It’s not so simple, this qualification business

 

Tuesday morning at the European Athletics Championships featured an embarrassment of riches for throws fans. Two rings full of women shot putters vying for the automatic qualification mark of 17.20m that would advance them to Wednesday’s final. And, running concurrently with the women’s shot, two rounds of men’s discus featuring some of the best throwers in the world, among them 2016 Olympic Champion Chris Harting and 2017 World Champion Andrius Gudzius. The qualification line for the men’s disc was 64.00m, which many of these athletes had thrown in previous competitions. But, as it soon became apparent, 64.00m can seem awfully far if something knocks you off your rhythm. The early hour. The unusually hot conditions (Germany, like much of the rest of Europe, is in the middle of an historic heat wave). An unusually fast or slow throwing surface.

Some made qualification look easy.

Christina Schwanitz, much to the delight of the crowd (as she is German and the favorite to snag the gold here) went 18.83m on her first attempt. Thank you, and good day.

Daniel Stahl, the silver medalist at last year’s World Championships in London,  also launched his first throw well past the qualification line (it turned out to be 67.07m) raised his arms in triumph and headed off to rest for Wednesday’s final.

On his way out, I asked Daniel if he generally takes something off a first round throw in order to avoid fouling.

“No,” he replied. “Always 100 percent.”

This approach seems to suit the big man’s personality. Stahl is the kind of guy who, if you were a kid, would be your favorite uncle. Large. Easy going. Always smiling.  Not the kind of person whose confidence would be ruined by a first round foul.

For some, though, it was not so simple.

Poland’s 2015 World Champion Piotr Malachowski would appear to be cut from the same mold as Stahl.  He comes across as very even-keeled, and has been through many, many qualification rounds at major competitions.

Somehow, though, after warming up at 65.00m, Piotr simply could not find his timing when the throws counted. He walked out on his first attempt (it looked to be about 57.00m), caged his second, and misfired badly on his third, ending up without a mark and without an invitation to the finals.

Afterwards, he seemed perplexed.

“My shape today was very good,” he said. “My practice throws were good, then…I don’t know. I don’t know what happened.”

Piotr seemed ready to shake off this experience though. When I asked if he planned to continue throwing through the Tokyo Games, he replied, “Of course. It is my dream. A gold medal!”

While Piotr was suffering his inexplicable meltdown on one end of the stadium, two young shot putters came away from their first ever qualifcation rounds at a senior international competition smiling and utterly delighted to have made the final.

One, British Champion Amelia Strickler, threw a PB of 17.31 on her second attempt.

”I ‘m so excited!” she said afterward. “It was amazing being out there because this is such a big venue, and that’s what you want. You want the big stage. Even though the stadium wasn’t quite full, you could still feel the atmosphere. I can’t wait for the final!”

Like Amelia, twenty-year-old Alina Kenzel surpassed the qualifying line on her second attempt.

Her throw of 17.46m was the seventh best among qualifiers.

She told me afterwards that she was “very excited because it was my first big international event. I was very nervous at the first attempt, but the second it was like ‘okay just do your thing just like training’ and it was the standard for the finals!”

“After my first throw, everybody was saying ‘Alina go on!’ I was like okay,okay, keep going, keep going. Then, it was like boom! I ‘m done, so now I can go to the hotel and have some rest and tomorrow the final.”

Another competitor who seemed just as excited by his success in qualification was the great veteran Gerd Kanter. He threw 64.18m on his first attempt and was positively giddy after.

”I’m old,” he joked. “So, in this heat I have to do it on the first throw. Out there, we were like chickens in ovens.”

After all the success he’s had, including winning the gold at the Beijing Olympics, Gerd still prepares conscientiously for qualification days.

“I would say the qualification procedure is most difficult at these competitions. If you are in the final, it is already like regular competition, but in qualification, you only get two warm-up throws, it is the early morning, it’s not comfortable. So, in training, we practice making a safety throw.”

“We call it a safety throw because you don’t need to go full out. You don’t need 67.00m or 68.00m. The line is 64.00m, so that’s what you need. So, in a safety throw you take less risks. You are not going to go as far back in your backswing, you just make it very simple to avoid errors. One part of training for a championships is we always make two or three throws where the coach says ‘Okay, you need to do a safety throw.’ So not a maximum effort, but you must throw maybe 63.00m.”

The most surprising moment of this qualification day came when defending Olympic champion Chris Harting failed to advance.

Chris showed that he was in good shape two weeks ago by winning the German Championships with a toss of 66.98m, and most observers would have considered him a candidate to challenge Stahl and Gudzius for the title here, in the city where he lives and trains.

But, one chink in Chris’s armor is that his natural release point often sends the discus down the right side of the sector, and depending on the type of the cage, he sometimes has trouble getting off an unimpeded throw.

His coach, Torsten Lönnfors, told me later that the type of cage used for this year’s  European Championships makes it difficult for Chris to throw in his natural slot because it is shorter than cages normally used in international competitions, with the front support standard jutting out in just the spot where Chris’s throws often travel. Notice the difference between the cage in the photo above at a different competition, and the one below in a photo from yesterday’s qualification round.

I highlighted the front standard to make it easier to see. Torsten told me that they had tried (and apparently succeeded) in practice to get Chris comfortable throwing with this type of cage, and in warmups he was able to throw a nice, clean 65.00m toss. But, Olympic champions are humans, too, and maybe once that first competition throw ricocheted off the cage…maybe all of a sudden throwing in your home town with all eyes on you and the music turned loud each time you entered the ring…maybe it just got to be too much.

After three throws off the cage resulted in three fouls and a humiliating exit from the competition, Chris had to face a very disappointed German media.

Afterwards, he graciously spoke with me for a few moments. Heartbroken, he struggled for words to describe how this had come to pass.

”It took less than 63 meters to qualify,” he said, shaking his head in amazement. “I can throw that from a stand.”

Just one of those days?

“Yes,” he replied. “That’s a good way to put it. Just one of those days.”

 

 

 

 

Deutschland über alles

Call it “heaven” or “nirvana” or “Iowa.”

Call it what you want, but if you are a fan of the shot put, what took place in the shadow of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the heart of Berlin today was pretty close to perfect.

Especially when you consider that this spot, known as Breitscheidplatz, was the site of a terrorist attack in the winter of 2016. Typical of such incidents, the attack was meant to destroy Breitscheidplatz as a thriving public place (the attacker struck during a popular Christmas market).

Part of the German response to that effort was to wedge a world class shot put competition into the narrow confines of the Platz.

 

They built a wooden platform approximately four feet high, covered it with turf, erected some temporary bleachers, and invited people to come and watch for free.

And come they did.  The atmosphere (and I mean this as a compliment) reminded me of a high school football game on a warm September evening in a small town in the United States. People cheered and chanted and dressed in semi-ridiculous outfits. An entire section wore matching red hats and lime green t-shirts.

There was an endearingly lame pep band. There was recorded music (everything from Michael Jacksons’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” which elicited a 19.54m toss from Luxembourg’s Bob Bertemes, to Billy Squier’s “Slowly Stroke Me” which greeted Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Kemal Mesic as he walked into the ring for his third throw sitting on two fouls. He went 18.70m and missed the final).

