton will also be competing in New York.

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A young thrower just beginning to make some noise on the world scene is Cuba’s Yaimi Perez,…

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…who has posted a PB of 66.23m already this season, and whose presence could provide Perkovic with the spark she needs to blast some big throws.

 

Men’s Shot

An astonishingly successful group of Americans will provide the fireworks in this event.

Joe Kovacs has the farthest throw in the world this year (22.35m)…

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…while Christian Cantwell…

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…Ryan Whiting…

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…and Reese Hoffa…

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…are all former World Champions.

 

 

Toss in the young American Jordan Clarke (who finished second at the Rome DL meet)…

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…the fine New Zealander Tom Walsh (PB 21.37m)…

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…and O’Dayne Richards of Jamaica (PB 21.61m)…

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…and you have the makings of a sensational competition.

 

Throws fans, don’t miss this chance to see some of the best in the world! Sunday. Randall’s Island. The jav begins at 9:40am, the disc follows at 10:55am, and the shot caps off the throwing events at 1:45.

Oh, and I hear some fellow named Bolt will be running the 200.

 

 

2013 New York Diamond League Men’s Shot Put

Probably the coolest part of the men’s shot competition was meeting some of the throwers in the hotel lobby the night before.

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That’s Peter in the  middle surrounded by an awful lot of shotputting firepower: Former NCAA champ Cory Martin, fourth-place Olympic Trials finisher Joe Kovacs, two-time Olympic Champion Tomasz Majewski, and World Indoor Champion Ryan Whiting.

They are all good guys, and it was fun chatting with them. Cory said he is training and working as a volunteer jumps coach at Indiana University. He hopes to become a full time college coach some day, so he is trying to get some experience in events other than the throws. He was really optimistic about this season, as he said he is feeling totally healthy for the first time in a couple of years.

Joe is training with Art Venegas at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. I last spoke with him a year ago during the NCAA meet in Des Moines, and at that time he was not sure about continuing his career post-collegiately. But that was before his sensational performance at the trials where he launched a 21.08 bomb and came within 20 centimeters of making the Olympic team. He is very happy with the setup in Chula Vista, and seems likely to contend for a spot on this summer’s World Championship team, especially with Reese Hoffa receiving a bye for winning the 2012 Diamond League shotput competition.

Majewski is a giant, and luckily for mankind seems to be quite friendly.

Whiting has been without a doubt the best shotputter in the world so far this season. He has accumulated tons of international experience over the past few years, and it has given him great confidence. The only thing that might slow him down for a couple of weeks this summer is the imminent birth of his first child.

We also ran into European indoor champion Asmir Kolasinac of Serbia. Here he is with Peter:

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All in all, it was a pretty solid linup of putters.

http://www.diamondleague-newyork.com/Live-StartlistsResults/Overview/Mens-Shot-Put/

Unfortunately, it rained like crazy throughout the warmup and competition. These guys are pros, and nobody lost control running the ring, but it had to make it hard to really let loose. Also, the landing area was covered with fresh, thick turf and the shots just about disappeared upon landing. All the guys were forced to spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning and drying the shots between throws.

Here are a bunch of photos from warmups that Peter took from the grandstand.

This is Cory Martin performing a step-around drill:

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Here’s Kolasinac:

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Here’s Majewski performing a fixed feet glide:

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Here’s Joe Kovacs getting out of the back:

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Here’s Dylan Armstrong:

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Whiting:

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Hoffa:

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Rodhe:

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Martin:

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And here are some videos:

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Cory-Martin

Hoffa-best

Kovacs

Tomas

Whiting

Hope you enjoy the photos and vids. Should be a fantastic summer of competetion in the shot. For Whiting to throw 21.27 in those conditions? Amazing. And you know Majewski will be there when it counts in Moscow.

Stay tuned.

by Dan McQuaid

 

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on May 31, 2013

2013 New York Diamond League Women’s Javelin

WOMEN’S JAVELIN

So, as the women’s discus ended, the javelin throwers began warming up and I’m pretty sure the temperature dropped even more. Here is a clip of me down by the javelin runway trying not to die of hypothermia:

At the javelin runway

For some reason I refer to the measuring system as the “timing system” and Icahn Stadium as “Randall Stadium” but I defy anyone as cold as I was to make sense when talking into an I-phone.

