My friend, Pete Trofimuk, and I headed to New York this weekend to take in the Adidas Grand Prix Diamond League meet. Here is our report.
The women’s discus was scheduled for 9:00am, so we left the Hotel Jolly Madison around 7:15.(I know that’s a weird name for a hotel, and I wasn’t sure what to expect when my wife booked us there, but it’s totally legit–a great location and a very helpful staff. The elevator made a funny creaking noise, but that just made riding to the tenth floor more interesting.) After walking three blocks to Grand Central Station, we jumped on a number 6 train heading uptown. Even on that short walk, it was readily apparent that the weather was going to be an issue. We got pelted the entire way by a cold, steady rain while gusts of wind threatened to yank the umbrella out of my hand. It was a little slice of November that somehow showed up in late May, the kind of weather that made you want to hunker down in your hotel room and whine like a little girl. Luckily, Pete and I are built of sterner stuff, so we just whined while we walked.
We got off the subway at 103rd street and made our way to the East River where a pedestrian bridge arches up and over to Randall’s Island, home to jogging paths, ball fields, a large structure that looks like an old hospital, and Icahn Stadium where the track meet was to be held. On a normal May day, I would highly recommend taking this route to Randall’s. You can see from this picture that the pedestrian bridge offers some potentially awesome views of the city. On this particular day, it was a bit uncomfortable being exposed to the elements way up on that bridge, but manly men that we are, we soldiered on.
After crossing the bridge, it’s about a one-mile walk to Icahn. Here we are upon arrival:
We got into the stadium just as the discus warmups were beginning, and I was able to make my way to a spot just across the track from the cage. This was my view:
Notice the cameraman behind the cage looking like an eskimo?
I was amazed at how well the throwers were able to control the discus on their warmup throws. I don’t recall seeing one end-over-ender or cage shot in spite of the cold and rain. Then again, this was a solid field.
Glanc, Lewis-Smallwood, Randall, Robert-Michon, and Thurmond have all been Olympians, and Perkovic, of course, won the London games with a sensational 69-meter performance.
I had seen Perkovic compete here in New York in 2010 when she was just starting to make her presence felt on the international circuit, and I remember being impressed by her vitality. It was hot and humid on that day, and the air was pretty heavy, but she did not give a rip. She got in that ring and banged, barely fouling a 65-meter throw before winning with 61-something.
And this day would be no different. In spite of the presence of the fine throwers listed above, this was to be a battle between Mother Nature and Force of Nature. Throughout the competition, I had the good fortune of standing next to Perkovic’s coach and boyfriend, the former NCAA shotput champ from Auburn, Edis Elkasevic, and though I do not speak Croatian, I could tell from their interactions that Sondra had arrived in New York ready to rumble. She seemed concerned about the slickness of the wet ring, and she did not launch any monster warmup throws, but as the competition was about to begin she exhanged a fist bump with Edis, turned, sang herself part of a song, let rip with a “Whoop! Whoop!”, and then marched off towards the cage ready to kick some ass.
Which she did, in a rather amazing fashion.
The early highlight of the first round was a 61.86 toss by Lewis-Smallwood, which, given the conditions, was a pretty nice throw.
Then Perkovic went to work.
The previous meet record was 63.97, set by Stephanie Brown Trafton in 2009. Throwing last in the first round, Perkovic etched her name in the record book with a toss of 64.00. She was clearly jacked by that solid opener, and looked more than capable of adding on to her new record when, two throws into the second round, the competition was halted due to a glitch with the automated measuring device. As the delay dragged on, I had a nice chat with Edis, who told me that he and Sondra had met when he returned to Croatia after graduating from Auburn and began coaching a club team in Zagreb. Edis’s team shared facilities with the club to which Sondra belonged, and one thing led to another. He said that she comes from a pretty tough background, and is fiercely competitive. The results from last week’s competition in Wiesbaden where China’s Gu Siyu went 67.86 had gotten her attention, and she arrived in New York determined to strike back.
Now, after that promising start, she was forced to “chill out” literally and figuratively while officials tinkered with the measuring device. Needless to say, she was not happy about the delay, and she came over to the fence several times and engaged in spirited conversations with Edis. Afterwards, she revealed that they had considered retiring from the competition rather than risking injury by getting back into that wet ring. They decided to stick it out, however, and she killed time by dancing, singing, and fashioning a skirt out of a towel.
When the competition finally resumed after a break of at least 20 minutes, she stepped in and fired a 62.50 then started walking back towards the fence to discuss the situation with Edis. For some reason, one of the officials decided to intercept her. “No, no, you can’t go over there,” he said, motioning for her to return to the throwing area.
She did not even break stride. “Oh, shut up, you!” she said, and dismissed him with a wave of her hand.
Now, I’ve got great respect for the people who sign up to officiate track meets. This guy was out there freezing his nuts off like the rest of us, and I doubt very much he was getting paid. But you’re going to pick that moment–after a 20-minute delay in the bitter cold caused by the incompetence of your fellow officials–to all of a sudden decide that she’s violating some rule by conferring with her coach over whether or not it was safe to continue competing in genuinely wretched conditions?
Well, Perkovic was having none of it, and she blew right past him. Luckily for all parties, the official decided not to press the issue. He went back to his seat next to the cage and Perkovic, after conferring with Edis, stepped in at the end of round three and killed one.
After that she smelled blood, and for a time probably got a little too fired up. The officials took forever reordering the throwers for the final three rounds and when Sondra finally got back in the ring she pulled the trigger early and caged it. After some more advice from Edis (as best I could tell he was reminding her not to yank her head through the finish) she looked like she could barely wait to get back in for her fifth throw. Here it is.
I’m sure people are wondering about the wind. As I said earlier, I almost lost my umbrella a couple of times on the walk over, so the wind was definitely blowing. Inside the stadium at the ground level, I couldn’t feel it very much, but Peter was sitting on some bleachers that were elevated a bit on the other side of the track from the right foul line, and he felt like the wind was blowing across the sector from right to left. Whatever the case may be, it was certainly not an ideal wind and there is no arguing that 68 meters was a massive throw in those cold, wet conditions.
And Perkovic is immensely entertaining to watch. She reminds me of Adam Nelson in 2000 when it seemed like he could throw 22 meters whenever he wanted to. He was happy, confident, animated. A barbarian warrior slashing his way through the world of shotputting.
Right now, Perkovic is the barbarian princess of the discus. And I mean that as a supreme compliment. Jet lag? Rain? Cold? Delays? A slippery ring? None of that mattered. As Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock would say, she took all those potential distractions and crushed them in her mind vise.
She intentionally fouled a disappointing sixth throw, but it didn’t matter. That 68.48 had sent the message that she wanted to send. The Olympic title was no fluke. Hope you all had a nice time throwing PRs into that world record wind in Weisbaden, but how many of you could throw 68 in this crap?
And she seems to have the perfect partner in Edis. You can tell that she trusts him completely and his calm demeanor seems to be a nice compliment to her passion and volatility. He told me a great story about how he dropped her off at the airport as she headed off to the London Olympics and then found that she’d left an envelope in the car. Inside was a suprise–an airline ticket to London so he could be with her at the games.
We all know how that worked out, and if Saturday was any indication, there will be more golden days ahead for them.
I asked Edis how they would celebrate the big throw. “We will go shopping,” he replied. “I will follow her around and end up carrying many bags.”
Hmm. Maybe they’re not such an unusual couple after all.
by Dan McQuaid
this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on May 27, 2013