Torsten Schmidt

When I was in high school during the 1970’s, Oak Lawn (in the south suburbs of Chicago) had a powerhouse throwing program under Coach George Dunn.

I’ve never forgotten my first look at the Oak Lawn throwers. It came during an indoor meet my freshman year. I was six feet tall and weighed 150 pounds. Approximately ten of that was hair.

My PR was in the neighborhood of twenty-four feet. I wanted desperately to hit thirty feet one day, but at the time that seemed like a long way to throw a twelve-pound shot put.

Imagine my astonishment, then, when one of the Oak Lawn varsity kids (I believe his name was John Marks) bombed one out past the sixty-foot line.

That was the beginning of a long run of great putters at Oak Lawn, and also the beginning of my fascination with the German approach to throwing.

You see, Coach Dunn had somehow struck up a friendship with an East German throwing coach whose name was…Peter Tscheine. I think.

Aided by his German friend, Coach Dunn taught his putters a German-style short/long glide. I remember that one of the Oak Lawn throwers, Mike Lehmann, looked in terms of throwing technique exactly like the East German Hartmut Briesenick. Mike, by the way, ended up competing internationally and throwing over twenty-one meters.

Anyway, this German connection intrigued me and when I became a throwing coach in the early 1990’s, I tried to learn as much as possible about the German style of throwing.

Unfortunately, my sources of information were quite limited.

My first year of coaching, I brought several of my guys to Oak Lawn to have Coach Dunn take a look at them, but shortly thereafter he retired to Florida, partly I suspect because he was tired of me bombarding him with questions.

In the mid-1990’s, I met current Southern Illinois University throws coach John Smith at a big coaches clinic put on by Marty Schnorf at Eastern Illinois University. Coach Smith helped me toward what I think is a pretty good understanding of the German short/long glide, and has been a helpful advisor ever since.

Around that same time, a colleague of mine in the English department at Wheaton North High School hosted a visitor from Germany–a sixteen-year-old girl who competed in the shot and disc for her local track club.

She practiced with us for the couple of weeks that she was in town, and it was really interesting to study her glide technique–a superfast fixed feet short/long.

I didn’t learn much about the discus from her though, as she was struggling with her technique to the point where she caged most of her throws. I did, however, pick up a few German cuss words.

Also around this time, I did the smartest thing I’ve ever done and married my wife.

Before I met her, I had no one to make me laugh all the time or to rub my hair while I fell asleep on the couch at 7:30 each night.

Nor had I ever been to Europe.

But that changed quickly, as Alice (my wife) had and has a brother who lives in southern Germany and a sister who lives in Berlin. The brother, Larry, lives very close to the site of a throwers only meet called Weltklasse am Rhein that used to be held each summer near the Swiss/German border.

The final edition of this meet was held in 2001, and I attended it along with my friends and fellow throws coaches Shawn Schleizer and Jim Aikens.

At that meet, we enjoyed a nice conversation with the fine South African discus thrower Franz Kruger and his coach. The coach (his name escapes me) told us that he used a German technical model when training Franz, and gave us his email address in case we wanted to ask him more questions.

I sure as heck did, but for whatever reason we could not get in touch with him after we had returned home, so my search for a German discus mentor continued.

Meanwhile, the Germans dominated international competition.

Jurgen Schult…

jurgen photo

…gave way to Lars Riedel…

lars photo

…who gave way to Robert Harting.

harting photo

By my count, the German men and women discus throwers have won 27 medals at Olympic Games and World Championships since 1987.

Americans have won 3.

I know, I know. There are a lot of reasons for this. For one, there is no NFL in Germany so 6’6″ guys who run like deer are more likely to take up discus throwing as a career.

But there is no NFL for women, and…27-3? Doesn’t that make you wonder?

It sure made me wonder.

Finally, two years ago my sister-in-law Gay (the one who lives in Berlin) found Jurgen Schult’s email address for me. I had met him briefly at the Weltklasse am Rhein, and he seemed like a friendly guy so I figured I’d see if I could strike up an acquaintance with him and maybe get some insight into German throwing.

It turns out he is a very nice guy, and he replied right away to my email. Unfortunately, he said that he didn’t think there was such a thing as a “German” discus technique. Every thrower has to find their own style.

(It is hard to argue with that, but…27-3?)

Even more unfortunately, Jurgen said that it was not possible to have an intelligent conversation about technique via email, especially with the language barrier. He grew up in the East, and before the wall came down they did not hear much English.

So, that was that.

Until…

My lovely wife and I hopped across the pond last August to visit Larry, and I got a chance to attend the European Championships in Zurich.

In a previous post I described my stalking of Harting’s coach at the German hotel in Zurich. Due to my panther-like quickness, he could not avoid me.

His name is Torsten Schmidt…

torsten photo

…and he competed for Germany in the Athens Olympics.

He is 39 years old and grew up in the DDR.

At the age of twelve, Torsten and his schoolmates were tested for athletic potential and because he was tall and explosive he was sent to a sports school in Rostock.

His career lasted until 2007, and in 2009 he became a coach in the German national system.