It was a great field of throwers…

http://www.diamondleague-newyork.com/Live-StartlistsResults/Overview/Womens-Javelin-Throw/

…but how anybody got loose enough to sprint into their throw is beyond me.

My favorite thrower was Martina Ratej of Slovenia. Here she is:

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The reason I liked her so much is that her coach gave her an animated pep talk between every throw, but her expression never changed. She opened with a season-best 60.51, and I guess her coach figured that he could berate her into an even greater effort. I do not speak Slavic, but based on his tone and his body language, he seemed to be saying, “You are throwing like a wuss and that is making me look bad!” But she totally ignored him.

My other favorite thrower was Christina Obergfoll, if for no other reason than that I love Germany, and that when I spoke to her after the competition she dropped an f-bomb when talking about the weather conditions. Here she is:

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Here are vids of some of the throws. I apologize to you jav fans out there for my less-than-excellent camera work, but I had two factors working against me. One, I could not feel my fingers. Two, javelin throwers have the annoying habit of running away from you as you try to film them.

Hjalmsdottir

Abakumova

Obergfoll

As you can see from the results, Obergfoll came through with a pretty decent 65.33 for the win. She’ll be competing in Eugene this coming weekend, and I anticipate a nice effort out of her as even the unpredictable and occasionally maddening Eugene weather should seem luxurious after what she fought through on Saturday.

by Dan McQuaid

 

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on May 30, 2013

2013 New York Diamond League Women’s Discus

My friend, Pete Trofimuk, and I headed to New York this weekend to take in the Adidas Grand Prix Diamond League meet. Here is our report.

The women’s discus was scheduled for 9:00am, so we left the Hotel Jolly Madison around 7:15.(I know that’s a weird name for a hotel, and I wasn’t sure what to expect when my wife booked us there, but it’s totally legit–a great location and a very helpful staff. The elevator made a funny creaking noise, but that just made riding to the tenth floor more interesting.) After walking three blocks to Grand Central Station, we jumped on a number 6 train heading uptown. Even on that short walk, it was readily apparent that the weather was going to be an issue. We got pelted the entire way by a cold, steady rain while gusts of wind threatened to yank the umbrella out of my hand. It was a little slice of November that somehow showed up in late May, the kind of weather that made you want to hunker down in your hotel room and whine like a little girl. Luckily, Pete and I are built of sterner stuff, so we just whined while we walked.

We got off the subway at 103rd street and made our way to the East River where a pedestrian bridge arches up and over to Randall’s Island, home to jogging paths, ball fields, a large structure that looks like an old hospital, and Icahn Stadium where the track meet was to be held. On a normal May day, I would highly recommend taking this route to Randall’s. You can see from this picture that the pedestrian bridge offers some potentially awesome views of the city. On this particular day, it was a bit uncomfortable being exposed to the elements way up on that bridge, but manly men that we are, we soldiered on.

Dan-phone-may-2013-015

After crossing the bridge, it’s about a one-mile walk to Icahn. Here we are upon arrival:

Arriving at Icahn

We got into the stadium just as the discus warmups were beginning, and I was able to make my way to a spot just across the track from the cage. This was my view:

Dan-phone-may-2013-017-e1369655272790

Notice the cameraman behind the cage looking like an eskimo?

I was amazed at how well the throwers were able to control the discus on their warmup throws. I don’t recall seeing one end-over-ender or cage shot in spite of the cold and rain. Then again, this was a solid field.

http://www.diamondleague-newyork.com/Live-StartlistsResults/Overview/Womens-Discus-Throw/

Glanc, Lewis-Smallwood, Randall, Robert-Michon, and Thurmond have all been Olympians, and Perkovic, of course, won the London games with a sensational 69-meter performance.

I had seen Perkovic compete here in New York in 2010 when she was just starting to make her presence felt on the international circuit, and I remember being impressed by her vitality. It was hot and humid on that day, and the air was pretty heavy, but she did not give a rip. She got in that ring and banged, barely fouling a 65-meter throw before winning with 61-something.