There were large video screens. The one that I was facing showed a slo-mo replay of every…single…throw.

There was drama. In round three, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Mesud Pezer dropped one right at the automatic qualifying line of 20.40m only to have his effort nullified as a foul. He protested, and as the officials discussed the matter, the crowd was treated to several slo-motion replays of the throw, which caused them to boo lustily when it appeared that Pezer had commited no obvious infraction. It seems that he was called for the phantom right heel on the toeboard on his reverse, similar to what happened to Joe Kovacs in last year’s World Championships. This time, however, reason prevailed and the call was overturned. Pezer’s throw turned out to be 20.16m, enough to secure him a spot in the final.

There was big time homerism. Homegrown favorite David Storl received an ovation for warming up (two fixed-feet glides, one around 19.00m and another around 20.60m), for being introduced, and for hitting an automatic qualifier of 20.63m on his first attempt (he reversed on that one).

As round two ended for Storl’s group, the competition was briefly halted while the MC for the night interviewed David.

I ‘m not sure that was totally fair to those in the field who were still hoping to hit a qualifying mark, but the crowd loved it.

And that’s the thing. The crowd was active and happy and alive throughout the entire competition. How often can you say that about any track and field preliminary?

One thrower who thrived on the atmosphere was Nick Scarvelis, representing Greece.

”Qualifying situations are almost always in an empty stadium at nine in the morning on the opposite side of the track from some empty stands,” he told me after making it through to Wednesday’s final with a season best of 20.20m. “So I ‘d like to see more of this type of thing.”

I was curious as to where the throwers took most of their warmup attempts, as they seemed to be allowed only two on site. Had they warmed up at the Olympic Stadium practice facility before traveling to the Platz?

“No,” Nick explained. “We warmed up at another practice track. They actually put a ring in the middle of a park inside of a university. There was like a three-hundred-year-old column next to the shot put ring. But it was still a twenty-minute drive away, so it wasn’t exactly ideal.  A lot of guys were complaining, but I didn’t mind. The music. The atmosphere. Throwing in the shadow of the church. I loved It.”

Two others who prospered were Craoatia’s Stipe Zürich, the bronze medalist in last year’s World Championships, and Poland’s Michael Haratyk, the silver medalist from the 2016 European Championships in Amersterdam. Each surpassed the automatic qualifying mark on his first attempt, and they are the two most likely to give Storl some trouble as he strives to notch his fourth European Championships title.

The final will take place inside the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday night, and though there might well be 50,000 fans going nuts for Storl, I don’t know if the atmosphere there or anywhere else can match what the Germans created tonight.

At one point during the competition, the bells of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church rang out.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Xl4Zpe74t6c

I won’t say they were heralding a German shot put renaissance, a return of David Storl to his top form. There was something more to that sound. A little defiance maybe, and a lot of joy over thousands of people coming together on a warm Berlin night to…well…to have fun.

 

 

 

 

 

David Storl is ready to rumble

The pre-meet press conference for this year’s European Athletics Championship in Berlin was hosted at an old but quite spiffy-looking brick building called the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur or, “Royal Porcelin Manufactory.” It is, apparently, the oldest business in Berlin, having been founded under the auspices of the great warrior-king Frederick the Great in 1763.

The press conference included some important folks such as Svein Arne Hansen, the president of European Athletics, and defending World Champion athletes Sandra Perkovic and  Kirsten Warholm.

But by far the biggest bull in this porcelin shop was the two-time World Champion in the shot put, David Storl.

David has been so good for so long (he won his first World title in 2011) that it is easy to think of him as a grizzled veteran even though he just turned twenty-nine years old. Adding to that impression are the struggles he has had with injuries over the past four years, struggles that have at times have made him look almost frail (I’m thinking of his difficulty staying balanced as he set up his glide at the back of the ring at the Rio Olympics) when compared to the almost savage power and explosiveness he displayed as the enfant terrible of the shot put world. Remember, this was a young man who, from 2011 to 2013, sandwiched an Olympic silver between two World Championship golds—while still in his early twenties.

But a knee injury first sustained during the 2014 outdoor season caused him to abandon his trademark violent reverse and become an almost exclusively fixed-feet thrower.

In spite of changing his technique and having to manage nagging pain in his knee, David produced some fine throws during his four seasons as a non-reverser, including a PR 22.20m in 2015.

But he clearly was not himself much of the time, and did not get near the podium at an Olympics or World Championship from the time of his injury until the recent Indoor Worlds in Birmingham where he took silver using what looked to me like his old, pre-injury technique.

In talking with David and his new coach Wilko Schaa today, I was curious to discover whether or not we might one day see a return of the old/young firebrand who, along with 2008 and 2012 Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski, managed to keep the glide relevant in an era dominated by rotational putters.

Below is a slightly edited version of my conversation with each of them.

McQ: David, you’ve gone back to your old technique with a full reverse at the finish. Does this mean you are finally over the knee problems that caused you to become a fixed-feet glider?

David:  Yes. That is the reason I was able to switch back. I changed coaches last year [from Sven Lang to Wilko Schaa] and we work a lot on the stability of the knees. It was a long way, but now we can train without any pain

McQ: It took four years to finally feel healthy, eh?

David:  Yes. It was a long way, but it was a decision of mine, and that’s the most important thing. If I didn’t change the coach I think I will have the old technique still.

McQ: Are you more confident using your old technique?

David: Yes.

McQ: Because it helps you stay in the ring at the finish of your throw?

David: No, that’s not the reason. It feels complete. If you do not jump, you have to stop the movement. Not a nice feeling.

McQ: Was it a strange experience to change coaches after working with Sven Lang for so long?

David: Yes, because we worked nearly ten years and was a long way and I had a lot of success with him. But now I go my own way.

McQ: How long have you known Wilko?

David: I know him since 2010.

McQ: Wilco, how did you end up coaching David?

Wilko: I worked nine years for the Institute of Applied Training Science in Leipzig, and I was a supporter of the German National team for throwing biomechanics and training science, and so I know David and all the people from the throwing team. That was the beginning. He asked me in October of 2017

McQ: Did you feel pressure over the prospect of taking over his training?

Wilko: A bit, yes. He is a big athlete. He has won twelve international medals. It is an honor for me to work with him. And now we work ten months together and I think we are in a good way. We won in Birmingham a silver medal, and it was a bit surprise. But now we are in a good way and I think we will take the gold medal [this week in Berlin].

McQ: David  says that he was able to go back to his old technique because his knee is finally feeling healthy.

Wilko: Yes, that was the first thing we had to do. A healthy knee then change to his old technique.

McQ: So that was the plan right away? See if you could fix his knee and then go back to his old technique?

Wilko: Yes, it was.

McQ: How did you do it? How  did you make his knee feel better after four years?

Wilko:  We changed the training system. We had good regeneration management. We trained static to build all the muscles around his hip and knee for stabilization so the knee can become healthy.

