Category Archives: USATF

Jessica Ramsey intends to contend

Remember that moment in Rocky when out of nowhere he decks Apollo Creed in the first round?  Nobody in the place thinks he’ll so much as lay a glove on Creed,, and then…Bam!…he lands a haymaker. In the end,  Rocky did not win the that fight, but that punch and his ability to hang tough for fifteen rounds against overwhelming odds gave him credibility as an athlete and changed the course of his career and his life.

Okay, I know Rocky is a movie. Don’t mistake me for those Game of Thrones fans who can’t wait for time travel to be invented so they can go back and get a look at a dragon.

But I witnessed a very Rocky-like moment in real life recently. It occurred, ironically enough, during the first round of the women’s shot at the USATF Championships in Des Moines.

As I sat down on that perfect Sunday afternoon to watch flight two warm-up, I anticipated a hard-fought battle between the current NCAA shot put champion Maggie Ewen and the defending USATF champion Raven Saunders.

I’d also hoped that Rio Olympic champ Michelle Carter would push the youngsters and make it a three-way contest, but it became clear during warm-ups that she was not in shape to do that. (Afterwards, Michelle revealed that that she was still recovering from off-season knee surgery.)

No other thrower seemed likely to break 18 meters, and since Ewen and Saunders were reliable 19-meter throwers, this was clearly going to be a two-person race.

It turned out, however, that I’d missed something during warm-ups, a clear sign that a third contestant might just upset the form chart.

Twenty-six-year-old Jessica Ramsey, who had finished fifth in the hammer competition a day earlier and who came to Des Moines with a lifetime best in the shot of 18.42m, had warmed up with several non-reverse throws, each of which had traveled around 17 meters.

As signs go, this was admittedly a subtle one.

According to the Bible, signs foreshadowing an earth shaking event may include “distress of nations in perplexity…the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding.”

Nothing in there about fixed-feet fulls.

But to two people present in Drake Stadium that day, Ramsey and her coach John Smith, those warm-up throws portended a cosmic shift in the women’s shot.

 Ramsey recalled later that those warm-up tosses “told me I was going to get it.”

Smith recalls seeing them and thinking, “Okay, here it comes.”

And come, it did.

Ramsey strode into the ring on her first throw and absolutely killed one.

“After warm-ups,” she recalled later, “I  prayed and did my little meditation. Then, on that first throw when I hit the middle and  I stayed in, I felt like it was a good one.”

It was. The throw measured 19.23m.

It was a three-foot PR and the seventh best throw in the world this year. In the space of a couple of seconds, Ramsey had gone from an anonymous member of a large group of better-than-average American female shot putters to one of the best in the world at her event.

Actually, it took a little longer than a couple of seconds.

Ramsey graduated from Western Kentucky University in 2014 having put together a fine college career (seven-time conference champion, all-American in the shot) under a fine college coach (Ashley Muffet, now at Ohio State). Her PRs though (53.84m in the disc, 61.44m in the hammer, and 17.49m in the shot) were not necessarily those of a future world-class thrower.  Ewen, by comparison, just graduated from Arizona State having thrown 62.47m in the disc, 74.56m in the hammer, and 19.46m in the shot.

In spite of this, Ramsey was determined to pursue a career in the professional ranks, so she packed her belongings and relocated to Carbondale, Illinois, to train with Smith, at that time the throws coach at Southern Illinois University.

Two months after her arrival, Ramsey’s determination received its first test when Coach Smith and his wife Connie Price Smith accepted an offer to take over the track program at Ole Miss. Ramsey describes that moment as “very hard for me. I had just moved to Carbondale! I’d packed up everything and spent all my money to move there, and a couple of months later I had to pack up again.”

After settling in Oxford, Mississippi, Ramsey had to figure out how to support herself while also leaving time to train.

“When I first came to Mississippi, I worked at a senior care facility, a daycare facility, and a company called Insomnia Cookies. That kind of hindered my practicing.”

“Later, I got a raise at Insomnia, so I dropped the senior care job. After that, I  got hired at Dicks Sporting Goods, so I dropped the daycare job. That’s where I’m at now. Most of the time, I work seven days a week just to pay the bills.”

In spite of this, under Smith’s tutelage Ramsey kept improving in the hammer and the shot.

As a glide shot putter, Ramsey could not have found a better, more experienced coach than Smith. Many years ago, Smith developed a reputation as the best glide shot coach in the United States. He honed his skills at teaching the glide while guiding Connie to a long and remarkably successful career that began in the 1980’s when winning international medals meant beating the Commies, and lasted until the early 2000’s by which time the fall of the Eastern Bloc and the advent of stricter drug testing protocols had significantly altered the nature of the sport.

Throughout most of Connie’s career, all evidence indicated that the glide technique was the most reliable path for a female shot putter to win a medal at a major championship.  

It was not until Jill Camarena-Williams nabbed bronze at the 2011 Worlds that a rotational shot putter broke through. Prior to that, every World and Olympic medal awarded in the women’s shot had been won by a glider.

But the increasing success of the rotational technique among the men (including a sweep of  shot medals at the 2000 Olympics) caused Smith to believe that women could benefit from adopting the rotational technique as well.

In March of 2014, shortly before Ramsey joined his training group, Smith posted an article in which he made a compelling case that it was time for female putters to abandon the glide. 

