Some Facts Behind Gwen Berry’s Suspension

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If you follow the sport of throwing, you know by now that Gwen Berry, who in May set an American record in the hammer with a throw of 76.31m, has received a three-month suspension from USADA for “declared or admitted use of a prohibited substance.” Fortunately for Gwen, the suspension will end in time for her to compete in the Olympic Trials. Unfortunately, she will be stripped of her USA Indoors title in the weight throw and her record toss in the hammer. She will also lose $30,000 in prize money and performance bonuses that she had earned so far this year.

Probably most damaging, though, is the loss of reputation that comes with having one’s name associated with the use of a “prohibited substance.”  I know that any time I open the sports section and see that a baseball or football player has been suspended for using a “prohibited substance” I immediately assume that the substance involved was steroids and that the player was taking them to enhance his ability to crush a baseball or a running back. I tend to be especially cynical if the athlete has recently set a career high for home runs or RBIs or quarterback sacks. “Oh,” the little voice in the head says. “That’s how they did it.”

But it is important for Gwen’s sake, and for the sake of the sport, that it be understood that her achievements this year had nothing to do with using a “prohibited substance,” and that the substance for which she was sanctioned is a commonly prescribed asthma medication no different in its effect upon the human body than other commonly prescribed asthma medications that are on the WADA list of “approved substances.”

A little background.

Gwen competed collegiately for John Smith at Southern Illinois University, and planned to stay in Smith’s training group after graduation as she pursued her dream of competing in the Olympics. When Coach Smith took a job at the University of Mississippi last summer, Gwen followed him to Oxford.

Gwen had suffered from asthma much of her life, and the Mississippi weather aggravated her condition. According to Coach Smith, it got to the point last fall that she had trouble making it through more than ten throws per practice due to fatigue and dizziness. Seeking relief, she consulted a doctor who put her on an asthma medication known as Breo.

This doctor assured her that Breo contained nothing that could get her banned, that is was essentially the same as another commonly prescribed asthma medication called Symbicort, which is on the WADA list of approved medications.

This is where Gwen made a $30,000 mistake.  Athletes are ultimately responsible for what they put into their body, and it turns out that Vilanterol Trifenatate, a component of Breo, is not on the WADA approved list.

This March, after winning the weight throw at the USATF Indoor Championships, Gwen was drug tested and, per normal procedure, was asked to list any medications that she had recently used.  Coach Smith told me that he has always directed his athletes to report any medication they might have ingested, “even aspirin” to demonstrate that they had nothing to hide. Accordingly, Gwen indicated that she had been prescribed Breo.

In early May, USADA informed Gwen that she was facing punishment for “declared or admitted use of a prohibited substance.” Nothing had shown up on her tests in Portland, nor in any subsequent tests she was subjected to throughout the spring. Gwen was tested at the meet when she broke the hammer record, and during the 48-hour period afterwards WADA blood-tested her and USADA urine-tested her. All those tests came up negative for prohibited substances. The only reason USADA was aware that Gwen had ingested Vilanterol Trifenatate was because she wrote on the form in Portland that she had taken Breo.

There is no Big Book of Drug Sanctions out there that lists exact penalties for each prohibited substance. USADA is meant to consider extenuating circumstances and to assess a punishment appropriate to the specific violation.

Gwen’s best chance of receiving a minimal ban or possibly even a warning was to prove that she actually had asthma and that her condition was genuinely improved by asthma medication. For help with this she consulted Dr. Robert McEachern. Step one was to put Gwen through what is called “pulmonary function testing” which is essentially a measurement of a person’s ability to breathe. According to Dr. McEachern, this test proved that “Gwen had clinical symptoms that were consistent with asthma.”

Step two was to repeat the test after administering a dose of asthma medication. If Gwen’s ability to breathe improved at least 12% on the medication, then USADA would accept the fact that she genuinely needed to take asthma medication. Dr. McEachern found that Gwen’s breathing improved by 54% when on medication.

So it was clear that Gwen suffered from asthma and needed to be medicated. Unfortunately, this did not change the fact that the medication Gwen had admitted to using, Breo, was on the prohibited list even though Symbicort, which according to Dr. McEachern is so similar to Breo that “we use them interchangeably” was not.

Dr. McEachern was puzzled by this. “If they accept Symbicort, then they ought to accept Breo. If they said all this category of drugs for asthma are performance enhancing, that would be one thing. But to say that one is and one isn’t, that makes no sense to me.”

Dr. McEachern was also troubled by the lack of information readily available to physicians who may one day treat an aspiring Olympian. “I wish they (USADA) had sent something out a long time ago saying ‘if you have any competitive athletes, Breo is not on the approved list.’”

After accepting the fact that Gwen truly needs asthma medication, and that Breo has no more of a “performance enhancing” effect than the approved Symbicort, USADA sanctioned Gwen in a way that would not prevent her competing in the Olympic Trials.

Coach Smith says that after an agonizing month spent contemplating the possible end of her career, Gwen is now able to focus again and will be ready when she steps into the ring in Eugene.

I have been reading the New York Times for thirty years, and today for the first time in my memory a photo of a hammer thrower appeared in its pages. The occasion? A big article on the Russian doping scandal.

When the only publicity the sport of throwing gets is due to a massive doping operation, it is natural for observers of the sport, fans and non-fans alike, to dismiss all the athletes as cheaters. This is especially true when they read that a particular athlete, like Gwen, has been sanctioned for using a prohibited substance with an unfamiliar, impossible to pronounce name.

Hopefully, people will take the time to consider the facts of Gwen’s situation and to understand that though she made a mistake in taking Breo (a mistake for which she had paid dearly) she is not a “cheater” or a “doper.” She is a hard-working young athlete of whom we can be proud if we turn on the television this August and see her taking a flag-draped victory lap around the track in Rio.

 

 

 

 

 

A visit to Houston: Part 2

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I woke up that Monday morning determined to spend some time in the training hall. It opened at 8:00, so I did a quick dumbbell workout in the hotel fitness center, cancelled that out with a spinach and cheese croissant from the Starbucks in the lobby, and headed to the hall around 7:45.

