All posts by Daniel McQuaid

Where does that leave us? Part 2: The Women

My last post examined the prospects of US men making the finals and/or medaling next year in Beijing and the following year in Rio.

Now, let’s consider the ladies.

The Discus

Moscow Results:

8th:62.80m  Bronze: 64.96m  Silver: 66.28m  Gold: 67.99m

Sacramento Results:

3rd:  Shelbi Vaughan 59.75m

2nd: Liz Podominick 59.96m

1st: Gia Lewis-Smallwood 65.96m

2011 IAAF World Outdoor Championships

Gia’s career seemed dead in the water just a couple of years ago, but she pulled off a rare trick for an American thrower: she found a way to stay in the sport long enough to find her groove.  She finished fifth in Moscow, and has shown the ability to throw 64-65 meters overseas in stadiums.  She is also, to my knowledge, the only thrower to defeat Sandra Perkovic in the past two years. (Fun Fact: over 600 people have climbed Mt. Everest in that time).  The big question is, can Gia at thirty-five years of age hold off the ravages of time long enough to get on the podium in Beijing and Rio?  If she does, it will be a great, great moment for American throwing.

(This just in! As I am about to post this article, Gia has thrown 65.59m to take third at the Paris DL meet)

Another question: Can 2008 Olympic champ Stephanie Brown Trafton come all the way back from taking time off to have a baby? She had to be encouraged by her performance in Sacramento (58.84m), but she and Gia are about the same age, so…

A final question: What about the youngsters? Shelbi Vaughan is a special athlete, but she cannot be expected to throw bombs overseas in August after enduring the rigors of the NCAA season, especially if she continues playing volleyball. Whitney Ashley (fifth in Sacramento at 58.68m) is another gifted athlete waiting in the wings. (Fun Fact: At the 2013 Adidas Grand Prix meet, Perkovic’s coach told me that he thought Ashley had a lot of potential but that she should reverse instead of using a fixed-feet finish).

Outlook: In my dream scenario (the one that does not involve Angelina Jolie) Gia and Stephanie both elbow their way onto the podium next to Perkovic in Beijing or Rio.

 

The Javelin 

Moscow Results:

8th: 61.30m  Bronze: 65.09m  Silver:66.60m  Gold: 69.05m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Leigh Petranoff  57.80m

2nd: Brittany Borman 62.05

1st: Kara Patterson 62.43m

kara

 Does anyone else view the javelin as a fickle event?  Three weeks ago in New York, I watched the Australian javeliner Kathryn Mitchell throw 66.02m easy as pie and Linda Stahl (a German) throw 67.32m easy as strudel. Then, earlier this week at the Lausanne DL meeting, they went 58.23m and 63.20m respectively.

Outlook: Given the “on any given day” nature of the event, it is entirely possible that Borman or Patterson could make the final in Beijing and/or Rio. A medal, though, is unlikely. Their best route to the podium at a major international meet is to pull a Gia and stay in the sport into their thirties (Mitchell, by the way, is having her best season at the age of thirty-one).

 

The Shot Put 

Moscow Results:

8th: 18.09m  Bronze: 19.95m Silver:20.41m  Gold: 20.88m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Tia Brooks 18.83m

2nd: Felisha Johnson 19.18m

1st: Michelle Carter 19.45m

carter 2

Loads of potential among this threesome of young gliders, two of whom have already garnered significant international experience. Tia was 8th in Moscow, Michelle missed the bronze by a centimeter.

Outlook: There is no reason the US should not have two shot finalists in Beijing and Rio. And after that?  Valerie Adams is only twenty-nine, but the Herculean effort behind her seemingly effortless domination of the sport (two Olympic, three Indoor World and four Outdoor World golds since 2007) has left her contemplating retirement after 2016. Carter, who threw an American record 20.24m last season, is only a year younger than Val, but seems to be just coming into her own. If she can hang in there for another Olympic cycle after Rio, she might be able to contend for that rather large open space at the top of major championship podiums.

The Hammer

Moscow Results:

8th: 72.70m  Bronze: 75.58m  Silver: 78.46m  Gold: 78.80m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Amber Campbell 71.35m 

2nd: Jessica Cosby Toruga 71.72m

1st: Amanda Bingson 75.07m 

bingson

In the past two seasons, three American women (Bingson, Cosby Toruga, and Jeneva McCall) have thrown 74 meters or better. Cosby Toruga is thirty-two, but both McCall and Bingson are just two years out of college.  Same for Gwen Berry, who threw 73.81m last year.

