Brittany’s Big Adventure


Here is a quick look into the glamorous but exhausting life of Brittany Smith,  a young 19-meter shot putter trying to make it on the international circuit

Thursday, May 7

Brittany boards a flight from Chicago to Tokyo at around noon. It is the biggest plane she has ever seen (two levels) and even though the Wi-Fi doesn’t work the twelve-hour flight passes quickly. Strangely, upon arrival in Tokyo it is now Friday afternoon.

Sunday, May 10

Along with fellow American Felisha Johnson, Brittany competes in the Seiko Golden Grand Prix meet. In spite of some confusion involving warm-up logistics and phantom fouls called on her first two throws, Brittany finishes second with a very respectable 18.51m toss.

After the competition, she is shuttled to a hotel near the airport. The following morning she will embark for Shanghai and her first ever Diamond League meet.

Monday, May 11

Brittany arrives at the stadium in Shanghai intending to take some practice throws but is kicked out. She takes her shot and heads to the nearby warm-up track, which is completely dark. Luckily, she is carrying two phones (one for international calling) and uses them to light up the ring. This attracts the attention of several soldiers patrolling nearby. They begin cheering her practice throws.

Eventually they tell her, in broken English, that they would like to try some throws as well. Striking a blow for international relations, she agrees to share the ring.

Tuesday, May 12 to Saturday, May 16

Brittany and Felisha are joined by another fine American shot-putter, Tia Brooks. They spend the days leading up to the competition practicing at the warm-up track, lifting in a weight room adjacent to the stadium, walking around the city, occasionally taking a meal at McDonald’s (according to Britt, the food provided at the hotel was good but basically the same every day), napping (the jet lag seemed to get worse as the week wore on) and trying to ward off boredom until…

Sunday, May 17 

Britt has never seen a 20-meter throw in person, but now finds herself warming up along side two athletes (Germany’s Christian Schwanitz and China’s Lijiao Gong) who have surpassed that distance in championship meets.

She watches herown first attempt a bit too long and ends up fouling it. On her second throw, the shot slips down her neck as she spins through the ring and ends up flying out of bounds to the left.

Sitting on two fouls, she feels the pressure to “get a mark” and throws a disappointing 17.76m.

Meanwhile Gong, cheered on by countrywomen Tianquian Guo and Yang Gao (according to Britt, there was a lot of screaming. Guo and Gao would scream as Gong entered the ring, and then Gong would rip off a nice one herself as she finished each throw) crushes a world-leading 20.23m.

Schwanitz hits 19.94m for second place.

Monday, May 18 

Brittany boards the long flight back to Chicago at 4:00pm. Many hours later she arrives in the US at…5:00pm.


Wednesday, May 20

Struggling mightily with jet lag, Brittany graciously agrees to an interview. She is philosophical about her adventures abroad, recalling that her first trip to the NCAA meet as a freshman at Illinois State University did not go well, but that subsequent trips went very well (she was a several-time All-American in the shot and hammer).

She is not sure if she will compete again prior to the US championships, but is confident that should she earn a trip to Beijing for this summer’s World Championships, the experience she gained on her Far East adventure will come in very handy.







Stop That Yanking!

One of my young discus throwers has a chance to be really good, but like many athletes in many sports he cannot quite resist the urge to try to generate power by yanking his head.

Warning: Throws coaches may find the following image disturbing.



I warned you!

What is especially troubling about this photo is that it depicts the ruin of what to that point had been a technically sound throw.

What is even more troubling is that serial yanking can be very difficult to cure. Especially if a kid snaps off the occasional big throw and that voice in his head says, “There! See? I told you yanking your head would work! Ignore that old dude  who keeps telling you to finish tall and stay smooth. That’s sissy talk! Just keep yanking, baby and we will do great things together!”

Fortunately, I am friends with Bob Nihells who runs an incredibly successful throws program at nearby Lake Park High School, and Bob agreed to perform an intervention with my guy Dan.

The first thing Bob recommended was attaching a towel to the cage directly behind the ring. Once in the power position, Dan was to keep his eyes on that towel while his left arm cleared and his right hip turned into the throw. Here is Dan working on that concept:

After a couple of days of working that drill, Dan was able to snap off a nice power position throw with little trace of yankitis:

The next step was to perform a South African drill:

Followed by a fixed feet throw:

After several throws with the actual discus, we switched over to bowling pins as a way of reinforcing the “slow head” concept without worrying about how far the implement was going:


I think this was his best effort of the day in terms of keeping his head calm while his left arm and right knee/hip turned into the throw.