There were small groups of lifters walking toward the hall as well, and I figured if I blended in with some of them it might increase my chances of sweeping past the security guard without having to debate the finer points of whether or not I had the right credentials to get in.

Unfortunately, the group of lifters I attached myself to consisted of several Cubans, and I…uh…do not look Cuban, so the woman guarding the entrance spotted me as an impostor straight away and ordered my Irish-looking butt out of that cluster of Cubans and off the premises. When I asked if I could take a quick picture of the day’s lifting schedule that was posted on an easel there at the entrance, my audacity  was too much for her to bear.  “No…you…may…not!” she hissed, jutting her jaw and flexing her substantial forearms.

I’ve never been one to enjoy a punch in the face that early in the morning, so I beat a hasty retreat and took a nice long stroll in the morning sun.

Here I am enjoying that stroll:

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Here is an outdoor ice rink they were setting up not far from my hotel on this 70-degree day:

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Here is the symphony center, which appears to be a cross between the Parthenon and a bomb shelter:

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When I returned to the training hall a couple of hours later, Officer Friendly was no longer guarding the entrance, and her replacement gave me a smile and a wave as I walked right in.

I spent the next few hours watching the best lifters in the world practice their craft.

Have you ever stood in the middle of a crowded weight room, looked around, and said to yourself, “Jesus H! Will somebody please do one lift, just one lift,  correctly some time this century?!?”

If you coach at a high school like I do, you know what I’m talking about.

Well, standing there in that training hall was just the opposite. I probably spent six hours in there over the course of two days, watched hundreds of lifts, and saw exactly two missed attempts.

Two.

Everything those lifters did, whether with the bare bar or a bunch of weight, they did with precision. Here are some vids I put together that will show you what I mean:

 

 

 

As a coach of young lifters, it was so cool to see these men and women work on their technique. The way they kept perfect posture on their squats. The way they moved the weight at maximum speed every rep of every set . The way they warmed up for every exercise by doing a set or two with no weight on the bar–an approach that many of the high school boys I’ve coached over the years would tell you is “for wussies only.”

Schleizer arrived around lunch time, and after a quick bite he and I found Anna at the Eleiko booth.  We asked Anna if she wanted to head over to the training hall with us, but she told us that the fine young American lifters CJ  Cummings and Mattie Rogers were due at the booth any minute to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

This was great news for me, as two of my lifters are, shall we say, enamored of Mattie and I had promised them that I would get her autograph.

This was good news for Anna, because as part of her studies she was hoping to take a whole bunch of physical measurements of elite lifters there in Houston in an effort to build a database of, well, the physical measurements of elite lifters. She wan’t 100 percent sure of how she was going to round up those lifters, so she was excited that Mattie and CJ would be coming to her.

Here is photo I got with them. They were both, by the way, very gracious.

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So gracious, in fact, that when Anna asked them to accompany her to a nearby conference room so that she could measure their limbs and poke them with calipers, they agreed.

I headed back to the training hall as Anna, Schleizer (enlisted to jot down numbers as Anna measured) and the two lifters went off to strike a blow for science.

We met up later to watch the women’s 58K and men’s 69K classes compete. Here are some vids I took of those sessions:

 

Afterwards, we sat down for drinks in the hotel lobby. It’s funny, isn’t it, how sometimes you have to go to a place like Houston in order to find the time to sit down and have a drink with your friends? I’ve known Schleizer and Anna for more than fifteen years, shared hilarious and triumphant and brutally disappointing  moments with them in throwing rings and on lifting platforms, and…let’s just say that getting to hang out with them made the expense and hassle of the trip totally worthwhile.

Schleizer took off that night, so the next morning I headed back to the training hall by myself, flashed the wristband that the ever-generous Eleiko folks had given me, and once again walked right in.

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If you coach kids in the Olympic lifts, I would recommend doing whatever you have to do to get yourself into one of these training halls some day. I grant you, it is motivating and a lot of fun to sit around with your athletes and watch vids of great lifters hitting huge competition lifts. But if you think about it, 499 out of every 500 lifts our kids perform are with submaximal loads, most often as partial movements like power snatch, muscle snatch, lift-offs, pulls, power jerks or what-have-you.  So to see the best lifters in the world practice those movements taught me things that were immediately applicable to my not-nearly-the-best-lifters-in-the-world.

The other thing that was cool to see was the way these lifters approached their training. Raise your hand if you’ve ever had some idiot in charge of your weight room who thinks that heavy metal music played at ear-splitting volume is essential to a successful workout. Strangely, the best lifters in the world do not seem to adhere to that principle. There was no music in the hall. None of the lifters had head phones or earbuds. The coaches never shouted. If they had advice for their athletes they spoke to them quietly between lifts. Many of the athletes paused for several seconds with their hands on the bar, marshaling their focus before attempting a lift–even lifts with clearly less-than-maximum loads. The main goal seemed to be executing each movement with precision.

After a while, Anna found me in the hall and enlisted my help. She was on the hunt for the fine Brazilian super heavyweight Fernando  Reis, and I agreed to act as wing man.

We found Fernando a few minutes later at the Eleiko booth, and when Anna asked if he would submit to be measured and calipered in the name of science, he cordially agreed.

That’s the thing about Anna. She’s just one of those people who if she asks you to strip down to your compression shorts and let her pinch the hell out of you with a set of calipers, you don’t think twice about saying yes.

So Anna, Fernando, and I retired to a nearby conference room and next thing you know there’s Fernando in all his massiveness carrying on a friendly conversation with us while Anna took measurements and I recorded.

At one point, Anna mentioned her hope to discover the qualities necessary to become a great lifter, and Fernando offered his insight into the matter.

“You know what you need to be a great lifter? Big balls. That’s what you need. You have to be willing to hurt.”

“Well,” replied Anna, “I don’t think we’re going to measure those.”

Here is a pic of Fernando and Anna after she finished working him over:

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He could not have been nicer about the whole thing. Truly a class act.

I still had a several hours before heading to the airport for my flight home, so after Fernando left us I made a beeline back to the training hall where I got to see the Polish super heavyweight Krzysztof Klicki front squat about a million pounds.

