Danniel Thomas-Dodd has had an outstanding career already, placing second at the 2018 World Indoor Championships. In a conversation after her pre-Prefontaine Classic workout at the track today, she talked about what it will take to get to the top of the podium in Doha.
Poland’s Konrad Bukowiecki is another fine young putter competing in Sunday’s Pre Classic. He got the silver medal at last summer’s European Championships, and at twenty-two years old is hungry for more. In this video, he discusses his career and the great Polish throwing tradition. At some point, a large creature resembling a grizzly bear pops up behind him. As this is Northern California, I assume this qualifies as a Big Foot sighting.
I’ve never met an American thrower who did not struggle in their first year as a pro. Finding your bearings while trying to make it on your own is treacherous business. In a conversation at Stanford’s Cobb Track and Angell Field, former Arizona State great Maggie Ewen discusses the trials and tribulations of life after college and trying to make it as a pro in both the shot put and hammer.
New Zealand’s Tom Walsh is one the world’s great putters and a very nice guy to boot. In this chat, he talks about his early season struggles and his preparations for Doha where he hopes to defend his 2017 World title.
These are just a handful of the magnificent putters who will be battling at the Pre on Sunday. It promises to be an epic day of chucking!
The 2019 New York Yankees have put together the type of lineup that could give a guy a bladder infection. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Edwin Encarnacion, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, and Gleyber Torres can all hit the long ball, so you have to sip your beer slowly at a Yankees game. Head to the bathroom, and you risk missing something spectacular.
Same thing this Sunday during the 2019 Prefontaine Classic men’s shot.
Olympic champion Ryan Crouser (22.74m PB) leads a stellar field of putters including 2017 World champion Tom Walsh (22.67m PB) 2015 World champion Joe Kovacs (22.57m PB), 2017 Diamond League champion Darrell Hill (22.44m PB), and 2018 European champion Michal Haratyk (22.08m PB).
Add in 2019 NCAA Indoor champion Payton Otterdahl (21.81m PB), former World Junior champion Konrad Bukowieki (21.97 PB), five time Brazilian national champion Darlan Romani (22.00m PB), and World Indoor bronze medalist Tomáš Staněk (22.01m PB) and you have one outstanding group of shot putters.
Any one of these gents could mash a huge throw on any attempt and all of them enter Sunday’s competition with something to prove.
In his short career as a pro, Crouser has accomplished a lot. He’s got an Olympic gold and the Olympic record. He doesn’t have the American record yet, though, which also happens to be…I’m not going to to say it…I refuse to say it…if I say it, I’ll jinx it…the WORLD RECORD. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. No pressure, Ryan, but I did fly all the way from Chicago to see this meet, so if you could maybe toss one out there around 23.13m I would appreciate it.
One person who seems to have had enough of this world record talk is Crouser’s rival, the courtly kiwi Tom Walsh who, in a recent interview, took pains to remind the mammoth American that he is not the only big dog in the kennel.
Walsh took a while to get rolling this season. His inability to hit the 22-meter mark early on prompted his coach, Dale Stevenson, to describe his results during the winter months (summer in the Southern Hemisphere) as “disappointing.”
They spent, according to Stevenson, “about six months in a holding pattern before making the necessary changes.”
Those changes paid off starting in May when Tom hit 22.06m at the Doha DL meeting. He has maintained a nice groove since, going 22.18m and 22.27m in two competitions leading up to the Pre, and there is nothing he’d like more than to interrupt Crouser’s march to the…you know what.
Back in 2015, talk of the “you know what” revolved around Joe Kovacs as he won his World title and gained notoriety for a massive warmup throw (at an earlier competition) well beyond the “you know what” line. He took the silver behind Crouser in Rio and the silver at the 2017 Worlds behind Walsh. Joe told me yesterday that he is “slow playing” things this year with the Worlds in Doha still three months away. But he is a fantastic thrower in the middle of his prime and a highly competitive young man. If people start dropping bombs Sunday, he will not sit idly by.
Nor will defending USA champion Darrell Hill.
His season so far as been fairly quiet. Like Kovacs, he appears to be “slow playing” in preparation for what promises to be a hellacious battle at the US Championships in late July. But he has gone 21.72m this year and is a big man with a big personality who loves a big stage. As he did at the Diamond League final in 2017 when he knocked out a huge 22.44m, he’d be quite happy to preempt the Walsh v. Crouser show.
