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

 

 

 

 

Lust and the Lithuanian

2005 Zurich Weltklasse

An international airport is not a place normally associated with solitude, but there I was sitting in the darkened expanse of the waiting room in Zurich terminal number one at 5:30 on a Saturday morning feeling like I was the only person on the planet. Which I didn’t mind. Just a few hours earlier, my brother Mike, our friend Anna Swisher, Anna’s mother, and I were wedged into the standing room section along the north curve at Zurich’s Stadion Letzigrund joining the raucous crowd in urging the world’s best track and field athletes to run fast, jump high, and throw far in spite of a drenching rain occasionally punctuated by the flash of lightning. A soggy journey back to our hotel, followed by a late night of packing and a 4:00AM wake-up call (necessitated by a 7:00 AM flight to Manchester), left me feeling somewhat less than chipper as I slouched into a plastic seat in the waiting area and buried my nose in a Napoleon biography. Reading about the Grand Army of the Republic slogging west from Moscow with swarms of Cossacks nipping at their heels helped me to forget about my own fatigue and rendered me oblivious to the fact that the terminal was slowly coming to life. By the time I looked up from my book, there were dozens of passengers milling about and the shops lining the terminal were beginning to open their doors. A few feet in front of me, a very tall, broad-shouldered man dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt braced himself against a railing while casually stretching his legs. I couldn’t see his face, but his unusual size (my throwers would call someone with his build “gi-normous”) made me wonder whether he was a thrower from last night’s meet.

Speaking of last night’s meet, it appeared beforehand to possess all the necessary ingredients for a classic discus competition. The field was loaded with top throwers still in peak form after competing two weeks earlier at the World Championships in Helsinki. Foremost among them was the victor in Helsinki (and two-time Olympic champion) Virgilius Alekna, who entered the competition with a chiseled six-foot-eight­ inch frame and a habit of launching 70 meter throws. The big Lithuanian had pretty much owned his event since the summer of 2000 when I had the pleasure of watching him deposit four of six throws past the 70 meter line in that year’s edition of the Zurich Weltklasse. In the intervening years, the only man to defeat him in a major competition and not run afoul of the folks in the white lab coats was Lars Reidel at Edmonton in 2001. Fit, confident, and very comfortable with the ring at Letzigrund, Alekna seemed primed on this night to extend his seasonal best beyond the 70.67m he’d posted a month earlier in Madrid.

This is not to imply that the rest of the competitors were content to duke it out for second place. Indeed, Gerd Kanter, the fine Estonian thrower who broke the 70-meter barrier once himself earlier this year, had Alekna on the ropes until the final round at Helsinki. Would this be the night he’d finish the job? Also in the field was Franz Kruger, a crowd favorite in Zurich who’d handed Alekna his only defeat of the year at a meet in Talinnjust after the World Championships. Aside from these two, the field was loaded with former World and Olympic medalists including the aforementioned Lars Reidel, Athens second-placer Zoltan Kovago, Athens third-placer Alex Tammert, and the shaggy-haired Michael Mollenbeck, third in Helsinki and a man who seemingly never met a hair style that he would not try. These, then, were the challengers who hoped to make Alekna sweat in his attempt to snag a third Weltklasse Zurich title.

Coincidentally, a sweaty Alekna just happened to occupy the top spot on Anna Swisher’s wish list for the upcoming holiday season. A recent graduate of Williams College and herself a thrower, Anna arrived in Zurich harboring a mad hot crush on the Lithuanian studmuffin. Her goal for the 2005 Weltklasse was simple: find Alekna and get his autograph. If a marriage proposal followed, so much the better.

This aspiration (at least the autograph part of it) was not-so-far-fetched. The athletes’ hotel is just a few blocks from Letzigrund, and it is not uncommon to see them walking to or from the stadium. In fact, as Mike, Anna, and I entered Letzigrund, we ran into Franz Kruger making his way towards the athletes’ check-in area. We did not trouble him for an autograph, but Anna was encouraged by the thought that a certain Lithuanian dreamboat might be in the vicinity as well. Unfortunately, we could not afford to spend any time staking out the entrance if we wanted to secure a spot in the north stands with a clear view of the discus ring. The Zurich Weltklasse pretty much sells out every year, and the general admission area overlooking the discus cage fills up quickly.  Owing  to necessity  then, we temporarily  suspended  the “hunt for Alekna”  portion of our mission  and managed  to grab a nice spot not too far from the cage and just  across  the track from an open area where the throwers  tend to congregate between  attempts.  Not a bad perch, as it turned out, for a passionate woman armed with a telephoto lens. From there, Anna and I anxiously awaited the beginning of the discus warm-ups while Mike (himself armed with a telephoto lens and a positively Japanese-like passion for using it) contentedly   snapped photos of the steeplechase water hazard.

Unfortunately, the steeplechasers would not be the only ones dealing with water and its hazards on this night. A few minutes prior to the discus warm-up, a steady drizzle began to fall and continued as Alekna and the other throwers were escorted to the cage. As the group began their warm-up tosses, it quickly became clear that the wet ring was forcing everyone to move cautiously.  Further complicating matters was a fairly steady breeze blowing in along the right foul line. Normally a boon to right-handed   throwers, the wind seemed to make it harder to get a proper flight on the disc, resulting in many weak-looking “pop-up” type throws-not the sort of thing one might expect from the world’s best.