So Ramsey was in for a bit of a surprise when she arrived in Oxford. Smith wanted to convert her to the spin.

She did not give in easily.

“The first year,” Smith told me a couple of days after the USATF meet, “she fought me on it. If the spin wasn’t working for her in practice, she’d go back to the glide.”

Ramsey has similar memories of that period. “I didn’t want to change because I was consistently throwing  58-59 feet with the glide, and when we tried the spin it was so hard! Some days I’d be like, ‘I got this!’ Then other days, I’d be slipping in the middle, fouling, dropping my elbow, and I’d think, ‘I’m going back to the glide!’ The thing about the spin is, if you miss one thing then the whole throw is messed up! That’s what’s frustrating about it. Even at meets, I’d sometimes start with the spin and then switch to the glide.”

Complicating matters was the fact that over her first two seasons with Smith, Ramsey pushed her glide PR into the 18-meter range. But Smith still felt that she was wasting her potential.

“She’s 5’6”, which is too small to be more than a sixty-foot glider. She’s explosive as hell, but her top end in the glide will never be what it is in the spin.”

Matters came to a head at the 2016 Olympic Trials.

“She didn’t throw worth a crap at the Trials,“ Smith recalled, “and a couple of days later at practice right there in Eugene, I said, ‘You need to change to the spin. I know for a fact from training people over the years that the spin is nine to nine-and-a-half percent better than the glide. If you add that on to your glide, you’re a sixty-six-footer!’”

Finally, a year ago, Ramsey committed fully to the rotational technique. Job one was to master the art of using the ground or, as Smith calls it, “working the Earth.”

Over many years of careful observation, Smith came to believe that gliders and non-reverse discus throwers shared a quality that was often missing from the technique of rotational putters: a strong connection with the ground. As he saw it, discus throwers and rotational putters who focused too much on getting air time–whether during the non-support phase or as they launched the implement from the power position–were sacrificing distance and reliability.

He discussed his theory in this article first posted in 2003. (Note: Check out Smith’s vision of the kind of rotational putter who might eventually threaten the men’s world record. It calls to mind a certain Sasquatch-sized Olympic record holder who was eleven years old at the time Smith wrote the article.)

Long story short, Smith made Ramsey take a whole lotta fixed-feet throws over the past year.

It all finally came together in Des Moines. After her huge throw, Ramsey felt the emotions welling but tried to hold them back. “I had to compose myself because I didn’t want it to look like I didn’t know I had a throw like that in me.”

She didn’t come close to 19 meters again (her series went 19.23m, 17.65m, 17.61m, F, 18.24m, F), and she didn’t win (Ewen passed her in round five with a toss of 19.29m) but that one throw was enough to get her an invitation to her first Diamond League meeting (in Rabat on July 13th) and perhaps usher in further life changes that will make staying in the upper echelon of putters a bit easier than getting there in the first place.

A strong showing in Rabat could get her invited to the Diamond League meeting in Monaco on July 19th. She is also scheduled to compete at the NACAC Championships in Toronto in early August.

If she finishes the year with a top-ten world ranking, Ramsey will likely qualify for the USATF tier system, which will allow her to  have health insurance for the first time since leaving college.

Additionally, Ramsey hopes to soon be sponsored by the New York Athletic Club. Should that happen, she would be able to cut down to working only one job and have more time to recover from her daily training sessions.

Owing to the brutal financial calculus of the sport of track and field, Ramsey’s performance in this next handful of meets may determine whether or not her days of averaging five hours of sleep, of trying to get by on $300-$400 dollars worth of food per month, or praying that she doesn’t sustain an injury for which she cannot afford treatment, are over.

Either way, Ramsey is committed to continuing her journey.

“Confidence is the biggest thing in this track industry, and I’ve got it. I believe I am going to throw great in Rabat and that will open more doors for me.”

Not a bad attitude for a young athlete who wants nothing more out of life than a little extra free time that she can devote to mastering the fine art of  “working the Earth.”

(You can find additional coverage of the USATF women’s shot competition including videotaped interviews with Jessica, Michelle, and Maggie here.)

 

 

JC Lambert talks about DeAnna Price’s big day at Nationals

The women’s hammer throw at the recent USATF Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, shaped up as a battle between two Southern Illinois University alums. Gwen Berry entered the 2018 outdoor season as the American record holder with a 2017 toss of 76.77m. DeAnna Price took over the record in early June of this year, hitting 77.65m at the Iron Wood Classic. Gwen took it back six days later, dropping a 77.78m bomb at a meet in Chorzow, Poland.

So the hammer fans who gathered on the grass berm overlooking the cage outside of Drake Stadium had reason to expect a titanic battle between the two Salukis on a sun-kissed day three of the championships.

Unfortunately, Gwen opened with a foul and could never quite find her rhythm. She finished with a best of 72.99m, good enough for second place. You can find a post-competition interview I did with Gwen here: http://mcthrows.com/?p=2152

DeAnna also took some time to find a groove, but her opener of 73.81m guaranteed a spot in the final where she went 76.35m in round four, 78.12m for a new American record in round five, and 77.01m in round six.

Recently, DeAnna’s coach and fiancé JC Lambert was kind enough to give me some insight into DeAnna’s performance at USAs and her plans for the future.

So in Des Moines, DeAnna opened up with 73.81m, which as it turned out would have been enough to win, but it seemed to take her a while to really find her rhythm.

