Everything you need to know about hosting a world class shot put competition on Main Street

rolling the sand

 “There are 20 million runners in this country. I don’t think there are 20 million track fans.”       

                  –Vin Lananna, Head Track Coach, University of Oregon

Okay, if you love the sport of track and field, that’s a problem. Luckily, people like Milan Donley, Meet Director of the Kansas Relays, have been working overtime to convert some of those non-track fans. For the past three years, the Kansas Relays has held a world class shot put competition in downtown Lawrence. Milan got the idea from street meets held in Europe, and the concept has transferred quite nicely to the American heartland.  Throwers love it. Spectators love it. And the businesses in downtown Lawrence who report a 40% increase in sales on those competition days really, really love it.

Milan, who would like to see other communities adopt the street meet concept, was kind enough to share with me the nuts and bolts of hosting one of these competitions.

The Concept 

In order to lure spectators and grow interest in the sport, Milan is determined each year to put on an entertaining “show.”  That means putting together a world class field (more on that later) and adding a few “extras” such as the KU cheerleaders, t-shirt tosses, a post-competition meet and greet with the athletes, a sound system, and a beer garden.

I know, I know. I had you at “KU cheerleaders.”

The competition  consists of one flight of top-notch throwers taking six throws apiece. In order to accentuate the drama, the flight is re-ordered after the third and fifth rounds. Throwers get to choose the music they want to hear as they enter the ring, and are encouraged to “play to the crowd.”  Milan seems quite pleased with the fact that Christian Cantwell (as a University of Missouri alum) is booed heartily by the pro-Jayhawk locals.

cantwell 2

The way that attendance has increased (1,500 in year one to 3,500 this year) would seem to indicate that Milan has accomplished his mission of showing people a good time.

The Setup

 A local quarry donates 400 cubic yards of crushed limestone for the landing area (which is in turn donated to the city of Lawrence). Since the street is not perfectly level, the thickness of the landing area varies from approximately 6 inches just in front of the ring to 3 feet at the opposite end of the sector (approximately 85 feet away).

The ring itself is set in a portable 10′ by 10′ concrete slab built according to specs that Milan obtained from the folks who run the shot competition in the Zurich train station.

Stopboards are placed at the end of the landing area, and barriers and bleachers are set up along the sides to keep spectators safe and comfortable.

Add in a couple of tents to shelter the athletes, a beer garden run by a local establishment and you have everything you need for a great competition.

The city of Lawrence donates the labor necessary for the setup and takedown. Setup begins at 6:00am and takes 5-8 hours. The competition is held at 6:00pm, and the city begins removing the limestone at midnight. By 6:00am the cleanup is done.

Here are a some views of the competition area:

overhead view



crowd shot

The Budget

The cost of holding the Kansas Relays shot in downtown Lawrence is $50,000. Part of that money is accumulated through donations from local businesses such as restaurants and banks, and part ($20,000) comes out of the Kansas Relays budget.

The majority of that $50,000 is devoted to putting together a world class field of putters. The very best shotputters in the world can command an appearance fee of $7,500 to $9,000. Less accomplished throwers may settle for $2,500 or less. Each is given $300.00 for travel as well as a per diem and hotel accomodations. The prize money is $1,000 for first place, $750.00 for second, and $500.00 for third.

I feel the need to digress here for a second because I don’t want people who are unfamiliar with the sport to get the wrong idea.

 As is often the case, the money paid to athletes may seem like a lot to us average Joes. Nine thousand dollars for one day’s work? Sounds pretty sweet. But paydays for shotputters are few and far between. The best of the best (recent World and Olympic champions) might get invited to a handful of decent-paying meets per season, and might quickly find themselves uninvited if their performance slips a bit.  Opportunities are even more scarce for those who have not quite achieved “best of the best” status. I recently spoke with a 21-meter putter who has never made a World Championship or Olympic team  and now, at the age of 30, is facing the liklihood of having to retire due to financial considerations. There just aren’t enough paying meets out there to allow him to make a living.