And this day would be no different. In spite of the presence of the fine throwers listed above, this was to be a battle between Mother Nature and Force of Nature. Throughout the competition, I had the good fortune of standing next to Perkovic’s coach and boyfriend, the former NCAA shotput champ from Auburn, Edis Elkasevic, and though I do not speak Croatian, I could tell from their interactions that Sondra had arrived in New York ready to rumble. She seemed concerned about the slickness of the wet ring, and she did not launch any monster warmup throws, but as the competition was about to begin she exhanged a fist bump with Edis, turned, sang herself part of a song, let rip with a “Whoop! Whoop!”, and then marched off towards the cage ready to kick some ass.

Which she did, in a rather amazing fashion.

The early highlight of the first round was a 61.86 toss by Lewis-Smallwood, which, given the conditions, was a pretty nice throw.

Lewis-Smallwood

Then Perkovic went to work.

Perkovic Round-1 64.00

The previous meet record was 63.97, set by Stephanie Brown Trafton in 2009. Throwing last in the first round, Perkovic etched her name in the record book with a toss of 64.00. She was clearly jacked by that solid opener, and looked more than capable of adding on to her new record when, two throws into the second round, the competition was halted due to a glitch with the automated measuring device. As the delay dragged on, I had a nice chat with Edis, who told me that he and Sondra had met when he returned to Croatia after graduating from Auburn and began coaching a club team in Zagreb. Edis’s team shared facilities with the club to which Sondra belonged, and one thing led to another. He said that she comes from a pretty tough background, and is fiercely competitive. The results from last week’s competition in Wiesbaden where China’s Gu Siyu went 67.86 had gotten her attention, and she arrived in New York determined to strike back.

Now, after that promising start, she was forced to “chill out” literally and figuratively while officials tinkered with the measuring device. Needless to say, she was not happy about the delay, and she came over to the fence several times and engaged in spirited conversations with Edis. Afterwards, she revealed that they had considered retiring from the competition rather than risking injury by getting back into that wet ring. They decided to stick it out, however, and she killed time by dancing, singing, and fashioning a skirt out of a towel.

When the competition finally resumed after a break of at least 20 minutes, she stepped in and fired a 62.50 then started walking back towards the fence to discuss the situation with Edis. For some reason, one of the officials decided to intercept her. “No, no, you can’t go over there,” he said, motioning for her to return to the throwing area.

She did not even break stride. “Oh, shut up, you!” she said, and dismissed him with a wave of her hand.

Now, I’ve got great respect for the people who sign up to officiate track meets. This guy was out there freezing his nuts off like the rest of us, and I doubt very much he was getting paid. But you’re going to pick that moment–after a 20-minute delay in the bitter cold caused by the incompetence of your fellow officials–to all of a sudden decide that she’s violating some rule by conferring with her coach over whether or not it was safe to continue competing in genuinely wretched conditions?

Well, Perkovic was having none of it, and she blew right past him. Luckily for all parties, the official decided not to press the issue. He went back to his seat next to the cage and Perkovic, after conferring with Edis, stepped in at the end of round three and killed one.

Perkovic Round 3 66.31

After that she smelled blood, and for a time probably got a little too fired up. The officials took forever reordering the throwers for the final three rounds and when Sondra finally got back in the ring she pulled the trigger early and caged it. After some more advice from Edis (as best I could tell he was reminding her not to yank her head through the finish) she looked like she could barely wait to get back in for her fifth throw. Here it is.

Perkovic Round 5 68.48

I’m sure people are wondering about the wind. As I said earlier, I almost lost my umbrella a couple of times on the walk over, so the wind was definitely blowing. Inside the stadium at the ground level, I couldn’t feel it very much, but Peter was sitting on some bleachers that were elevated a bit on the other side of the track from the right foul line, and he felt like the wind was blowing across the sector from right to left. Whatever the case may be, it was certainly not an ideal wind and there is no arguing that 68 meters was a massive throw in those cold, wet conditions.

And Perkovic is immensely entertaining to watch. She reminds me of Adam Nelson in 2000 when it seemed like he could throw 22 meters whenever he wanted to. He was happy, confident, animated. A barbarian warrior slashing his way through the world of shotputting.

Right now, Perkovic is the barbarian princess of the discus. And I mean that as a supreme compliment. Jet lag? Rain? Cold? Delays? A slippery ring? None of that mattered. As Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock would say, she took all those potential distractions and crushed them in her mind vise.