I was totally in the zone, taking vids on my iPad mini and posting them to Youtube when all of a sudden a harsh voice interrupted my reverie.

“Excuse me, may I see your pass?”

She was a very short lady, dressed in an official blue blazer, and looking really chapped.

I held up my arm so she could see my Eleiko wristband.

“That is not the right pass, sir! You need to leave immediately!”

She had brought one of the loaders as backup. I recognized him from last night’s competition. He was a sizable dude, and looked pretty chapped as well so I didn’t argue. I left immediately.

Actually, I lingered for a second near the exit because I spotted a mountain of a lifter warming up and wanted to take a quick photo of him. I knew my guys would get a kick out of how massive he was.

Nothing doing, though.

The lady was right on my heels like one of those little yappie dogs.

“Sir, you need to leave this area!”

“Can I just get a picture of the huge guy?”

“Sir, I will not have you bothering the lifters!”

This after I had spent hours over the past two days filming and photographing many lifters, none of whom seemed the least bit cognizant of my presence.

It was only later while lunching at a local Chipotle that I considered the absurdity of the situation.

The meet organizers had erected seating for at least 250 spectators in the training hall. During the many hours I spent in there, though, there were never more than a dozen people occupying those seats. I have to figure that those dozen people, myself included, are the kind of passionate weight lifting fans of which there are not exactly a plethora in this country. So, short mean lady, if you happen to read this I’d love to hear the logic behind jacking me out of that training hall. If you really love the sport, I would think you’d be thrilled that at least a handful of people in this country shared your passion enough to want to spend their time watching lifters train. If, on the other hand, what you really love is the feeling of power that your blue blazer and meat head lackey give you, well…

After lunch I visited the Eleiko booth one last time to say my goodbyes to Anna. I could not wait to get home to see my wife and daughter, to deliver those autographs to my lifters. and to get them back on the platform.

 

 

 

 

 

A Trip to Houston: Part 1

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I’m not going to lie, the prospect of a return trip to Texas did not thrill me. I once spent the longest eight months of my life living in Dallas, and I left there with no intention of returning to that state.  Ever.

You know how, every once in awhile, some loudmouth in the Texas legislature will threaten secession if the federal government tries to deny their right to arm kindergartners or make the teaching of evolution a capital offense? Every time I read something like that, all I can think is “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

But, this year’s International Weightlifting Federation World Championships were being held in Houston, and I love the sport of Olympic lifting and the Worlds had not been held on American soil since 1978 and Lord knows when they’d be back here again and Schleizer would be there to protect me and…so…a few days before this past Thanksgiving, I headed to Texas.

Scheizer, by the way, is my friend who was an all-American shot putter at the University of Illinois and is now a school district administrator and so is used to beating people’s asses.

The trip began on Sunday, November 22nd,  with a remarkably pleasant flight from Chicago. I had a window seat, and not long after I’d occupied it a friendly, earth-motherish sort of woman plopped down in the aisle seat of my row holding a baby boy maybe ten months old. She apologized in advance for any trouble he might cause, but he and I got along fine. He had big blue eyes and one of those enormous baby heads and all you had to do was wave at him once in awhile and let him squeeze your finger and he was happy as hell. We were best buds in about half a minute.

His seven-year-old sister set up shop in the middle seat, and we hit it off too.  She was wearing one of those funny winter hats that little girls love so much—furry, with bunny ears. I complimented her on it and that broke the ice. Before long she was telling me about her favorite dinosaur and how a cobra could defeat a komodo dragon in a one-on-one battle and what strategy she would use to try to make a good showing in her family’s annual pie-eating contest.

So it was a fun flight, and when was the last time you heard anybody utter those words?

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My incredibly patient, supportive wife had booked me a room at the Hilton, which was connected to the convention hall where the competition was being held. Upon landing, I shuttled over there from the airport, dumped my bag in my room and headed to the Eleiko Barbell display just outside the competition arena.

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Fifteen years ago, Schleizer coached the throws at New Trier High School just north of Chicago, and one of his athletes was a young lady named Anna Swisher. At eighteen, Anna was probably mature enough to be a senator, but she enrolled at Williams College instead and after graduating went to work on a PhD in exercise science. She recently helped Eleiko develop a coaching education course, and was scheduled to arrive in town Monday to help out at their booth. She had called ahead, though, and asked the Eleiko folks to hook me up with a ticket to Sunday’s competition sessions, which they very cordially did.

I had about an hour to kill before those  competition sessions began, and I knew exactly where I wanted to kill it: the training hall, also known as, “Nirvana for weightlifting dorks.”

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At every big-time lifting competition, the host provides a training area where the lifters get in their final workouts prior to competing. Quite simply, these are large rooms full of dozens of lifting platforms occupied by the best lifters in the world. I’d seen videos of various training halls over the years, but…it’s kinda like with a Sasquatch or a supermodel. What you really want is to see one in person.

So I was highly jacked about the prospect of spending some time in the Houston training area, which was located down a hallway from the competition arena in a room big enough to house giant exhibitions like auto shows or home artillery displays.

I wasn’t sure whether or not my Eleiko pass would get me into the training hall, but I figured the way to find out, this being Texas, was to just  take a shot at it.

When I reached the entrance to the training hall, I put my head down and flashed  my pass (actually a wrist band) at the security guard. I was a couple of steps past him when he called me back and informed me that I did not have the right credentials to enter the hall.

This was, to put it delicately, very disappointing. The training area was blocked off by a set of bleachers and a wall of curtains so I couldn’t see  any of the lifters, but I could hear the slam of lifting shoes on wood and the “bu-bu-bump-bump” of plates hitting platforms. So near, and yet…

Dejected, I headed back towards the competition arena and puttered around for a few minutes looking over the display booths full of lifting equipment and t-shirts. Out of nowhere, a nice-looking young lady came up from behind and attached a tendo unit to my right trapezius muscle. “Where do you hurt?” she asked in a throaty voice tinged with just a hint of sexiness. I started to tell her about my training hall rejection, but right away she flipped on the tendo unit and launched into her sales pitch. As she spoke, she gradually turned up the intensity of the electric shock which, in hindsight, makes me wonder if the implied message was that she was going to keep cranking that thing up until either I handed over my credit card or my trapezius exploded.  I told her I couldn’t possibly spend $250 on a portable tendo unit without first asking my wife, and that seemed to ruin the moment for her. She cut the juice, handed me a business card and went in search of likelier prey.

