IS THE ROTATIONAL SHOT PUT TECHNIQUE THE NEXT STEP FORWARD FOR WOMEN IN THIS COUNTRY? (by John Smith)

In the last two years, I have been conducting a personal case study involving the glide and rotational techniques performed in shot putting. In this personal study, I took a glider with six years of experience that had thrown 17.23m with the technique, and started working a glide/spin combo throwing protocol for all implements for entire practices. My findings, after thousands of throws, showed that using the spin technique averaged 11-11.5% better than the glides taken during the practice sessions. This led me to strongly believe that women shot putters could once again approach the distances achieved by men in the event. The women of this country will simply have to make the same transition the men did roughly twenty years ago.

In the early days, the spin technique emerged when gliders began experimenting with new methods of throwing the shot put. At first, the distance between the two techniques wasn’t great. The majority of throws taken with the spin were the same or no more than two feet farther than the glide. Yet, as testing became stronger, throwers became weaker and more guys started playing with the spin. The result of the experimenting with the new technique was that the distance between the two systems started to expand.

At some point, rumors of guys putting ten feet on top of their standing throw started to surface, which was very hard to believe at the time. Then the next generation of rotational throwers started talking about their full throw as being 12-14 feet further than their standing throws, and ten feet on a standing throw became an accepted number.  This is significant because the glide in the past required certain qualities to throw 70-73 feet. It mainly demanded a large standing throw because a glider could typically only add 4 to 7 feet on top of their standing throw, which required a 72-foot glider to have at least a 65 to 68 foot standing throw to attain that distance.  Although making a standing throw that great seems hard to believe in this day and age, 65 to 68 foot standing throws were commonplace at the world class level during the 80’s and  early 90’s. I have not seen an american 65+ standing throw in 20 years.

The influence of steriods on this era were made clear in a report compiled in the former East Germany. Under a state-supported drug regimine, the average male thrower was expected to improve in a  four year time period 2.5m-4m in the shot, 10m-12m in the disc and 6- 10m in the hammer. The women were expected to improve in four years 4.5m -5m in the shot, 11-20m in the disc, and 8 – 15m in the javelin.These are the former DDR numbers who’s state-supported system developed and tracked these increases to the Stasi. Therefore, men who threw 62 to 65 foot throws clean, could make the jump to 70-73 feet with the glide, and become world class throwers within weeks. However, during the 1990’s when testing became better, the big standing throws went away and so did the big gliders in America. This is what happened, and the USA–maybe unknowingly– made the adjustment to the spin.

Due to the big standing throws falling about 2-2.5m from what it used to be, the men in this country turned to the rotational method to make up the distance lost. Because of that change, American men broke the 22m barrier clean, which many people still refused to believe. In my estimation, there have been six men to throw over 22m clean in this country with the rotational method. It is safe to say that after the rotational technique evolved  in this country, the glide is not what is used to be, even on a world level. All one has to do is look at the amount of world class gliders from the 80’s and early 90’s compared to today. The male 70 foot glider is definitely an endangered species–much like a high jumper still using the western roll was when the flop took over.

Many say this is a different deal with the women, but I say it has not been explored fully enough. The women throw a 4k. So the bodyweight to implement ratio is much different than the men. However, the standing throw to full throw differential is about the same. Just like the men, 115% on standing throw is considered great gliding. Still, the clean 70-foot throw for women most likely has not been done yet. World class gliding for women takes one of two great physical qualities. These characteristics involve a very big tall athletic woman (6.3 to 6.6 and 220 to 300lbs) or a girl with a golden arm  very much like the skinny kid that throws the 95mph fastball. I have seen a couple of golden arms in Terri Cantwell and Michelle Carter in this country. Both these women could stand 59-61 feet without world class strength levels, but these athletes are very rare. The only women we should consider for the glide shot technique are these two types of women. If you do not have a big standing throw, you will have a hard time reaching world class female levels in the shot. Now, question is what do we do with all the women that don’t have huge standing throws or huge levers and mass? Make spinners out of them. Jill Camarena  made the change from a 59-foot glider to a 66-foot spinner. Jill was the one thrower that made me take a very serious look into women with rotational technique.