McQ: And it worked well?

Wilko: Fast! Very fast. I thought the first year would just be for health and getting in shape, but now we are in a good way.

McQ: How long did you train together before he was able to do his old technique?

Wilko: A month. From the beginning we tried to do this.

McQ: It must have been an exciting moment when he felt well enough to try reversing again.

Wilko: Yes, it was an experiment. It was trial and error, but we have a good relationship so I hear his feedback. He gives me a lot of feedback and I try to adjust the training. It is very individual. Very, very individual. He is the only athlete I coach. He is a great athlete and I think it is good for him.

McQ: Is he as strong as he was when he was World Champion?

Wilko: That is a good question. I think yes.

McQ: So he’s strong enough to throw twenty-two meters?

Wilko: Yes. I think he will have to throw twenty-two meters to beat Michael Haratyk or Tomáš Staněk. Konrad Bukowiecki can also be dangerous. He can be a big surprise. He is very strong.

McQ: And it will get even harder in Tokyo with Tom Walsh and Ryan Crouser.

Wilko: Yes, I think it will take 22.50m to 23.00m to beat those guys. The men’s shot put performance progression in the last years, I don’t think will stop between now and the Olympic Games. It will go on. But they are all good guys.  They are very funny, and we like them.

McQ: Does it feel strange to coach the only glider who seems capable of medaling in an international competition?

Wilko: He’s the last Mohican! We talked about the rotational shot put. We talked about the possibility to change the techique, but we agreed it is not good for him. Rotational shot putters are a different type of athlete. We tried it in training. When we warmed up he threw it. It was fun and provided variation. But, he’s a glider.

McQ: What is it about David as an athlete that makes him a glider?

Wilko: He is very tall. He has amazing power. And he is very stiff in his legs. When he comes from the glide, it is amazing how he can stop the whole center of mass of the body and transformate it into the release. I have never seen this. Maybe in the 1980’s with Ulf Timmerman, but in the 1990’s and 2000’s, nobody else was able to do this.

McQ: I love the glide, so I hope you medal in Tokyo.

Wilko: I love the glide too, but I think it will go out.

McQ: In America, it is pretty much gone.

Wilko: With athletes, there are different types, and that’s why I think the glide is still good. You can with the glide reach the same performance as the rotational, but you have to be the right type of person with the right abilities.

McQ: So you don’t believe that the rotational technique provides an advantage?

Wilko: No. You have to look which person is right for which technique. It is difficult.

McQ: It seems like most rotational shot putters are built differently than the best gliders.

Wilko: Yes. Rotational  shot putters look like this [ He outlines a refrigerator shape with his hands]. Gliders, like this [He raises his hand high to demonstrate tallness].

Note: I want to thank Wilko and David and pretty much every other German I have spoken with for being gracious enough to speak in English to me. I feel spoiled that I can come to their country without being able to speak a word of their native language and have them go out of their way to use my language—which is not easy when you are not used to discussing throwing technique in a foreign tongue. I would also like to thank the German school system for emphasizing English.

The men’s shot put prelims will take place Monday evening at a temporary venue set up in downtown Berlin. Unfortunately, the men’s hammer prelims will be held at the same time inside the Olympic Stadium, so spectators will have to choose which one to attend. I’ll be at the shot, where I hope to witness the beginning of a glide renaissance.

 

 

 

Coach Nathan Fanger webinar now on Youtube

Coach Nathan Fanger of Kent State University spent an hour with us this past Thursday breaking down the rotational shot put technique of Danniel Thomas-Dodd, the 2017 NCAA champion and 2018 Indoor World silver-medalist.

It was a fantastic presentation.

I have spent twenty-seven years obsessively tinkering with how best to coach the rotational shot, and I learned a bunch from Coach Fanger’s analysis of Danniel’s form.

His approach with Danniel is very different from anything I’ve tried over the years, and I can’t wait to work on some of his concepts with my athletes.

Those attending the webinar live were able to get their questions answered directly by Coach Fanger. You won’t be able to do that, but if you are at all interested in the rotational shot, I think you’ll love the video of his talk. Here it is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POhbm1pgVec&t=6s

 

A chat with British shot put champ Amelia Strickler

There is no NFL-style draft for graduating collegiate throwers, no carnival of excess where the most promising among them are paraded in front of television cameras and offered multi-million dollar deals to join the professional ranks.

For a college thrower, going pro often means going without–without regular coaching, without regular treatment for injuries, sometimes without regular meals.

The challenge is to find a way to stay in the sport long enough to reach your athletic prime. In a recent interview, 2004 Olympic shot put champion Adam Nelson reminisced about living in a closet under a stairwell Harry Potter style during his first year as a pro. Curtis Jensen, currently in his fourth year as a professional, broke twenty-one meters for the first time ever this season while working two and sometimes three jobs to support himself. Gwen Berry and Jessica Ramsey, two of the best young throwers in the US, have paid the bills at times by working for a company that bakes and delivers fresh cookies to college students at all hours of the night.

So, if it is a glamorous lifestyle you seek, put down that metal ball and start working on your mid-range jumper.

I know that other countries have different systems for developing their athletes. In Germany, for example, the best throwers are offered a chance to enlist in the army or the police force where they receive a salary while training full time for much of the year.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with the 2018 British shot put champion Amelia Strickler, and I was curious to find out what life is like for a professional thrower in that country.

It’s funny talking to Amelia because she sounds as American as apple pie. Not once during our conversation did she refer to cookies as “biscuits” or the bathroom as the “loo.”

That’s because Amelia grew up on Ohio, and is a 2017 graduate of  Miami of Ohio University.

She feels, however, a deep connection with her adopted country. According to Amelia, her mother, a British citizen, “raised me very British. We celebrated all the British holidays in my house growing up, and we visited my family there all the time. When I started having success in college, I knew I wanted to represent Britain some day.”

Amelia graduated from high school with a shot put PR of 42’2”. During her freshman year, she upped that to 48’7”. As a junior, she broke the school record with a toss of 55’5 ¾” and finished twelfth at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. A promising senior season was derailed by stress fractures in three different leg bones during the winter of 2015/2016. Amelia ended up taking a medical redshirt, but that summer she competed in the British Championships for the first time.

She remained healthy during the 2016/2017 season, her final year at Miami, and managed a PR of 56” (17.12m) but a lousy performance at regionals kept her out of the NCAA finals.

With her mother and sister planning a move to England, Amelia jumped the pond for good that summer. She quickly became the second ranked putter in the country and qualified to compete in the European Team Championships.

Talking to Amelia, it became obvious that post-collegiate putters in the UK have one significant advantage over their counterparts in the US: the club system.

As is commonly the case in European countries, sports in the UK are not affiliated with schools. Rather, various communities sponsor clubs.

Amelia explained that the clubs are organized in different tiers, “kind of like NCAA division I, II, or III. I went with a club, Thames Valley, that was really competitive. We won the  premier division last year.”

Though the clubs do not support the athletes financially, they provide something that can be hard to come by in the US: meets. Lots of meets.