After a few rounds, the warm-ups were halted for the “Introduction of Champions,” during which any recently crowned World Champion competing in the Weltklasse was paraded on the infield to the accompaniment of some sort of regal sounding techno music. After the introductions, the champions scattered to toss t-shirts into different sections of the stands. Alekna trotted right over to us and tossed several t-shirts into our section but just out of our reach.  It is testament to Anna’s genteel upbringing that she refrained from a.) hopping the railing and tackling Alekna, or b.) drawing blood in an effort to snag a shirt, especially when she realized that the world’s most hunkalicious Lithuanian had autographed them!

All eleven throwers were given a couple more warm-up tosses, and then with the rain still falling, Mario Pestana opened the competition with a very decent (considering the conditions) 64.90m.  This seemed to set the tone for the night. Yes, the ring was wet. Yes, it was hard to get a good grip on the disc. Yes, Anna was giving everyone but Alekna the evil eye. But these guys were professionals, and regardless of those distractions they were going to fight to get off some good throws.  This point was made abundantly clear when Franz Kruger fired a season best 67.30m on his first attempt.  This got me jacked up, as Franz is a class act and a lot of fun to watch.  The 2000 Weltklasse, the first that I attended, was something of a coming out party for the big South African who launched a couple of PR’s that night and endeared himself to everyone in the north stands by playing to the crowd before and after each throw. Two weeks later, he collected the bronze in Sydney and seemed to be on the brink of a fantastic career. After a stellar 2001 campaign, however, he slipped a bit and became just another member of the pack of throwers who struggled to stay within five meters of Alekna week in and week out. I often wondered if he was struggling with injuries during that span. Or if getting married had crushed his spirit the way it has with so many other men over the eons (just kidding, dear). What a pleasant surprise then, to see him suddenly conjure the mojo of Bachelor Franz and throw down the gauntlet on a night where 67.30m  looked to have a real chance of holding up for the win.

Things continued to look good for Franz for the rest of the first and most of the second round.  Even though the rain stopped for a few minutes, nobody, not even Alekna, could seem to get comfortable.   Of the first twenty-one throws, six were fouls and nine others were less than 64 meters.  Unfortunately for Franz, on the twenty-second throw Alekna demonstrated that he did not need to be comfortable to throw far, launching one 68.00m while nearly falling down during his reverse. This pleased Anna quite a bit, but not nearly so much as when the large Lithuanian stripped off his wet shirt prior to round three. Aside from Alekna showing off his pecs (an event that Anna was able to capture via her telephoto lens) the highlights of that round were Franz backing up his 67.30m with a solid-looking 66.68m, and Zoltan Kovago (he of the crazy mad right-leg action)  launching a season best 66.00m.

A poignant but largely unnoticed moment occurred during the re-shuffling of the order, as Lars Reidel, certainly one of the all-time greats and a six-time winner of the Weltklasse during the 1990’s, packed up and left the field after failing to qualify for the final three throws.  How odd to see this former ubermensch almost sneak away from a stadium where he had been the object of much adoration over the years. Too bad he didn’t announce his retirement during the “Parade of Champions” to give the crowd a chance to go nuts over him one last time.  I guess when you’ve reached the heights that Lars, has it must be hard to know when and how to bow out gracefully, but going three and out in Athens, Helsinki, and now Zurich is probably a sign that it’s time to go. Perhaps Mother Nature was as sad as I was to see Lars go, because the rain really began pelting down prior to round four. Predictably, this led to lots more fouls­ eleven over the final three rounds. Unpredictably, Kanter nailed 67.92m on his fourth throw to bump Franz to third, and Mario Pestano pitched a season best 66.57m on his final attempt. Neither Alekna nor Franz was able to improve, so the final ranking went Alekna (68.00m), Kanter (67.92m), Kruger (67.30m). A fun competition, but probably disappointing to these athletes who clearly were in shape to throw far had the conditions been better.

One final note regarding the disc. Both Ian Waltz (seventh with 63.08m) and Jarred Rome (eighth with 62.68m) demonstrated once again that they belong among the world’s elite. They both look big, strong and technically sound, and I predict they’ll be major players throughout the current Olympic cycle.

The completion of the discus put Anna in a slight bind. True throws fan that she is, she wanted to remain in the stands to watch the javelin competition (eventually won in a downpour by the young Finnish thrower Tero Pitkamaki with a fine throw of 88.71m) but longed to stake out the exit to catch Alekna on his way out. Anna’s mom (a charming woman born and raised in Austria who enjoys escorting Anna on jaunts over the Pond) settled the dilemma by noticing that the program promised a meet and greet with the night’s champions after the final event. Anna decided to pin her hopes on the chance that Alekna would stick around. Mike and I both had early flights to catch the next morning, so we left the stadium just before the meet ended, and were busy packing when Anna arrived with the sad news that Alekna did not stay for the autograph session. She faced this unfortunate development with her usual pluck and optimistic demeanor, wishing Mike and I a pleasant journey as we finally hit the hay around 1:00 AM. And thus our adventure came to an end.

Almost.

The next morning, fairly numb from lack of sleep and distracted by a sort of generalized ache to see my wife and daughter again after ten days away from home, it took me several moments to realize that the man standing before me in the waiting lounge of Zurich Terminal One was none other than Virgilius Alekna.

So Anna was to get her autograph after all, though not in the way she’d expected.  He was extremely gracious as he signed, nodding politely as I pantomimed “rain” and told him how great I thought he was. My best guess is that he did not get any English in school as Lithuania was still part of the Soviet Bloc in those days, and he certainly did not try to speak any to me. But I didn’t care. I took the autograph, thanked him profusely and went back to my Napoleon book, wishing I knew how to use a pay phone in Europe so that I could call Anna and wake her up with the good news.

