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

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

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

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

casanas wind

 

To here…

casanas wide right

From here…

malone wind

To here…

malone wide

From here…

alekna close 1

To here…

alekna close 2

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

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

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

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

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

Here is an example.

vikas wide rear

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

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

vikas right passes left

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

vikas wide rear 2

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

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

malone wind

malone left

malone wide

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

weir close 1

weir close 2

weir close 3

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

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

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

Robert Harting…

rh wind

harting left

rh wide rear

…and Sondra Perkovic.

perk wind

perk left

perk wide

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

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

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

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

Any guesses on the owners of those legs?

We Need More of this to Grow Our Sport

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

Team Idaho with 290 members!

This is what we need to grow our sport.

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

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

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

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

Bummer for the throws.

 

 Click here for…             Mac Wilkins.com

                                                  The Wilkins Review

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

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

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

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

b1

pras 1

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

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

photo

b5

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

Here is Prasil a milisecond or so later:

pras 3

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

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

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

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

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

pras 4

b2

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

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

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

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

pras 10

pras 5

pras 6

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

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

b7

b6

b3

b3a

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

Two comments on these final images.

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

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

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

jav

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

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

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

Good luck to everybody out there this indoor season!

 

–Dan McQuaid

Meeting Mac Wilkins (and discussing the NCAA Oregon decision)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oregon Monopoly: A response from the NCAA

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

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

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

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

Thanks again.

–Dan McQuaid

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

More on the Oregon track monopoly.

First of all, thanks much for the comments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But eight consecutive years?

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

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

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

–Dan McQuaid

 

 

 

 

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…

DSCN0128

…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.

DSCN0131

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:

DSCN0132

Jeneva McCall:

DSCN0130

 

Cosby Toruga:

DSCN0138

 

Gwen Berry and Jeneva McCall:

DSCN0139

 

Ashley Harbin, Chelsea Cassulo, and Brittany Smith

DSCN0140

 

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.

Bingson-hug

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