For post-collegiates in the US, opportunities to compete are not hard to come by during the college season when there are lots of invitationals that allow open entries. But once mid-May rolls around, the NCAA regionals begin the invites end and those not yet accomplished enough to snag spots in Diamond League meets are out of luck for a good chunk of the summer. And forgive me for stating the obvious, but it is awfully hard to get better at your event if you can’t compete regularly.

According to Amelia, the league that her club is part of, the UK Women’s Athletic League, holds one meet per month in June, July, and August, “but there are also Southern League matches around London that I can do as well.”

The club meets are held in venues that remind Amelia of the home facility at Miami of Ohio. She says they are well attended. “The sport is much more popular over here. Football takes the cake, obviously, but  there is a much bigger following for track and field.”

This, too, is likely a byproduct of the club system.

“It’s just so easy for people to get involved with the sport here.There are quite a few tracks around, and it is easy for people to join a club. This system encourages kids to get involved in athletics at a much younger age. A lot of them will do it with all their friends.”

So finding competitions is no problem for post-collegiates in the UK, but like their counterparts in the US, they still face daunting challenges in trying to extend their career. Though Amelia is the current British shot put champion, a 17.26m PR and a promising future have not been enough to secure financial support from the British Athletics Federation. She currently lives with her mother, works mornings in a local shop, and commutes two hours by rail every day to a practice facility that she pays to use.

She is also on her own in trying to secure top-flight coaching. When she first arrived in the UK, Amelia tried to rely on Steve Manz, her coach at Miami. She regularly sent him practice videos and solicited his advice, but that was clearly not an ideal arrangement. At the 2017 European Team Championships she met former British discus champion Zane Duquemin, who was trying to finance his own throwing career by coaching on the side. She heard good things about Duquemin, who also coaches current British discus champs Jade Lally and Brett Morse, and so began making the two-hour trek to the town of Loughborough to train with him.  

The results have been promising.

In spite of a torn calf muscle that interrupted her training this winter, Amelia has had a solid outdoor season. She hit that PR of 17.26m on June 9th, won the British shot title later that month, and represented Britain at the recent World Athletics Cup in London where she greatly enjoyed her first experience competing in a large stadium.

“It was amazing, to be honest.  I’ve never thrown in a big stadium quite like that before, and to have that big a home crowd as well was awesome. At the NCAA championships in Eugene, there was a big crowd, but they don’t really bother with you if you’re not from University of Oregon. At the Cup, people were waving flags, and I heard someone yell ‘Go, Amelia!’ when I walked into the ring. And it wasn’t my coach’s voice, either!”

Next up for Amelia are the English Championships followed by the European Championships this August in Berlin.

Getting sponsored by the British Federation would make life easier going forward. She’d have free access to Federation facilities and physiotherapists. To obtain that sponsorship, though, she is likely to have to break the 18-meter barrier.

“That’s been my goal for a long time,” she said. “Things haven’t gone my way the past two or three years with injuries. It’s nice being a professional now and able to choose the meets I compete in. Looking back on the NCAA season where you have a meet every single weekend, I can see how the injuries might have occurred. Now I try to be selective, be prepared, and make the meets count. I think 18 meters is doable this year.”

A perfect end to the season would be an 18-meter throw in Berlin followed by an invitation to the Birmingham Diamond League meeting followed by a sponsorship offer from her Federation.

That’s a lot to have riding on these next couple of meets, and I wondered if that would make it difficult to stay focused on the task at hand as she stepped into the ring.

“For me, I’m still new to being a professional, and I just try to put that stuff out of my mind, For example, at the British Championships this year I knew if I won I’d get selected for the Athletics Cup, and that was something that I really wanted to do. My attitude was ‘I’m going to throw far today.’  At meets, I just try to worry about myself and not let those outside pressures bother me. I love the atmosphere of a big stadium and a big crowd,”

She will get all the atmosphere she can handle in Berlin, as one of the more charming aspects of German culture is their passion for the throws. They will show up in force to cheer on 2015 shot put World Champion Christina Schwanitz who, after two injury-plagued years, is back in 20-meter form.  

Oh, and running concurrently with the women’s shot, both prelims and finals, will be the men’s discus where one Robert Harting will be making his final appearance…ever. Think that stadium will be rocking?

Maybe Amelia will be able to tap into that energy, blast out an 18-meter throw and take a big step forward as a pro. Either way, she’ll be back at the grind this off-season, hopping aboard that Loughborough train day in and day out hoping it will eventually take her to the big time.

Free Rotational Shot Put Webinar with Coach Nathan Fanger

McThrows.com is extremely jacked to present a free webinar on rotational shot put technique with Nathan Fanger, the long time throws coach at Kent State University.

This webinar will take place on Thursday, July 26 at 7:00pm Central Standard time.  You can register here.

During his time at Kent State, Coach Fanger’s throwers have won fifty Mid American Conference titles.  Thirty-three of Nathan’s throwers have qualified for the NCAA Championships, with fourteen finishing as All-Americans including Reggie Jagers (who last month won the USATF title in the discus) and Danniel Thomas-Dodd, 2017 NCAA shot put champion, 2018 Indoor World Championships silver medalist, and 2018 Commonwealth Games champion.

In this webinar, Coach Fanger will break down Thomas-Dodd’s rotational shot put technique, which is quite a bit different than the standard American approach to rotational throwing.

A year ago, I interviewed Nathan on this topic, and his explanation of Danniel’s technique was really interesting. You can find that interview here.

This webinar will be a unique opportunity to get an inside look at the technique of a world class thrower. Participants may submit questions to Nathan throughout the presentation. Whether you coach beginning or advanced throwers, I think you’ll find this to be fascinating discussion.

 

Jessica Ramsey intends to contend

Remember that moment in Rocky when out of nowhere he decks Apollo Creed in the first round?  Nobody in the place thinks he’ll so much as lay a glove on Creed,, and then…Bam!…he lands a haymaker. In the end,  Rocky did not win the that fight, but that punch and his ability to hang tough for fifteen rounds against overwhelming odds gave him credibility as an athlete and changed the course of his career and his life.

Okay, I know Rocky is a movie. Don’t mistake me for those Game of Thrones fans who can’t wait for time travel to be invented so they can go back and get a look at a dragon.

But I witnessed a very Rocky-like moment in real life recently. It occurred, ironically enough, during the first round of the women’s shot at the USATF Championships in Des Moines.

As I sat down on that perfect Sunday afternoon to watch flight two warm-up, I anticipated a hard-fought battle between the current NCAA shot put champion Maggie Ewen and the defending USATF champion Raven Saunders.

I’d also hoped that Rio Olympic champ Michelle Carter would push the youngsters and make it a three-way contest, but it became clear during warm-ups that she was not in shape to do that. (Afterwards, Michelle revealed that that she was still recovering from off-season knee surgery.)

No other thrower seemed likely to break 18 meters, and since Ewen and Saunders were reliable 19-meter throwers, this was clearly going to be a two-person race.

It turned out, however, that I’d missed something during warm-ups, a clear sign that a third contestant might just upset the form chart.