One of the big things we’ve been working on is making sure that your opening throw can make the final no matter where you’re at, a small meet, the US Championships or even the World Championships or Olympics. So I was very happy about her first throw. Her next throw was actually building up to be a nice throw, it just got by her and she wasn’t ready for it. It ended up being a very nice throw outside the left sector.

I couldn’t see where it landed from where I was sitting.

I checked afterwards, and I found the mark at the top of the hill. I’m not going to go into specifics, but it was considerably farther than her best throw.

It must be exciting to know she’s got a throw like that in her.

Absolutely. After that, on her third round throw, because the last one blew by her, she was a little timid, got a little messed up, so she went ahead and fouled it. Between prelims and finals she did a couple of warm-ups to get back on track and then opened back up with a 76-meter throw that looked nice and easy. From there, she was tuned up and ready to go.

Was there anything technique-wise that stood out about her American Record throw?

She just finally got locked into the entry. Got down a lot better on one. She stayed grounded and worked through three. She didn’t work all the way through four, and she kind of locked up the release. If she’d have gotten through the release a little more, it would have been interesting where it would have went.

And then she followed that up with a 77-meter throw where she completely missed four and locked up her release again, so to throw that far and not get the whole pie, if you will, was pretty exciting.

She clearly knew when she released her 78.12m that it was a big throw.

Yeah, she was kind of punching the air, which she doesn’t usually do. She told me after that it was because she was pissed that it took her so long to get going.

I’m interested in the idea you mentioned of developing the skill of getting a good enough first throw so that no matter where you are you make the final. How did you go about working on that?

Practice. We do mock competitions. Plus when you go to smaller meets, that’s practice too. During her senior year at SIU, her first meet of the year was at Alabama. She was in good shape to throw far, but her first two attempts went right into the cage. And then she had to just get a decent throw out there in the third round to just make the finals, so it took her forever to get comfortable.

And then the next meet, she fouled her opener again, and after that we decided we had to change things. We can’t be having that. From there, just practicing it at meets. I tell all my athletes, the first one’s for me and the rest are for you.  

So we kept working on it, and back then, three years ago, she got to be consistent with throwing 66-69 meters on her first throw. Now that she’s a better thrower and athlete, her openers have been getting better and better. Now that she can open with an easy throw of 73 meters and change, she can be pretty confident in a World Championship qualifying round. She won’t have to stress too much, just do what you do and call it a day.

Is the art of it to throw easy but not too easy?

For each person you have to figure out what is their easy throw. It’s like a passive aggressive throw. You have to relax but still be aggressive with it. If you warm up normal, but then your first throw of the meet you take too much off, it’s not going to be a good throw. Your timing is going to be off, then all of a sudden you’re completely off.

So, there’s definitely an art to it. The athlete has to develop a feel for what an “easy” throw is for them.

I was at the European Championships in 2014, and Betty Heidler did not throw well. Her coach told me afterwards that she finished her warm-ups in good shape, so he told her to do on her opener exactly what she’d done on her final warm-up throw, but that she didn’t. She took too much off of that first throw and then she never found her rhythm during the competition.

That’s what happens.

Going back to last winter, did you see signs that she might throw 78 meters this year?

I’ve seen signs the past few years of something big coming down the road. It takes time to get to this level, though. Sometimes you think you see something developing but it takes a few more reps before it comes out in a meet.

Earlier this season the big thing we were working on was trying to connect, trying to push. The simple stuff, just trying to make it second nature. And just chipping away at her entry. And it started looking better.

And with the weight throw indoors, we took maybe nine total practices and we didn’t even throw much during those practices, maybe eighteen throws. And she competed in three meets. I didn’t really care how far she threw in the first two meets, then she went to USAs and we didn’t even peak for it. And she ended up going over 80 feet (24.51m) for the first time and got the win.

Was it surprising that she threw so far?

Yes, in the sense that we didn’t train it that much, but no in that she had a pretty good practice the week before and the week of. It would have been interesting to see what she could have done if we had peaked, but our goals this year all focused on the hammer.

The last two years leading up to the Olympics and London she was throwing really well, but there is a lot of pressure there and the results we got weren’t an indication of what we’d seen in practice.

This year I wanted to see if we could get her best throws in the biggest meets, and so far things have worked out just as we’d hoped.

Now we have two confirmed teams we are part of, the Athletics Cup in London and then the NACAC in Toronto, and then we have to see if she gets selected for the Continental Cup.

Deanna and I have been talking about what to do for meets and training right now, and it’s kind of damned if you do/damned if you don’t. There’s a World Challenge meet coming up in Budapest, but we’d have to hurry to get ready for it, so I think we’ll focus on preparing for the Athletics Cup. There are going to be some great throwers there, so we want to be ready for it.

The ultimate goal is to win a medal at the World Championships and the Olympics, so we need to practice being at our best against the best rather than running around trying to collect money.

This is a new realm that I’m a little green at. I’m lucky to have John Smith as a mentor, so if I have any questions about international travel and competitions, he can definitely help me out. But I look forward to figuring out the puzzle of international travel, how the body works, dealing with jet lag and so on.

Speaking of complicated, have you thought about dealing with the odd schedule next year with the World Championships in October?