Outlook: For Beijing and Rio, getting two in the top eight is certainly attainable. Beyond that, one or more of the Bingson/McCall/Berry trio needs to get her PB into the 77-78 meter range to increase the odds of hitting a medal-winning 76m in a major championship.

 

 

 

So where does that leave us? Part 1: the men

The 2014 USATF championships are in the books, but with no World or Olympic titles to shoot for this year it seems like a proper moment to size up the state of the throwing events in this country and to speculate on what it will take to medal or at least make the finals next year in Beijing and the following year in Rio.

The Hammer

Here are some results from last year’s Worlds in Moscow:

8th Place: 77.57m   Bronze: 79.36m   Silver: 80.30m  Gold: 81.97m

Sacramento results:

3rd: Chris Cralle 72.83m 

 2nd: AG Kruger 73.34m

1st: Kibwe Johnson 74.16m

kibwe

 Kibwe’s PB is 80.31m, but at 33 years of age his chances of making the finals in 2015 or 2016 appear slim. Same for Kruger, who is 35. Chris Cralle is young (26) but with a PR of 74.55m he is going to have to find a way to stay in the sport long enough to get to the point where he can throw 77m to 80m consistently.

Outlook: Not so good. It would be a huge step forward just to get someone in the final eight in Beijing or Rio.

 

The Javelin

Moscow results:

8th: 80.03m    Bronze: 86.23m   Silver:87.07m   Gold: 87.17m

Sacramento results:

3rd: Tim Glover 78.87m

2nd: Riley Dolezal 79.27m

1st: Sean Furey 81.10m

furey

If 80m gets you into the final again in 2015, all three of these guys would obviously have a shot. A medal? Hmmmm. Glover is the youngest of the three at 24, and has the longest PR (84.01m) but he graduated college this spring and must find a stable training environment if he is to lead the US to international respectability.

Outlook: Forget about 2015 or 2016, but my 2020 vision says that if Glover can stay with it he might be the guy to break through.

 

 The Discus:

Moscow results:

8th: 63.38m   Bronze: 65.19m  Silver: 68.36m Gold: 69.11m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Mason Finley 61.04m

2nd: Bryan Powlen 61.05m

1st: Hayden Reed 62.19m

reed

The good news? The 26-year-old Powlen is the old man of this crew. Finley has decided to give up shot putting to focus on the disc, and Reed is clearly a fearless young man. The bad news?  There is a veteran group of discus throwers on the international scene all of whom have shown the ablility to throw 65+ in stadiums–68+ in the case of by Robert Harting, Piotr Malachowski,  Gerd Kanter, and Ehsan Hadadi.

Outlook:  As a Chicago White Sox fan, I love to make fun of the Cubs and their hundred-years-and-counting title drought. The suffering of their supporters has reached Biblical proportions, with no end in sight. Sadly, American discus fans are in the same boat.

The Shot Put

Moscow results:

8th: 20.39m  Bronze: 21.34m  Silver: 21.57m Gold: 21.73m

Sacramento Results:

3rd: Reese Hoffa 20.78m

2nd: Kurt Roberts 21.47m

1st: Joe Kovacs 22.03m

joe

Consider the humble cactus. It flourishes in the type of dry, barren soil that kills off most other plants. Same for American shotputters. No one knows exactly what factors have conspired to keep the United States from regularly producing world class jav, hammer, and disc throwers,  but whatever those factors may be (lack of governmental support, the predominance of football, an evil curse) they seem to have no affect whatsoever on our ability to crank out excellent shot putters.

Looking  at the numbers those guys put up in Sacramento, would anyone guess that  three men who have thrown over 21 meters this season were forced by injury to withdraw from the competition?

My teenaged daughter would call that “sick!”

Outlook: Hard to imagine an elephant fitting in a room full of American shot putters, but it’s not going away until one of them wins an Olympic gold medal.  Will our phalanx of phenoms finally overwhelm those cursed European gliders? Majewski is getting long in the tooth and has been injured quite a bit lately, but Storl is still young and still…Storl.  If nothing else, the shot final in Beijing and Rio should be riveting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tim Glover ready for the next step

glover

A two-time NCAA champion while throwing for Illinois State University, Tim Glover will try to show that he belongs at the top of the professional level as well when he competes in the USATF Championships this Sunday in Sacramento.

Glover announced himself as a world class javeliner this April when he unloaded a world-leading  84.01m in Knoxville. Currently, that throw ranks him 13th in the world.

It is a bit remarkable that Tim was able to unleash a throw of that caliber because at the time he was still attending classes at ISU three days per week from 9am until 3pm.

He attributes his improvement partially to an increase in strength.  With a 315-lb bench press, a 500-lb back squat and a 319-lb power clean the javelin has been “feeling light” in his hand.