She intentionally fouled a disappointing sixth throw, but it didn’t matter. That 68.48 had sent the message that she wanted to send. The Olympic title was no fluke. Hope you all had a nice time throwing PRs into that world record wind in Weisbaden, but how many of you could throw 68 in this crap?

And she seems to have the perfect partner in Edis. You can tell that she trusts him completely and his calm demeanor seems to be a nice compliment to her passion and volatility. He told me a great story about how he dropped her off at the airport as she headed off to the London Olympics and then found that she’d left an envelope in the car. Inside was a suprise–an airline ticket to London so he could be with her at the games.

We all know how that worked out, and if Saturday was any indication, there will be more golden days ahead for them.

I asked Edis how they would celebrate the big throw. “We will go shopping,” he replied. “I will follow her around and end up carrying many bags.”

Hmm. Maybe they’re not such an unusual couple after all.

by Dan McQuaid

 

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on May 27, 2013

Coming to America

2010 New York Diamond League

Since 1886, the Statue of Liberty has beckoned the world to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and the world has complied. Unfortunately for those of us who love the throws, the world has been much stingier about sending its best tossers to compete on our shores. This summer though, the IAAF has taken pity on us huddled masses of throws fans yearning to see Olympic medalists, and through the creation of the Diamond League has found a way to entice the world’s best throwers to compete on U.S. soil.

Brand spanking new this summer, the Diamond league represents an expansion of the old Golden League format. Fourteen Diamond League competitions are scheduled for this year, in venues as far afield as Eugene and Shanghai. Each meeting offers $450,000 in prize money and the chance for competitors in thirty-two different events (fifteen of which are featured in a given meeting) to accumulate points toward winning a “diamond trophy” and $40,000.

The Adidas NYC Grand Prix Meet, held June 12th on Randall’s Island a few miles up the East River from Lady Liberty, was the first U.S. meet to receive Diamond League status. The meet organizers chose to host the women’s discus and shotput, along with the men’s javelin,  and based on the number of Olympic and World Championship medalists who showed up to compete, diamonds should now be considered a throwing fan’s best friend.

 

Women’s Discus

The first throwing event contested on this partly sunny and fully humid afternoon was the women’s discus. The field consisted of six top Americans, most prominently defending Olympic champion Stephanie Brown-Trafton, who set the meet record last year with a toss of 63.97m. Two prominent foreign throwers came to join the diamond hunt: Helsinki bronze-medalist Vera Pospisilova-Checklova, representing the Czech Republic, and nineteen-year-old Croatian sensation Sandra Perkovic, the 2009 European Junior champion who blasted a 66.85m PR early this spring.

A young thrower of great promise, Perkovic helped enliven a competition that otherwise appeared to suffer from the heavy air and lack of a helping wind. Her aggressive style brings to mind some past Eastern European discus greats such as Vladimir Dubrovshchik and Vasily Kaptyukh who eschewed the standard slow-to-fast rhythm in favor of a “start fast then really haul ass” approach. The focus of Perkovic’s technique seems to be generating a lot of speed out of the back with an aggressive swing kick, catching the disc waaaay high in the power position and then knocking the crap out of it with a fixed-feet finish and a ferocious yell. After whanging one of her warmup throws loudly off the right side of the cage, she adjusted her stance at the back of the ring, placing her right foot a bit to the left of the center line and let rip a first-round 61.96m which gave her the early lead over Aretha Thurmond’s 60.99m and Chechlova’s 60.71m. Brown-Trafton, who looked very uncomfortable during warm-ups, opened with 55.67m.

An uneventful second round saw only Chechlova reach the 60-meter line (60.12m), and an even less eventful third round (no 60-meter efforts) was spiced up only by a 59.70m toss from former University of Illinois thrower Gia Lewis (who earlier this season posted a 62.75M PR) and a long, loud Perkovic foul in the 66-meter range.