It was time anyway for me to enter the competition hall to see the women’s 53k lifters battle it out. The competition sessions were held in what appeared to be a mid-size concert venue with about 3,000 seats. My Eleiko pass required me to sit in the upper tier of seats, the lower tier being reserved for coaches, athletes, and VIPs. Here was my view from up there:

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The venue was intimate enough that I was able to shoot some pretty good vids  to take home and show my athletes. Here are a few lifts from the snatch portion of the competition:

If you’ve ever been to a weightlifting meet, you know that they always project a chart on the wall that gives you the names of the lifters, the weight of their opening attempts, and the weights of their various makes and misses throughout the competition. They had that here, projected onto the wall on either side of the stage but, unfortunately, I was too far away to be able to read it. And not being able to read the chart takes a lot of the drama out of the competition. It would be like watching a baseball game without knowing the number of balls and strikes on a batter or the number of outs in an inning.

Luckily, when I went to the bathroom during the break before the clean and jerk, I got turned around and re-entered the competition hall through a different door. Suddenly and fortuitously, I found myself to one side of the competition stage with a great view of the lifters and the chart. Not only that, but very few of the close-up reserved seats were occupied, so…I occupied one in the third row.

This was my new view:

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Here are some vids I took of the clean and jerk competition from that vantage point:

Next up was the men’s 62k class. I stuck with my off-to-the-side seat, and saw a great competition. The highlight was a world record in the clean and jerk by Chen Lijun of China! Here is a vid of that lift:

 That segment of the competition ended around 7:45, and I had seen somewhere that the training hall was open until 8:00, so I decided to take another whack at it. Many years ago, when I was a brand new teacher, I took a look at my actual teaching certificate one day and noticed that  it did not list English as one of the subjects I was authorized to teach. This was a problem, as I was several months into my first job…as an English teacher. Anxious to get this little mix-up straightened out before the folks at the district office took notice, I rang up someone at the state board of education and was told that I did not, in fact, have the coursework required to qualify for a license to teach English. After a sleepless night spent wondering how I was going to inform my department chair of this…uh…complication, I devised a plan. Before enrolling in summer classes the previous June, I had been assured by someone at the state that those classes would secure me an English endorsement. The person who later examined my transcripts apparently disagreed, as did the person I spoke to after examining my certificate. Clearly though, there was someone in that office who thought those classes sufficient. What if I just kept calling until I got that person on the line?

After only a couple of tries, that is exactly what happened. I spoke to the right person, she fixed my certificate and I am, nearly twenty-five years later, still an English teacher.

Might the same approach eventually get me inside the training hall?

That night, it did. There was a different security guard on duty, I flashed her my pass, and she just smiled and waved me in.  

What was it the dude who discovered King Tut’s tomb said when they knocked open the entrance and he stuck his head inside? I don’t remember, either.  But I’ll bet it was something along the lines of “Holy s—!!” which is exactly what I muttered to myself when I walked in that hall. 

There must have been 60 platforms set up in there, maybe more. Rows and rows of them. And though only one or two were occupied at that late hour, it didn’t take much imagination to see that during prime time it would be a fantastic place to watch weightlifting. Here’s what it looked like that night:

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I had a nice dinner at the hotel and went to bed thinking very happy thoughts. Schleizer and Anna would arrive the next day. and I imagined us spending many happy hours together watching great lifters.

It turned out to be a little more complicated than that.

Next up: Rejected again! Seeing another world record. Anna armed with calipers.

 

A Q&A with Eric Werskey

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This fall, Cal State University Northridge appointed the fine American shot putter Eric Werskey as assistant track coach in charge of the throws.

Recently, Eric was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding his coaching mentors and the CSUN program.  We also touched on his inside knowledge of the German throwing community courtesy of his relationship with the outstanding hammer thrower Kathrin Klaas, and a very timely video he appeared in this summer alongside Klaas, Robert Harting, and Julia Fischer.

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Congrats on your new job at CSUN! First of all, can you tell me how this came about? Did you have a master plan of transitioning into coaching or did this opportunity sort of pop up?

 Coaching at the collegiate level has been a career goal of mine once I saw myself “retiring” from sport.  When training for the 2012 Olympic Trials in my hometown, I would volunteer coach at local high schools.  With the development I had under Jerry Clayton at Auburn University plus my volunteer experiences, I knew I wanted to develop student-athletes at the collegiate level.  However, after the USA Trials, Art Venegas reached out to me about training at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. It was a no-brainer decision to pack my bags and move to Chula Vista.  I spent three years learning Art’s system as well as training among some of the best throwers in the USA and world (Joe Kovacs, Whitney Ashley, Tia Brooks, Jessica Cosby, and many others).  I learned an invaluable amount training among these athletes and wanted to begin to share my experiences and develop athletes myself.  After the 2015 season’s completion, I discussed several options with Jerry and Art and we all decided it was best to pursue my coaching career.

I knew a head coach would be taking a risk on me considering I had no collegiate coaching experience.  With that said, I want to thank California State University Northridge head coach Avery Anderson and his staff for bringing me on board! I am very excited and looking forward to the opportunities here. Cal State Northridge has a tradition of throws dating back to the late 1970’s and our goal is to bring the throws program back into the light again.

Are you going to continue training and competing?

Currently, my focus is on the kids and getting the program heading in the right direction.  I still lift and do some drills with the kids, yet my focus is on the student-athletes.

Can you give me one thing that you learned from Art and one thing from Jerry that you have applied to your coaching so far?

It is very hard to pick one thing specifically that Coach Clayton and Art left me with as they both taught me an invaluable amount. Coach Clayton laid the foundation and helped spark my interest in becoming a coach. He would have a systematic approach to each event and taught us to really take ownership of our training and pay attention to our bodies. Art helped further my interest in coaching. He advocated believing in the system you are in and taught me to seek the finest details that ultimately build the bigger picture.