Also contributing to his breakthrough is his ability to maintain speed on the runway.

“Last year my coach (Scott Bennett) came in and we worked all speed. I dropped some weight and focused on how fast I could go..never could catch one, or any for that matter. I would always miss the point and it  got frustrating but I kept reminding myself that this year was a transition year and if I wanted to improve in the future the speed would have to increase. This year my speed isn’t crazy on the runway but it is faster and more comfortable. I am still working on keeping it up through the crossovers and also working on driving out not up.”

Coach Bennett agrees that Tim’s increased strength has been a big plus, and he also credits Tim’s improvement in “blowing the right side through to the brake” during the last two steps of his throws.

Bennett also believes that Glover has the “perfect demeanor” for his event, describing his as “modest, independent, and even-tempered.”

That temperament will be put to the test on Sunday by a field that includes veterans such as Cyrus Hostetler, Sean Furey, and Craig Kinsley, and last year’s US champion Riley Dolezal. Also competing is  the physically imposing Sam Humphreys. At the Tuscon Elite meet earlier this season,  Humphreys– who looks like he might be able to throw a telephone pole 80 meters– defeated Glover in a battle to determine who would get the final spot in the jav field at the Prefontaine Diamond League meeting that took place over Memorial Day weekend.

Glover is still waiting for his first chance to go up against the world’s best.

A win on Sunday would go a long way toward establishing Glover as a consistently world class performer and possibly get him invited to some meets in Europe where he could show that he is ready to take the next next step.

 

 

 

Queen Val at the Adidas Grand Prix

In ancient Greece, Olympic champions were feted with banquets and parades, immortalized in bronze and marble.

In modern New York, they are largely ignored aside from the occasional bystander who asks, “Do you play basketball?”

Such is the fate of Valerie Adams, two-time Olympic shot put champion, arguably the greatest putter in history but perhaps born 2,500 years too late.

Val came into the Adidas Grand Prix meet in New York City last weekend looking for her 50th consecutive win. Hoping to derail the Adams Express was a field that featured Michelle Carter (who broke the American record last year with toss of 20.24m) and Yevgeniya Kolodko (the London silver medalist and owner of a 20.48m PB).

I was  stoked to get a look at Kolodko and her excellent glide technique, and though I was rooting for Val to get number 50, I hoped that Carter and Kolodko would push her to extend her season best of 20.46m.

Alas, t’was not to be. In spite of perfect weather that had helped produce meet records in each of the two previous throwing events–Robert Harting’s 68.24m in the discus and Linda Stahl’s 67.32m in the javelin–and a raucous crowd that cheered Bohdan Bondarenko  and Mutaz Essa Barshim through the greatest high jump dual in history, none of the women putters could get it going.

Carter opened with a respectable 19.51m, but that turned out to be her only throw over 19.00m. Kolodko had nothing. I could tell she was in trouble during warmups when she took about a million throws, none of which looked sharp, and she fared even worse during the competition with a 17.25m sandwiched by two fouls. I have to think she was injured, but I didn’t get a chance to ask her as she packed up and left while the top six took their final three throws.

Meanwhile, the Carter/Adams dual played out as more weird than dramatic.  Val’s best in the first three rounds was 19.31m, but with the champ on the ropes and vulnerable to an upset, Carter  followed her 19.51m with an uninspired-looking 18.57m and 18.39m.

It must have been a strange feeling for Val not to be the final thrower after the re-ordering, and she quickly set things right with a 19.52m to take the lead. But even after extending that lead with a fifth-round 19.68m, you could tell she was not herself. After each attempt, she looked for advice from a gentleman watching from across the track. Val is coached by two very large Swiss fellows–Werner Gunthor and Jean-Piere Egger–and this man was neither Swiss nor large, so I’m not sure who he was but the advice he shouted to her (“Put your whole body behind it! Get it going on this one!”) was heartfelt and kind of sweet. The sort of advice one might expect to hear shouted by a parent at a middle-school track meet.

After the competition, I had a nice chat with Val that you can view here:

As always, she was humble and upbeat, and afterwards she strode off looking like a champion prize-fighter from back in the day, a bit weary but ready to move on to the next town and flatten the next challenger.

Forgive me for one minute, but I feel the need to switch to Negative Nancy mode.  As I was writing this article and reflecting back on what, by any measurement (5 meet records, 5 world-leading performances) was a fantastic track meet I realized that there was one aspect of it that bothered me.

