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How We Adapted in the Shot Post 1995 and Why We Didn’t Adapt in the Discus (by John Smith)

It’s been 20 years now since there was a radical shift in drug testing on the world level. American shot putters adapted to the new conditions by developing a fairly new way of throwing: the rotational technique.  The results of this by the numbers are pretty evident. Over the last 20 years, the US has captured 32/75 world medals (42.6% of Olympic, World Indoor and Outdoor) and 81/200 top ten world ranking spots (40.6%). Over the previous 20 years(1975-1994) the US had earned 9/39 medals (23%) and 61/200 world ranking spots. Clearly, as the spin technique became better America’s medal production and top 10 ranking spots made a significant increase. However, our other rotating event– the discus–did not see the same success.

I am a numbers guy and a history guy. I coach by recording numbers and watching the correlations between the numbers and the training program. I also have done extensive research into training systems around the world. The history of the sport can also show you the mistakes that are made so you don’t do repeat them, and yes, I love the history channel.

Here are the discus numbers for three 20-year time periods.  From 1955-1974 we held 84/200 world ranking spots (42%) much like the spin shot has been for the last 20 years and 10/15 world medals (66.6%) . Over the next 20 years (1975-1994) those numbers dropped dramatically: 42/200 world ranking spots and 5/24 medals (20.8%). During the next 20 years (1995-present) we earned 22/200 ranking spots and 1/45 world medals (2.2%). These numbers have always bothered me, so I started looking for reasons why.

America produces good high school discus throwers at a much higher rate than we did in the past.  Over the past fifteen years, there have been 101 male high school discus throwers in this country who have thrown at least 200 feet. Here is the breakdown:

-3 over 234

-5 over 215

-9 over 210

-25 over 205

-60 over 200

This would indicate that the raw material for good discus throwing at the upper levels exists in the country, and the NCAA system is still the best minor league for track in the world. The big question is, why aren’t we producing more world class discus throwers?  In the last 10 years we earned 7/100 world ranking spots and a big goose egg on medals.

This is what I think happened in the last 20 years in the discus in America. When the 200-237 foot high schools throwers tried to step up to the 2k something was missing. We can rotate well, because we have all these spin shot putters so what is it? Is it technique like many say, or is it something else? If it was solely technique, then we wouldn’t have all these high school guys throwing so well. What we need to do is to focus on throwers with a large wingspan and specifically train them with under and overweight implements and special throwing tools at higher volumes. This is how we are getting beat in this event. Americans mostly right now throw the 2k and lighter for our training with a low volume of throws.  We need to be throwing heavy discs up to 4k and even heavier devices like the one Perkovic throws that was developed by Jerry Clayton. We need to focus on this area and stick with it. This is a long term approach that pays down the road. When the heavy implement goes further and the light implement goes further than the middle implement, the 2k will go further. Just throwing a 2k or a 2.25k will not get the job done. This is a 10,000 throws a year training regimen that has to be programmed, recorded and monitored for each athlete at the elite levels. The Europeans know if we don’t take that many throws and we don’t throw that heavy as part of the training that we have no chance unless we come up with our own freak of nature. The last part of this is a large amount of discus training has to be centered on non-reverse throwing. This doesn’t mean that I am saying never to use a reverse, but a high amount of throws need to be taken non-reverse for proper leg development. Discus throwers technically need to learn good mechanics working against the ground. This has to be introduced early during a thrower’s high school days as it takes many repetitions to reap the benefits of this approach. This would represent a major philosophy shift in this event, but what we are doing now clearly does not work. When the drugs got scaled back, the Europeans adapted in the discus and we didn’t. We adapted with the rotational shot and they didn’t.

John Smith