All it will take is 1000’s of girls working at it from a young age, and it will happen. If guys can go 12-15 feet on standing throw, there is no valid reason why women can’t do this also. It’s just going to take one girl to break through like the men did years ago. The first step to this process is getting high school girls throwing a 3k shot to develop the CNS pathways to throw a shot  far. Training for the 3k would require work with a 2k, which would also further teach our girls how to throw something far.  So when the young girls are ready step up to the 4k, it’s just a matter of building physical and specific strength through lifting and throwing  heavy implements before they are able to match the collegiate men. We need high school girls throwing 20m with the 3k. The more girls that can accomplish this the more likely we will produce better marks at the next level.

The main concern with the execution of this theory would be establishing a throwing system that teaches high school coaches how to coach and teach the rotational method before the girls reach the college ranks. Then the  cream will rise to the top and a 70-footer will emerge years later from the system.

With the rotational shot technique, women should follow what the men have accomplished with the spin in the last 20 years. The glide for the men in this country has became obsolete with the explosion of male rotational throwers who reach “drug era” distances without using drugs. The same will happen for the women if the necessary steps are taken. I am convinced that a 21m throw could spring out of the hands of a female spin shot putter someday in this decade. Who will be the first is an unknown at this point, but it can be done.

Make no mistake about it, and as much as the Europeans like to point to one or two guys throwing far with the glide, our NCAA system produces 19m, 20m, 21m throwers like a machine. This we are doing right; however, my next article will be on what we are not doing and need to do in the disc. How to make up those 80’s and early 90’s discus differentials.

John Smith

#*it Happens even at Nationals!

If you throw long enough you will lose a few legal throws and gain a few that were foul because of bad calls by the officials.
I saw a missed call similar to this W-Hep Shot in the Open Men’s Shot Put with a different judge.
Fortunately, neither judgement error impacted the final results.

The real travesty was that they couldn’t slow down the circle so the speed gliders could throw.
At the US Nationals, that was embarrassing, especially since our Women’s Champion is a speed glider.  We can’t even make it right for our Champion who is an international contender.

We just don’t care enough to do it right.

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?

We Need More of this to Grow Our Sport

I was in Boise ID for a competition January 30-31.   During a Thursday afternoon shakedown workout the local youth club came in to train.

Team Idaho with 290 members!

This is what we need to grow our sport.

Lucky for Boise to have a local club get time in an indoor facility.

Nice to see so many young “Flying Squirrels” in training, but…

“Where are the 50 Shot Putters and Weight Throwers?”

“Oh, they come in the second session, but there are only about 15.”

Bummer for the throws.

 

 Click here for…             Mac Wilkins.com

                                                  The Wilkins Review

The excellent fixed-feet, short-long glide of Ladislav Prasil

As a high school throws coach, I am a big fan of the fixed-feet, short-long glide. It allows the putter to accelerate the shot over a long, straight path and to work the ground for an extended time during the release.

Currently, Ladislav Prasil, the 23-year-old Czech with a PB of 21.47m, provides a great template for young throwers wanting to learn the short-long.

Here are two views of Prasil as he is about to begin his glide:

b1

pras 1

Notice that his upper body is completely limp. His back muscles are relaxed, his left arm passive. This sets Prasil up to accelerate the shot over a long path. He begins with the shot down low and will finish by releasing it high.

As a glide shotputter begins reaching the left leg across the ring, it is vital that they keep the upper body passive as long as possible. Prasil does a fine job of this:

photo

b5

A key technical point of the short-long glide is to let the left leg finish before pulling the right leg out of the back.  This allows the putter to keep the shot on that long path that is so conducive to fine throws.

Here is Prasil a milisecond or so later:

pras 3

His left leg has finished extending and the right foot is about to leave the concrete. Notice that his posture (the rounded upper back) has not changed. His eyes are still looking down and back.  Notice also that Prasil has the shot placed under the right side of his jaw rather than against the the side of his neck (as is common with rotational putters). This placement, combined with his ablility to maintain a relaxed upper body during the glide phase of the put will allow him to accelerate the shot along a straight path as perceived from a vantage point directly behind the ring.