I try not to think too far into the future, but we will definitely have to adjust for that. For any athlete, I look at what their ultimate goal is, when they will need to peak, and then I start to work backwards. That determines how we start. As far as indoors goes next year, if we do throw the weight it might be one or two meets like this year and maybe the US Championships, Then we’ll have to figure out how to push back the season. The thing that sucks is that we have to rely on college meets for competition, but those meets are over in May, so what do you do from there? One thing I’m thinking about is putting on a summer meet or two so post-collegiates have some place to compete.

We’ll see. That might get us through to the US Championships in late July, then you have three months until Worlds. First you have to make the team, obviously, but I would hope that maybe the IAAF could help out the athletes by pushing some of their higher-end meets back a little bit. I don’t know if that will happen or not, but no matter what, we’ll find a way.

To see video of the USATF women’s hammer competition check out https://www.macthrowvideo.com/

 

 

2018 USATF Championships Day 4: Some words, some videos, some slight regrets

I’ve seen a hundreds of throws competitions in my time, both live and on video. I’ve traveled all over the United States and Europe to see the best throwers,  I’ve watched the replay of the 2009 World Championships men’s discus so many times that my wife can perform a spot-on imitation of the BBC announcers describing Robert Harting’s victory celebration.

“He’s shredded his vest, exposing his massive torso!”

You kind of have to hear her do it.

My point, though, is that I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge about the throws, and that came in handy on the final day of the USATF Championships when I was forced to decide between watching the men’s discus or women’s shot on a beautiful afternoon in Des Moines.

The shot was scheduled to begin inside the stadium at 2:10, the disc outside the stadium at 2:20, so there was no way to watch both simultaneously.

I chose the women’s shot. 

The way I figured it, Mason Finley would for sure win the men’s disc. He’s got confidence.  He’s got experience. He’s got a World Championship medal. Plus, he’s a giant and remarkably agile man, so no contest there.

The outcome of the shot, though, appeared less certain. The mercurial, eminently watchable Raven Saunders was a definite contender.

Every time she enters the ring it seems as if she might either smash a 20-meter throw or misfire completely and smash some inanimate objects. Either way, smashing appeared likely.

Going head-to-head with Raven was NCAA champ and record-holder Maggie Ewen.

Do you remember the first Shrek movie where Princess Fiona possessed secret  butt-kicking abilities that belied her appearance?  Maggie is the same way.  She looks like a pole vaulter but somehow throws things really far.  

Plus, guess whose NCAA shot record she broke this year? I’ll give you a clue. Her first name begins with the letter “R” as in “Revenge.”

Add Michelle Carter, the defending Olympic champion, to the mix…

and we had what promised to be a compelling shot put battle.

So, there I was at 2:00, perched in an upper row of Drake Stadium gazing down on women’s shot warm-ups.

My friend Roger Einbecker had chosen to view the men’s disc, so he headed over there after promising to keep me posted via text messages. 

Raven and Maggie each had one pretty far-looking throw during warm-ups, and it seemed like it would be a two-person battle as Michelle struggled to find her timing.

Then the competition began and a funny thing happened. Jessica Ramsey…

throwing unattached and cloaked in anonymity, stepped up for her first throw and banged out a 19.23m.

I couldn’t believe it.

Two of the guys I was with didn’t even see see the throw because, well, they weren’t paying attention. And frankly, who was? If you were sitting at home thinking, “I’ll bet Ramsey might win this thing,” please let me know and I’ll invest in your psychic hotline startup.

Raven, looking fast through the ring, opened at 18.74m. Maggie went 17.94m, so both would have the full six throws to try to catch Ramsey, who came back to Earth with a 17.65m in round two, while Raven began what would become a string of three straight fouls. Maggie put herself on the podium with a round two 19.09m, then gave us spectators a jolt in round three with a foot-foul that landed at the 20-meter line.

Michelle managed a best of only 17.87m in the prelims, but at the break for the reordering, I still felt good about my decision to stick with the shot.

It was fun seeing Ramsey break out, and it still seemed quite possible that either Raven or Maggie would bust one near 20-meters.

Just then, I got the first text from Einbecker.

“Mattis 65.45m.”

That was in reference to the first-round throw of Sam Mattis.

“Okay,” I thought. “That’s fine. Sam will give Mason a push and the folks over at the discus will see a decent competition.” I did not begrudge them that.

Back at the shot, the finalists had been determined and the ring opened for some additional warm-ups. Maggie and Raven each took a handful, tinkering, fine-tuning, like safe crackers trying to get all the notches to line up.

With round four about to begin, another text popped up on my phone… “Finley 65.27m”…followed shortly thereafter by another… “Mattis 66.32m.”

It sounded like an interesting duel was playing out over there, but I was still comfortable with my choice to view the shot.

Then my phone buzzed again.

“Jagers 66.92m.”

Now it was clear that something very strange was going on at the discus ring. After three rounds, three different throwers (Sam, Mason, and Reggie) had surpassed 65 meters. And we were not in California.

Or Hawaii.

I’m not gonna lie, I was a little rattled by these texts. My friend Sean Denard, the fine throws coach at Grand Valley State, came and stood by me to watch the shot final and we gazed in bewilderment from our perch in the stadium out towards the long throws area. What was the wind doing? We couldn’t tell. It seemed like the strings of pennant flags marking the discus boundaries were blowing in different directions at once.

We eyed each other uneasily.

When the shot resumed, Michelle put 17.26m, Raven fouled, Maggie hit 18.58m, and Ramsey fouled.