He has worked with young German standouts such as 2013 World Youth shot put champion Patrick Muller, and the Prufer brothers, Henning and Clemens.

Currently, Torsten trains Robert Harting, Cristoph Harting, and Julia Fischer in Berlin.

And that is where I sat down with him last Wednesday for a chat about German discus throwing.

On to Berlin, Part 2

So they hand over my passport just in time for me to catch the subway to O’Hare, and I make it to the gate of the Frankfort flight just as they are about to start boarding. It is the same gate that my wife and I flew out of in August when we got bumped up to first class, so my memories of it are, to say the least, fond. This time they call me up and hand me a ticket for a seat in economy, which was fine by me–I just wanted to get to Germany.

Turns out I got a seat in a row all by myself with plenty  of leg room. Just as I was settling in, a voice comes over the intercom.

“Passenger Dan McQuaid, please come forward.”

I was none too happy to hear that, but come forward I did, only to be met by a guy from the ticket counter who was now standing just inside the entrance to the plane.

“You’re Dan McQuaid?”

“Yes.”

“Grab your stuff. We just had an opening in first class.”

He didn’t have to tell me twice.

I spent the next three hours stuffing my face, then watched a little TV, took a nice snooze, watched a little more TV and next thing I know, we are in Germany!

So, suck it Air Berlin. It’s going to be a short trip because they still won’t give me credit for the flight I missed or let me switch to a Saturday return flight, but at least I got here!

And apropos of nothing, I’d have to say that having gone through security twice at O’Hare, twice at the Federal Building, and once in  Frankfort (I ended up taking Luftansa from there to Berlin) Frankfort has by far the friendliest and most thorough security. They even gave me a little extra feel because I accidentally left a pen in my shirt pocket.

 

 

 

 

 

In Berlin

It seemed like the perfect plan. My wife’s sister who lives in Berlin recently had a hip replacement. My wife wanted someone to go and stay with her for a few days to make sure she’s doing okay.

Chivalrous bastard that I am, I volunteered.

My school has the entire week off. I got a great fare on Air Berlin. I made a lunch date with Torsten Schmidt, the coach of Robert Harting, so that I could continue to badger him into helping me understand why the Germans consistently produce great discus throwers.

My wife and mother-in-law dropped me at the airport on Saturday and then headed to the outlet mall while I breezed through security.

Got a couple of magazines. A nice iced tea. A rather excellent gyro.

They begin to call out group numbers. I heard mine, stepped up and handed over my boarding pass and passport, the guy takes a look at it, then looks at me and says “Please step over to the counter.”

As I do, he yells to the counter person “Check his passport!”

At this point, I imagine everyone in the vicinity figured they had just nabbed a terrorist trying to board with a fake passport. I could not imagine what was the deal. Then they told me.

“Sir, your passport expires in two months. You cannot travel to Germany within three months of your passport expiring.”

Imagine my vexation.

I stood there probably looking a bit stunned and watched the plane fly away without me.

After a while, the gate supervisor explained to me that this was a fairly new regulation and that I might be able to get an expedited passport on Monday and they would put me on their next flight, which would not be until Tuesday.

My immensely patient wife came back to the airport to get me and immediately upon our arrival home started working the phone to make sure Air Berlin was going to honor the supervisor’s promise that I would get on the Tuesday flight.

Long story short, they were less than keen about doing that in spite of my wife’s pointing out that that they ought to let a guy know  there might be a problem with his passport before he is ten feet from boarding the plane.

The last person she spoke to in Berlin finally told her that I should show up for the Tuesday flight and basically throw myself on the mercy of the ticket agent.

At that point we had no idea if they’d let me on the flight or if they’d say “tough luck” and make us eat the cost of the ticket.

Luckily, we had one other option. If I could get a new passport on Monday and get to O’Hare by 4:00ish I might be able to use a buddy pass on United (another of my wife’s sisters is a stew) that would at least get me to Frankfort. From there I could figure out how to get to Berlin and then come home on the return portion of my Air Berlin ticket.

If you can’t tell by now that my wife is a saint, just know that she spent about seven hours at the passport bureau with me on Monday and if you think that was a barrel of laughs…try it some time.

Got to go. I’ll finish the story later!

 

How Could They?

Is anyone else astonished that the IAAF chose Qatar to host the 2019 World Championships?

Let’s see…Qatar has been strongly suspected of bribing their way into hosting the soccer world cup in 2022, they have been accused of badly mistreating the foreign workers that they import for construction projects, and the competition will have to be delayed until late September/early October to avoid the insane summer temperatures in that region.

Great call IAAF!

Here are a couple of excellent articles on this matter:

http://www.insidethegames.biz/sports/summer/athletics/1023933-exclusive-iaaf-claim-doha-s-37-million-offer-in-2019-world-championships-bid-was-legal-and-within-guidelines

http://www.insidethegames.biz/blogs/1023916-mike-rowbottom-why-the-iaaf-disregarded-a-herd-of-elephants-in-the-room-to-give-doha-the-2019-world-athletics-championships

Any thoughts? I just don’t know what to think other than to wonder if the IAAF  is as corrupt as FIFA.

–McQ