We all know that  a sprinter accelerates best when following a straight route rather than weaving from one side of the lane to the other. The same principal applies to the shotput. Variation of the path of the implement robs the putter of the best chance to accelerate it. Prasil does a great job of keeping the shot on a straight path.

One further comment on that last photo.  Many regard Ulf Timmerman, the 1988 Olympic champion from the DDR, as the greatest glide technician ever, and I agree that he was fantastic.  Watch a video of him at regular speed and you will be awed by his explosiveness. Like Prasil, Ulf was a short-long glider.  One prominent difference between their techniques, though, is that Ulf blasted his left leg hard and low out of the back of the ring as if  trying to shatter the toeboard with the force of that left leg extension, while Prasil reaches his left leg higher and less aggressively.

When introducing the short-long to young throwers, it is best to adopt Prasil’s approach.  Blasting the left leg too hard and too low out of the back of the ring will cause the shoulders of most novice throwers to pop up, thus making it difficult to keep the shot back long enought to let the right hip do its work.  Think of the line connecting the putter’s head to his left heel as a teeter totter.  Push one end of a teeter totter down and the other end must come up.  Timmerman was able to avoid this pitfall by keeping his upper body totally passive even as he lashed his left leg toward the toeboard. Unfortunately, most of us coach athletes who are to Timmerman as a Volkswagon beetle is to a Porshe, and trying to replicate this aspect of his technique is a mistake.

Let’s take a look now at Prasil’s position as his right foot touches  down after his glide.

pras 4

b2

This is classic short-long shotputting. Allow me to draw your attention to three technical matters.  First, Prasil’s right foot lands at a 45-degree angle. Some would argue that in order to give the right hip its best chance of firing into the release ahead of the shot the right foot must land at a 90-degree angle. Parallel, in other words, to the toeboard. Remember, though, that we must strive to accelerate the shot along a straight path. Turning his foot to 90 degrees might cause a premature opening of the right hip and shoulder which would yank the shot off of its straight path.  Best to ground the foot at a 45-degree angle to facilitate keeping the shot back. And, as you will see, Prasil has no trouble firing his right hip with his foot at this angle.

Second, notice that when Prasil’s right foot touches down his left foot is still in the air. This allows him to keep the shot way back, and to blast into the throw with a natural right-to-left action. Hand one of your athletes a softball and tell them to throw it as far as they can. Will they hop, land simultaneously on both feet and then jump into the throw? Not likely. My guess is that they will stride into the throw, right-to-left like a javelin thrower. A shotput is obviously a lot heavier than a softball or javelin, but short-long gliders still incorporate this action into their technique, and Prasil provides an excellent example of doing so successfully.

Finally, notice that Prasil’s left arm is beginning to lift as his right foot lands.  This is another sign that he is determined to keep the shot on a straight path.  Many young throwers are taught to reach their left arm back as they glide, in an effort to keep them from opening their shoulders prematurely and allowing their upper body to get ahead of their right hip as they drive into the throw. Keeping the left arm back too long, however, can muck up the timing of the right-to-left throwing action and–you guessed it–cause the shot to deviate from a straight path. Young throwers must be taught to keep the right shoulder back as the left arm opens. This takes a lot of practice and tinkering, as many of them will naturally turn their head and and rotate both shoulders as the left arm sweeps, but…what can I tell you? Anyone looking for a sport at which they can instantly excel should  try boogie-boarding or thumb wrestling.

So, Prasil has done a great job of setting himself up for a big throw. Let’s see how he finishes it.

pras 10

pras 5

pras 6

It is crucial that the right heel pops up and the right knee and hip fire immediately after the right foot touches down. That, again, is why many argue for the foot to land at 90 degrees. But as can be seen here, Prasil does a magnificent job of blasting his right knee and hip ahead of the shot.

