Some Thoughts on Supporting our Athletes

I read a really interesting article in the New York Times the other day. It described the efforts of US skiers to raise money for training and travel expenses through crowdfunding sites.

Here is the link to that article:

I know nothing about the sport of skiing other than the fact that Lindsey Vonn is dating Tiger Woods (thank you People Magazine), but the article made me wonder if American throwers were also using crowdfunding to help with expenses.

Turns out that at least one is, and I know her.

brit smith

She is Brittany Smith, the recent Illinois State University graduate and NCAA All-American in the shot put and hammer throw.

I met Brittany a few years ago when one of my former throwers was her teammate at Illinois State. She is a really nice person and a very talented young thrower.

Funny story. A couple of weeks ago I received an email from my brother-in-law Larry who lives in Germany and has made possible most of my sojourns across the pond to see world class track meets. Larry owns some rental property in Tuscon, Arizona, and he had received an inquiry from a young lady named Brittany Smith who wanted to rent one of his places next winter. Apparently, she was a thrower and wanted to train in Arizona as part of her effort to make the 2016 Olympic team.

I was happy to vouch for the fact that Brittany was indeed a thrower and that, aside from her rather odd taste in men (more on that in a moment) seemed like a completely trustworthy person.  Larry was happy to play a role in helping an aspiring Olympian, and so the deal was done.

Funny story. Larry ran distance for DIII powerhouse North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.  My friend Sean Denard was, from 2012 until a couple of months ago, the throws coach at North Central. Sean recently took over the throws position at Grand Valley State. He is also the boyfriend of…Brittany Smith.

Anyway, Larry had mentioned that Brittany was using a crowdfunding site to raise some cash, a fact that I was reminded of while reading the New York Times story. Here is the link to  her page on the gofundme site:

Thinking about Brittany and her efforts to stay in the sport long enough to reach her prime (she is currently 23 years old) made me think about my conversation with the German coach Torsten Schmidt last month.

I am by no means an expert in the German system, but from what I can tell it works like this:

Typical schools in Germany do not field sports teams. Most communities, however, have sports clubs. These clubs are coached by volunteer and part-time trainers. If a young athlete shows significant potential, they might be invited to attend a special “sports school” starting (I think) at the age of 16.

There, they will receive expert coaching.

If an athlete continues to flourish in his or her sport, they may be offered the opportunity to remain in the government-sponsored sports system, often by joining a special arm of the police.  Christoph Harting, one of the discus throwers who trains with Torsten, talks about that in the following interview:


Christoph’s position with the police allows him, at the age of 24, to train full time from January through September at an excellent facility in Berlin (it has 8 discus rings) under the care of one of the best coaches in the world. He shares that coach with only two other athletes: his brother Robert, and Julia Fischer.  He does not have to worry about training or travel expenses.

Compare that with Brittany’s situation. At the age of 23, she currently works part time at Illinois State and is on her own in arranging and paying for coaching, travel, and other training expenses. If that situation becomes unmanageable, she will be forced to consider retiring from her sport.

Which of them do you think has the better chance of reaching their potential as a thrower?

You have to wonder if the German system of supporting their athletes is the key to their consistent excellence in the throws.

Interestingly, Robert Harting recently made some disparaging comments about athlete support in Germany in an interview with Throwholics:

As far as I can tell, Robert seems to be suggesting that getting a degree while training in the German system is a bigger challenge than it should be.

That’s one thing Brittany has going for her. She has her degree from ISU. Now, for her and for many other post-collegiate throwers, the challenge is to stay in the sport long enough to reach its highest level.


More on Franka


Here is a nice look at the technique common among female German throwers.

Notice how Franka sets up to kick her way out of the back (photo 3), how she how she turns her right foot like crazy even before it lands in the middle (photos 4 and 5) and how far she gets her right knee ahead of  the disc as she drives into the throw (photo 8).

Here is Lars displaying those same technical points:


Lars and Franka: the finish

photo (62)

So there it is.

Both have cranked their right heel/knee/hip hard into the throw, which is great, but both have pulled away with their head, which is not so great.

I suspect that the pulling away of the head can be traced back to the beginning of the throw, when both seemed to lead into the middle of the ring with their upper body and then sort of chase their head through the rest of the throw.

As previously mentioned, Lars and Franka share eight World Championship golds between them, so I don’t mean to suggest that they have lousy form.

But, if Torsten Schmidt is correct, they both use a style of throwing that is most suitable to very strong women throwing a very light disc.

The fact that Lars was able to effectively use such a technique with the 2k shows what an amazing athlete he is.

Lars and Franka

In my last post, I suggested that Franz Kruger’s technique was an excellent example of the “German style” of discus throwing for men,

I also suggested that Lars Riedel did not adhere to the German template for men but instead used a style common among German women.

Allow me to elaborate.

Here are Lars and Franka Dietszch set up to run the ring:

photo 1 (4)

I put those blue marks on there to emphasize the position of their feet. Pretty similar, eh?