The athlete in Sunday’s field with the most to prove is one with the least experience competing at this level.
A few months ago, Payton Otterdahl, a senior at North Dakota State University barged his way to the top of the world shot put rankings when he posted indoor marks of 21.64m, 21.81m, and an Indoor NCAA winner of 21.71m.
He maintained his form as the outdoor season got rolling, hitting 21.37m and 20.75m in the month of April.
Unfortunately, a lower back injury sustained while lifting weights just prior to the Drake Relays in late April forced him to curtail his training.
A couple of weeks later, just as he started feeling better, Payton aggravated the injury while warming up to throw the hammer at NDSU’s conference meet
After that, according to his coach Justin St. Clair, Payton had to drop serious weight lifting from his training. Even worse, he could barely throw in practice. During the two weeks between the conference and regional meets, Payton had “maybe two” throwing sessions.
In order to maintain his feel for the throw, St. Clair said that Payton needs to do a lot of full non-reverse throws, “to make sure that his balance and direction are all in line.” Payton also normally took a lot of throws that St. Clair calls “up and overs,” basically non-reverse attempts that he would finish by stepping over the toe board.
He could do neither of those once his back flared up.
The lack of training made it difficult for Payton to maintain his mojo as the outdoor NCAA meet approached.
St. Clair says that physically Payton felt pretty good when they arrived in Austin, “but his confidence wasn’t where it needed to be.” The day before the shot put competition he threw twenty-two meters in training, but the fact that Payton wanted to throw the day before he competed told St. Clair that “he wasn’t confident. Traditionally, we will never throw the day before a meet, but he felt the need to go throw, and that tells me he was doubting himself.”
The next day Payton managed a best of 19.89m, a fine throw but good for only fourth in the hyper-competitive men’s shot competition.
To his credit, he followed that up with an outstanding discus performance two days later, his third-round toss of 62.48m snagging him second place, just five centimeters behind the winner.
After that, he and St. Clair returned immediately to hard training, as the US Championships and a chance to qualify for Doha loom.
He received an invite to the Pre, his first competition as a professional, after two-time World champion David Storl of Germany had to bow out with a back injury of his own, sustained, according to Storl’s coach Wilko Schaa, just before the Doha DL meeting. Storl went five weeks without being able to take serious throws, so he is now focused solely on preparing for Doha.
For Payton, throwing at the Pre offers a huge opportunity. A solid performance might get him invited to more DL meetings, which would give him a chance to prove that he belongs among the world’s best, which would bolster his case when applying for a USATF grant, which could make or break his ability to focus on training during the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.
Bottom line, as Payton said recently to Coach St. Clair, “If I want to be a big dog, I’ve got to show I can beat the big dogs.”
The kennel will be filled to bursting on Sunday. Tune in.
This Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic—to be held at Stanford University due to the ongoing overhaul of the Temple of Track in Eugene—will feature a rollicking women’s shot put competition. Some of the best putters in the history of the sport will be there, along with a corps of youngsters vying to make their mark. Here are three questions for throws obsessives to ponder as the meet approaches.
Can Michelle Carter Recapture the Magic?
It’s not easy to stay on top in this business.
For Michelle Carter, it was a long climb just to get there. She was U20 World Champion in 2004. In 2008 she won the first of her seven outdoor national titles. In 2009, she competed in her first World Championship, taking fifth in Berlin. In 2012, she took silver at the Indoor Worlds and fourth at the London Olympics. Finally, in 2016 she broke through with a dramatic final-round 20.21m bomb to take gold at the Indoor Worlds.
She repeated that feat a few months later in Rio, launching an American record of 20.63m on her sixth attempt. It was one of the great moments in the history of American shot putting and definitively established her as the best thrower in the world and possibly in the Carter family as well.
Unfortunately, she has struggled since, slipping to third at the 2017 World Championships with a 19.14m effort. Last year she posted her lowest season’s best (18.16m) since 2007, and in her only competition so far this season put 18.28m.
I had a pleasantly rambling chat recently with Nathan Fanger (coach of Danniel Thomas-Dodd who will also be competing at the Pre) and he pointed out how difficult it is to compete at the highest level of this sport over a long period of time.
He made the point that a professional athlete has to be selfish. “You wake up in the morning and your breakfast has to be just right…you train hard all day and you might come home exhausted and edgy. Then you have to go to bed at a certain time. Day in and day out, everything has to revolve around you, which is fine when you’re young and single, but when you get married and have a family that gets tough.”