On this sun-kissed day at Icahn Stadium, the shot put ran concurrently with (and right next to) that magnificent high jump competition.  As the bar was raised closer and closer to a world-record height, the attention of the crowd became completely focused on that event. By the time Bondarenko and Barshim started taking attempts at 2.46m (the world record is 2.45) I’m pretty sure that myself, my friend Peter, and the guy shouting encouragement to Val were the only people in the stadium paying attention to the shot put.

But that’s as it should be. Witnessing a world record is a big, honking deal.

What bothers me is that Valerie Adams, arguably the best ever at her event, will never be involved in a competition like that. The world record in the women’s shot (Natalia Lisovskaya, 22.63m, set in 1987)is so far out there (Val’s PB is 21.24m) and so obviously the result of PEDs that nobody in this age of random drug testing is ever going to beat it.

And that sucks, for Val because it unfairly diminishes her accomplishments, and for shot put fans because it deprives us of the chance to experience a moment in the shot equal to the moment when Bondarenko or Barshim began their approach to the bar and an entire stadium held its collective breath.

Okay. Just had to get that off my chest.

After the meet, my very patient wife, my friend Peter, and I had a fantastic dinner at an Italian place in midtown and then stopped by the athletes’ hotel to have a drink in the lounge overlooking the lobby.  Several beers later, we spotted Val and a couple of friends just back from dinner themselves. I grabbed Peter and dragged him down to meet her, my wife trailing us with her cellphone at the ready.  I’m not sure exactly what we said to her, nor can I guarantee that anything we said made much sense, but she listened to us patiently and agreed to pose for a picture.

val in 14

That’s no basketball player, folks. That’s the best shot putter ever.

 

 

 

 

der Harting at the Adidas Grand Prix

Do you ever fantasize about things you’d like to have a reason to say at some point in your life?

I’m a fifty-year-old guy, so tops on my list are statements like…

“For god’s sake, I wish Angelina Jolie would stop sexting me!”

Or…

“Good news, honey!  The doctor says I actually need to gain weight!”

I’m also a throws fan who loves the discus and in particular the way the Germans throw the discus so also high on my list would be something along the lines of…

“I’m going to watch discus film with Robert Harting.”

And last Saturday, I actually got to say that. Here’s how it happened:

Anyone who knows me knows that the one really, really smart thing I’ve done in my life was to marry the Most Patient Woman in the World. This woman knows how much I love the throws, so last weekend she accompanied me on a trip to cover the Adidas Grand Prix Diamond League Meeting in New York. Due to the demands of television, the men’s discus competition (featuring most of the guys who made the final in last year’s World Championships) was the first event of the day, and I had a primo view of the competition.

adidas grant prix 14

Standing next to me throughout was a woman named Vera, the manager of the German throwing contingent competing that day. It was fun watching the meet with her as she fretted over the wind (it seemed to constantly change directions), beamed when her throwers performed well (Harting and javelin thrower Linda Stahl both set meet records), suffered when they did not (Martin Wierig did not advance past the first three throws), and made the occasional tart comment (when I noted the hugeness of one of the competitors she replied, “And yet, his head is so small”).

A bonus of watching the competition alongside Vera was that as the discus ended and the women’s javelin began, Martin Wierig came over and sat by her. I knew he was bummed about his performance, but a friend of mine is a big fan of Martin’s so I just had to get a picture.  I asked as nicely as one should when approaching a 6’6″ man in a lousy mood,  and he graciously complied.

wierig

The dude visible over Martin’s left shoulder is the Australian thrower Benn Harradine, on his way over to watch teammate Kathyrn Mitchell compete in the jav.

Harradine, it turns out, is a really nice guy and a lot of fun to talk to. You can find part of our conversation here:

While Harradine and I were chatting, along came Robert Harting. The next thing I know, the three of us are standing along a fence watching the jav and shooting the breeze.

Harting, though more reserved than Harradine, is also a nice guy and a lot more thoughtful than one might think if one’s only impression of him was formed while watching video of him tear his shirt off after winning the World Championships and Olympics.

Here are vids of two conversations I had with him:

He actually did remove his shirt while watching the jav, as did Harradine and Ehsan Hadadi who came over as well.  But there was nothing celebratory in the gesture. All three were simply trying to stay cool. I was tempted to join them in going shirtless but didn’t want to intimidate anyone.

Anyway, at one point Harting began telling Harradine that in spite of throwing 68 meters, he felt like his technique was off. “I need to get pictures from the side,” he said.

Remarkably, my friend Peter Trofimuk was also attending the meet and had filmed the discus competition from the grandstand located across the track from the side of the cage. Just the view that Harting wanted to see.  I immediately walked over to the grandstand and reached up to Peter. In response to his quizzical look, I uttered those immortal words. “I am going to watch video with Robert Harting.”