In round five, Michelle went 17.65m, Raven 18.13m, and Maggie finally popped one. Between throws she had stepped to the side and snapped off some imitations, and the seamlessness she demonstrated there finally carried over to the ring.

It wasn’t 20 meters, but her 19.29m toss was good enough to take the lead.

In the final round, both Michelle and Janeah Stewart broke 18 meters. (Fun fact: four of the top seven finishers in the women’s shot –Janeah, Ramsey, Raven, and Jeneva Stevens–all train with John Smith at Ole Miss.)

Raven closed with a foul, as did Ramsey, and Maggie had a national shot title to add to her already jam-packed trophy case.

The discus, however, was not yet finished. My phone buzzed again… “Finley 65.77m”…and again… ”Mattis 66.00m”.

Denard bolted over there to catch the end of it, but I wanted to get interviews with some of the putters, so I headed downstairs to the mixed zone, still content that I’d made the correct decision.

It was fun seeing Ramsey hit what may turn out to be a career-changing throw. It was fun seeing Raven blast through the ring even if she didn’t quite catch one. It was fun seeing the defending Olympic champion compete. It was fun seeing Maggie display what may be the smoothest rotational technique that I’ve ever seen.

But, as I stepped into the chaos of the mixed zone, there went my phone again.

“Finley 67.06m.”

“Nice,” I thought, “Mason gets the win.”

Ah, but the madness continued.

“Jagers 68.61m.”

Reggie’s throw was a facility record, the best toss ever by a left-hander, and…I missed it.

Had I the time, I may well have punched myself in the face. Fortunately,  the putters chose that moment to start filing into the room.

I’ve interviewed Michelle Carter before, and she has always been super nice. This time was no different as she spoke about the reason she is in less-than-top form, her optimism regarding next season,  and her upcoming marriage. You can view that interview here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6Jfww4ryA4

This was the first time I’ve spoken with Jessica Ramsey, but not, I suspect, the last. Here are her thoughts on a breakthrough performance:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4zNAWBFDCo

This was my second interview of the weekend with Maggie, and my ipad mini locked up during both due to a lack of storage. So, good job me. She is as articulate as she is talented, though, so I think you’ll enjoy the portion of the interview that I was able to record.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRSf1AY-6EY

The discus throwers came through the room next,  and I grabbed Mason. I’d last spoken to him when he was a college senior, and a lot has happened in the intervening years. Here are his thoughts on a hellacious discus competition and his recent ascent to the top ranks of the event:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgwOP8OxvLo

Getting an interview with Reggie was not so simple. I missed him in the mixed zone, so I caught up with him out on the infield. He was happy to talk, but that’s when I realized my mini (not a euphemism)  had locked up. Long story short, I ended up using Reggie’s phone to tape an interview with him.

Throughout the weekend, my traveling companions had taken turns helping me overcome my ineptness with technology, so I began referring to them as my “tech team.” I am proud to report that the 2018 USATF champion, the man with the farthest left-handed discus throw in history, is now a member of that team.

Reggie, thanks for your patience and welcome aboard.

You can watch that interview here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWPOK4MeZa8

 

Interviews from Day 3 of the 2018 USATF Championships

Day three of the USATF Championships featured three throwing events…running concurrently.

Men’s javelin began at 2:10, women’s hammer at 2:20, and men’s shot at 2:45.

The setup at Drake allows for a great simultaneous view of the hammer and javelin, but the men’s shot was inside the stadium and out of view from the long throws area.

So what was a fella to do?

I planted myself in a great spot overlooking the javelin runway and the hammer cage, and kept nervously looking at my phone for shot updates.

When Ryan Crouser, Joe Kovacs, and Darrell Hill are throwing the shot, the  possibilities are…well….distracting if you are trying to concentrate on what promised to be (and turned out to be) an epic women’s hammer competition while also trying to puzzle out who would rise to the top in a javelin field lacking a clear favorite.

A jarring note occurred during hammer warm-ups when Amanda Bingson bounced a throw off the cage and appeared to try to catch the implement as it ricocheted back at her. The ball ended up smacking her on the toe and knocking her out of the competition.

Those who remained (American record holder Deanna Price, previous American record holder Gwen Berry, outstanding collegiates Janeah Stewart and Brooke Andersen among them) struggled to find their rhythm over the first three rounds in spite of superb weather courtesy of Mother Nature and  superb running commentary provided by javelin champ Kara Winger.

This was not my first rodeo, so I knew that great throwers sometimes take a few rounds to find their mojo.  In 2014, I left after round four of the women’s discus at the European Championships. Sandra Perkovic was safely in the lead with a 69-meter throw and I was worried about missing a train.

Imagine my chagrin when I checked my phone on the bus ride to the train station and saw that Sandra had just broken the 70-meter barrier for the first time.

I knew something like that might happen in the finals of the women’s hammer, but…Crouser….Kovacs…Hill?

You can guess the rest of the story. I was in the stadium watching a really odd men’s shot competition when I got the text from my friend Roger Einbecker who stayed back to watch the women’s hammer final that Deanna had thrown 78.12m to set a new American record.