Michelle got married last year. And had knee surgery. And turned thirty-three.
Not many throwers compete for World or Olympic medals at that age, but count me among those who hope that she returns to her butt-beating ways. Round six in Doha might be kind of dull without her.
Is it Possible to Throw Twenty Meters on No Sleep?
Germany’s Christina Schwanitz had a heck of a 2015 season, winning the World Championships and setting a massive PR of 20.77m. She followed that up with a lackluster sixth-place finish at the 2016 Olympics. She followed that up by giving birth to twins.
A guy I teach with became the father of twins two years ago, and it transformed him from a fit, happy-go-lucky sort of man into an exhausted, haunted-looking creature who no longer gets asked to play on the faculty dodgeball team.
Schwanitz, obviously made of sterner stuff, was able to come back last year after sitting out the 2017 campaign and post a remarkable 19.78m season’s best.
She is the same age as Michelle Carter, and likely shares the same goal: to close her career with medals in Doha and Tokyo.
Sunday’s Pre, Schwanitz’s first outdoor meet ever on American soil, should provide some indication of how likely she is to achieve that.
How is Chase Ealey Doing What She’s Doing?
Here’s what I know about Chase.
She was a fine college shot putter, finishing second at the 2016 NCAA meet while representing Oklahoma State University. She also finished seventh at the Olympic Trials that year with a toss of 18.46m.
As a glider.
In 2017 and 2018 videos of her throws would pop up on social media occasionally as she tried to build a post-collegiate career. She notched season bests those years of 17.79m and 17.78m respectively.
As a glider.
This past winter, videos of Chase throwing began appearing on Ryan Whiting’s Desert High Performance Instagram page.
But now, she was spinning.
I happened to run into Whiting at a clinic this winter, and I asked him how Chase’s glide-to-spin transition was going. He said she was doing just fine, thanks.
I interpreted this to mean that she was struggling mightily as putters commonly do when switching techniques, but that she was staying positive. I also felt admiration for her courage in adopting the rotational style when it was clearly going to take her a few years to get comfortable with it.
Then, on February 9th, she threw a PR of 18.84m. “Good for her!” I remember thinking. “A PB during her first year as a spinner? Outstanding!”
Then, on February 24th, she won the US Indoor Championships with a toss of 18.62m.
Then, the outdoor season began and things got really strange.
She raised her PB to 18.95m on a trip to New Zealand in March, before returning home and blasting a 19.37m toss in Arizona, her home base when training with Whiting.
That earned her a May appearance at the Diamond League meeting in Shanghai. It generally takes throwers a couple of seasons to get acclimated to the rigors of traveling to compete overseas, even those who have not completely changed their technique over the past six moths. It would have been perfectly understandable for Ealey to wilt under the pressure of traveling halfway across the globe to take on the likes of Lijiao Gong, Anita Marton, and Danniel Thomas-Dodd (all World Championships medalists and all, by the way, appearing Sunday at the Pre) but instead she put 19.58m for the win.
She followed that up over the next few weeks by tossing 19.21m in Nanjing, 19.38m in Finland, and 19.20m in Norway, making it clear that it had not taken her long to adapt to the rigors of travel.
I asked Coach Fanger how in the world Ealey could be so consistent so quickly after switching to a technique whose best and most experienced practitioners experience bouts of maddening inconsistency.
He said that the secret may lie in Ealey’s particular version of the rotational technique.
“She is very slow out of the back, “ he told me, “and has a heck of a strike. She’s long and really drives the ball like a glider.”
“She starts slow enough,” he continued, “that she doesn’t lose control and then she’s still able to smack the finish. She’s similar to Ryan Crouser in that sense.”
As Coach Fanger sees it, rotational throwers are often erratic “because they are a little spastic out of the back, but if you can control the back it doesn’t have to be that way,”
He pointed out that some throwers, Joe Kovacs for example, have to be fast out of the back because of their stature.
“The shorter throwers like Joe or Adam Nelson back in the day have to use speed to throw far because they don’t have long levers. It’s a trade off, though. They are sometimes inconsistent because they have to be as fast and dynamic as possible even at the start of the throw.”
So what happens a couple of years from now when Ealey gets more comfortable with her technique and becomes more dynamic out of the back?
Tune in to the Pre this Sunday, and you might just get a glimpse of America’s next great putter.
Here is the start list for what should be a fantastic competition.