Let’s take a look from the other angle to see how he does with keeping the shot on a straight path.

b7

b6

b3

b3a

Pretty good, huh? By keeping his upper body relaxed throughout the glide, by clearing the left arm while keeping the shot back, and by being an all-around stud-muffin, Prasil succeeds in blasting the shot up and out along a straight path.

Two comments on these final images.

I am a big fan of fixed-feet throwing.  The laws of physics dictate that in order to exert maximum force on the shot, you have to have a solid base to push against. The old cannon-in-a-rowboat analogy.  I know that most successful gliders at the international level reverse. David Storl. Tomasz Majewski. But guess what, brother? You and I are not coaching athletes like that. They are 6’5″ (Storl) and 6’9″ (Majewski) and extremely athletic. You know where the high school versions of those guys end up in this country? On a basketball court twelve months of the year getting screamed at by some 5’8″ guy with slicked back hair. We get the guys with the three-inch verticals that can’t make the basketball team. And for them, fixed feet throwing usually works best.

And by the way, I guarantee you that Storl and Majewski have taken about a million fixed-feet throws in training.

Finally, you might notice that Prasil’s head moves to the left as he releases the shot. This is still another indication of his determination to keep the shot on a straight path. Even though he holds the shot under his jaw, he still has to get his head out of the way at some point if he wants to keep the shot on the straight and narrow. You see the same thing among javelin throwers:

jav

All I can say about this is that you, as a coach, must monitor this carefully. You absolutely do not want your shotputters yanking their heads to the left as they release the shot.  Train them to remain as upright as possible as they flick the shot away and realize that to some extent, tilting to the left is inevitable. But don’t let it get out of hand.

Finally, finally, I want to acknowledge that Prasil is a magnificent athlete. Normal people do not throw 21 meters. Normal people throw 10 meters and then become coaches. That said, I believe that his technique is more applicable to the average high school thrower than the technique employed by Timmerman, Storl, or Majewski.

Here are the links to the videos from which I stole those photos:

Good luck to everybody out there this indoor season!

 

–Dan McQuaid

Meeting Mac Wilkins (and discussing the NCAA Oregon decision)

When I was in high school, I wanted to be Mac Wilkins. He had just won the gold medal in the discus at the Montreal games, he threw with a unique blend of grace and savagery, he came across as sharply funny and intelligent during interviews, and he had an amazing beard.

So, I went out and bought a pair of throwing shoes and a warmup suit just like the ones Mac used. I tried to mimic his technique. Though never interviewed, I did my best to make sardonic comments each day in the lunch room. I stopped shaving. I brought home two puppies without getting permission from my parents, and I named them Mac Wilkins and Al Feuerbach. When my parents made me give back one of the puppies, I gave back Al Feuerbach.

Unfortunately, the results were not exactly what I expected. I could reproduce Mac’s barbaric passion in the ring, but not his grace and athleticism, unless you call falling down while firing the disc 80 feet out of bounds graceful and athletic. The guys at my lunch table did not appreciate my biting wit. No one noticed that I had stopped shaving.

The one positive result of my “be like Mac” campaign was that puppy Mac grew into my mom’s all time favorite dog. She treasures his memory to this day.

Needless to say, then, that when my friend Jim Aikens told me he’d gotten human Mac to appear at this year’s Illinois Coaches Association Clinic, I was stoked.

And I am even more stoked now, after meeting him. Our clinic was last weekend, and Mac, in spite of spending much of the day at the airport due to mechanical problems, graciously agreed to attend the coaches social held the night before the clinic where he told some hilarious stories about Bill Bowerman including one involving elephant dung. I’m not making that up.

He remained completely friendly and gracious while I asked him approximately 90 million questions about his career.  Here is a link to his response when I asked him about the NCAA decision to award the outdoor championships to Oregon for the forseeable future.  Sorry about the background noise!

I think he sums it up well. It would be nice for fans across the country if the NCAA championships could continue to rotate to different regions, but only Oregon has shown a consistent ability to draw spectators.