And that’s not good for our sport. As Gia Lewis-Smallwood has recently demonstrated, some throwers do not find their groove until long after they’ve left the security of the college environment. For the United States to field its best team at the Olympics and World Championships, we’ve got to give developing athletes a chance to make some money.

The great thing about street meets is that they help fill that need while also expanding track and field’s fan base.

Anyhow, Milan asks that each thrower arrive the day before the competition so that they may attend a dinner with local doners, and that they stick around after the event to pose for pictures and interact with the spectators, and he says the athletes have been great about doing just that.

I have spoken to two putters who participated in this year’s Kansas Relays street competition, Cory Martin and Justin Rodhe, and they both greatly enjoyed the experience. Milan said that the throwers he has come to know would like nothing better than to have a series of street meets held each summer in the USA. So, if you decide to host one of these competitions, you will be dealing with motivated, personable athletes who will do everything they can to make your event a success.

I would advise anyone who is considering putting on a street meet to contact Milan. He is a great guy and very happy to share his expertise.




Is Gia the best female American discus thrower ever?

2011 IAAF World Outdoor Championships

As a matter of fact, she is.

Here is the evidence.

Exhibit A: US Women’s Discus Throws over 65m


Okay, I know that’s hard to read, but I couldn’t cut and paste the damn thing without the margins going all goofy. Basically, what you’ve got there is a list of the 40 throws of 65m or better that have been produced by American women.  By  no means does Gia dominate that list. Suzy Powell has the most throws over 65m with ten, followed by Gia with nine.  Stephanie Brown-Trafton has the farthest throw on the list (67.74m) followed by Powell (67.67m) and then Gia (67.59m).  However, take a look at…

Exhibit B:  Throws over 65m in International Competition

67.59m  Gia   (Glasgow)

66.29m Gia  (Zagreb)

65.77m  Gia  (Oslo)

65.59m Gia (Paris)

65.38m Powell  (Rethimno)

65.10m Aretha Thurmond (Monaco)

This list, she does dominate.  And why, you may ask, is that a big deal?

That is a big deal because the throws on this list were taken inside of stadiums overseas.

I’m not going to condemn anyone for seeking out windy climates in an effort to break a record or achieve an “A” standard.  But throwing bombs on the California coast has zero relevance when it comes time to go up against the best of the best at the Olympics or the World Championships, which are held…inside of stadiums overseas.

In order to contend for a medal, a female discus thrower must set aside  the distractions of travel and the lack of those lovely ocean breezes and throw at least 65 meters.

Among American discus throwers, Gia has become the best at doing just that.

There are those who would argue that Stephanie Brown-Trafton should be considered the best ever after winning  gold at the 2008 Olympics. I am a big fan of Stephanie, who is on the comeback trail after giving birth nine months ago. Last week, at the Chicagoland Throws meet she told me that she is feeling good and just needs to build up her strength levels in order to return to peak form. But the peak form that got her the gold in Beijing in 2008 with a throw of 64.74m is unlikely to win her a spot on the medal stand in Beijing in 2015 or in Rio in 2016.  Sondra Perkovic, the defending World and Olympic champion, has shown a consistent knack for throwing 68-69m at the biggest meets. Australia’s Dani Samuels is having a great year, and there are a handful of others who have recently thrown 65+m in stadiums.

The only American thrower ever who has shown the ability to hang with that crowd is Gia.

Actually, she has done more than hang with them as of late. Last week in Glasgow in this stadium…

 glas stad 2

 …she handed Perkovic her first loss of the season by launching a PR throw of 67.59m.

Gia is now the only thrower to have defeated Perkovic over the last two years. That alone might qualify her as the best.




Where does that leave us? Part 2: The Women

My last post examined the prospects of US men making the finals and/or medaling next year in Beijing and the following year in Rio.

Now, let’s consider the ladies.