But a few minutes later, the news got even better.

Nose buried in my book, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to find Alekna standing over me. Without a word, he handed me a postcard-sized autographed photo of himself on the awards stand at Athens, nodded politely, smiled and walked away. Now I was really stoked. How cool to find out that someone you admire is a genuinely nice guy. I only hoped that Anna’s seizure upon receiving the photo would be a small one.

At that point, it was time to head to the gate to catch a bus to the tarmac where I’d board the flight to Manchester. Within ten minutes I was standing on the bus, still shaking a bit from the excitement of having met the Olympic champion. All of a sudden, I looked around and guess who was standing on the same bus just a few feet away from me? Yep. Now I started to feel a bit self-conscious, in no small part because of the fruity bag I was using as a carry-on. Earlier in the week, Mike and I had spent a couple  of days touring Salzburg, and I felt like I needed about five hands to carry all the stuff I was trying to schlep  around.  My solution was to buy a big canvas sack decorated with brightly colored images of fruit that would a.) hold all my stuff and b.) make a great beach  bag for my daughter  when  I got it home.  I knew it looked silly for a grown man to be carrying a bag like that. I even joked with the shop owner when I bought it that people would think I was “less than manly.” And indeed, a group of teenagers kept snickering at Mike and I when we sat down for lunch that afternoon. But I didn’t care. Until, of course, I suddenly found myself holding it in the presence of the Olympic discus champion.

Luckily, it was a short bus ride, and in a few minutes I was standing in the aisle of the plane trying to find my seat. The aisle was blocked by a lot of people still stowing their carry-ons, so I craned my neck to see around them and began counting rows. My seat was 12A. Take a wild guess who was already sitting in 12B.

Now I started to feel a bit panicky. As I mentioned earlier, Alekna is an enormous man who as far as I can tell does not speak English.  Were I to squeeze into that seat next to him, we’d  be smashed up against each other for two hours with absolutely no way to communicate.  And who could blame him for suspecting that I was some sort of fruity-bag-carrying stalker?  I mean, what are the odds that the only guy in the whole airport who recognized him would just happen to end up sitting next to him on the plane? And what could I say to assuage his fears?  “Me no stalk you. This coincidence.  Anna stalk you. She have picture of you no shirt. She want marry you.”

Nice guy that Alekna is, he started to get up to let me have the seat when he saw me staring at it, but no way was I going to sit there.  “Thanks again for the autographs,” I said and scrambled down the aisle clutching my fruity bag until I found an empty seat.

by Dan McQuaid

this article originally appeared in the Long & Strong Throwers Journal in October 2005

Time to hit the reset button on throws world records

Unless you live in a cave with no wi-fi service, you know that the role of PEDs in various sports has been all over the news lately. Fans of the Tour de France have been keeping their fingers crossed that their recently crowned champion, Chris Froome, will avoid the drug scandals that have plagued that sport for-seemingly-ever and restore some semblance of legitimacy to the yellow jersey.

By the way, there was a really interesting article in the New York Times last week describing the efforts of a physiologist to detect drug cheats in the Tour by comparing their performances to those of known juicers. Here it is…

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/18/sports/cycling/during-tour-de-france-watchdogs-seek-doping-clues-from-a-distance.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1374520880-qDpzt6Qrswo6AAVHM7eXWg

Fans of track and field have to wonder if there is such a thing as a clean sprint champion, as Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell were busted last week. And speaking of Tyson, why does a thirty-year-old world class athlete require the services of an “anti-aging” specialist? Didn’t he (Tyson) have the leading time in the 100-meters this year? Does that sound like he’s suffering from the affects of old age? I’m the one who ought to be seeing a specialist. Takes me about a minute-and-a-half to haul my 50-year-old butt 100 meters, and then I need a nap. Here’s a link to a Sports Illustrated article about Tyson and his specialist…

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/more/news/20130716/tyson-gay-positive-test-news/

Finally, fans of Major League Baseball, took a high hard one to the chin as Milwaukee Brewers all-star Ryan Braun admitted that he had been using PEDs and accepted a 65-game suspension. Braun, you may remember, tested positive in 2011 but avoided a suspension by successfully arguing that his sample had been “mishandled.” He insinuated that the poor schlemiel who collected his sample had somehow spiked it with testosterone before mailing it to the lab. This resulted in death threats aimed at the collector and should ensure Braun a prominent spot in the Big Fat Douchebag wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Braun, like Tyson Gay, was a client of an “anti-aging” clinic. It was evidence gathered while investigating that clinic which resulted in Braun’s suspension. Here is an article about him…

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/ryan-braun-suspended-rest-2013-mlb-apologizes-admits-214538814.html

Often, when you read about PED scandals in baseball, you come across references to the “Steroid Era” and to Commissioner Bud Selig’s determination to move the game past that era. Commissioner Selig wants very badly to show baseball fans that he is taking all possible measures to keep PEDs out of the sport. This may have something to do with the fact that Selig was commissioner during the Steroid Era and is embarrassed by accusations that he kept his head firmly buried in the sand while a bunch of ‘roided up sluggers destroyed some of the game’s most cherished records.

I would date baseball’s Steroid Era as stretching from approximately 1995 to 2007. Though few prominent players were ever busted (baseball did not even begin testing major leaguers until 2003), a quick look at statistics shows that something fishy was going on during that period. For example…

-During the 1970′s only one player hit 50 home runs.

-During the 1980′s not a single player hit 50 home runs.