Here are a series of photos comparing that pin toss with a full throw Dan took yesterday:

dan compare 3


As he hits the power position he looks to be in good shape in both photos. Balanced. Arms long. Weight mostly on his right leg. But, notice that in the bottom photo his head is already beginning to turn into the throw.

That trend continues below. In the pin toss, he has found his focal point and kept his head stationary.

dan compare 2


With the disc in hand, he has allowed his head to turn as his left arm sweeps.

Below, he continues to keep one eye on the focal point while driving his right hip into the throw.

dan compare


Compare that with the bottom photo. At first glance, he seems to be in good shape in both, but by turning his head along with his left arm he has permitted his weight to move prematurely forward onto his left leg.


In the pin toss, Dan’s weight is still back even as the implement passes his right leg and hip.

dan compare 8


In this discus throw, he has done a good job of getting his right foot turned before the disc sweeps past it, but a good portion of his weight is already on his left leg.


As a result of keeping his head slow and calm in the pin toss, Dan has excellent upright posture on release.

dan compare 4

As a result of leading into this throw with his head, Dan’s posture breaks down on release. His weight is almost entirely on his front foot and his shoulders are ahead of his hips. The throw landed out of bounds on the right.

Our job now is to consistently reproduce the technique that Dan displayed on the pin toss. If you look at the vid of the fixed feet throw above, I think he is on his way.







What ya gonna do when Fawn Miller comes for you?

fawn miller


If you are an opponent in this week’s  SEC championships (or in next month’s NCAA championships for that matter) you are very likely going to lose.

That’s what.

Fawn won last year’s NCAA title in Eugene with a PR toss of 58.13m on her second throw.

As a typical American shot/disc obsessive, I paid no attention to that fact, and when I interviewed her coach, Steve Lemke, earlier this spring about his fine shot putter Stipe Zunic, I neglected to even inquire about Fawn.

It wasn’t until I noticed that she had notched a 56.01m toss at LSU on May 2nd that I decided I needed to learn something about her before my next conversation with Steve.

Imagine my surprise when I saw that she was the defending NCAA champion.

Woodward and Bernstein would be proud.

But hang on, it gets better.

Steve described some of the difficulties that Fawn has dealt with this season–typical javelin thrower stuff. A sore back tweaked originally in the weight room and then re-tweaked on a bad plant in practice forced her to throw from an abbreviated approach at the Texas Relays. Lousy weather messed her up at Penn. Her technique was still off at LSU (the bad back made her hesitant to hit her block hard) but she basically toughed out that 56m effort. She is still working to find a groove.

Then he mentioned “the accident.”

Turns out that during Fawn’s sophomore year she had been riding a motorcycle home from class when she was struck by a car traveling 50 miles per hour. Her right foot was nearly torn off, and she was very, very lucky to have survived.

She was also lucky to have grown up in Pennsylvania, and to have a friend who happened to be an acquaintance of the team physician for the Pittsburgh Penguins who happened to be extremely skilled at fixing badly injured ankles.

Steve said that initially the hope was that Fawn would be able to walk again some day. Later, that was amended to “maybe she will actually be able to throw again and possibly hit  150 feet.”

But two years after the accident, there she was on top of the podium in Eugene.

Fawn just graduated with a criminology degree, and when her javelin career ends may well become an FBI agent.

If she does, God help any criminal who crosses her path. That old ankle injury may prevent her from chasing you down, but if you are within 60 meters, take my advice and surrender before she has a chance to bust out the ol’ spear.



To Wind or Not to Wind

Most elite discus throwers wind the disc as far back as they can at the beginning of the throw. For example…

…Sandra Perkovic

perk 2



…Robert Harting



harting wind



…Casey Malone

malone wind







…Frank Casanas

casanas wind



Notice that each of these athletes has turned his/her hips to the right in order to increase the length of their wind.

Why is a long wind desirable? Well, physics says that we can best accelerate an object by applying force over a long path, and an exaggerated wind lengthens the path over which the discus is accelerated.

Also, there seems to be an element of rhythm involved here. Turning the hips to the right before sitting and shifting them back to the left just feels “right” to many discus throwers, the same way that rising and settling at the back of the ring as they begin the throw feels “right” to glide shot putters.