The throwers were re-ordered after round three with the top six advancing. That left the young Anna Jelmini (in spite of a very respectable third round 58.67m) and the veteran Brown-Trafton (who did not improve on her first round effort) out of the mix. I had a nice chat with Stephanie after the competition, and was struck by her humility and thoughtfulness. She was in a difficult place mentally, and it may be that she has not yet adjusted to the increased expectations created by her Olympic victory. She said that she was throwing great last season but then felt like “a light bulb switched off at the World Championships.”  She finished 12th in Berlin, and took the setback hard. “I felt like I let my family down,” she told me. “Like I let my country down.” This season, she was admitted to the Project 30 program set up by USATF to funnel financial support to potential 2012 medalists, but the burden of trying to justify that support has weighed heavily on her. “It’s almost like I need to forget about being Olympic Champion,” she commented. “I know the only reason I’m getting into the Diamond League meets is because of my title, not my marks…but I want to get back to that place where I wasn’t thinking about that or about  the money. I have to find a way to succeed in this new chapter. I have to find a way to get back to my comfort zone, or to find a new comfort zone.”

That sense of uneasiness has intruded on her efforts to find a technical groove. When asked which aspect of her technique she was focusing on improving, she replied, “There are so many things!  That’s why I’m a mess right now.” After reflecting for a moment she said that what she most needed to do was to hit a wider power position with more upper body wrap, and that she’d been taking a lot of non-reverse throws as a way of finding that position. Unfortunately, she doesn’t feel like she accelerates the discus well from a non-reverse finish, so it is not likely to provide the long-term answer. “If I can find a way to hit that power position, block, and use my reverse to accelerate the discus, it’s going to go far.”

It will be an interesting summer for Brown-Trafton as she attempts to recapture her Beijing form. In spite of her struggles, though, she remained optimistic. “All these challenges…it’s like yoga. It’s flexing me in ways I never wanted to go, but in the end it’s going to be really good for me.”

The final three rounds of the discus competition brought no fireworks, although Thurmond solidified her hold on second place with a 61.19m effort and Perkovic reached 61.59m in round six. Her 61.96m held up for the win and put her first among women discus throwers in the race for the diamond trophy.

 

Women’s Shot

Do you have trouble making choices? Me, too. Team Edward or Team Jacob? I still can’t decide! Same with the glide and rotational shot. I love them both, so I was one happy dude watching this competition.  Heading the glide contingent were Natalya Khoroneko-Mikhnevich, the Beijing silver-medalist from Belarus, and New Zealander Valerie Vili, the current Olympic Champion.  Also on the start list was 2009 European Indoor champion, Petra Lammert of Germany who is probably best known for using a glide variation in which she reaches with her right leg out of the back then steps into a wide, short-long style power position. It would have been fun to see that, too, but during warm-ups it became evident that she had switched back to a standard short-long glide. I asked her about the switch after the competition, and she told me that she had suffered a serious elbow injury falling over the toeboard in practice. As she rather charmingly put it, “the radius kaput was outside.” She is still recovering from the resulting surgery, and said that a standard glide puts less stress on her elbow.

Rounding out the field were four Americans: the fine rotational throwers Sarah Stevens and Jill Camarena, and gliders Kristen Heaston and Michelle Carter whose meet record of 18.43m was about to go kaput as well with Mikhnevich, Lammert, and Vili all carrying PRs of over 20 meters. The final thrower in the mix was Cleopatra Borel-Brown from Trinidad.

It was Camarena who first dispatched the record with a round one 18.99m, her spin technique looking very sharp. Her reign as record-holder lasted approximately two minutes though, as Mikhnevich managed a 19.51m opener. Mikhnevich held the lead and the record until the end of round two when Vili took custody of both by hitting 19.93m.

The Belarussian took a run at Vili with a third round season best toss of 19.80m, but that is as close as anyone would get. Vili, if not exactly in top form, showed great consistency with her final three throws of 19.81m, 19.88m, and 19.82m. Camarena’s 18.99m held up for third.

After my previous conversation with Brown-Trafton, I was interested to get a sense of how Vili was holding up under the pressure of the high expectations created by her recent run of dominance.  She is not only the defending Olympic and World champion, but recently put together a 28-meet undefeated streak, a remarkable achievement considering the high level of competition offered by the likes of Mikhnevich and her Belarussian counterpart Nadezhda Ostapchuk. During the pre-meet press conference, and also when interviewed after the competition, Vili exuded confidence and went out of her way to say that she welcomed competition. “I’m always quite happy and proud to be in a situation where I get challenged and give the crowd a good competition to watch. It is not that exciting when you go out and win automatically, whereas if you’ve got someone chasing you like today with Natalya, it’s good.”  She acknowledged feeling some pressure as the defending Olympic champion but added, “the Olympic Games were two years ago. This year we look upon 2010 and there’s new people coming through. And you’ve just got to face the competition that’s here now. Get on and do what you have to do.”