Twenty-six-year-old Jessica Ramsey, who had finished fifth in the hammer competition a day earlier and who came to Des Moines with a lifetime best in the shot of 18.42m, had warmed up with several non-reverse throws, each of which had traveled around 17 meters.

As signs go, this was admittedly a subtle one.

According to the Bible, signs foreshadowing an earth shaking event may include “distress of nations in perplexity…the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding.”

Nothing in there about fixed-feet fulls.

But to two people present in Drake Stadium that day, Ramsey and her coach John Smith, those warm-up throws portended a cosmic shift in the women’s shot.

 Ramsey recalled later that those warm-up tosses “told me I was going to get it.”

Smith recalls seeing them and thinking, “Okay, here it comes.”

And come, it did.

Ramsey strode into the ring on her first throw and absolutely killed one.

“After warm-ups,” she recalled later, “I  prayed and did my little meditation. Then, on that first throw when I hit the middle and  I stayed in, I felt like it was a good one.”

It was. The throw measured 19.23m.

It was a three-foot PR and the seventh best throw in the world this year. In the space of a couple of seconds, Ramsey had gone from an anonymous member of a large group of better-than-average American female shot putters to one of the best in the world at her event.

Actually, it took a little longer than a couple of seconds.

Ramsey graduated from Western Kentucky University in 2014 having put together a fine college career (seven-time conference champion, all-American in the shot) under a fine college coach (Ashley Muffet, now at Ohio State). Her PRs though (53.84m in the disc, 61.44m in the hammer, and 17.49m in the shot) were not necessarily those of a future world-class thrower.  Ewen, by comparison, just graduated from Arizona State having thrown 62.47m in the disc, 74.56m in the hammer, and 19.46m in the shot.

In spite of this, Ramsey was determined to pursue a career in the professional ranks, so she packed her belongings and relocated to Carbondale, Illinois, to train with Smith, at that time the throws coach at Southern Illinois University.

Two months after her arrival, Ramsey’s determination received its first test when Coach Smith and his wife Connie Price Smith accepted an offer to take over the track program at Ole Miss. Ramsey describes that moment as “very hard for me. I had just moved to Carbondale! I’d packed up everything and spent all my money to move there, and a couple of months later I had to pack up again.”

After settling in Oxford, Mississippi, Ramsey had to figure out how to support herself while also leaving time to train.

“When I first came to Mississippi, I worked at a senior care facility, a daycare facility, and a company called Insomnia Cookies. That kind of hindered my practicing.”

“Later, I got a raise at Insomnia, so I dropped the senior care job. After that, I  got hired at Dicks Sporting Goods, so I dropped the daycare job. That’s where I’m at now. Most of the time, I work seven days a week just to pay the bills.”

In spite of this, under Smith’s tutelage Ramsey kept improving in the hammer and the shot.

As a glide shot putter, Ramsey could not have found a better, more experienced coach than Smith. Many years ago, Smith developed a reputation as the best glide shot coach in the United States. He honed his skills at teaching the glide while guiding Connie to a long and remarkably successful career that began in the 1980’s when winning international medals meant beating the Commies, and lasted until the early 2000’s by which time the fall of the Eastern Bloc and the advent of stricter drug testing protocols had significantly altered the nature of the sport.

Throughout most of Connie’s career, all evidence indicated that the glide technique was the most reliable path for a female shot putter to win a medal at a major championship.  

It was not until Jill Camarena-Williams nabbed bronze at the 2011 Worlds that a rotational shot putter broke through. Prior to that, every World and Olympic medal awarded in the women’s shot had been won by a glider.

But the increasing success of the rotational technique among the men (including a sweep of  shot medals at the 2000 Olympics) caused Smith to believe that women could benefit from adopting the rotational technique as well.

In March of 2014, shortly before Ramsey joined his training group, Smith posted an article in which he made a compelling case that it was time for female putters to abandon the glide. 

So Ramsey was in for a bit of a surprise when she arrived in Oxford. Smith wanted to convert her to the spin.

She did not give in easily.

“The first year,” Smith told me a couple of days after the USATF meet, “she fought me on it. If the spin wasn’t working for her in practice, she’d go back to the glide.”

Ramsey has similar memories of that period. “I didn’t want to change because I was consistently throwing  58-59 feet with the glide, and when we tried the spin it was so hard! Some days I’d be like, ‘I got this!’ Then other days, I’d be slipping in the middle, fouling, dropping my elbow, and I’d think, ‘I’m going back to the glide!’ The thing about the spin is, if you miss one thing then the whole throw is messed up! That’s what’s frustrating about it. Even at meets, I’d sometimes start with the spin and then switch to the glide.”

Complicating matters was the fact that over her first two seasons with Smith, Ramsey pushed her glide PR into the 18-meter range. But Smith still felt that she was wasting her potential.

“She’s 5’6”, which is too small to be more than a sixty-foot glider. She’s explosive as hell, but her top end in the glide will never be what it is in the spin.”

Matters came to a head at the 2016 Olympic Trials.

“She didn’t throw worth a crap at the Trials,“ Smith recalled, “and a couple of days later at practice right there in Eugene, I said, ‘You need to change to the spin. I know for a fact from training people over the years that the spin is nine to nine-and-a-half percent better than the glide. If you add that on to your glide, you’re a sixty-six-footer!’”

Finally, a year ago, Ramsey committed fully to the rotational technique. Job one was to master the art of using the ground or, as Smith calls it, “working the Earth.”

Over many years of careful observation, Smith came to believe that gliders and non-reverse discus throwers shared a quality that was often missing from the technique of rotational putters: a strong connection with the ground. As he saw it, discus throwers and rotational putters who focused too much on getting air time–whether during the non-support phase or as they launched the implement from the power position–were sacrificing distance and reliability.

He discussed his theory in this article first posted in 2003. (Note: Check out Smith’s vision of the kind of rotational putter who might eventually threaten the men’s world record. It calls to mind a certain Sasquatch-sized Olympic record holder who was eleven years old at the time Smith wrote the article.)

Long story short, Smith made Ramsey take a whole lotta fixed-feet throws over the past year.

It all finally came together in Des Moines. After her huge throw, Ramsey felt the emotions welling but tried to hold them back. “I had to compose myself because I didn’t want it to look like I didn’t know I had a throw like that in me.”

She didn’t come close to 19 meters again (her series went 19.23m, 17.65m, 17.61m, F, 18.24m, F), and she didn’t win (Ewen passed her in round five with a toss of 19.29m) but that one throw was enough to get her an invitation to her first Diamond League meeting (in Rabat on July 13th) and perhaps usher in further life changes that will make staying in the upper echelon of putters a bit easier than getting there in the first place.

A strong showing in Rabat could get her invited to the Diamond League meeting in Monaco on July 19th. She is also scheduled to compete at the NACAC Championships in Toronto in early August.

If she finishes the year with a top-ten world ranking, Ramsey will likely qualify for the USATF tier system, which will allow her to  have health insurance for the first time since leaving college.

