If you are a fan of watching explosive humans launch inanimate objects, as I know you are if you are reading this post, this is a glorious time to be alive in the United States of America.
For sure yesterday was, anyway.
It was the kind of day that those of us lucky enough to have witnessed will talk about for years to come. Should anyone have the temerity to bring up the topic of great throwing in our presence, we will set down our glass, pause dramatically, and say, “That sounds interesting, but let me tell you about the time I saw Jon Jones throw 21.40m and finish fourth…by seventy centimeters!”
Our friends, having heard this story many times will roll their eyes. Some will excuse themselves to “take an important call.” Others will attempt to change the subject.
We will ignore those attempts, blithely convinced that no one could ever get sick of hearing about day two of the 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
It all started with the men’s hammer, and let me say that if you are old enough to remember the days when a World Championship standard was something that American men’s hammer throwers often chased and rarely achieved, those days are over.
Two athletes, Alex Young and Sean Donnelly, entered yesterday’s competition having already surpassed the mark (76.00m) necessary to qualify for the trip to Doha. Remarkably, both threw well on this sun kissed afternoon and neither reached the podium.
Donnelly, having thrown 77.00m or better on three occasions this year, stepped into the ring during round one and drilled a 76.38m toss that in years past would have assured him a spot on the team.
But he barely had time to take a seat before Rudy Winkler knocked him into second with a season’s best 76.51m, and Connor McCullough knocked them both down a spot by blasting a facility record toss of 76.92m.
Then in round two, Daniel Haugh, the recently-crowned NCAA champion, shoved Sean into the dreaded fourth slot by nailing a PB of 76.44m.
Sean still had four whacks at busting back into the top three, as did Alex whose second-round 73.20m got him into the final, but neither could jump past Haugh or Winkler.
Alex ended up sixth with a best of 74.80m—a damn good throw and likely to have put him in the top three in days gone by. Sean could not improve on his opener and fell six centimeters short of making the squad for Doha.
Meanwhile, Connor backed up his opener with a round-two 76.86m and then announced himself as a medal contender at Worlds with 78.14m bomb on his final attempt.
Sean showed a lot of class afterwards, patiently answering questions about what must have been a heart-breaking day. You can view his comments here.
It what I have to say was a great bit of scheduling, men’s shot warmups began almost immediately following the conclusion of the hammer. This absolved throws fans from having to kill time by pretending to be interested in running events.
Instead, after a short walk back inside the stadium from the long throws area, shot put aficionados were greeted by a field of competitors featuring an Olympic champion, a World champion, a Diamond League champion, and eight other athletes who had achieved the Doha standard of 20.70m.
The battle for spots on the podium promised to be a bloodbath, and it did not disappoint.
I remember talking to Joe Kovacs here last year after he’d finished fifth with what for him was a pedestrian throw of 20.74m. He was in the middle of a fairly chaotic year that would include a wedding, a relocation from California to Ohio, and a minor knee surgery. Any one of those changes alone could muck up an athlete’s focus, but Joe assured me that all was good and that he had every intention of contending in Doha and Tokyo.
I got to speak with him again at last month’s Prefontaine Classic, at which he threw pretty well (21.39m) but still did not look like vintage Joe. Again, he assured me that all was going according to plan.
It turns out he was not lying.
For some reason, the putters were given an extra-long warmup period yesterday, and it was really interesting to watch Joe go to work. His approach to getting ready to take on Ryan Crouser, Darrell Hill and the rest of that ridiculously talented field was to take a bunch of precise and passionate throws. He took several stand throws, a couple of step-and-throws, and numerous fulls. All were full out “I’m going to knock the hell out of this one” jobs. He was clearly a man on a mission and not worried about leaving anything “in the tank” for the competition.
And it worked.
He opened at 21.99m, followed that with 22.00m, and followed that with a 22.31m blast. It was throwback Joe and super fun to watch, especially as Darrell Hill seemed determined to match him blow for blow, hitting 21.99m in round two and 22.11m in round three.
Darell showed a couple of weeks ago that he was rounding into form with a 21.85m toss at a meet in Chula Vista. It is tricky business being a top American putter because you’ve got to be at your best at the US Championships in order to make the team for a Worlds or Olympics, but you’ve also got to modulate your training in a way that allows you to be at your even better best once those Worlds or Olympics comes around.
I spoke with Darrell’s current coach Greg Garza the day before the competition and he was confident that Darrell was ready to throw big in Des Moines but was also on track to go even farther at the Diamond League final and then Doha.
Darrell fouled his final three attempts yesterday, but there was nothing tentative about those throws. He was going for it, and like Joe, he looked fast and powerful. If, as Coach Garza predicts, he is able to combine that power with a more refined rhythm later in the season, watch out.
That brings us to Crouser, who provided a fascinating contrast to Joe’s balls out approach during warmups.
Crouser often seems to be moving in slow motion when he takes warmup throws, but somehow many of those throws end up traveling nearly twenty-two meters. When that happens, it’s fun to watch the reaction of people in the crowd and hear comments like “Wow! How far will he throw when he speeds that up?”
The natural inclination on the part of us throws fans is to imagine Crouser blasting through the ring like Joe or Darrell and destroying the world record.
But Crouser does not swing that way.
Rather than notching up the speed, he appears to tinker during warmups, and often during competition throws as well. He’s like a safe cracker, patiently turning the dial over and over listening for the tumblers to fall into place.
Yesterday, he found the right combination in round five, and his 22.62m is now the facility record.
Full results from yesterday’s events are here.
Time to head to the track for the women’s hammer throw, which will feature some of the best in the world. Like I said, it is a great time to be a throws fan!