So, I surrender. If Mac Wilkins tells me it’s probably for the best that the meet settles in Eugene, then I’m just going to have to start planning some trips to Eugene.

We are still editing my conversation with Mac and his presentation at the clinic. Stay tuned.

The Oregon Monopoly: A response from the NCAA

Wanting to find out more about the logic behind the NCAA decision to award the Outdoor Track and Field Championships to Eugene for the next eight years,  I contacted their Media Relations department and received a response almost immediately.  Here is our exchange:

I’d appreciate it if you could give me some insight into how the decision was made so that I could share that info with the online community of track and field fans. I basically have two questions: What factors (attendance, corporate sponsorship, athletes’ preference, or whatever) figured into this decision? Why an 8-year commitment? Thanks much! -Dan McQuaid 

Dan,
  Thank you for your inquiry. The Division I Track and Field Committee, comprised of coaches and administrators within Division I, is the deciding group on where to award championships sites based on the bids submitted, and they ultimately recommended the bid be awarded to the University of Oregon in Eugene. A variety of factors were considered in the committee’s deliberations, however, the experience for the student-athletes was the piece they continually want to enhance the most. The opportunity to compete in facilities of great quality with thousands of fans who are knowledgeable and passionate about track and field was of paramount importance. The past experiences NCAA student-athletes have had at Hayward Field, including the 2013 championships, was a differentiating factor for the committee.
 
Additionally, the committee weighed the overall components of the bid (budget, facility, layout, amenities, hotels, travel, etc.) into their discussion as well. The factors that enhanced the experience for the student-athletes, fans and NCAA far outweighed any of the other parts that could potentially be seen as a reason not to have the championships in Eugene.
 
The length of the term commitment was an important strategy by the committee to attempt to grow and sustain a fan base around the NCAA Track and Field Championships hoping, one day, to have more than 20,000+ people per session at the event.
 
I hope this helps and thanks again.
Cam
 
Cameron Schuh
NCAA
Associate Director for Public and Media Relations
Cam:Thanks very much!

A quick follow up. Did the committee have in mind the model of the NCAA baseball tournament with its permanent home in Omaha? And did it seem to them, after trying a variety of locations in the past that none offered the crowd-building potential of Eugene?

Thanks again.

–Dan McQuaid

Dan,
  The committee did not have a specific model in mind when making the determination. They wanted to give it a long-range plan in order to promote the growth, henceforth the length of the term for this championship. And based on previous championship experiences, the committee believes hosting the championships in Eugene provides the best potential for a passionate fan base in attendance at this time.
 
Thanks again.
Cam
Though they might not have had the baseball championship model specifically in mind when considering the future of the track championships, clearly that is the direction the NCAA has chosen. And who can blame them?  The NCAA baseball tournament has been a huge success. The head baseball coach at my high school has made the journey to Omaha several times, and he told me that it is a fantastic experience. They consistently draw great crowds, and there are high school tournaments held in Omaha concurrently with the college tournament, so he brings his players along with him.
The reason he is able to do that, though, is because Omaha is only 450 miles away. It takes them maybe seven hours to get there and nobody has to worry about renting a car  so their travel costs can be kept to a minimum.  And, as Omaha is basically in the middle of the United States, people from many different regions can drive there.
Eugene, on the other hand, is obviously not in the middle of the country. So, unlike the NCAA baseball tournament, the track championships are not going to draw mini-buses full of high school athletes and their coaches from Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, and all the other areas that are within a reasonable driving distance of Omaha.
Based on the numerous meets that Eugene has hosted in the past few years, the NCAA is going to get the big crowds that it desires, but those crowds are likely to be made up almost exclusively of fans who live in the Northwest corner of the country.
The NCAA Outdoor Track and Field meet will–for majority of track fans–be turned into a made-for-TV event. Is this the best way to grow the sport? I guess we’ll find out over the next eight years.
–Dan McQuaid

More on the Oregon track monopoly.

First of all, thanks much for the comments.

When I wrote that last post, I was sort of shooting from the hip. Just expressing my disappointment over the announcement that the next eight NCAA outdoor championships will be very difficult to attend for those of us who live beyond driving distance of Eugene.