Additionally, Ramsey hopes to soon be sponsored by the New York Athletic Club. Should that happen, she would be able to cut down to working only one job and have more time to recover from her daily training sessions.

Owing to the brutal financial calculus of the sport of track and field, Ramsey’s performance in this next handful of meets may determine whether or not her days of averaging five hours of sleep, of trying to get by on $300-$400 dollars worth of food per month, or praying that she doesn’t sustain an injury for which she cannot afford treatment, are over.

Either way, Ramsey is committed to continuing her journey.

“Confidence is the biggest thing in this track industry, and I’ve got it. I believe I am going to throw great in Rabat and that will open more doors for me.”

Not a bad attitude for a young athlete who wants nothing more out of life than a little extra free time that she can devote to mastering the fine art of  “working the Earth.”

(You can find additional coverage of the USATF women’s shot competition including videotaped interviews with Jessica, Michelle, and Maggie here.)

 

 

JC Lambert talks about DeAnna Price’s big day at Nationals

The women’s hammer throw at the recent USATF Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, shaped up as a battle between two Southern Illinois University alums. Gwen Berry entered the 2018 outdoor season as the American record holder with a 2017 toss of 76.77m. DeAnna Price took over the record in early June of this year, hitting 77.65m at the Iron Wood Classic. Gwen took it back six days later, dropping a 77.78m bomb at a meet in Chorzow, Poland.

So the hammer fans who gathered on the grass berm overlooking the cage outside of Drake Stadium had reason to expect a titanic battle between the two Salukis on a sun-kissed day three of the championships.

Unfortunately, Gwen opened with a foul and could never quite find her rhythm. She finished with a best of 72.99m, good enough for second place. You can find a post-competition interview I did with Gwen here: http://mcthrows.com/?p=2152

DeAnna also took some time to find a groove, but her opener of 73.81m guaranteed a spot in the final where she went 76.35m in round four, 78.12m for a new American record in round five, and 77.01m in round six.

Recently, DeAnna’s coach and fiancé JC Lambert was kind enough to give me some insight into DeAnna’s performance at USAs and her plans for the future.

So in Des Moines, DeAnna opened up with 73.81m, which as it turned out would have been enough to win, but it seemed to take her a while to really find her rhythm.

One of the big things we’ve been working on is making sure that your opening throw can make the final no matter where you’re at, a small meet, the US Championships or even the World Championships or Olympics. So I was very happy about her first throw. Her next throw was actually building up to be a nice throw, it just got by her and she wasn’t ready for it. It ended up being a very nice throw outside the left sector.

I couldn’t see where it landed from where I was sitting.

I checked afterwards, and I found the mark at the top of the hill. I’m not going to go into specifics, but it was considerably farther than her best throw.

It must be exciting to know she’s got a throw like that in her.

Absolutely. After that, on her third round throw, because the last one blew by her, she was a little timid, got a little messed up, so she went ahead and fouled it. Between prelims and finals she did a couple of warm-ups to get back on track and then opened back up with a 76-meter throw that looked nice and easy. From there, she was tuned up and ready to go.

Was there anything technique-wise that stood out about her American Record throw?

She just finally got locked into the entry. Got down a lot better on one. She stayed grounded and worked through three. She didn’t work all the way through four, and she kind of locked up the release. If she’d have gotten through the release a little more, it would have been interesting where it would have went.

And then she followed that up with a 77-meter throw where she completely missed four and locked up her release again, so to throw that far and not get the whole pie, if you will, was pretty exciting.

She clearly knew when she released her 78.12m that it was a big throw.

Yeah, she was kind of punching the air, which she doesn’t usually do. She told me after that it was because she was pissed that it took her so long to get going.

I’m interested in the idea you mentioned of developing the skill of getting a good enough first throw so that no matter where you are you make the final. How did you go about working on that?

Practice. We do mock competitions. Plus when you go to smaller meets, that’s practice too. During her senior year at SIU, her first meet of the year was at Alabama. She was in good shape to throw far, but her first two attempts went right into the cage. And then she had to just get a decent throw out there in the third round to just make the finals, so it took her forever to get comfortable.

And then the next meet, she fouled her opener again, and after that we decided we had to change things. We can’t be having that. From there, just practicing it at meets. I tell all my athletes, the first one’s for me and the rest are for you.  

So we kept working on it, and back then, three years ago, she got to be consistent with throwing 66-69 meters on her first throw. Now that she’s a better thrower and athlete, her openers have been getting better and better. Now that she can open with an easy throw of 73 meters and change, she can be pretty confident in a World Championship qualifying round. She won’t have to stress too much, just do what you do and call it a day.

Is the art of it to throw easy but not too easy?

For each person you have to figure out what is their easy throw. It’s like a passive aggressive throw. You have to relax but still be aggressive with it. If you warm up normal, but then your first throw of the meet you take too much off, it’s not going to be a good throw. Your timing is going to be off, then all of a sudden you’re completely off.

So, there’s definitely an art to it. The athlete has to develop a feel for what an “easy” throw is for them.

I was at the European Championships in 2014, and Betty Heidler did not throw well. Her coach told me afterwards that she finished her warm-ups in good shape, so he told her to do on her opener exactly what she’d done on her final warm-up throw, but that she didn’t. She took too much off of that first throw and then she never found her rhythm during the competition.

That’s what happens.

Going back to last winter, did you see signs that she might throw 78 meters this year?

I’ve seen signs the past few years of something big coming down the road. It takes time to get to this level, though. Sometimes you think you see something developing but it takes a few more reps before it comes out in a meet.

Earlier this season the big thing we were working on was trying to connect, trying to push. The simple stuff, just trying to make it second nature. And just chipping away at her entry. And it started looking better.

And with the weight throw indoors, we took maybe nine total practices and we didn’t even throw much during those practices, maybe eighteen throws. And she competed in three meets. I didn’t really care how far she threw in the first two meets, then she went to USAs and we didn’t even peak for it. And she ended up going over 80 feet (24.51m) for the first time and got the win.

Was it surprising that she threw so far?

Yes, in the sense that we didn’t train it that much, but no in that she had a pretty good practice the week before and the week of. It would have been interesting to see what she could have done if we had peaked, but our goals this year all focused on the hammer.

The last two years leading up to the Olympics and London she was throwing really well, but there is a lot of pressure there and the results we got weren’t an indication of what we’d seen in practice.

This year I wanted to see if we could get her best throws in the biggest meets, and so far things have worked out just as we’d hoped.

Now we have two confirmed teams we are part of, the Athletics Cup in London and then the NACAC in Toronto, and then we have to see if she gets selected for the Continental Cup.

Deanna and I have been talking about what to do for meets and training right now, and it’s kind of damned if you do/damned if you don’t. There’s a World Challenge meet coming up in Budapest, but we’d have to hurry to get ready for it, so I think we’ll focus on preparing for the Athletics Cup. There are going to be some great throwers there, so we want to be ready for it.

The ultimate goal is to win a medal at the World Championships and the Olympics, so we need to practice being at our best against the best rather than running around trying to collect money.