The Discus

Moscow Results:

8th:62.80m  Bronze: 64.96m  Silver: 66.28m  Gold: 67.99m

Sacramento Results:

3rd:  Shelbi Vaughan 59.75m

2nd: Liz Podominick 59.96m

1st: Gia Lewis-Smallwood 65.96m

2011 IAAF World Outdoor Championships

Gia’s career seemed dead in the water just a couple of years ago, but she pulled off a rare trick for an American thrower: she found a way to stay in the sport long enough to find her groove.  She finished fifth in Moscow, and has shown the ability to throw 64-65 meters overseas in stadiums.  She is also, to my knowledge, the only thrower to defeat Sandra Perkovic in the past two years. (Fun Fact: over 600 people have climbed Mt. Everest in that time).  The big question is, can Gia at thirty-five years of age hold off the ravages of time long enough to get on the podium in Beijing and Rio?  If she does, it will be a great, great moment for American throwing.

(This just in! As I am about to post this article, Gia has thrown 65.59m to take third at the Paris DL meet)

Another question: Can 2008 Olympic champ Stephanie Brown Trafton come all the way back from taking time off to have a baby? She had to be encouraged by her performance in Sacramento (58.84m), but she and Gia are about the same age, so…

A final question: What about the youngsters? Shelbi Vaughan is a special athlete, but she cannot be expected to throw bombs overseas in August after enduring the rigors of the NCAA season, especially if she continues playing volleyball. Whitney Ashley (fifth in Sacramento at 58.68m) is another gifted athlete waiting in the wings. (Fun Fact: At the 2013 Adidas Grand Prix meet, Perkovic’s coach told me that he thought Ashley had a lot of potential but that she should reverse instead of using a fixed-feet finish).

Outlook: In my dream scenario (the one that does not involve Angelina Jolie) Gia and Stephanie both elbow their way onto the podium next to Perkovic in Beijing or Rio.


The Javelin 

Moscow Results:

8th: 61.30m  Bronze: 65.09m  Silver:66.60m  Gold: 69.05m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Leigh Petranoff  57.80m

2nd: Brittany Borman 62.05

1st: Kara Patterson 62.43m


 Does anyone else view the javelin as a fickle event?  Three weeks ago in New York, I watched the Australian javeliner Kathryn Mitchell throw 66.02m easy as pie and Linda Stahl (a German) throw 67.32m easy as strudel. Then, earlier this week at the Lausanne DL meeting, they went 58.23m and 63.20m respectively.

Outlook: Given the “on any given day” nature of the event, it is entirely possible that Borman or Patterson could make the final in Beijing and/or Rio. A medal, though, is unlikely. Their best route to the podium at a major international meet is to pull a Gia and stay in the sport into their thirties (Mitchell, by the way, is having her best season at the age of thirty-one).


The Shot Put 

Moscow Results:

8th: 18.09m  Bronze: 19.95m Silver:20.41m  Gold: 20.88m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Tia Brooks 18.83m

2nd: Felisha Johnson 19.18m

1st: Michelle Carter 19.45m

carter 2

Loads of potential among this threesome of young gliders, two of whom have already garnered significant international experience. Tia was 8th in Moscow, Michelle missed the bronze by a centimeter.

Outlook: There is no reason the US should not have two shot finalists in Beijing and Rio. And after that?  Valerie Adams is only twenty-nine, but the Herculean effort behind her seemingly effortless domination of the sport (two Olympic, three Indoor World and four Outdoor World golds since 2007) has left her contemplating retirement after 2016. Carter, who threw an American record 20.24m last season, is only a year younger than Val, but seems to be just coming into her own. If she can hang in there for another Olympic cycle after Rio, she might be able to contend for that rather large open space at the top of major championship podiums.

The Hammer

Moscow Results:

8th: 72.70m  Bronze: 75.58m  Silver: 78.46m  Gold: 78.80m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Amber Campbell 71.35m 

2nd: Jessica Cosby Toruga 71.72m

1st: Amanda Bingson 75.07m 


In the past two seasons, three American women (Bingson, Cosby Toruga, and Jeneva McCall) have thrown 74 meters or better. Cosby Toruga is thirty-two, but both McCall and Bingson are just two years out of college.  Same for Gwen Berry, who threw 73.81m last year.