Can you tell me something about CSUN? What is it about the place that would be attractive to a prospective recruit?

CSUN is definitely a great place to be. The school itself is very modern with solid facilities. Plus, us being in Southern California and suburban Los Angeles, we are able to train year round. For a “smaller school” (though CSUN has over 35 thousand students) we are not shy when it comes to our competitive schedule. In the past the team would travel to the NYC Armory, Texas Relays, and the UCSD Triton Invite to name a few. We believe to contend for championships we have to give our student-athletes the best opportunities to compete among the best in the country on a regular basis.  Also, for throwing training, we actually have our own field designated for throws only. It’s a great set up and allows us to get great training in with minimal distractions.

Have your experiences in Germany and knowledge of the German system influenced your ideas about coaching?

Absolutely! I have been fortunate enough to spend the last two summers in Germany. I have learned a lot from my girlfriend, Kathrin Klaas,..

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…and how she structures her training and what  cues she feels and looks for her in her throwing. I’ve been able to discuss many ideas with her and adopt some of her drills and cues into my own training plan. I have been lucky enough to watch her prepare for the 2014 European Championships and World Championships at their federal training center in Kienbaum as well. In Kienbaum, I was able to watch the best German throwing athletes train and gather some good ideas. Also, I spent many days discussing training ideas with German Federal hammer and javelin Coach Helge Zöllkau. I was given some incredible insight into his program and how he approaches training with his club athletes and elite level athletes.

 One last topic. You made a vid this summer with Kathrin, German discus champion Julia Fischer, and Robert Harting. That vid seems pretty timely after the release of the recent  WADA report. Can you describe how that vid came about and share your thoughts about the current situation with the IAAF?

The video was created when the first articles were released over the summer stating the IAAF had been sweeping positive tests under the rug and accepting bribes from GOBs to protect certain athletes. Not only is it ethically wrong, but the integrity of our sport to the highest level has come in question. The video is to show that athletes are tired of battling the cheaters of our sport and, now, the governing body.

The video came about actually during a training camp in Kienbaum. The leaked articles were being discussed during breakfast and Robert and Julia asked Kathrin and I if we would be in support of and be part of making this video. We spent the next two days between training times creating the video and reaching out to people who had been affected by doping. We created the hashtag #HITIAAF (honesty, integrity and transparency) to help create awareness about how we as a whole are not only battling cheaters in our events, but also the IAAF. The video went on YouTube on a Sunday afternoon and by Tuesday we had over 80 thousand views, I believe. If you have not seen it yet, here is the link:

In light of the new findings of bribery and doping scandals, this video definitely drives home what we we stand for… Honesty, Integrity and Transparency #HITIAAF.

 

Werskey takes over at Cal State Northridge

 

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Determined to develop a top-notch throwing program, Cal State Northridge recently announced the hiring of former Auburn shot put all-American Eric Werskey as their new throws coach.

In hiring Werskey, Matador head coach Avery Anderson acted on the advice of two of the most highly regarded throws coaches in the United States–Jerry Clayton and Art Venegas.

 

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Clayton (pictured above) currently the head man at the University of Michigan, coached Eric at Auburn, where young Werskey first exhibited coach-like tendencies.

 

Clayton explained that, “When throwers get to their junior and senior years I try to get them to help coach the younger athletes because teaching technique helps them to have a better understanding of it themselves. Eric was always good at explaining things to the younger throwers.”

After Werskey graduated from Auburn, Clayton encouraged him to take up residency at the Chula Vista Training Center so he could work with Art Venegas and “be exposed to a different coaching philosophy.”

That turned out to be a great move for Eric. Though he struggled with injuries during his two years at Chula Vista (notice the bandaged calf in the photo below) …

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…he received what amounted to an intense seminar in the art of coaching like Art.

That would be Art Venegas, the man who in the 1980’s and 1990’s built UCLA into the dominant throwing program in the nation.

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Don’t let that smile fool you, folks. Art is an extremely intense, passionate man. A reliable source told me that when shot put World Champion Joe Kovacs (like Eric a resident of the training center and pupil of Venegas the past two years) had trouble finding his timing while warming up at the Triton Invitational last summer, Art’s sage advice to him was. “Relax, mother——!!”

Let it be noted that Kovacs responded by launching a 24-meter warm-up throw.

Anyway, if you want to gain Art’s respect you’d better work your butt off and show your own passion and respect for the sport of throwing, and that is exactly what Eric did upon arrival in Chula Vista.

“I knew,” explained Venegas, “right from the first year he was here that some day he would make a great coach. I spotted that potential in him right off the bat.”

That’s a meaningful statement coming from the man who readied Dave Dumble, Brian Blutreich, Don Babbitt and John Frazier to join the coaching ranks.

“If any of my athletes asks, I will tell them straight up if they are meant to be a coach. When Don Babbitt was throwing the javelin for me, I told him ‘you are wasting your time as a thrower! You were born to be a coach!'”

Art’s responsibilities sometimes keep him away from the training center for several days at a time, and he says that he came to rely on Eric as an unofficial assistant. Eric did so well and became so passionate about coaching that Art occasionally felt like telling him, “Stop coaching, dammit! You’re still a thrower!” But, before long  he decided that “I wanted him to coach with me here when his throwing career ended, but there was no position available.”

Art began his own coaching career at Cal State Northridge back in the 1970’s  (making the whopping sum of $800 per year) and when they called him this spring to ask his advice on hiring a throws coach, he did not hesitate in recommending Werskey.

According to Art, “Eric is a great match for Northridge. He is extremely dedicated and reliable, and Cal State is the ideal place for him to develop as a coach. He will deal with a lot of different levels of athletes there. They have great facilities. And California is a great place to recruit. He could have a long career there.”

When asked what advice he gave Eric as he prepared to take on the CSUN job, Venegas said that he told Werskey to “treat everyone equally and bring everyone into the program. I challenged him that if there is a kid who is reluctant to buy in, to reach out to him and get him on board. And once you develop those kind of relationships with the kids, recruiting will be easy because the athletes will sell your program.”