-From 1990-1994 one player hit 50 home runs.

-During the period from 1995-2007 twenty-two players hit fifty or more home runs.

The poster child for baseball’s Steroid Era (and a man who should get his own wing in the Narcissism Hall of Fame) is Barry Bonds who, suddenly blessed with biceps as imperious as his ego, launched 73 home runs in 2001, and eventually set the record for most homers in a career (762).

Selig would argue that, through the implementation of a thorough testing program, baseball has greatly limited the use of PEDs. Statistics prove him correct. In the five seasons stretching from 2008 to 2012, only one player hit 50 home runs.

So, good for Selig for finally facing up to the challenge of steroids in baseball. But, here’s the problem: the record books have forever been ruined. As long as baseball devotes its considerable resources to detecting and punishing drug cheats (and that seems quite likely, especially now that the players union is on board) Bonds will never be supplanted as the all-time home run king. He will remain in the record books forever.

And if you love baseball, that really sucks.

Because he is a cheater (and a tool).

Which brings me to the main point of this article: The throws are in the same boat as baseball. When I say “throws,” for the purpose of this article I am going to refer only to the shotput and discus as I don’t know much about the javelin or hammer.

And from the late 1970′s until the early 1990′s, the shot and disc experienced a Steroid Era as pronounced as baseball’s. The men’s and women’s world records for each of those events were set during this era, and remain unbroken. Here they are, courtesy of the Track and Field News website:

Shot 23.12 | 75-10.25 Randy Barnes (US) Westwood, California 5/20/90
(note: Barnes tested   positive for steroids later in the year; in keeping with its standard policy,   T&FN does not carry any of his ’90 marks on its all-time lists)
Discus 74.08 | 243-0 Jürgen Schult (East   Germany) Neubrandenburg,   Germany 6/06/86

 

Shot 22.63 | 74-3 Natalya Lisovskaya   (Soviet Union) Moscow, Russia 6/07/87
Discus 76.80 | 252-0 Gabriele Reinsch   (East Germany) Neubrandenburg,   Germany 7/09/88

Aside from the world records, the list of all-time top performances in the shot and disc is absolutely saturated with throws from this period. According to a list posted at http://www.alltime-athletics.com/wshotok.htm there are only two women’s shotputters from outside of the Steroid Era whose performances appear among the top 300 throws of all time. One of those is Nadezhda Ostapchuk, who has since been banned. The other is Valeri Adams, whose PR of 21.24m ties her for 184th on the list.

The women’s discus statistics are even more skewed. Sondra Perkovic’s winning (69.11m) throw from last year’s Olympics? Good for 263rd place.

The men fare a bit better. While the list of farthest shot put throws is dominated by putters from the Steroid Era, at least Christian Cantwell and Adam Nelson managed to crack the top 15. (Kevin Toth’s 2003 put of 22.67m is listed at number 7, but he was banned shortly thereafter.) And 7 of the top 10 discus throws were produced since 2000 by Virgilius Alekna, Gerd Kanter, and Piotr Malachowski. (Robert Fazekas is at number 8, but like Toth he was banned.)

So, what’s the problem here? Based on these statistics, one could argue persuasively that track and field’s anti-doping measures are working. But having those all-time lists dominated by throwers from the Steroid Era diminishes the sport in two ways.

First, it makes today’s great throwers seem patently inferior to those from the Steroid Era.

As I was working on this article, Valeri Adams won the London Diamond League meet with a world-leading toss of 20.90m. That’s an outstanding throw from one of the greatest putters ever (a two-time Olympic Champion need I remind you) in the middle of her prime. And it ranks 405th on the list of all-time performances!

Do you see what that does to our sport? Imagine a young lady sitting at home in a country where they actually show the throws on television, seeing Adams nail that 20.90m to beat runner-up Christina Schwanitz by over a meter and, filled with inspiration turning to her parents and saying, “Wow! Mom, Dad, was that a world record?”

“Uh, no honey. But it tied her for the 405th best throw ever!”

“Awesome, maybe if I train hard someday I can crack the top 400!”

I asked Adams a couple of years ago if she thought she could make a run at the world record, and she just laughed at the notion. And looking at these statistics, she was right. As long as she stays clean, she’s not likely to get anywhere near it.

Feel free to raise your hand if you think that is good for our sport.

Second, if a current thrower does manage to break a world record, they will immediately be suspected of juicing.

It’s happening in baseball right now. Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles had 36 home runs going into the All-Star break. Guess what question he gets asked several thousand times per day?

The physiologist quoted in that article about the Tour de France to which I posted the link above argues that any current rider whose power output approaches that of the known juicers should be suspected of juicing as well.

And you tell me, if any current discus thrower, male or female, throws 75 meters…aren’t you going to wonder?

Again, this is awful for our sport. A world record should be cause for celebration, not suspicion.

So, what is to be done?

Baseball, if you pardon my bluntness, is screwed. They are trying their best to eliminate the use of PEDs, but the more successful they are the more likely it is that Bonds, the King of Cheaters, will continue to own the record book. I visited the Hall of Fame in 2004, and they have the all-time performance lists displayed all over the place. Even then, a couple of years before his retirement, Bonds’ name was everywhere. Based on evidence gathered during the Balco investigation, I suppose Selig could try to get Bonds erased from the record books, but what about all the other guys who got near the top of those all-time lists by cheating as well? Sammy Sosa (full disclosure: I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and hate the Cubs) pulled off the same panther-to-rhino transformation as Bonds late in his career. Actually, the Sosa/Mark McGwire home run race of 1998 is thought to have inspired Bonds to hit the sauce. But as far as I know, there is no hard evidence linking Sosa to steriods. So, should his name stay in the record books?