I felt terrible that Peter, as big a throws fanatic as I am, had to sit in the stands and watch me watch video with Harting, but I got over it pretty quickly.  Here is Peter, expressing his frustration at dinner later that evening:

peter

Unfortunately, the viewer on the video camera was small and the midday sun was large, so Harting could not see his throws very well. After a minute, he handed the camera back to me and asked if I could post them on youtube and send him the link.

I agreed, and did my best to hide my disappointment. I have watched video of Harting’s throws approximately twelve million times, but to do it with him standing there providing commentary?  Holy guacamole.

It was still a great day at a great track meet. More on that later.

 

 

Keeping Up With The Big Boys

 

Size matters in the shot put.

There’s just no getting around it.

Exhibit A:

              Dan phone may 2013 011

From right to left, World Indoor Champion Ryan Whiting, two-time Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski, my friend Peter Trofimuk, Joe Kovacs (currently ranked fourth in the world), and World Outdoor Championships finalist Cory Martin.

Exhibit B:

EPSON scanner image

From right to left, Dan McQuaid the author of this article, and Christian Cantwell one of the greatest putters of all time.

What do these fine throwers have in common? They are biiiiiig boys. I’m 6’2″, 215lbs (most of it in the biceps) and Christian makes me look…well…kind of wimpy.

Same for Cory, Tomasz, and Ryan.

There is one exception here, though, and that is Joe Kovacs.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Joe is clearly not a normal human being. He is tremendously fast and strong. But, so are the other guys in those photos, and they are much larger than Joe.

Yet, at the recent Diamond League meet in Shanghai, Kovacs defeated all of them with the exception of Cantwell, who beat him by 21 centimeters.

How did this happen?  Let’s take a look.

Here are Whiting, Cantwell, and Kovacs at the point at which their right foot first leaves the ground:

Whiting…

ryan 1 

Cantwell…

can 2

Kovacs…

joe 2

Though Cantwell does not bend his left knee as much as the other two, it looks to me like all three are adhering to a similar technical template.  Notice that each keeps his left shoulder closed as the right foot leaves the ground.  This gives them a chance to get their right hip and leg ahead of their upper body as they run the ring.

Whiting…

ryan 2

Cantwell…

can 3

Kovacs…

joe 3

Christian does not sweep his right leg as wide as the other two, but all three have kept their right shoulder back as their right hip begins to pull them out of the back of the ring.

Here are all three at the point where their right foot touches down in the center of the ring.

Whiting…

ryan 3

Cantwell…

can 4

Kovacs…

joe 4

Here is the first sign that Kovacs might be taking a slightly different approach with his technique.

All three have done a great job of keeping their upper body passive and pulling their left leg out of the back of the ring so that they can get both feet grounded in the power position before their shoulders begin turning into the throw.

 Joe, however, seems to be more aggressive about accentuating the separation between his right hip and his shoulders as his right foot touches down. Notice that his right foot is turned farther as it touches the concrete, and that he is really working that left arm across his chest in an effort to keep the shot back.

Here are our fearsome threesome at the moment the left foot touches down in the power position.

Whiting…

ryan 4

Cantwell…

can 5

Kovacs…

joe 5

All three have their weight back on a bent right leg as their left arm sweeps forward to set up a pre-stretching of the chest muscles, but look at the difference in the right elbow as the left foot grounds.

Kovacs is much more wrapped than the other two, thus giving himself a chance to use every ounce of his leg strength to accelerate the shot.

Each of these throws was a bomb. Whiting…21.31m.  Kovacs…21.52m.  Cantwell…21.73m.

But I have to believe that the reason Joe is able to hang with guys who have a significant size advantage is because of his ability to hit a really solid power position.

–McQ

 

The Moment of Truth in the Glide Shot Put (by Dan McQuaid)

Valerie Adams of New Zealand, Christina Schwanitz of Germany, and Lijiao Gong of China finished 1-2-3 in the shot in last summer’s Outdoor World Championships.

Yesterday, they finished in the exact same order at the Indoor World Championships.

Coincidence?

I think not.

All three have mastered a vital aspect of the glide technique: the transition from the glide through the power position into the finish of the throw. This transition requires precise timing, and is fraught with potential difficulties.

The key is to get the right heel up and the right knee and hip turning into the throw before the upper body opens or drifts forward. Basically, the athlete needs to create as much distance as possible between their right knee and right elbow.

Doing so establishes a slingshot effect that greatly accelerates the implement. Failure to do so–usually because the athlete begins the arm strike before the lower body has a chance to fire–results in a weak, upper-body-driven throw.

