All posts by Daniel McQuaid

der Harting at the Adidas Grand Prix

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

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

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

Or…

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

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

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

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

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

adidas grant prix 14

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

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

wierig

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

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

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

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

Here are vids of two conversations I had with him:

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

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

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

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

peter

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

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

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

 

 

Keeping Up With The Big Boys

 

Size matters in the shot put.

There’s just no getting around it.

Exhibit A:

              Dan phone may 2013 011

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

Exhibit B:

EPSON scanner image

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

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

Same for Cory, Tomasz, and Ryan.

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

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

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

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

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

Whiting…

ryan 1 

Cantwell…

can 2

Kovacs…

joe 2

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

Whiting…

ryan 2

Cantwell…

can 3

Kovacs…

joe 3

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

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

Whiting…

ryan 3

Cantwell…

can 4

Kovacs…

joe 4

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

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

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

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

Whiting…

ryan 4

Cantwell…

can 5

Kovacs…

joe 5

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

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

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

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

–McQ

 

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

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

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

Coincidence?

I think not.

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

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

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

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

Schwanitz1

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

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

Schwanitz2

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

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

Schwanitz3

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

Here is Gong moving through those same positions:

Gong1

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

Gong2

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

Gong3

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

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

Adams1

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

Adams2

…stretch the slingshot. And you know the rest.

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

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

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

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

fallwinter2006 138

Here’s what I call a “full snatch.”

snatch sequence

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

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

Here’s a vid of a full snatch.

fallwinter2006 166

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

And here’s why:

snatch extension

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

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

And I could not agree more.

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s take a look.

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

hang-power-clean

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

And the same approach can be taken with the snatch.

fallwinter2006 170

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

Hold on one second there, mon frere.

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

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

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

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

snatch liftofffirst pull clean

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

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

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

back muscles

…are worth the trouble.

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

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

front squat

snatch squat

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

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

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

There are many examples of this on Youtube.

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

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

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

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

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

Allow me to close with a rather major qualifier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

casanas wind

 

To here…

casanas wide right

From here…

malone wind

To here…

malone wide

From here…

alekna close 1

To here…

alekna close 2

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

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

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

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

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

Here is an example.

vikas wide rear

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

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

vikas right passes left

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

vikas wide rear 2

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

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

malone wind

malone left

malone wide

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

weir close 1

weir close 2

weir close 3

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

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

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

Robert Harting…

rh wind

harting left

rh wide rear

…and Sondra Perkovic.

perk wind

perk left

perk wide

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

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

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

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

Any guesses on the owners of those legs?

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.