Here  is Deanna sharing some thoughts afterwards:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuhNwR5VxPY

I also had a really nice talk with Gwen Berry, who was not at all discouraged by what had to be a disappointing day (she finished second with 72.99m, well below her PR). Gwen has recently made an adjustment to her technique and is very confident that she’s ready for some more big throws this summer. Here is my chat with Gwen:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS_dmJy-UkY

It was chaotic in the interview room with several events ending within minutes of each other, but I made sure to grab Joe Kovacs, one because he’s a great guy and fun to talk with, and two because he seems to have struggled to find his best form this year and I wanted to find out what was up with that.  I think you’ll find his comments insightful.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wI93Vf_MZhA

I’ve known Curtis Jensen for several years. He was a teammate of one of my former throwers (I’m a high school coach) at Illinois State University, and it was obvious way back then that he was a very gifted young man. It’s tough to break into the top three in the shot in this country, even tougher when trying to figure out how to squeeze training into a schedule that already includes one full time and one part time job. But Curt has endured and plugged away over the years. He’s absorbed some blows, but like Rocky Balboa he just keeps answering the bell and his 20.87m effort in round six yesterday put him on the podium for the first time at a national meet. Curt is always a great interview. See for yourself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8swvFi2w3o

Darrell Hill, the 2018 USATF shot put champion, is a mountain of a man and not easy to miss in an interview room, but I still managed to do it. Like I said, it was pretty crazy in there.

Anyway, congrats to Darrell and I hope to catch up with him soon.

I did not miss defending Olympic Champion Ryan Crouser.

The press release  put out prior to Saturday’s events strongly implied that when Ryan entered the ring the crowd should get ready to maybe see a world record. It referred to a recent foul measured at 75’5 1/2″.

I’m not gonna lie, in the days leading up to this meet I was thinking the same thing. That’s why I was unable to stick it out at the women’s hammer.  How many years of therapy would I have had to undergo had Ryan dropped a big one and I missed it?

But he really, really struggled on this day, finishing second with a 20.99m mark on his only measured throw.

I give Ryan a lot of credit for talking to me and a couple of other writers in that media room afterwards. He was very discouraged by his performance, and I think probably embarrassed after failing to live up to the standard he set where 22-meters has become a pedestrian distance for him.

I did not film Ryan’s comments, because it felt like it would have been rude to stick a camera in his face when he was hurting like that.

But he answered all my questions. No, he’s not injured. His hand is a bit sore, but not unusually so. He’s just in a rut that he fell into a couple of weeks ago when he lost the feel of his technique, and the experience has him feeling a little lost. He compared the adjustments he’s made to his technique to plugging holes in a leaky dam. You get one hole plugged and a leak pops up somewhere else.

He is going to try to take a week off before heading to Europe for some Diamond League meets.

It  is not  uncommon in this sport to have moments where you inexplicably lose your feel and can’t find a way to get it back, and that can be a frustrating and sometimes frightening experience. Hopefully, young throwers can find comfort in the knowledge that even the very best, the Olympic record holder, the man with more 22-meter throws than anyone in history, can go through the same thing.

Thanks again, Ryan, for talking when I know all you wanted to do was get the heck out of there.

Women’s shot and men’s disc today, once again run concurrently. I’ll do my best to manage the chaos and get some interesting interviews.

 

2018 USATF Championships Day Two Interviews

Does this man look like he has “quiet ballet feet”?

One of the more delightful aspects of watching the men’s hammer competition at the 2018 USATF Championships was listening to the commentary provided by eight-time national javelin champion Kara Winger, which included the above observation about the man in that photo–newly crowned USA hammer champion Rudy Winkler.

Rudy came out on top in a really tight competition in which the top four throwers all surpassed 73 meters. Afterwards, I spoke to Rudy about the ebb and flow of his career so far and about his plans for the future. That interview is here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFzKy1tQ48A

Second and third place went to Alex Young and Sean Donnelly, who were kind enough to answer a bunch of questions about the competition and their careers in general. Sean, I promise not to mention your hitting a car during the competition. Oh, crap!

Here is that interview:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jc-Yk1l_lQ

 

#*it Happens even at Nationals!

If you throw long enough you will lose a few legal throws and gain a few that were foul because of bad calls by the officials.
I saw a missed call similar to this W-Hep Shot in the Open Men’s Shot Put with a different judge.
Fortunately, neither judgement error impacted the final results.

The real travesty was that they couldn’t slow down the circle so the speed gliders could throw.
At the US Nationals, that was embarrassing, especially since our Women’s Champion is a speed glider.  We can’t even make it right for our Champion who is an international contender.

We just don’t care enough to do it right.

2013 USATF Championships Women’s Hammer

Anyone who has read my stuff and assumes that I only care about the shot and disc is in for a big surprise because I covered the heck out of the women’s hammer at this meet.

There are two reasons why.

One, the timing fell just right. At these types of meets, the throwing events often overlap, and at Drake if one of the overlapping events is the shot put, you are forced to choose because all of the other throws take place outside the stadium. No worries on this very sunny Saturday afternoon, though, because there was plenty of time after the women’s shot to meander over to the hammer cage without missing anything.

Two, I had Trofimuk–a straight up hammer aficionado–with me, and he assured me that this would be a competition well worth watching.

Holy crap, was he right.

The hammer cage at Drake (it also serves as a discus cage when people are throwing discs from it) is set up in a fan-friendly way.  You can probably tell from this photo of Britney Henry warming up that…

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…I am looking down at her from above the cage. That’s because the hammer cage is nestled into the corner of a huge athletic field that is rimmed with a grassy hill. Spectators, therefore, can flop on the grass and enjoy a sweet view of the the thrower and the landing area. Here is Art Venegas talking with Kristin Smith on that hill.