This is a new realm that I’m a little green at. I’m lucky to have John Smith as a mentor, so if I have any questions about international travel and competitions, he can definitely help me out. But I look forward to figuring out the puzzle of international travel, how the body works, dealing with jet lag and so on.

Speaking of complicated, have you thought about dealing with the odd schedule next year with the World Championships in October?

I try not to think too far into the future, but we will definitely have to adjust for that. For any athlete, I look at what their ultimate goal is, when they will need to peak, and then I start to work backwards. That determines how we start. As far as indoors goes next year, if we do throw the weight it might be one or two meets like this year and maybe the US Championships, Then we’ll have to figure out how to push back the season. The thing that sucks is that we have to rely on college meets for competition, but those meets are over in May, so what do you do from there? One thing I’m thinking about is putting on a summer meet or two so post-collegiates have some place to compete.

We’ll see. That might get us through to the US Championships in late July, then you have three months until Worlds. First you have to make the team, obviously, but I would hope that maybe the IAAF could help out the athletes by pushing some of their higher-end meets back a little bit. I don’t know if that will happen or not, but no matter what, we’ll find a way.

To see video of the USATF women’s hammer competition check out https://www.macthrowvideo.com/

 

 

2018 USATF Championships Day 4: Some words, some videos, some slight regrets

I’ve seen a hundreds of throws competitions in my time, both live and on video. I’ve traveled all over the United States and Europe to see the best throwers,  I’ve watched the replay of the 2009 World Championships men’s discus so many times that my wife can perform a spot-on imitation of the BBC announcers describing Robert Harting’s victory celebration.

“He’s shredded his vest, exposing his massive torso!”

You kind of have to hear her do it.

My point, though, is that I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge about the throws, and that came in handy on the final day of the USATF Championships when I was forced to decide between watching the men’s discus or women’s shot on a beautiful afternoon in Des Moines.

The shot was scheduled to begin inside the stadium at 2:10, the disc outside the stadium at 2:20, so there was no way to watch both simultaneously.

I chose the women’s shot. 

The way I figured it, Mason Finley would for sure win the men’s disc. He’s got confidence.  He’s got experience. He’s got a World Championship medal. Plus, he’s a giant and remarkably agile man, so no contest there.

The outcome of the shot, though, appeared less certain. The mercurial, eminently watchable Raven Saunders was a definite contender.

Every time she enters the ring it seems as if she might either smash a 20-meter throw or misfire completely and smash some inanimate objects. Either way, smashing appeared likely.

Going head-to-head with Raven was NCAA champ and record-holder Maggie Ewen.

Do you remember the first Shrek movie where Princess Fiona possessed secret  butt-kicking abilities that belied her appearance?  Maggie is the same way.  She looks like a pole vaulter but somehow throws things really far.  

Plus, guess whose NCAA shot record she broke this year? I’ll give you a clue. Her first name begins with the letter “R” as in “Revenge.”

Add Michelle Carter, the defending Olympic champion, to the mix…

and we had what promised to be a compelling shot put battle.

So, there I was at 2:00, perched in an upper row of Drake Stadium gazing down on women’s shot warm-ups.

My friend Roger Einbecker had chosen to view the men’s disc, so he headed over there after promising to keep me posted via text messages. 

Raven and Maggie each had one pretty far-looking throw during warm-ups, and it seemed like it would be a two-person battle as Michelle struggled to find her timing.

Then the competition began and a funny thing happened. Jessica Ramsey…

throwing unattached and cloaked in anonymity, stepped up for her first throw and banged out a 19.23m.

I couldn’t believe it.

Two of the guys I was with didn’t even see see the throw because, well, they weren’t paying attention. And frankly, who was? If you were sitting at home thinking, “I’ll bet Ramsey might win this thing,” please let me know and I’ll invest in your psychic hotline startup.

Raven, looking fast through the ring, opened at 18.74m. Maggie went 17.94m, so both would have the full six throws to try to catch Ramsey, who came back to Earth with a 17.65m in round two, while Raven began what would become a string of three straight fouls. Maggie put herself on the podium with a round two 19.09m, then gave us spectators a jolt in round three with a foot-foul that landed at the 20-meter line.

Michelle managed a best of only 17.87m in the prelims, but at the break for the reordering, I still felt good about my decision to stick with the shot.

It was fun seeing Ramsey break out, and it still seemed quite possible that either Raven or Maggie would bust one near 20-meters.

Just then, I got the first text from Einbecker.

“Mattis 65.45m.”

That was in reference to the first-round throw of Sam Mattis.

“Okay,” I thought. “That’s fine. Sam will give Mason a push and the folks over at the discus will see a decent competition.” I did not begrudge them that.

Back at the shot, the finalists had been determined and the ring opened for some additional warm-ups. Maggie and Raven each took a handful, tinkering, fine-tuning, like safe crackers trying to get all the notches to line up.

With round four about to begin, another text popped up on my phone… “Finley 65.27m”…followed shortly thereafter by another… “Mattis 66.32m.”

It sounded like an interesting duel was playing out over there, but I was still comfortable with my choice to view the shot.

Then my phone buzzed again.

“Jagers 66.92m.”

Now it was clear that something very strange was going on at the discus ring. After three rounds, three different throwers (Sam, Mason, and Reggie) had surpassed 65 meters. And we were not in California.

Or Hawaii.

I’m not gonna lie, I was a little rattled by these texts. My friend Sean Denard, the fine throws coach at Grand Valley State, came and stood by me to watch the shot final and we gazed in bewilderment from our perch in the stadium out towards the long throws area. What was the wind doing? We couldn’t tell. It seemed like the strings of pennant flags marking the discus boundaries were blowing in different directions at once.

We eyed each other uneasily.

When the shot resumed, Michelle put 17.26m, Raven fouled, Maggie hit 18.58m, and Ramsey fouled.

In round five, Michelle went 17.65m, Raven 18.13m, and Maggie finally popped one. Between throws she had stepped to the side and snapped off some imitations, and the seamlessness she demonstrated there finally carried over to the ring.

It wasn’t 20 meters, but her 19.29m toss was good enough to take the lead.

In the final round, both Michelle and Janeah Stewart broke 18 meters. (Fun fact: four of the top seven finishers in the women’s shot –Janeah, Ramsey, Raven, and Jeneva Stevens–all train with John Smith at Ole Miss.)

Raven closed with a foul, as did Ramsey, and Maggie had a national shot title to add to her already jam-packed trophy case.

The discus, however, was not yet finished. My phone buzzed again… “Finley 65.77m”…and again… ”Mattis 66.00m”.

Denard bolted over there to catch the end of it, but I wanted to get interviews with some of the putters, so I headed downstairs to the mixed zone, still content that I’d made the correct decision.

It was fun seeing Ramsey hit what may turn out to be a career-changing throw. It was fun seeing Raven blast through the ring even if she didn’t quite catch one. It was fun seeing the defending Olympic champion compete. It was fun seeing Maggie display what may be the smoothest rotational technique that I’ve ever seen.

But, as I stepped into the chaos of the mixed zone, there went my phone again.