I imagine that mess has cost Selig many a night’s sleep, and as much as I’d like to see the record books renovated, I just don’t know how he could do it.

But for the shot and disc, a solution exists: Change the weight of the implements.

Add a half of a pound to the men’s and women’s implements and start over with a new set of world records. Think of the excitement it would add to our sport. At the 2016 Olympics, Whiting, Storl, Majewski and whoever battling for the lead until one of them walks away with a gold medal and a new world record.

We who love the throws are always talking about ways to make them more popular with the viewing public. Holding the shotput in venues like the Zurich train station is a step in the right direction. I’ll bet standing in that station holding a brat and a beer while watching world class putters is a lot of fun. Know what would be more fun? Whipping out your phone and texting your friends that you just saw a world record!

Right now, that’s about as likely as the movie Sharknado winning an Academy Award.

And that really bites.

by Dan McQuaid

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on July 27, 2013

2013 USATF Championships Women’s Hammer

Anyone who has read my stuff and assumes that I only care about the shot and disc is in for a big surprise because I covered the heck out of the women’s hammer at this meet.

There are two reasons why.

One, the timing fell just right. At these types of meets, the throwing events often overlap, and at Drake if one of the overlapping events is the shot put, you are forced to choose because all of the other throws take place outside the stadium. No worries on this very sunny Saturday afternoon, though, because there was plenty of time after the women’s shot to meander over to the hammer cage without missing anything.

Two, I had Trofimuk–a straight up hammer aficionado–with me, and he assured me that this would be a competition well worth watching.

Holy crap, was he right.

The hammer cage at Drake (it also serves as a discus cage when people are throwing discs from it) is set up in a fan-friendly way.  You can probably tell from this photo of Britney Henry warming up that…

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…I am looking down at her from above the cage. That’s because the hammer cage is nestled into the corner of a huge athletic field that is rimmed with a grassy hill. Spectators, therefore, can flop on the grass and enjoy a sweet view of the the thrower and the landing area. Here is Art Venegas talking with Kristin Smith on that hill.

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Unfortunately, the layout at Drake turned out to have one design flaw. On the other side of that fence you see with all the signs on it is an alley, which leads farther down to a parking lot. Have you ever seen those giant nets that they sometimes erect at driving ranges to keep the golf balls from flying onto a road or into a subdivision? Well, the folks at Drake have placed several of those nets along the left foul line to make sure that an errant throw will not make it to that alley or parking lot. Amazingly, in spite of those precautions, the left-handed thrower Jessica Cosby Toruga launched a warm-up throw out of the cage, over the giant safety nets, and into (I think) the parking lot. I say “I think” because you can’t see exactly what’s on the other side of those nets, but it sounded like the hammer skidded across the alley and thunked against a car.

Art, who coaches Cosby Toruga, must have sensed right away that something like that could very well shake a thrower’s confidence because he immediately called out, “I’ll pay for the car!” to try to lighten things up a bit. Unfortunately for Cosby Toruga, this would not be the only confidence-killing challenge she would face on this day.

Here are a few more photos I took during warmups…

Amber Campbell:

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Jeneva McCall:

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Cosby Toruga:

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Gwen Berry and Jeneva McCall:

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Ashley Harbin, Chelsea Cassulo, and Brittany Smith

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Once the competition began, Amanda Bingson dropped the first bomb.

Bingson-72.58

 

McCall trumped her a couple of minutes later:

Jeneva-74.00

That, my friends, is a legit world-class throw.

 

But Bingson wasn’t nearly finished. I was at Drake last year for the NCAA meet, which Bingson had a serious chance to win. Unfortunately, she had a lousy day and finished third after fouling four of her six throws. She clearly was not haunted by those memories, though, as in round two she stepped in and set a new American record.

Bingson-74.92

After they announced it, she ran up the hill to show some love to Mom and Dad.

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One might reasonably think that all this excitement would tire a person and make it unlikely that they might shatter their freshly-set American record on their next throw. Au contraire, mon frere.

Bingson-75.73

Even world class hammer throwers have their limits, though, and Bingson went 72.41m, foul, foul, in the final. She did, however, punctuate her victory with a very impressive series of back flips after her sixth throw.

I had a long talk with her afterwards, which you can view in it’s entirety if you go first to Macthrow.com and then to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVmrJtfuzVk as the interview is divided into two parts.

McCall, suffering from an abdominal strain that she had incurred competing in the shot, could not better her 74.00m opener in rounds two and three, and then passed all of her throws in the final.

There were, however, some fine throws in the late rounds.

Here is Britney Henry going 69.57 in round four to capture fifth place:

Britney-Henry-69.57

Here is Amber Campbell reaching 72.58m in round five to finish fourth:

 

 

And we’ll finish with what might have been the most remarkable throw of the day. I mentioned earlier that Jessica Cosby Toruga launched one out of the facility during warmups. It would be perfectly understandable if she had become a bit tentative after that. To her credit, though, she maintained her focus and nailed a round-two throw of 72.47m  that had her right in the thick of things going into the final.

She began the final with a fourth-round 71.09m, but on her fifth throw she lost her balance in the middle of the ring and hit the concrete hard. My first thought, when she went down, was that they had better get an ambulance over here quickly because there was no doubt she was badly injured. It was like seeing someone come crashing down on the sidewalk after jumping from a fourth floor window.