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Unfortunately, the layout at Drake turned out to have one design flaw. On the other side of that fence you see with all the signs on it is an alley, which leads farther down to a parking lot. Have you ever seen those giant nets that they sometimes erect at driving ranges to keep the golf balls from flying onto a road or into a subdivision? Well, the folks at Drake have placed several of those nets along the left foul line to make sure that an errant throw will not make it to that alley or parking lot. Amazingly, in spite of those precautions, the left-handed thrower Jessica Cosby Toruga launched a warm-up throw out of the cage, over the giant safety nets, and into (I think) the parking lot. I say “I think” because you can’t see exactly what’s on the other side of those nets, but it sounded like the hammer skidded across the alley and thunked against a car.

Art, who coaches Cosby Toruga, must have sensed right away that something like that could very well shake a thrower’s confidence because he immediately called out, “I’ll pay for the car!” to try to lighten things up a bit. Unfortunately for Cosby Toruga, this would not be the only confidence-killing challenge she would face on this day.

Here are a few more photos I took during warmups…

Amber Campbell:

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Jeneva McCall:

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Cosby Toruga:

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Gwen Berry and Jeneva McCall:

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Ashley Harbin, Chelsea Cassulo, and Brittany Smith

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Once the competition began, Amanda Bingson dropped the first bomb.

Bingson-72.58

 

McCall trumped her a couple of minutes later:

Jeneva-74.00

That, my friends, is a legit world-class throw.

 

But Bingson wasn’t nearly finished. I was at Drake last year for the NCAA meet, which Bingson had a serious chance to win. Unfortunately, she had a lousy day and finished third after fouling four of her six throws. She clearly was not haunted by those memories, though, as in round two she stepped in and set a new American record.

Bingson-74.92

After they announced it, she ran up the hill to show some love to Mom and Dad.

Bingson-hug

One might reasonably think that all this excitement would tire a person and make it unlikely that they might shatter their freshly-set American record on their next throw. Au contraire, mon frere.

Bingson-75.73

Even world class hammer throwers have their limits, though, and Bingson went 72.41m, foul, foul, in the final. She did, however, punctuate her victory with a very impressive series of back flips after her sixth throw.

I had a long talk with her afterwards, which you can view in it’s entirety if you go first to Macthrow.com and then to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVmrJtfuzVk as the interview is divided into two parts.

McCall, suffering from an abdominal strain that she had incurred competing in the shot, could not better her 74.00m opener in rounds two and three, and then passed all of her throws in the final.

There were, however, some fine throws in the late rounds.

Here is Britney Henry going 69.57 in round four to capture fifth place:

Britney-Henry-69.57

Here is Amber Campbell reaching 72.58m in round five to finish fourth:

 

 

And we’ll finish with what might have been the most remarkable throw of the day. I mentioned earlier that Jessica Cosby Toruga launched one out of the facility during warmups. It would be perfectly understandable if she had become a bit tentative after that. To her credit, though, she maintained her focus and nailed a round-two throw of 72.47m  that had her right in the thick of things going into the final.

She began the final with a fourth-round 71.09m, but on her fifth throw she lost her balance in the middle of the ring and hit the concrete hard. My first thought, when she went down, was that they had better get an ambulance over here quickly because there was no doubt she was badly injured. It was like seeing someone come crashing down on the sidewalk after jumping from a fourth floor window.

Shockingly, though, after a few tense and weirdly quiet minutes Cosby Toruga got up and walked out of the cage under her own power. Even more shockingly, when her name was called in the sixth round, she was ready to take her throw. Most shocking of all,? It turned out to be her best throw of the day.

Cosby-Toruga-72.58

As Joe Gargery, my favorite character from my favorite novel (Dickens’s Great Expectations) would say, “Astonishing!”

So, that was the women’s hammer competition. I’ve got the second flight of prelims and much of the final on my youtube page:

It is pretty exciting that the US is sending legit medal contenders to Moscow in this event, especially considering the fact that very few kids are exposed to the hammer until they reach college. Honestly, though, I don’t see how that is ever going to change. As evidenced here at Drake, there are safety concerns with the hammer that you just don’t have with the shot and disc and it is hard to imagine high schools being willing to take on those risks. I guess we just have to hope that Fate keeps guiding the right athletes–like Bingson and McCall–to the right college programs.

by Dan McQuaid

 

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on July 3, 2013

2013 USATF Championships Women’s Shot Put

The 2013 USA Track and Field Championships were held in Des Moines last weekend, and a great time was had by…well, by me for sure and also by numerous throwers who not only qualified for the World Championships to be held in Moscow this August, but revealed themselves to be serious medal contenders as well.

Holy cow, is Des Moines a great place to visit for a track meet. I live in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago which often finishes near the top in those “Best Places to Live” features you see in magazines, and justifiably so.  The schools are fantastic. The library system is one of the best in the country. A scenic riverwalk curves its way through a thriving downtown. But people can get a little intense here, so before you try crossing a street in that downtown you had better look both ways or the woman making a left into the yoga studio will run your butt over–that is if the dude racing to drop off his son for a cello lesson doesn’t get you first. I remember one time I was standing near a busy intersection downtown with my daughter listening to an outdoor Christmas concert when two drivers got into some sort of dispute. Suddenly, the cheery sound of a tuba playing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was interruped by blaring horns and shouts of “F— you, idiot!” Good will to men, indeed.