If you want to see what this transition phase should look like, take a gander at the video of Saturday’s competition. Here are some still photos I took from that video:

Schwanitz1

This is Schwanitz just as her right foot touches down following her glide. She’s in great shape here–the shot is back, her eyes are back, her right knee is bent. She is spring-loaded and ready for a powerful finish.

The key will be her ability to create distance between her right knee and right elbow in the instant after the right foot touches down. Let’s see how she did:

Schwanitz2

Notice that her left foot is now much closer to the toeboard while her head and right elbow have barely moved. This is because she is driving into the throw from her right toes through her right knee while keeping her upper body back.

This is an important visual cue. Had Schwanitz initiated the throw with her upper body, her left foot would have plopped down immediately in the spot that you see it hovering over in the first photo. Think of  a teeter-totter. One end pops up, the other end drops. What we see instead is an increasingly wide distance between the feet and–though not so obvious from this angle–an increasing distance between her right knee and right elbow.

Schwanitz3

Now you can see it. Her right elbow is starting to rotate in the direction of the throw, but look how far ahead she has driven her right knee. The slingshot is stretched, and she is ready to release a powerful throw.

Here is Gong moving through those same positions:

Gong1

Like Schwanitz, she hits an excellent power position. The shot is way back (if, hypothetically, she dropped the shot at this moment it would land behind her right foot–this is a good cue when watching film with your throwers especially if there are not 87 officials scattered around the throwing area blocking everyone’s view) and her right leg is loaded and ready to…

Gong2

…drive into the throw. As with Schwanitz, we can tell that Gong is driving hard with that right leg because her left foot is now near the toeboard while her right elbow has barely moved. If I may harp on the slingshot analogy a bit more, her right knee is like the hand holding the slingshot while her right hand/elbow/shoulder is like the hand holding the little pouch containing the projectile. Driving forward with the right knee while keeping the right elbow back is like stretching the heck out of the slingshot just before letting go of the projectile. Had Gong’s right elbow turned with her knee, she would create much less tension.

Gong3

This is just a couple of frames later.  Her right elbow is still back, her head is still back, her right leg is driving and she is about to knock the crap out of the shot.

With yesterday’s triumph, Valeri Adams has now won 44 consecutive shot competitions including two Olympic gold medals. Let’s see how she transitions from the glide through the power position:

Adams1

She is not as low as the other two medalists, nor is the shot quite so far back so you won’t see the distance between her feet changing too much as she drives into the throw.  But, the shot is far enough behind her right hip that she is able to…

Adams2

…stretch the slingshot. And you know the rest.

In Praise of the Full Olympic Lifts (by Dan McQuaid)

First, let me hedge on that a little bit. I’m going to leave the jerk out of this discussion for the moment and focus on convincing you that teaching young athletes the full clean and full snatch is absolutely to their benefit.

Here’s what I call a “full clean.”clean sequence

As you can see, the athlete begins the lift by raising the bar from the floor and ends up dropping into a full squat while receiving it. Here’s a vid of a full clean.

fallwinter2006 138

Here’s what I call a “full snatch.”

snatch sequence

Once again, the lifter begins by raising the bar from the floor and sinks into a full squat while receiving it.

(Okay, there should be one more photo at the beginning of this sequence, but trust me, this was the Olympics–he took it from the floor.)

Here’s a vid of a full snatch.

fallwinter2006 166

If you have visited a high school or college weight room recently, you know that the Olympic lifts are considered an essential part of training young athletes. We had a track meet at a nearby school this weekend, and their new weight room contained ten lifting platforms with plenty of Olympic bars and bumper plates. I assume the school would not have spent the money to buy all of that equipment just to make me envious (we have four platforms).  They clearly intend for their athletes to be trained in the Olympic lifts.

And here’s why:

snatch extension

This is the top of the second pull in the snatch. The lifter has executed an explosive “triple extension” launching herself upwards with a coordinated hip, knee, and ankle extension.  This is a movement demanded of athletes in many sports. From the waist down, she could be a volleyball player leaping for a spike, a discus thrower blasting out of the power position, a defensive lineman elevating to knock down a pass, or a basketball player extending for a rebound.

That’s why the school I visited this weekend has–like schools all across the country–devoted a bunch of money and space to establish a proper training area for the Olympic lifts. The idea that these lifts can improve performance in a variety of sports is now widely accepted.

And I could not agree more.

But teaching kids how to properly execute the full lifts takes a lot of time and effort. A coach cannot bring his kids to the weight room, turn up the heavy metal music, and then sit down and play Angry Birds while the athletes manage themselves. Coaching the Olympic lifts is just like coaching the discus, or tackling, or a pickoff move. The athletes must be drilled in proper form and given regular, guided practice by a knowledgeable coach.