Shockingly, though, after a few tense and weirdly quiet minutes Cosby Toruga got up and walked out of the cage under her own power. Even more shockingly, when her name was called in the sixth round, she was ready to take her throw. Most shocking of all,? It turned out to be her best throw of the day.

Cosby-Toruga-72.58

As Joe Gargery, my favorite character from my favorite novel (Dickens’s Great Expectations) would say, “Astonishing!”

So, that was the women’s hammer competition. I’ve got the second flight of prelims and much of the final on my youtube page:

It is pretty exciting that the US is sending legit medal contenders to Moscow in this event, especially considering the fact that very few kids are exposed to the hammer until they reach college. Honestly, though, I don’t see how that is ever going to change. As evidenced here at Drake, there are safety concerns with the hammer that you just don’t have with the shot and disc and it is hard to imagine high schools being willing to take on those risks. I guess we just have to hope that Fate keeps guiding the right athletes–like Bingson and McCall–to the right college programs.

by Dan McQuaid

 

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on July 3, 2013

2013 USATF Championships Women’s Shot Put

The 2013 USA Track and Field Championships were held in Des Moines last weekend, and a great time was had by…well, by me for sure and also by numerous throwers who not only qualified for the World Championships to be held in Moscow this August, but revealed themselves to be serious medal contenders as well.

Holy cow, is Des Moines a great place to visit for a track meet. I live in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago which often finishes near the top in those “Best Places to Live” features you see in magazines, and justifiably so.  The schools are fantastic. The library system is one of the best in the country. A scenic riverwalk curves its way through a thriving downtown. But people can get a little intense here, so before you try crossing a street in that downtown you had better look both ways or the woman making a left into the yoga studio will run your butt over–that is if the dude racing to drop off his son for a cello lesson doesn’t get you first. I remember one time I was standing near a busy intersection downtown with my daughter listening to an outdoor Christmas concert when two drivers got into some sort of dispute. Suddenly, the cheery sound of a tuba playing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was interruped by blaring horns and shouts of “F— you, idiot!” Good will to men, indeed.

But it is hard to imagine anyone ever cussing someone in Des Moines, or running them over. People there seem to live at a more leisurely pace, one that allows room for cordiality.

I was accompanied on this outing by my friend and former thrower Pat Trofimuk. If you read my post on the New York Diamond League, you saw photos of Pat’s twin brother Peter. One of the standards that I live by is that I will not cover a track meet unless accompanied by a Trofimuk. They both possess encyclopedic knowledge of the throws, and can spend a five-hour car ride speculating on who might qualify for Moscow in the men’s shot. That makes them invaluable to me.

Anyway, late Saturday afternoon Pat and I pulled up in front of the Hotel Fort Des Moines to check in for the night. Though we were in the middle of downtown Des Moines–the state capitol need I remind you–the process of checking in, getting a room key, and then parking for the night in a free-on-the-weekends garage took about ten stress-free minutes. Parking in the Naperville garages is free as well, but on a Saturday night you’d probably have to punch someone in the face to get a spot.

Another thing that Des Moines has over Naperville is the Blank Park Zoo, which is an awesome place to take embarrassing photos of your friends. For example…

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That’s Pat. And here he is again…

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Luckily, we live in a world where it is okay for a giant shot putter to publicly display his sensitive side!

Since Pat and I arrived on Saturday, we missed the women’s javelin and men’s discus throws.

I am not nearly smart enough to figure out the whole “A standard” and “B standard” deal, but of the top three finisher in the women’s jav (Brittany Borman 60.91m, Ariana Ince 56.66m, and Kara Patterson 55.88m) none–as far as I know–has the A standard of 62m and only Borman has the B standard of 60m. Therefore–as best I can tell–Borman will be the only representative for the USA in that event in Moscow, unless Ince or Patterson goes out and nails the A between now and July 20th.

Of the top three finishers in the men’s disc (Lance Brooks 62.29m, Russ Winger 62.03m, and James Plummer 61.96m) none has the A or B standard. Winger told me that in order to make the team for Moscow, he has to get the A (66.00m) or hope that Brooks gets the A, which would allow Winger to make the team by hitting the B standard (64.00m). Got that?

Pat and I arrived in time to see the Women’s shot, which featured two throwers who had already hit the A standard of 18.30m–Tia Brooks and Michelle Carter. Notable by her absence was Jill Camarena-Williams, the 2011 bronze medalist who apparently was sidelined with an injury. I was afraid that this was going to be a boring competition as Carter and Brooks appeared to have a lock on the first two places. When I suggested to Pat that I might skip part of the women’s shot to check out the Junior women’s discus competition (the shot is contested on the infield of Drake Stadium, the other throws are held next to the stadium) he cautioned me that I might miss some big throws.

Apparently, he is not only sensitive but psychic as well.

All the big throws came in round five. First, the University of Arizona’s Alyssa Haslen hit a  PR of 18.10m to capture third place and a spot in Moscow (since she now has the B standard). Here is that throw:

Haslen 18.10

And here is an interview I did with her afterwards:

Tia took a while to get comfortable, but finally grabbed a ticket to Moscow with this throw:

Brooks 18.83

I had a nice chat afterwards with her also, and you can find that at Macthrowvideo.com.

Here is the throw, though, that, had I missed it, would have required Trofimuk to hide all sharp objects in the hotel room. There are a lot of records in the throws that date back to the late 1980′s. I know that many current throwers despair of ever breaking them. A couple of years ago, I asked Valeri Adams, a two-time Olympic champion who was 26 years old at the time, if she thought she’d ever break the world record of 22.63m (which, by the way, was set in 1987). She laughed at the very idea. To me, that’s kind of discouraging.  Adams is one of the all-time great shot putters and just entering her athletic prime. If she can’t imagine taking a run at the world record, then who ever will?