Outlook: For Beijing and Rio, getting two in the top eight is certainly attainable. Beyond that, one or more of the Bingson/McCall/Berry trio needs to get her PB into the 77-78 meter range to increase the odds of hitting a medal-winning 76m in a major championship.




So where does that leave us? Part 1: the men

The 2014 USATF championships are in the books, but with no World or Olympic titles to shoot for this year it seems like a proper moment to size up the state of the throwing events in this country and to speculate on what it will take to medal or at least make the finals next year in Beijing and the following year in Rio.

The Hammer

Here are some results from last year’s Worlds in Moscow:

8th Place: 77.57m   Bronze: 79.36m   Silver: 80.30m  Gold: 81.97m

Sacramento results:

3rd: Chris Cralle 72.83m 

 2nd: AG Kruger 73.34m

1st: Kibwe Johnson 74.16m


 Kibwe’s PB is 80.31m, but at 33 years of age his chances of making the finals in 2015 or 2016 appear slim. Same for Kruger, who is 35. Chris Cralle is young (26) but with a PR of 74.55m he is going to have to find a way to stay in the sport long enough to get to the point where he can throw 77m to 80m consistently.

Outlook: Not so good. It would be a huge step forward just to get someone in the final eight in Beijing or Rio.


The Javelin

Moscow results:

8th: 80.03m    Bronze: 86.23m   Silver:87.07m   Gold: 87.17m

Sacramento results:

3rd: Tim Glover 78.87m

2nd: Riley Dolezal 79.27m

1st: Sean Furey 81.10m


If 80m gets you into the final again in 2015, all three of these guys would obviously have a shot. A medal? Hmmmm. Glover is the youngest of the three at 24, and has the longest PR (84.01m) but he graduated college this spring and must find a stable training environment if he is to lead the US to international respectability.

Outlook: Forget about 2015 or 2016, but my 2020 vision says that if Glover can stay with it he might be the guy to break through.


 The Discus:

Moscow results:

8th: 63.38m   Bronze: 65.19m  Silver: 68.36m Gold: 69.11m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Mason Finley 61.04m

2nd: Bryan Powlen 61.05m

1st: Hayden Reed 62.19m


The good news? The 26-year-old Powlen is the old man of this crew. Finley has decided to give up shot putting to focus on the disc, and Reed is clearly a fearless young man. The bad news?  There is a veteran group of discus throwers on the international scene all of whom have shown the ablility to throw 65+ in stadiums–68+ in the case of by Robert Harting, Piotr Malachowski,  Gerd Kanter, and Ehsan Hadadi.

Outlook:  As a Chicago White Sox fan, I love to make fun of the Cubs and their hundred-years-and-counting title drought. The suffering of their supporters has reached Biblical proportions, with no end in sight. Sadly, American discus fans are in the same boat.

The Shot Put

Moscow results:

8th: 20.39m  Bronze: 21.34m  Silver: 21.57m Gold: 21.73m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Reese Hoffa 20.78m

2nd: Kurt Roberts 21.47m

1st: Joe Kovacs 22.03m


Consider the humble cactus. It flourishes in the type of dry, barren soil that kills off most other plants. Same for American shotputters. No one knows exactly what factors have conspired to keep the United States from regularly producing world class jav, hammer, and disc throwers,  but whatever those factors may be (lack of governmental support, the predominance of football, an evil curse) they seem to have no affect whatsoever on our ability to crank out excellent shot putters.

Looking  at the numbers those guys put up in Sacramento, would anyone guess that  three men who have thrown over 21 meters this season were forced by injury to withdraw from the competition?

My teenaged daughter would call that “sick!”

Outlook: Hard to imagine an elephant fitting in a room full of American shot putters, but it’s not going away until one of them wins an Olympic gold medal.  Will our phalanx of phenoms finally overwhelm those cursed European gliders? Majewski is getting long in the tooth and has been injured quite a bit lately, but Storl is still young and still…Storl.  If nothing else, the shot final in Beijing and Rio should be riveting.