I began my last post meaning to talk about the women’s discus competition at the 2014 European Championships but ended up switching over to the women’s hammer and my conversation with Betty Heidler.
There she is above with her coach, Michael Deyhle.
My conversation with Betty consisted mostly of me telling her how impressed I was with her ability to stay calm when the knuckleheads running the hammer at the 2012 Olympics somehow neglected to measure one of her throws. Watching the webcast, you could tell right away that something was wrong because until that point the previous thrower’s new mark and place always appeared on the screen prior to the next competitor’s attempt.
But the distance of what was clearly Betty’s best throw so far never showed up on the screen. Nor did her place change. Nor was she charged with a foul.
The competition simply continued as if Betty’s throw had never happened.
My earliest Olympic memory is sitting in front of my family’s one and only television (Oh yeah, we had it rough back then) watching the men’s marathon at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The American, Frank Shorter (sporting a very suave ’70’s stache) had built a substantial lead heading into the stadium and had only to complete one lap around the track to claim the gold.
But, just as Frank was about to appear, some idiot dressed in running clothes ran out onto the track pretending that he and not Shorter was leading the race.
When Frank appeared he had no idea what in the hell was going on. He looked very confused and worried and was I’m sure wondering how this guy who was–as a British announcer put it–“as fresh as a buttercup”had somehow passed him along the route.
Anyway, one of the American broadcasters started going nuts. “Frank! He’s a fake! Don’t worry, Frank! You’re the winner! Fraaaaaank!”
And that is exactly how I reacted as the women’s hammer competition ended with Betty in fourth place.
I had just come in from football practice and was watching the webcast in my classroom. Luckily, there were very few people in the building because I’m sure I sounded like a nut job.
“Betty! They didn’t measure your throw! Tell them they have to measure your throw!”
Meanwhile, the three alleged “medalists” began their victory lap.
But the camera stayed on Betty as she filed a protest with one of the officials and then sat down to await the result. Remarkably, she stayed calm and even smiled and waved at the camera.
I was so taken by her poise that when I got home that day I told my wife that if Betty ever decided to propose to me I would have no choice but to accept.
Luckily, Betty saved me from a terribly awkward situation when she did not propose during our conversation in Zurich. We had a very nice chat, and off she went.
Afterwards, I spent a few minutes talking with Michael Deyhle.
Deyhle is part of a generation of German coaches who I strongly suspect of being hard asses.I would put David Storl’s coach (his name escapes me) and Harting’s former coach Werner Goldmann in that same category.
During the press conference after his victory in Zurich, Storl made mention of his coach chewing him out between throws. This during a competition which, despite a damaged knee, he was never in danger of losing.
I don’t know for a fact that Goldmann is a hard ass, but I suspect that Harting switched coaches last year largely because he was tired of butting heads with the man. It is no accident that his current coach, Torsten Schmidt, possesses a very low-key, encouraging manner.
Deyhle is definitely a hard ass. His assessment of the performances by Betty and his other pupil, Kathrin Klass, in the Zurich hammer final?
“Shit. Complete shit.”
He is also very outgoing, and took the time to talk with me about his interactions with Betty during the final.
In spite of the steady rain, Betty had launched her final warmup throw 75 meters. When they conferred prior to the first round of the competition, Deyhle told her that her technique and rhythm looked good and that she should approach her first competition throw with the same level of intensity.
Apparently, though, Betty decided, as many throwers do, to open with a relaxed, easy toss in order to make sure she got a mark and made it to the final three rounds.
Unfortunately, her resulting throw of 67.65m guaranteed her nothing but a good chewing out from Deyhle. She never regained the rhythm she had found during warmups, and finished fifth with a best throw of 72.39m.
Had she equaled that 75-meter warmup toss in competition she’d have placed second.
That’s the kind of performance that causes throws coaches at all levels to rethink their choice of profession, We’ve all been there.
So I asked Deyhle what is to be done in a situation like that, when a thrower loses their “touch” in the middle of a competition.
He said that a coach has to find a way to help the athlete to “reset.” You have to get their mind off of how badly things are going and get them to fall back into throwing with rhythm. He said this can often be done by taking imitation throws off to the side.
Unfortunately, the steady downpour that night made it impossible to perform hammer imitations on the rubberized surface outside of the cage. So Betty was not able to relocate her lost “touch,”
Back to Perkovic in the next post. Scout’s honor.