But those responses made me realize that I’d better take a step back and do a little research on the issue. First, I emailed Scott Cappos, the long time throws coach at the University of Iowa. You’d think that if anyone would want to see the NCAA meet contested at Drake regularly (as it has been over the past few years) it would be Scott, as Iowa City is less than a two-hour drive from Des Moines.  Wouldn’t any coach want his athletes to avoid the hassles of a long flight–the frequent delays, the cramped seats, the difficulty of stowing javelins securely in the overhead compartment–prior to an important competition?  Not necessarily.

“Despite the location,” Scott replied, “Oregon is the best place to experience track and field in America…National Championships suffer from poor attendance and atmosphere elsewhere.”
This sentiment was also expressed by Danny Block, the fine shot and discus thrower from the University of Wisconsin.  “As an athlete, I personally love throwing at Oregon and wouldn’t mind having NCAA’s there every year. The atmosphere is electric. The discus is contested inside the track for all to see, and they treat the athletes great.”  The only fly in the ointment? “My parents aren’t a fan of it…[they] go to almost every meet, but can never make it to Oregon because of the travel.”
Clearly, the magic of Hayward Field is not a myth.
And if the athletes and coaches are happy with the decision to move the championship meet to Eugene on what seems an awful lot like a permanent basis, then far be it from me to keep insisting that it’s a lousy idea.
But, I wonder about a couple of things. First, at the risk of sounding cynical, I have trouble believing that this decision was based on the wishes of the coaches and athletes. Having attended the three recent NCAA championships held at Drake,  and having interviewed a whole bunch of throwers and their coaches I can tell you that most of them dislike the current system of placing the athletes into two randomly selected flights for the prelims. This forces the flight-one throwers who qualify for the finals to sit around for a good 90 minutes and then to warm up again before competing against the finalists from flight two–who did not have to endure that potentially momentum-killing delay. The coaches and athletes I spoke with believed that the flights should be seeded so that the better throwers could enjoy the smoother transition from flight two into the finals.
But I don’t see the NCAA making that change–a remarkably simple one–in an effort to please the coaches and athletes.
So would they make the unprecedented decision to hold the meet 8 consectutive years in Eugene just to make the participants happy? And if not, what was the basis for this decision?
I googled around a little bit today to try to get some insight into the matter, but so far all I’ve come up with is a 2009 press release announcing that the 2011 and 2012 championships had been awarded to Drake and the 2013 and 2014 championships to Eugene.
You can find the press release here:

http://fs.ncaa.org/Docs/PressArchive/2009/Championships/20091215%2BD1%2BOutdoor%2BTF%2BSite%2BSelect%2BRls.html
Here is a quote from it that I found rather intriguing:

“The committee has worked really hard over the last several months to ensure we were awarding the championships to the best sites possible,” said Holly Sheilley, chair of the Division I Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Committee and assistant athletic director for student development and championships at the University of Louisville. “Drake and Oregon have shown in the past they put on world-class meets, and we are confident they will do a great job hosting our future NCAA outdoor championships. The committee felt strongly about having the championships in two different sites within the four-year period to enhance the student-athlete experience.”

So, what has changed since?  Did things go so badly at Drake in 2011 and 2012 and so well last year at Hayward that it became clear to the NCAA that Eugene should become the permanent site for the meet?

I feel like the answer to that holds some interesting implications for the sport of track and field. I’m going to do some more detecting over the next few days and will report on whatever I’m able to come up with. If anyone out there has some insight into what prompted this decision, please chime in.

Thanks again to those who posted comments. There is a lot more to discuss regarding the NCAA meet and the current state of track and field in this country.

 

Is the Oregon monopoly on the NCAA meet good for track fans?