It is rare for someone with no formal coaching experience to be given a shot (pun intended) at a place like Northridge, but it is hard to fault Coach Anderson for taking a shot (sorry, could not resist) on Eric. A fine thrower. A fine man. A fine pedigree.

And if Coach Anderson should, at some point this winter, wake up in the middle of the night wondering if he made the right decision…well, I know what Art Venegas would tell him.

“Relax, mother——!! The kid is going to do great!”

Next up: a Q & A with Eric.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A smooth transition at SIU

One complicating factor for any athlete trying to choose a college is the question of whether or not the coaches who recruit him or her will remain at that school for the ensuing four years.

In football, that is extremely unlikely.  A typical DI player will have two or three position coaches during  their career. Many endure the upheaval that comes with a head coaching change.

The funny thing about football is that many players don’t mind losing their coach (the recent upheaval at the University of Illinois is a prime example)  as the greed and thuggishness which permeate DI football tend to prevent players from bonding with  staff.

It is different in track, though.  I’ve spoken to many DI track coaches over the years, and they all seem to have entered the profession for the same reasons as us high school coaches: love of the sport and love of the kids.

Ironically, the nature of the sport and the deep bonds that often form between coaches and athletes can make a coaching change in track and field all the more traumatic.

Take the recent decision by John Smith, the throws coach at Southern Illinois University, and his wife Connie, the head coach at SIU, to accept similar positions at Ole Miss.

For John, that meant facing the idea of leaving behind NCAA shot champion Raven Saunders, NCAA Hammer champion DeAnna Price, and NCAA 4thplace finisher in the shot Josh Freeman. (It turned out that Saunders was able to follow the Smiths to Ole Miss, but SEC rules prohibited Price and Freeman from transferring as they are down to their final year of eligibitliy.)

Luckily for all parties involved, the Smiths (both SIU alums) were determined not to leave the program in a shambles.

I spoke with John this summer, and he emphasized that while the Ole Miss offer came out of the blue, he had for some time been preparing his former All-American hammer and weight thrower JC Lambert to take over as SIU throws meister.

According to Smith, “JC has, for the last three years, been serving his apprenticeship. There have been times that he has been mad at me because I made him write his own workouts (note: Since graduating from SIU in 2013, Lambert has continued to train with Smith) but now he understands. I have full confidence in him.”

I contacted JC after he was officially named to succeed Smith, and he concurred with John’s description of his apprenticeship.

Via email, Lambert stated that “Coach Smith has been sculpting me for this moment for a long time.  After having a very good freshman year (2008-2009), I become very interested in how his program worked. I always asked questions about his training and why he did certain things. Coach would make a prediction on what would happen in my training down the road, and was always right about it. Whenever it did happen, I was very shocked and impressed by how accurate his predictions were. The one prediction he made that I will never forget: He told me after my first week of training that my best event was going to be the shot put. For those who don’t know, I threw the 12lb shot a whopping 46 feet in high school. After he made that comment, I thought ‘this old man is nuts.’But, after six months of training, I threw the 16lb over 50 feet and eventually 52 feet at the end of my freshman year. The next year I progressed to 58’10” and had a foul at 61 feet. But an unfortunate wrist injury took me out of the event to where I couldn’t train it at all. I really believe I would’ve been a 20.50m guy. After realizing the accuracy of the comment he made, I began to understand why he was one of the best coaches in the country.”

“By my Junior year, he would quiz me on training. He would ask me what I would do if I was in his position and why. I began to answer questions correctly and he was impressed. He began to have enough trust in me to write my own training. I would write it up and show him. He would examine it and express his opinion on what he would do different.”

“Also during my Junior year, Coach Smith had enough confidence in me that he allowed me to start helping out with coaching the younger athletes. This is the point where I started to really like and understand coaching.”

“My senior and redshirt senior year was when I gained the most knowledge. I finally learned how to put together a complete program. Not just for myself, but for others. Coach Smith came up to me and asked me to help put together the lifting and throwing for the 2013 outdoor season. We sat down and began to put the training together. He asked me how I would start the season and I began to explain what I would do for the weight room and the throwing. He kept writing down everything I would say and I would continue to explain up until it was peak week for Conference. He looked at the finished product and said ‘Looks like a winner.'”

“And we had a great result at our conference meet. We scored a total of 71 points in the 3 throwing events on the men’s side and 47 points with a young group of female throwers in a tough conference. I learned a lot from that experience and will always be thankful that coach had enough confidence to allow me to help put that together.”

“My two years as a post collegiate athlete, he allowed to design my training and experiment with different ideas I had. This is the point where I learned how to be creative and not so afraid to think outside of the box with training.”

“Being a volunteer assistant coach, he gave me several responsibilities. He allowed me to coach the hammer/weight throwers at practice and some meets. I also got to run several lifting sessions and throwing practices if Coach was either sick or out of town.”

After all that preparation, Smith has high expectations for his successor.

“I watched JC coach every day and he is better than 95% of all coaches right now. In the end, he will be a better coach than me. Since he is young, he has the advantage of being able to get in a ring and show kids and be in the weight room with them. That’s what I did at Ohio State with Dan Taylor. When you are older, you have to beat people with experience and treachery because I can’t jump in the ring and show people any more like I used to.”

“But honestly, he has done most of the work with Deanna, and he has done a lot of work with a lot of our kids.  When he threw in practice, I’d watch him and coach him, and when he was done throwing he coached  the hammer and I coached the other events.”

“After we accepted the Ole Miss offer, the first thing Connie and I told the SIU administration was they have to keep JC if they wanted to keep the throwing program strong. He is the only one who knows how to do what I do. When I was in Canada this summer (coaching DeAnna at the Pan Am Games) he ran my throwing camp, and I had parents email me telling me how great the camp was and I wasn’t even there.”

“Deanna should repeat as NCAA champion next year, and has a chance to break the NCAA record. If not, I will hold JC responsible.”

Lambert seems energized by the challenge, and agrees that DeAnna could have a monster year.