The American record has lasted nearly as long.  It is 20.18m, and was set by Ramona Pagel in 1988. Sorry, I should say it “was” 20.18m because…

Carter 20.24

She looks pretty unimpressed by herself, doesn’t she? Oh, did I just break a 25-year-old record? Ho hum.

When I spoke with Carter afterwards (a chunk of our conversation is on Macthrow as well) I was struck by how grounded she was. As in the video of her throw, she did not go nuts or seem surprised even. She’s really happy training in Dallas with her father (who, by the way, still holds the American high school record in the shot) and was ready to head back there and get to work. To me, her attitude bodes well in terms of her chances of getting on the podium in Moscow. The rest of us might be astonished/overjoyed that she is now a 20-meter shot putter, but to Carter it is just a natural result of her training and…no big whoop. I see that as an indication that she will not be intimidated in Moscow. She’s ready to shine on the big stage.

Another interesting thing about Carter that I don’t think showed up in the interview owing to technical difficulties is that she’s not crazy strong. Her best bench press is 225 for a set of three. Her best squat is 405 for a set of five, and her best clean 275 for a single. Not too shabby, but wouldn’t you have thought a 20-meter shot putter would be stronger than that?

Anyway, the weekend could have ended there and it would have been worth the trip. We had some great moments ahead of us, though, as we headed over to watch the women’s hammer. More on that next time.

by Dan McQuaid

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on July 1, 2013

2013 Chicagoland Summer Throws Series

All of us throws fans in the Chicago area owe Tom Pukstys a big, fat man-hug for putting together a great meet last Saturday, June 7. He got a bunch of elite athletes to come from the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, and somehow rounded up outstanding high school throwers from all over the country.  Before I forget, the results can be found here:

http://www.prepcaltrack.com/2013/06/08/chicagoland-summer-throws-series/

On Friday night, the throwers gathered for a reception at Benedictine University, the highlight of which was a couple of speeches–one by Jarrod Rome and one by Art Venegas.

Jarrod, a two-time Olympian in the disc, gave a lot of encouragement to the young throwers and told a hilarious story about how L. Jay Silvester, one of the all-time discus greats, advised him to take a shot at the NFL because he’d never succeed as a discus thrower. Luckily, every time Jarrod told his mom that he was thinking about hanging it up, she cried. Dutiful son that he is, Jarrod could not stand to see his mother cry so he kept at it.

Art, the longtime throws coach at UCLA and current throws coach at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, also directed encouragement towards the young throwers. I taped most of his talk, and it is worth watching. Art has been in the business for about twelve decades, but he has lost none of his competitive spirit and cantankerousness. And he is very funny. You can find his speech here:

The throwing events took place the following day, and I have to admit, I did a lousy job of covering them. In my defense, there was so much going on, so many fine throwers competing, so many interesting people to talk to that it would have taken a crack team of expert throws journalists to keep up with it all. There just wasn’t enough of me to go around, doggone it, so I focused on one flight of the elite shot put competition and one flight of the elite discus and covered them like the proverbial blanket. Here are some photos from the shot:

This is Russ Winger, who won with a toss of 20.53m (67’4.25″).

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This is Braheme Days, the fine high school thrower from New Jersey who put the 12-pound ball 19.78m (64’10.75″).

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This is Nick Ponzio, a high-schooler from California who put the 12-pounder 19.99m  (65’7″).

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Brandon Lombardino from Grant High School here in Illinios. He put 18.09m (59’4.25).

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Kurt Roberts. He finished second with 20.09m (65’11″).

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Another look at Braheme Days.

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Joe Kovacs, who finished fourth in last year’s Olympic Trials. Joe put 19.83m (65’0.75″).

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Winger.

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Kovacs.

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Lombardino.

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Roberts.

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This is Nick Baatz  of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Nick put 17.88m (58’8″).

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This is Jacob Thormaehlen, formerly of the University of Texas. Jacob put 18.97m (62’3″).

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The discus competition was loaded with great talent as well. Here is 2012 Olympian Lance Brooks. He ended up throwing 60.71m (199’2″).

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Here’s a vid of Lance throwing 60.30m (198″).

Lance Brooks

 

This is Aretha Thurmond, who has made (I believe) three Olympic teams. She finished the day with a best of 59.54m (195’4″).

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Russ Winger was the only elite old guy who competed in both the shot and disc. His best throw was a sixth-round 59.08m (193’10″).

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Here is a vid of that throw:

Russ Winger

 

Here is Chase Madison, who had the best throw among the men with a 60.86m (199’8″) toss in round four.

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Here is a vid of Chase throwing 58.30m in round 5:

Chase Madison

 

Brandon Lombardino finished with a best of 56.22m (184’5″).

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Two-time Olympian Jarrod Rome threw 59.76m (196’1″).

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Here’s his round six throw, which was a foul:

Jarrod Rome

Gia Lewis-Smallwood had the best throw of the day: 61.90m (203’1″).

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Here she is throwing 58.80m in round six:

Lewis-Smallwood

 

Luke Bryant, formerly of the University of Oklahoma, threw 58.83m (193′).

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I do not know the name of this thrower, but check out that beard:

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And now, as with every time I cover a meet, I must apologize to fans of the javelin and hammer. I don’t doubt that karma will eventually catch up with  me and I will be reincarnated as a javelin catcher in my next life, but the javelin competition overlapped with the shot put, leaving me to choose between watching an event that I coach or watching one that I know next-to-nothing about.