But it is hard to imagine anyone ever cussing someone in Des Moines, or running them over. People there seem to live at a more leisurely pace, one that allows room for cordiality.

I was accompanied on this outing by my friend and former thrower Pat Trofimuk. If you read my post on the New York Diamond League, you saw photos of Pat’s twin brother Peter. One of the standards that I live by is that I will not cover a track meet unless accompanied by a Trofimuk. They both possess encyclopedic knowledge of the throws, and can spend a five-hour car ride speculating on who might qualify for Moscow in the men’s shot. That makes them invaluable to me.

Anyway, late Saturday afternoon Pat and I pulled up in front of the Hotel Fort Des Moines to check in for the night. Though we were in the middle of downtown Des Moines–the state capitol need I remind you–the process of checking in, getting a room key, and then parking for the night in a free-on-the-weekends garage took about ten stress-free minutes. Parking in the Naperville garages is free as well, but on a Saturday night you’d probably have to punch someone in the face to get a spot.

Another thing that Des Moines has over Naperville is the Blank Park Zoo, which is an awesome place to take embarrassing photos of your friends. For example…

Dan-phone-march-13-021-e1372618750648

That’s Pat. And here he is again…

Dan-phone-march-13-028-e1372618988900

Luckily, we live in a world where it is okay for a giant shot putter to publicly display his sensitive side!

Since Pat and I arrived on Saturday, we missed the women’s javelin and men’s discus throws.

I am not nearly smart enough to figure out the whole “A standard” and “B standard” deal, but of the top three finisher in the women’s jav (Brittany Borman 60.91m, Ariana Ince 56.66m, and Kara Patterson 55.88m) none–as far as I know–has the A standard of 62m and only Borman has the B standard of 60m. Therefore–as best I can tell–Borman will be the only representative for the USA in that event in Moscow, unless Ince or Patterson goes out and nails the A between now and July 20th.

Of the top three finishers in the men’s disc (Lance Brooks 62.29m, Russ Winger 62.03m, and James Plummer 61.96m) none has the A or B standard. Winger told me that in order to make the team for Moscow, he has to get the A (66.00m) or hope that Brooks gets the A, which would allow Winger to make the team by hitting the B standard (64.00m). Got that?

Pat and I arrived in time to see the Women’s shot, which featured two throwers who had already hit the A standard of 18.30m–Tia Brooks and Michelle Carter. Notable by her absence was Jill Camarena-Williams, the 2011 bronze medalist who apparently was sidelined with an injury. I was afraid that this was going to be a boring competition as Carter and Brooks appeared to have a lock on the first two places. When I suggested to Pat that I might skip part of the women’s shot to check out the Junior women’s discus competition (the shot is contested on the infield of Drake Stadium, the other throws are held next to the stadium) he cautioned me that I might miss some big throws.

Apparently, he is not only sensitive but psychic as well.

All the big throws came in round five. First, the University of Arizona’s Alyssa Haslen hit a  PR of 18.10m to capture third place and a spot in Moscow (since she now has the B standard). Here is that throw:

Haslen 18.10

And here is an interview I did with her afterwards:

Tia took a while to get comfortable, but finally grabbed a ticket to Moscow with this throw:

Brooks 18.83

I had a nice chat afterwards with her also, and you can find that at Macthrowvideo.com.

Here is the throw, though, that, had I missed it, would have required Trofimuk to hide all sharp objects in the hotel room. There are a lot of records in the throws that date back to the late 1980′s. I know that many current throwers despair of ever breaking them. A couple of years ago, I asked Valeri Adams, a two-time Olympic champion who was 26 years old at the time, if she thought she’d ever break the world record of 22.63m (which, by the way, was set in 1987). She laughed at the very idea. To me, that’s kind of discouraging.  Adams is one of the all-time great shot putters and just entering her athletic prime. If she can’t imagine taking a run at the world record, then who ever will?

The American record has lasted nearly as long.  It is 20.18m, and was set by Ramona Pagel in 1988. Sorry, I should say it “was” 20.18m because…

Carter 20.24

She looks pretty unimpressed by herself, doesn’t she? Oh, did I just break a 25-year-old record? Ho hum.

When I spoke with Carter afterwards (a chunk of our conversation is on Macthrow as well) I was struck by how grounded she was. As in the video of her throw, she did not go nuts or seem surprised even. She’s really happy training in Dallas with her father (who, by the way, still holds the American high school record in the shot) and was ready to head back there and get to work. To me, her attitude bodes well in terms of her chances of getting on the podium in Moscow. The rest of us might be astonished/overjoyed that she is now a 20-meter shot putter, but to Carter it is just a natural result of her training and…no big whoop. I see that as an indication that she will not be intimidated in Moscow. She’s ready to shine on the big stage.

Another interesting thing about Carter that I don’t think showed up in the interview owing to technical difficulties is that she’s not crazy strong. Her best bench press is 225 for a set of three. Her best squat is 405 for a set of five, and her best clean 275 for a single. Not too shabby, but wouldn’t you have thought a 20-meter shot putter would be stronger than that?

Anyway, the weekend could have ended there and it would have been worth the trip. We had some great moments ahead of us, though, as we headed over to watch the women’s hammer. More on that next time.

by Dan McQuaid

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on July 1, 2013