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.


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