“I want to build off of her spectacular Junior year, where she only had 5-6 months of hammer training due to a bad knee injury. She just has an outdoor season, so we will have the privilege to focus more towards hammer. She will throw the weight indoors at a few competitions. We use the weight as an indicator for her hammer.  But we will be building up her specific strength with heavy throwing and hammer related core work. We will continue to slowly fix her technique and keep working on what she learned last year. In the weight room, I want to bring her power up another level and make that level consistent. She’s already one of the strongest females in the nation, but continuing to grow her power while having her learn to transition it to more hammer strength will be another step towards getting a female hammer thrower on the podium at an international event. My ultimate goal for her this year is to have a repeat win at NCAA’s, break the overall NCAA record, go to the Olympic trials and finish top 3, and go to the Olympics and make the finals. I also for see her having a good year in shot put. This past year she had a few fouls at the end of the season that were over 17m. I would like for her to throw at least 18m in shot put and have a great finish at NCAA nationals.”

Not to be forgotten is Josh Freeman, who had a huge PR on his final throw at this year’s NCAA outdoor meet.

“For Josh, we’ve been working on some technical issues in shot. So far, it has paid off with great results especially while in base training. We will keep working and attacking the heavy implements, but really trying to learn to stretch out the light shots. Learning how to throw far, with mid-to-light shots, in base training is very important in my opinion. It gives you a look into how the future will play out. Everyone can throw far when you feel good, but learning how to throw far when your body is slow and sore will pay off big when it comes time to peak. Especially as an experienced athlete. In the weight room, his squats have become more powerful, which has resulted in more explosive legs. His bench has been climbing up, as well as his cleans. Ultimately, I want to get him to 21m this next season and to win 2 national titles. Also, I want to have him ready to make the finals at the Olympic trials and see how well he can fight for a spot against the professionals.”

For his part, Smith is excited about what lies ahead at Ole Miss.

“We had certain training demands, and they granted all of them. For example, I run the weight room workouts and they will give me one or two strength coaches to assist me. I had a long talk with the strength coach and he is fine with it. When I am training kids, what they are doing on the throwing field dictates what we do in the weight room. I often adjust their lifting based on how they throw in practice. A strength coach doesn’t see that, and one of the biggest reasons why we have done a good job peaking is that I control all aspects of training.”

“Also, it is the SEC. Connie will have a lot more help, including a director of operations. They are building a new track which will be done next May. They have a temporary throwing field four or five miles away. But all I need is a piece of concrete until they get the other facility done. At SIU, we felt like we had done about everything we could do. Connie was looking for a new challenge and I go where she goes.”

“And there is no hostility there between us and SIU. It was a good breakup. We built the program and want to make sure it stays intact.”

It sounds like anointing JC Lambert as his successor was a key step in ensuring that it does.

 

 

 

Ryan Whiting goes to a static start

After what has been, by his standards, a disappointing season Ryan Whiting unveiled a new static start this weekend and used it to produce an excellent 21.68m toss.

After Ryan posted a vid of that throw on Twitter, I asked him to comment on his reasons for the switch to his new approach.

If you follow the throws (and if you are reading this post, clearly you do) you know that Ryan is very generous with sharing information about his training. It was not surprising then, when he tweeted this reply:

Jordan Clarke recommended it to me in July. My ankle was really bothering me and I couldn’t get out and around my left on my entry. Our reasoning was to eliminate one variable (the wind) and be able to work on a consistent entry which enables me to get into a more consistent power position. Once I do that I know how to finish a throw. Today my conversion from stand to full was 4.18m. Once I get used to finishing with the new start, I think that will increase quite a bit. A little over a month of work on the new start and 21.68m, A good sign.

Here is a pic of Ryan’s old start:

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As you can see, he used to turn about as far to the right as he possibly could with most of his weight shifted to the right foot.

 

In his new start, he does not wind at all, but simply pauses here…

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…before beginning his entry:

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As a high school coach, I am a big fan of Ryan’s new approach. For young throwers in the rotational shot and the discus a static entry  provides less opportunity for the athlete to lose his or her way when coming out of the back of the ring.

Young throwers often feel like they are creating force when they do an extended wind, but as Ryan pointed out the key to producing long throws is a consistent entry leading to a consistent power position.

If you don’t already follow Ryan on Twitter, you might want to do that as he is likely to comment further on his switch to the static start.

A quick chat with Art Venegas after Joe’s big win

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Art Venegas, coach of freshly-crowned shot put World Champion Joe Kovacs, graciously answered a few questions following Joe’s win.

How did you help Joe get ready for the epic scale of a meet like the World Championships?
It has been a gradual learning curve with the championships  always as the goal
How did you approach the qualifying round? Do you warm up the same as the final? Do you hold anything back? 
The Q round is the most important part of the meet. I have a series of preparatory phases during practice that simulate the arduous challenges World Championship qualification  presents that allows for a better chance to get to the final. We don’t hold back, but we try to not foul and keep our technical model in mind
Could you share what you were thinking during the final? It took Joe a while to get rolling. What did you say to him when he came to the rail between throws?
The final is the end of a throwing Marathon that started at 6 AM and finished at 9 PM with intense waiting periods both on and off the track. My job is to determine where the athlete is at and ask some specific questions. If the answer matches my observations, I try to make simple adjustments with usually one cue to focus on. After that, I watch the activity  of the athlete on the apron between throws and see if they are in need of rest or some drills to prepare the next throw
 As you know, making the leap from fine college thrower to world champion is not easy. What allowed Joe to do it?

Joe is an exceptional student and a long-term thinker and planner, added to his great talent and drive. I have felt since I met him that he had greatness in his future, and having been blessed with some great throwers in the past I felt that he had the intangibles that help create champions

 

 

Lots to love about Sophia Rivera’s glide

It has been nice reading the recent glide/spin debate on the Macthrowvideo Chat site, one because it has been civil, and two because it is an issue that all high school coaches have to grapple with.

My two cents? A high school coach has to know how to teach both. A college coach can say “the glide sucks, I’m only going to recruit rotational throwers,” but high school coaches cannot control who enrolls in their school and the fact is that some kids are better suited to the glide, so you have to be ready to teach it.