“Finley 67.06m.”

“Nice,” I thought, “Mason gets the win.”

Ah, but the madness continued.

“Jagers 68.61m.”

Reggie’s throw was a facility record, the best toss ever by a left-hander, and…I missed it.

Had I the time, I may well have punched myself in the face. Fortunately,  the putters chose that moment to start filing into the room.

I’ve interviewed Michelle Carter before, and she has always been super nice. This time was no different as she spoke about the reason she is in less-than-top form, her optimism regarding next season,  and her upcoming marriage. You can view that interview here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6Jfww4ryA4

This was the first time I’ve spoken with Jessica Ramsey, but not, I suspect, the last. Here are her thoughts on a breakthrough performance:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4zNAWBFDCo

This was my second interview of the weekend with Maggie, and my ipad mini locked up during both due to a lack of storage. So, good job me. She is as articulate as she is talented, though, so I think you’ll enjoy the portion of the interview that I was able to record.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRSf1AY-6EY

The discus throwers came through the room next,  and I grabbed Mason. I’d last spoken to him when he was a college senior, and a lot has happened in the intervening years. Here are his thoughts on a hellacious discus competition and his recent ascent to the top ranks of the event:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgwOP8OxvLo

Getting an interview with Reggie was not so simple. I missed him in the mixed zone, so I caught up with him out on the infield. He was happy to talk, but that’s when I realized my mini (not a euphemism)  had locked up. Long story short, I ended up using Reggie’s phone to tape an interview with him.

Throughout the weekend, my traveling companions had taken turns helping me overcome my ineptness with technology, so I began referring to them as my “tech team.” I am proud to report that the 2018 USATF champion, the man with the farthest left-handed discus throw in history, is now a member of that team.

Reggie, thanks for your patience and welcome aboard.

You can watch that interview here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWPOK4MeZa8

 

Interviews from Day 3 of the 2018 USATF Championships

Day three of the USATF Championships featured three throwing events…running concurrently.

Men’s javelin began at 2:10, women’s hammer at 2:20, and men’s shot at 2:45.

The setup at Drake allows for a great simultaneous view of the hammer and javelin, but the men’s shot was inside the stadium and out of view from the long throws area.

So what was a fella to do?

I planted myself in a great spot overlooking the javelin runway and the hammer cage, and kept nervously looking at my phone for shot updates.

When Ryan Crouser, Joe Kovacs, and Darrell Hill are throwing the shot, the  possibilities are…well….distracting if you are trying to concentrate on what promised to be (and turned out to be) an epic women’s hammer competition while also trying to puzzle out who would rise to the top in a javelin field lacking a clear favorite.

A jarring note occurred during hammer warm-ups when Amanda Bingson bounced a throw off the cage and appeared to try to catch the implement as it ricocheted back at her. The ball ended up smacking her on the toe and knocking her out of the competition.

Those who remained (American record holder Deanna Price, previous American record holder Gwen Berry, outstanding collegiates Janeah Stewart and Brooke Andersen among them) struggled to find their rhythm over the first three rounds in spite of superb weather courtesy of Mother Nature and  superb running commentary provided by javelin champ Kara Winger.

This was not my first rodeo, so I knew that great throwers sometimes take a few rounds to find their mojo.  In 2014, I left after round four of the women’s discus at the European Championships. Sandra Perkovic was safely in the lead with a 69-meter throw and I was worried about missing a train.

Imagine my chagrin when I checked my phone on the bus ride to the train station and saw that Sandra had just broken the 70-meter barrier for the first time.

I knew something like that might happen in the finals of the women’s hammer, but…Crouser….Kovacs…Hill?

You can guess the rest of the story. I was in the stadium watching a really odd men’s shot competition when I got the text from my friend Roger Einbecker who stayed back to watch the women’s hammer final that Deanna had thrown 78.12m to set a new American record.

Here  is Deanna sharing some thoughts afterwards:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuhNwR5VxPY

I also had a really nice talk with Gwen Berry, who was not at all discouraged by what had to be a disappointing day (she finished second with 72.99m, well below her PR). Gwen has recently made an adjustment to her technique and is very confident that she’s ready for some more big throws this summer. Here is my chat with Gwen:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS_dmJy-UkY

It was chaotic in the interview room with several events ending within minutes of each other, but I made sure to grab Joe Kovacs, one because he’s a great guy and fun to talk with, and two because he seems to have struggled to find his best form this year and I wanted to find out what was up with that.  I think you’ll find his comments insightful.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wI93Vf_MZhA

I’ve known Curtis Jensen for several years. He was a teammate of one of my former throwers (I’m a high school coach) at Illinois State University, and it was obvious way back then that he was a very gifted young man. It’s tough to break into the top three in the shot in this country, even tougher when trying to figure out how to squeeze training into a schedule that already includes one full time and one part time job. But Curt has endured and plugged away over the years. He’s absorbed some blows, but like Rocky Balboa he just keeps answering the bell and his 20.87m effort in round six yesterday put him on the podium for the first time at a national meet. Curt is always a great interview. See for yourself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8swvFi2w3o

Darrell Hill, the 2018 USATF shot put champion, is a mountain of a man and not easy to miss in an interview room, but I still managed to do it. Like I said, it was pretty crazy in there.

Anyway, congrats to Darrell and I hope to catch up with him soon.

I did not miss defending Olympic Champion Ryan Crouser.

The press release  put out prior to Saturday’s events strongly implied that when Ryan entered the ring the crowd should get ready to maybe see a world record. It referred to a recent foul measured at 75’5 1/2″.

I’m not gonna lie, in the days leading up to this meet I was thinking the same thing. That’s why I was unable to stick it out at the women’s hammer.  How many years of therapy would I have had to undergo had Ryan dropped a big one and I missed it?

But he really, really struggled on this day, finishing second with a 20.99m mark on his only measured throw.

I give Ryan a lot of credit for talking to me and a couple of other writers in that media room afterwards. He was very discouraged by his performance, and I think probably embarrassed after failing to live up to the standard he set where 22-meters has become a pedestrian distance for him.

I did not film Ryan’s comments, because it felt like it would have been rude to stick a camera in his face when he was hurting like that.

But he answered all my questions. No, he’s not injured. His hand is a bit sore, but not unusually so. He’s just in a rut that he fell into a couple of weeks ago when he lost the feel of his technique, and the experience has him feeling a little lost. He compared the adjustments he’s made to his technique to plugging holes in a leaky dam. You get one hole plugged and a leak pops up somewhere else.

He is going to try to take a week off before heading to Europe for some Diamond League meets.

It  is not  uncommon in this sport to have moments where you inexplicably lose your feel and can’t find a way to get it back, and that can be a frustrating and sometimes frightening experience. Hopefully, young throwers can find comfort in the knowledge that even the very best, the Olympic record holder, the man with more 22-meter throws than anyone in history, can go through the same thing.

Thanks again, Ryan, for talking when I know all you wanted to do was get the heck out of there.

Women’s shot and men’s disc today, once again run concurrently. I’ll do my best to manage the chaos and get some interesting interviews.