Let me begin with some reasons why I love the University of Oregon:

1. That logo they have featuring Donald Duck looking to kick someone’s ass is awesome.

2. I attended the 1999 U.S. Championships in Eugene with some of my throwers (I am a high school coach) and one of their parents. We were sitting  on some portable bleachers outside the stadium watching the men’s hammer competition when who comes and sits near us but John Godina and Art Venegas.  Godina was the best shotputter in the world at the time (he ended up throwing 22 meters at that meet) and UCLA had the best collegiate throwing program in the universe so we were totally jacked to be in their presence. Venegas sat down next to a young man named Justin Rapp, a rather large individual who threw for me and then went on to become DIII national champ in the shot while competing at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. We were all too scared to strike up a conversation with either John or Art, but after a few minutes, Art turns to Justin Rapp, looks him slowly up and down and says, “Hey! How much do you weigh?” as if he were afraid that the bleachers might buckle beneath beneath him.

3. Another of my former throwers, Pat Trofimuk, threw at Illinois State University for the current Oregon throws coach, Erik Whitsitt. At the time, Erik had three world class throwers in his stable: NCAA jav champ Tim Glover, NCAA medalist in the shot and hammer Brittany Smith, and current NCAA leader in the shot Curt Jensen. Pat was not a world class thrower, but a great, hard-working dude, the kind of guy who makes your program better by setting an example of how to do things the right way. In spite of the fact that Pat was never going to qualify for the NCAA meet, Erik valued him and treated him very well. And because of that, Erik will always have a special place in my heart. And in the new millennium, men are allowed to say that about each other.

4. I am a big fan of the head strength coach at Oregon, Jim Radcliffe. Last January, Jim presented at a strength and conditioning clinic in beautiful Mattoon, Illinois hosted by Marty Schnorf of the Charleston Weightlifting Club. You’d think a guy who ran the strength program for one of the premier football teams in the country might be at best a tad arrogant, at worst a complete tool. (One of my throwers got a football scholarship a few years back to a major powerhouse which shall remain nameless and the head strength coach was a maniac. He delighted in forcing the athletes to attempt bizarre feats of derring-do such as having my guy–a 310 pounder–try to jump onto a box that was higher than his belly button–the kid still has the scar on his shins–and he once reamed the kid out for having solid technique on overhead squats. I’m not making that up.) But Jim was courteous , helpful, and most importantly, really thoughtful in his approach to strength training. I hope the Oregon athletes know how lucky they are.

5. While in high school, I named my dog after Mac Wilkins, and dammit, Mac Wilkins went to Oregon.

So, I am not here to bash the Ducks. But I am more than a little chapped that the NCAA has awarded the next eight outdoor track and field championships to Oregon.

According to an article on goducks.com, (http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=209338922) this decision was made, at least in part, to “emphasize the fan experience.”

And certainly, the fan experience at a meet in Eugene can be fantastic. I know nothing about distance events, but when I got my free cowbell at the meet in Eugene I shook the hell out of it every time one of those poor, anorexic dudes or dudettes staggered down the home stretch. When we walked into town for lunch, I ordered a veggie burrito and I liked it.  When the air temperature fluctuated ten degrees every five minutes, I didn’t complain. I walked over to the bookstore and bought a sweatshirt with mean Donald Duck on it that I treasure to this day. Every track fan, in my opinion, should attend a meet in Eugene before shuffling off to that great Olympia in the sky.

But eight consecutive years?

As a track fan who lives in the midwest, I am astonished that the NCAA has basically frozen me out of attending an NCAA championship.  Two years ago, I went to the NCAA meet in Des Moines.  Driving my Prius from the suburbs of Chicago, it cost me less than $30 to get there.  A hotel room was approximately $100 dollars per night. I stayed for two days of fantastic throwing, and then drove home for another $30.

Getting to Eugene, on the other hand, would cost at least $500 for the plane ticket and another $200 for car rental. Throw in the hotel room, and we are talking about at least $1000 dollars to attend the meet without factoring in food costs.  If you’ve ever read my stuff, you know that I have an extremely patient wife. But I’m a high school teacher, and $1000 for a trip to Eugene when it cost me $60 to get to and from Des Moines?

You tell me, which “fans” are the NCAA appealing to?

–Dan McQuaid