I did get to watch the elite hammer competition, which followed the discus.

Here is Jeneva McCall, the 2012 NCAA champion from Southern Illinois University. She threw 71.75m (235’5″).

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Here is a vid of one of Jeneva’s throws (although I don’t know which round this is).

Jeneva McCall

 

Finally, here is a vid of Rudy Winkler, the fine high school thrower who had the best toss of the day–77.67m (254’10″).

Rudy Winkler

I think that might have been his 77-meter throw.

 

Anyway, this was a fantastic day for throws fans, and I hope Tom, Greg Raimondi (Benedictine throws coach), and James Kluckhohn (Benedictine’s head track coach) make it an annual tradition.

by Dan McQuaid

 

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on June 13, 2013

2013 New York Diamond League Men’s Shot Put

Probably the coolest part of the men’s shot competition was meeting some of the throwers in the hotel lobby the night before.

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That’s Peter in the  middle surrounded by an awful lot of shotputting firepower: Former NCAA champ Cory Martin, fourth-place Olympic Trials finisher Joe Kovacs, two-time Olympic Champion Tomasz Majewski, and World Indoor Champion Ryan Whiting.

They are all good guys, and it was fun chatting with them. Cory said he is training and working as a volunteer jumps coach at Indiana University. He hopes to become a full time college coach some day, so he is trying to get some experience in events other than the throws. He was really optimistic about this season, as he said he is feeling totally healthy for the first time in a couple of years.

Joe is training with Art Venegas at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. I last spoke with him a year ago during the NCAA meet in Des Moines, and at that time he was not sure about continuing his career post-collegiately. But that was before his sensational performance at the trials where he launched a 21.08 bomb and came within 20 centimeters of making the Olympic team. He is very happy with the setup in Chula Vista, and seems likely to contend for a spot on this summer’s World Championship team, especially with Reese Hoffa receiving a bye for winning the 2012 Diamond League shotput competition.

Majewski is a giant, and luckily for mankind seems to be quite friendly.

Whiting has been without a doubt the best shotputter in the world so far this season. He has accumulated tons of international experience over the past few years, and it has given him great confidence. The only thing that might slow him down for a couple of weeks this summer is the imminent birth of his first child.

We also ran into European indoor champion Asmir Kolasinac of Serbia. Here he is with Peter:

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All in all, it was a pretty solid linup of putters.

http://www.diamondleague-newyork.com/Live-StartlistsResults/Overview/Mens-Shot-Put/

Unfortunately, it rained like crazy throughout the warmup and competition. These guys are pros, and nobody lost control running the ring, but it had to make it hard to really let loose. Also, the landing area was covered with fresh, thick turf and the shots just about disappeared upon landing. All the guys were forced to spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning and drying the shots between throws.

Here are a bunch of photos from warmups that Peter took from the grandstand.

This is Cory Martin performing a step-around drill:

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Here’s Kolasinac:

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Here’s Majewski performing a fixed feet glide:

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Here’s Joe Kovacs getting out of the back:

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Here’s Dylan Armstrong:

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Whiting:

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Hoffa:

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Rodhe:

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Martin:

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And here are some videos:

Armstrong-

Cory-Martin

Hoffa-best

Kovacs

Tomas

Whiting

Hope you enjoy the photos and vids. Should be a fantastic summer of competetion in the shot. For Whiting to throw 21.27 in those conditions? Amazing. And you know Majewski will be there when it counts in Moscow.

Stay tuned.

by Dan McQuaid

 

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on May 31, 2013

2013 New York Diamond League Women’s Javelin

WOMEN’S JAVELIN

So, as the women’s discus ended, the javelin throwers began warming up and I’m pretty sure the temperature dropped even more. Here is a clip of me down by the javelin runway trying not to die of hypothermia:

At the javelin runway

For some reason I refer to the measuring system as the “timing system” and Icahn Stadium as “Randall Stadium” but I defy anyone as cold as I was to make sense when talking into an I-phone.

It was a great field of throwers…

http://www.diamondleague-newyork.com/Live-StartlistsResults/Overview/Womens-Javelin-Throw/

…but how anybody got loose enough to sprint into their throw is beyond me.

My favorite thrower was Martina Ratej of Slovenia. Here she is:

New-York-Diamond-13-001

The reason I liked her so much is that her coach gave her an animated pep talk between every throw, but her expression never changed. She opened with a season-best 60.51, and I guess her coach figured that he could berate her into an even greater effort. I do not speak Slavic, but based on his tone and his body language, he seemed to be saying, “You are throwing like a wuss and that is making me look bad!” But she totally ignored him.

My other favorite thrower was Christina Obergfoll, if for no other reason than that I love Germany, and that when I spoke to her after the competition she dropped an f-bomb when talking about the weather conditions. Here she is:

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Here are vids of some of the throws. I apologize to you jav fans out there for my less-than-excellent camera work, but I had two factors working against me. One, I could not feel my fingers. Two, javelin throwers have the annoying habit of running away from you as you try to film them.

Hjalmsdottir

Abakumova

Obergfoll

As you can see from the results, Obergfoll came through with a pretty decent 65.33 for the win. She’ll be competing in Eugene this coming weekend, and I anticipate a nice effort out of her as even the unpredictable and occasionally maddening Eugene weather should seem luxurious after what she fought through on Saturday.

by Dan McQuaid

 

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on May 30, 2013