And feeling relaxed and in rhythm is vital to anyone attempting to throw a discus far.

Also vital, though, is that a discus thrower unwinds successfully.

The thrower must transition from the farthest point of their wind…

2015-01-08 16.59.26


…to a position that sets them up for a successful sprint across the ring:

2015-01-08 16.59.43

Notice that Sandra has shifted her weight way left while maintaining an upright posture and keeping the disc far behind.

From here she can aggressively run the ring…

2015-01-08 16.59.55



…and knock the crap out of it at the front, her tall, perfectly balanced position allowing all of the force she generated during her sprint through the ring to transfer to the implement.




The question facing those of us who coach young throwers is essentially how best to get them to that strong, tall, balanced finish so beautifully demonstrated by Perkovic.

And grappling with that challenge has lately caused me to question the efficacy of a long wind for young throwers.

Here is one of my guys demonstrating what looks to me like a nice, loose, well-balanced wind:




Here he is at the finish of that throw:



See the difference in posture between my guy and Perkovic?



Look at the angle of the spine. My guy is tilted to the left.

Look what that does to the angle of release. Sandra’s arm is at a 90-degree angle to her torso, and all of her power is being transferred to the discus.

In pulling to the left at release, my guy dissipates whatever force he has developed while running the ring, thus robbing himself of potential distance on the throw.

What does all this have to do with the wind?

In working on this matter with my throwers, I began to suspect that it might be helpful to reduce the throwing movement to its least complicated form.

That meant eliminating the windup and reverse.

Here are a couple of vids of my guys demonstrating what we’ve been up to:

To me, they both demonstrate solid, effective finishing positions here. And I know a lot happens between the wind (or the “no wind”) and the finish, but so far it seems that eliminating an active wind has helped these guys maintain balance and effective posture throughout the throw.

So can this start…




…make it more likely that a young thrower will hit this finish…?



…this start…


…help a thrower find this position…?




With the help of these hard-working young men (we took about twelve million throws yesterday) I am determined to find out.

So my wife is standing in line at Disney World…

stipe wife


…when she hears some guy standing behind her talking about shot putting. She strikes up a conversation with him, and while they converse my daughter sends me a text (I was home, teaching and coaching and slaving away so that my girls could enjoy a nice long weekend in Orlando but I am in no way bitter about this). The text said…”We are in line for a beer at Germany and there is literally a young Arnold Schwarzenegger behind us. He could be a world class thrower and is with a group of guys that could be your throwers…It’s hilarious.”

(When she said that they “could be your throwers” I assumed she meant that they were afraid of girls and could not stop talking about food and video games, but she left out the specifics.)

Anyway, it turns out that this “young Arnold Schwarzenegger” was none other than NCAA indoor shot put national champion Stipe Zunic.

And when my wife (her name, by the way, is Alice Wood) sent me this photo, I realized that it was time for me to check in with Stipe’s coach, Steve Lemke.

The shot competition at the NCAA outdoor meet should be flat out epic. Here are the NCAA leaders at this point in the season:
To put this in perspective, my good friend Shawn Schleizer finished 8th at the 1994 NCAA Outdoor Championships with a toss of 18.43m. That would place him 48th on the above list.
Which makes me wonder what kind of human beings Mother Nature is creating these days as Shawn, even at his advanced age, could walk into a weight room right now, snatch 100k, and punch out an entire motorcycle gang.
But I digress.
Stipe, it turns out, is doing quite well, thank you very much. His outdoor best of 20.38m has him fourth on the leader board behind Ryan Crouser, Derrell Hill, and Jonathan Jones. And he has put a pulled quad, an early-spring bout of the flu, and a determination to finally visit Disney World for the first time after residing in Florida for five years behind him.
Also squarely in the rear view mirror is his once-thriving career as a javelin thrower.
Stipe and Coach Lemke had discussed the possibility of of taking one final crack at chucking the spear, but neither the SEC nor the NCAA championship schedules line up correctly for a young man wishing to pull off the rare jav/shot double.
According to Coach Lemke, this is just as well  because Stipe’s body is “no longer built for the javelin.”
I can relate.
Stipe is certainly built to put  the shot, though, and after checking one lingering item  (“visit to Disney World” ) off of his bucket list he is ready for the next challenge: face down a ferocious field to claim his first NCAA outdoor shot put title.