And, as with any sport, it takes passionate commitment to become an effective coach of the Olympic lifts.

But, if your passions are already focused on becoming a great football, volleyball or basketball coach, will you have the time and energy to pursue the training necessary to become a great lifting coach?

Or, is there a way for your athletes to garner the benefits of Olympic lifting without having to go to the trouble of teaching them the full movements?

Might partial versions of the Olympic lifts be the answer? If it is the middle portion of the clean and snatch (the “second pull”) that makes athletes more explosive can’t we just focus on that and forget about having to teach our athletes to raise the bar from the floor and to receive it by sinking into a full squat? After all, that stuff seems a bit complicated.

Let’s take a look.

Here is an athlete demonstrating a “power clean from the hang position.”

hang-power-clean

She begins the movement not from the floor but with the bar just above her knees, she blasts through triple extension, and she finishes by receiving the bar without dropping into a full squat. Based on that middle photo, it sure looks like she is getting the full benefit of performing an Olympic lift without having to go to the trouble of learning how to raise the bar from the floor to the hang position (no easy matter for many young athletes) or to sink into a stable front squat while receiving the bar (also not a simple matter for young athletes).

And the same approach can be taken with the snatch.

fallwinter2006 170

Problem solved, right? Just teach your athletes these simple variations of the Olympic lifts and you can go back to playing Angry Birds while they reap the benefits of the full Olympic lifts without having to…well…perform the full lifts.

Hold on one second there, mon frere.

I’m ready to argue that taking the time and effort to teach your athletes the full Olympic lifts is absolutely worth it. Here’s why:

Reason #1  Training kids to lift the bar from the floor to the hang position strengthens their back, butt, and hamstrings in a very healthy way.

Ask most kids to pick up something from the floor–a weighted bar, their dirty laundry, the burrito they just dropped on the carpet, whatever–and they will immediately go into hunchback mode, rounding their shoulders and spine rather than bending at the knees and hinging at the hips with a set back. This is not a safe way to pick up a weight, but many young athletes lack the strength in their back, butt, and hamstrings to keep their back set while bending forward. Is it unreasonable to suggest that this weakness might negatively effect their performance in their chosen sport ?

Olympic lifters cannot tolerate weakness in those areas. They have to be able to raise a loaded bar from the floor to the hang position in a mechanically sound way…

snatch liftofffirst pull clean

…or they would not be able to manage heavy loads.

You tell me, would your athletes benefit from developing the back, butt, and hamstring strength it takes to raise the bar from the floor in the manner demonstrated by this lifter?

Yes, it takes time and great care to train beginners how to perform this movement, but the potential benefits…

back muscles

…are worth the trouble.

Reason #2 Teaching kids to sink into a squat when receiving the bar develops leg strength, flexibility, and stability.

Simply put,  you must have all three in order to hit these positions…

front squat

snatch squat

…and then rise up from them without dumping the weight.

It takes time to train even the most gifted athletes to do this with heavy loads. Kids need to start out with PVC pipes and light bars and build from there. Some need a lot of stretching to remediate tightness in their hips, shoulders, and wrists,  but again, wouldn’t increasing flexibility in these areas have a beneficial effect on their overall athletic performance?

Reason #3 Kids who are only taught the partial lifts often lose their form (and many of the benefits inherent to Olympic lifting) as they increase their loads.

There are many examples of this on Youtube.

Challenged to attempt a heavy load from the hang position, kids will often get the weight moving by swinging their hips into it and then splaying their feet awkwardly as they receive the bar. What was meant to be an athletic movement focused on an explosive triple extension degenerates (in the case of a clean) into a hip-assisted reverse curl with little or no extension of the ankles, knees, and hips or (in the case of the snatch) into essentially a straight-armed, overhead weight toss likely ending with the bar crashing to the floor behind the lifter.

Yes, the athlete in one of the videos above performed a very crisp, athletic, and technically sound hang snatch without dropping into a squat as he received the bar, but he was not maxing out. Like many Olympic lifters, he was using this partial lift to train a segment of the full lift.

Clearly, athletes need to challenge themselves with increasingly heavy loads in order to gain strength. It would be tremendously boring–not to mention a waste of time–to spend month after month executing your lifts with the same weight.

But, asking young lifters to attempt near-maximum weights in the Olympic lifts without training them in the correct methods of lifting the bar from the floor and of receiving the weight in a solid, stable position is a mistake.

If we are going to encourage kids to put up big numbers, we owe it to them to train them to do so in the safest and most effective manner possible. And in the case of the Olympic lifts, that is the full version.