There are, however, indications that, like Brown-Trafton,  Vili  has found life at the top to be a bit complicated. Shortly after Ostapchuk ended Vili’s streak by defeating her at the Indoor World Championships in March, Vili fired her coach of eleven years and began training with former French national coach Didier Poppe. An article I read mentioned that Vili was making some technical changes under her new coach, and I asked her if a desire to modify her technique was the motivation behind the coaching switch. “I really don’t want to talk about that, “she replied. “I’ve already moved past that.”  Clearly this was an emotional issue, and I did not want to pry but I was left wondering if the pressure of staying on top really was getting to her. If not, why would her first loss in two-and-a-half years lead her to fire her coach? She said that she was excited about refining her technique under the guidance of Poppe, and that she felt like she had a lot of room for improvement, but did not go into specifics, saying only that “Change is always good, you know?”

In any case, it was really fun to see her throw. She is extremely athletic for her size, and does a fantastic job with the short-long glide, staying down and wrapped during her glide and then driving right-to-left through a very wide base. She sometimes appeared to hesitate slightly upon landing in her power position, but that may be the result of her focusing on some technical matter that she’s working on with her new coach.  She’s only twenty-five years old, and if any current thrower has a prayer of getting near Natalia Lisovskaya’s 22.63m world record it would seem to be Vili. She laughed when I told her I thought she could make a run at the record some day, and reminded me that “no one has thrown twenty-two meters in a long time.”  She’s a formidable athlete though, and after watching her pound out throw after throw of nearly 20 meters, I think she’ll be the next to cross that 22-meter barrier.

 

Men’s Javelin

One glance at the start list for the men’s javelin made it pretty clear that another meet record was in grave danger. All five foreign entrants came in with PRs anywhere from eight to twelve meters beyond the 79.16m thrown by Brian Chaput in 2005, including three (Andreas Thorkildson, Tero Pitkamaki, and Vadims Vasilevskis) who have thrown over 90 meters. Petr Frydrych, a twenty-two-year-old from the Czech Republic was the first to break it, with a round one toss of 84.45m. Andreas Thorkildson, the 2004 and 2008 Olympic champion, took it from Frydrych with a throw of 87.02 in round two. Frydrych responded with an 85.04m toss in round three, and that duo remained in first and second the entire way. Pitkamaki of Finland, Thorkildson’s friend and rival, finished third at 82.57m.

In talking to Thorkildson after the competition, it became clear that when God was handing out brains, looks, and talent twenty-eight years ago, Andreas somehow managed to get to the front of each of those lines. Like most guys, I would normally kind of hate him for that, but he was so polite and laid-back that I could not help but like him.

When asked about his rivalry with Pitkamaki (they have dueled 54 times during their careers with Thorkildson holding a 28-26 edge) he replied, “We get along well. When Tero won his world title (in Helsinki) I was happy for him. When I win I hope he’s happy for me.” He attributes his ability to avoid shoulder and elbow problems to gymnastics exercises that he includes in his training regimen and to keeping his practice throws to a minimum. “I believe in being fresh for every time I go out. I know that a lot of people throw a lot more than me, but so much of the technique is split-second technique …if I start throwing bad after fifteen or twenty throws and I don’t feel like it’s getting better, I shut it down.”

His favorite lift is the bench press (195k PR) although he’s pretty good at power cleans as well (155k PR from the hang)  and his attitude towards handling pressure is something that I’ll bet every coach wishes they could bottle and distribute to their athletes.  “People at home expect me to win and I do what I can to win,” he explained. “But, you’ve got to know that you’ve got good days on the track and you’ve got bad days on the track. I don’t think anyone is going to hate me if I don’t throw well for one day. At the end of the day, it’s still entertainment.”

I can’t think of a better word to describe the experience of watching these remarkable throwers on a warm summer’s day on Randall’s Island. Here’s to the IAAF, and to diamonds, my new BFFs!

by Dan McQuaid

this article originally appeared in the Long & Strong Throwers Journal in August 2010