Torsten Schmidt told me that it is advisable for women throwers to use a kicking action out of the back, and you can see that Franka is set up to do just that. As is Lars.

A quick note of caution to those of you who coach athletes slightly less gifted than these two (between them they won 8 World Championship gold medals). The placement of the left shoulder out past the left hip can cause balance problems that the average athlete will not be able to overcome.  Franz provides a better model for getting out of the back on balance. (See my last post).

Here are Lars and Franka beginning to run the ring:

photo 2 (2)

Do you ever read People Magazine?  They have a feature in there every week where they print two versions of the same photograph, one of which has been slightly altered and you are supposed to find the alterations. I can never do it. Both photos always look the same to me.

As is the case above.

Both have turned their left foot really far. So far that by the time they

get off it…

photo 3 (2)

…it is just about perpendicular to the direction of the throw and the right foot has almost touched down in the middle of the ring.


They both clearly emphasize an aggressive turning of the right foot and knee, although Lars has maintained a taller posture.

Here they are at right foot touch down:

photo 4

Again, Lars stays taller, but check out the angle of the right foot. It is turning like crazy as it lands. According to Torsten, This extreme turning of the right foot and hip does not work for most men as it is too hard to keep the 2k discus back while doing so. Clearly, then, Lars is not like “most men.”


Now for the final phase of the throw:

photo 1 (5)

It seems to me that the emphasis here is getting as much distance as possible between the disc and the right heel/knee/hip.  It is as if the disc is an arrow and their bodies are bows and they are trying to create massive tension in the bow before launching the arrow. I know how important this phase of the throw was to Lars, as I had the pleasure of seeing him  compete in person a couple of times and  during warmups he practiced this right knee/hip action over and over.

Okay, due to technical difficulties, I can’t get the final photo that I wanted to use to load.

Stay tuned, for the final proof that Lars Riedel, uber mensch, did in fact throw like a girl.



Did Lars Riedel Throw Like a Girl?

Why, yes he did.

I had a great time in Berlin talking about throwing with Torsten Schmidt. My sister-in-law Gay and I joined him for lunch at what the Germans call a “doner” restaurant. On Torsten’s recommendation, I ordered something that looked like a gyro and came with “double meat.”

It was excellent, and I powered it down. It would take Torsten about three hours to get through his, though, because it is hard to eat while being interrogated by a crazy American.

I had my ipad, and he patiently went over a bunch of film clips with me while Gay helped translate any difficult terms. I believe “hard ass” and “thigh” gave us the most trouble.

One idea that came up was that there is a certain style of throwing that works for women and not men. Women, according to Torsten, can do things with the 1k disc that men cannot with the 2k.

Most men, that is.

Torsten said that Lars Riedel is the only man he has seen successfully employ the “women’s” technique.

Let’s take a look.

We will start by comparing Lars with Franz Kruger, the great South African thrower who was trained to throw with a technique common to German male throwers.

This first photo shows them in pretty similar positions at the point where their left foot has turned 90 degrees as they unwind at the back of the ring:

photo 1 (3)

In this next photo, the left foot has continue to turn and the right foot has just left the ground:

photo 2 (1)



Now we start to see differences. Franz has been more patient with his head, which allows him to keep the disc back farther.

Differences are apparent in the following  photo as well. Lars has turned his left foot much father than Franz, and his aggressiveness with his head has caused his shoulders to tip towards the center of the ring:

photo 3 (1)


As the left foot leaves the back of the ring, you can see that Lars continues to lead with his head while his hips turn so aggressively that he appears to be backing into the power position:






photo 1 (2)


Franz seems to be using a focal point to slow down his head and shoulders as he sprints to the center. His hips have not turned as violently as those of Lars, but slowing the rotation of his upper body allows Franz to keep the disc way back.

Here they are as the right foot touches down in the center:

photo 2


The angle of the right foot is similar, but Franz is still focused on his focal point, so his disc stays waaaay back.

Next, the moment the left foot touches down at the front of the ring:



Both throwers have done a great job of keeping their weight back over the right foot, but look at the difference in  the position of that foot. Lars has his heel up and turning like crazy.

Franz’s right foot points almost directly towards the back of the ring.

Here they are at the moment of release:

photo (1)

Lars has done an amazing job of cranking his right heel in an effort to get separation between his right hip and the disc, but I feel like his head betrays him once again as it pulls off to the left at the very moment when it should be tipped slightly to the right to help elongate the path of the discus.

Franz has not turned his heel nearly as much, but his hips reach a similar position to those of Lars and his head, tipped slightly to the right, allows him to maximize the path of the disc (as does the slight bend in the knee of his blocking leg).

So, if we accept that Franz’s style provides a sound example of German “male” discus technique, we can see that Lars did not adhere to that template.

Next up, we compare Lars to Franka Dietzsch.