Allow me to close with a rather major qualifier.

Every kid is different. You cannot expect all of your athletes to fit a single training template. In spite of your best efforts at remediation, you may find certain athletes whose shoulder tightness will never allow them to safely rack a snatch overhead. Very tall athletes sometimes need to begin their Olympic lifts from blocks as their height does not allow them to set up in a solid starting position when lifting from the floor. Here is a vid of the fine shot putter Jordan Clarke lifting from blocks:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sH4gblO6w84

So as you lead your athletes down the path towards executing the full lifts, you will have to take the occasional detour.

Yes, this approach can get a bit complicated. Yes, it takes a lot work.

But the payoff is that you will help your athletes improve their stability, balance, explosiveness, and flexibility. To me, that makes it worth the effort.

My advice to any coach who wants his athletes to reap the many benefits of training with the Olympic lifts is to take a coaching course from USA Weightlifting. They offer these two-day seminars all over the country, and it is time well spent.

Harting v. Perkovic: Part 1 (by Dan McQuaid)

I ask you, is there a better way to ward off the winter blues than to spend an afternoon dissecting great discus technique?

Okay, there probably are better ways, but this one is cheap, fat free,  perfectly legal and will help me  forget about that three-foot snow drift covering our discus ring. So, here goes.

It seems to me that the key to great discus throwing is finding a reliable way to get from here…

casanas wind

 

To here…

casanas wide right

From here…

malone wind

To here…

malone wide

From here…

alekna close 1

To here…

alekna close 2

Warning: If you can identify the owner of these legs you probably spend way too much time watching throws videos and are in danger of being called a “super dweeb” by your long-suffering wife. Trust me, I have experience in this matter.

Anyway, these pairs of photos illustrate two important stations along the path to a fine throw. The athlete must begin with a balanced windup: right foot flat, left heel up, left big toe in contact with the ground. The second photo in each set depicts the athlete in an excellent position to run the ring: right leg wide, weight balanced on the ball of the left foot, discus trailing behind the right hip.

If you watch these throwers (Frank Casanas, Casey Malone and…..???) on film or in person they make moving through these positions seem perfectly natural, but if you coach young athletes you know how difficult this transition can be. Beginning throwers tend to unwind by pulling with their head and left arm. This causes the discus to jump ahead of the thrower and makes it impossible to get the right leg out wide because the thrower will feel (quite correctly) that he will fall down if he doesn’t get that right foot back on the ground quickly.

It seems that among the best discus throwers there are two approaches to moving from the windup to the balanced, “ready to run the ring” position.

Some throwers try to get their right foot off the ground and sweeping ahead of the discus as soon as possible. When the left foot pivots 90 degrees to the left, they want that right foot up and moving.

Here is an example.

vikas wide rear

This is Vikas Gowda. As you can see, his left foot has turned 90 degrees and his right toes are leaving the ground.

By the time his left foot has turned to where it is pointing down the right sector line, his right leg is already sweeping past it.

vikas right passes left

The right leg then continues to sweep out wide with the disc lagging behind.

vikas wide rear 2

At this point, he is in great shape to run the ring.

Here is Casey Malone, demonstrating the same “get the right leg moving early” approach.

malone wind

malone left

malone wide

The other method of transitioning from the wind to the “ready to run the ring” position is to leave the right foot on the ground longer while turning and getting way out over the left foot.

weir close 1

weir close 2

weir close 3

If you can identify the owner of these legs,  you are a bigger dork than me even, but you won’t have to worry about your wife getting mad at you because you likely will never have a wife.

As you can see in the middle photo, this thrower keeps his right foot grounded much longer than the throwers in those earlier photos–beginning his right leg sweep only after his left foot turns to point down the right foul line.

Interestingly, this is the approach used by the two current Olympic champions,

Robert Harting…

rh wind

harting left

rh wide rear

…and Sondra Perkovic.

perk wind

perk left

perk wide

I suspect that the advantage of leaving the right foot on the ground longer is twofold. First, it may make it easier to remain on balance while the thrower shifts his/her weight far to the left–a shift that is essential to getting in position to run the ring.

Second, leaving the right grounded while shifting way out over the left leg may create some elastic tension in the right leg that, when released, adds extra impetus to the right leg sweep.

I have experimented with this style the past couple of years, and some of my athletes have become quite comfortable with it. One warning though. If you attempt to teach this method, you must constantly drill your athletes to keep the discus back as they shift out over their left leg because with the right foot staying grounded longer it is very easy to let the disc sneak ahead.

We are due for another snow storm this week, so stay tuned for part two of Harting v. Perkovic.

Any guesses on the owners of those legs?