It just so happens that a month ago at the World Youth Trials at Benedictine University I got to see a young thrower with a technically excellent glide–Sophia Rivera, who ended up finishing second at the World Youth Championships in Colombia.

For my contribution to the glide/spin debate, I’d like to point out some aspects of Sophia’s technique that make her glide so effective.

First, Sophia accelerates the shot through a long, straight path. Think of the barrel of one of those Brown Bess muskets that the British shot my Irish ancestors with back in the day. They were made long and straight to put maximum acceleration on the ball.

See how the shot stays on a straight path from here…

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…through here…

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…to here:

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Even as she drives the shot through the finish…

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…there is very little deviation from it’s original…

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…path.

 

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That there is sound physics, folks.

 

Second, from the power position she drives right-to-left into the throw, javelin style.

There is a persistent myth out there that gliders should land both feet simultaneously in the power position. Think about the way we throw things, though. If you had a rock in your hand and a chance to throw it at an in-law without getting caught, you wouldn’t plant both feet first. Not if you wanted to do some real damage. You would drive from your right foot to your left, the way Sophia does here…

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It’s only natural.

 

Finally, Sophia gets maximum value from the ground. 

Driving hard against it with the right foot here…

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…and here…

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…and here…

 

 

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…still driving, even after the shot has left her hand.

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And by the way, look how solid her block is!  Every ounce of energy she created across the ring has gone into accelerating that shot.

I tip my hat to Sophia’s coach, Ron Eichaker. He has done a superb job of teaching Sophia a biomechanically sound glide.

Let me close by throwing out a question to our glide v. spin debaters. Sophia is about to enter her senior year in high school. As previously mentioned, she finished second at the World Youth Championships, so she is pretty…good. But, if the spin is truly the superior technique, Sophia should  switch to it when she gets to college, right?

But, if she switches, isn’t there a risk that she might not be able to transfer these sound mechanics to the rotational technique?

You’re her college coach. What are you going to do?

 

 

 

Team Sophia plays the Long Game

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the USATF World Youth Trials in Lisle, Illinois and watching sixteen-year-old Sophia Rivera win the shot put and javelin competitions.

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Afterwards, I had a nice chat with Sophia. You can find a transcript of that interview here:

https://throwholics.com/2015/07/q-a-with-sophia-rivera-at-the-world-youth-trials-wvideo/

One thing that became clear as I spoke to Sophia was that her parents (Edwin Rivera and Michelle Hessemer) and her coach (Ron Eichaker) were taking a measured approach in developing Sophia’s athletic talents. They understood that Sophia was in the beginning phase of what will likely be a long career as a thrower, and they were determined not to sacrifice her long term potential in the interest of short-term gains.

In order to get a deeper understanding of the philosophy behind Sophia’s training, I contacted Ron Eichaker.

It turns out that Ron is a man of wide-ranging interests and experiences, many of which have contributed to his determination to play the Long Game with Sophia.

Ron grew up on north side of Chicago where he attended an Orthodox Jewish Day School in his early years.  When he graduated from Niles North High School in 1974, he held the school records in the shot put, discus and triple jump. In his spare time, he high jumped and ran the hurdles. His discus PB of 174’11” remains the school record.

When not on the track, Ron pursued what would become another lifelong passion: music. He sang in and around the Chicago area in Jewish choirs and as a solo performer beginning at the age of seven.

Somehow, Ron also found time to master the javelin, an event that was not even contested in Illinois High Schools.

Ron first picked up the jav during the summer between his freshman and sophomore years after seeing a college thrower chucking it around. As Wikipedia (affectionately known to us English teachers as “Satan’s Site”) had not yet been invented, Ron researched the javelin in the World Book Encyclopedia and “saw its historic connection to early civilization and found that the sport tied in perfectly with my affinity with ancient history and religion. It didn’t hurt that I had a pretty above average throwing arm anyway. And I also had a dance background in childhood.”

While in high school, Ron joined the University of Chicago Track Club, then in its heyday, which availed him the opportunity to rub elbows with some pretty beefy dudes. Brian Oldfield, Rick Bilder, George Tyms, Jesse Stuart, Al Feuerbach and “many other pretty good throwers” all competed at UCTC at that time.  He also met Bill Skinner, who helped him learn to throw the jav well enough that he hit 227’9″ in the spring of his senior year and received a scholarship to Northern Illinois University, where he was likely the only member of the Music Education department ever to hit the Olympic qualifying standard in the javelin.  Ron made the NCAA meet in 1975 but, unfortunately “threw way beyond my physical capabilities, and got injured.”

After rehab, Ron came back to throw his senior year and finished second in the MAC Championships before heading off to New York City to attend the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Following his ordination in 1982, Ron focused his considerable energies on his congregation (first in Milwaukee, and since 2000 as Cantor of the United Hebrew Congregation in Chesterfield, Missouri) and his family (he and his wife Heidi have raised two daughters).  During that time, Ron occasionally consulted with local college coaches, and even broke out the jav boots when administering motivational programs “for children and teens about how to realize goals and go after them.” But he never worked directly with athletes, and had to mothball the spear for good after rupturing his left Achilles tendon during a throwing exhibition in 1999. For a decade thereafter, Ron’s primary connection with the world of athletics came through helping his younger daughter, Lindsay, develop into a fine softball pitcher.

Meanwhile, a New Jersey fourth-grader named Sophia Rivera was raising eyebrows by throwing the mini-jav farther than most boys in her area. When the Rivera family relocated to Missouri as Sophia entered the sixth grade, they were eager to find a coach who could mentor their rocket-armed daughter. Luckily, Sophia’s mother Michelle Hassemer worked with a member of Ron’s congregation. That coworker knew of Ron’s secret past as a spearman and recommended that Michelle contact him.

Initially, Ron was reluctant to take on the responsibility of coaching Sophia. He was completely devoted to his 1,100 family congregation, and to his own family.  He agreed to meet with Michelle and Edwin however, and during a two-hour lunch at a local restaurant outlined the conditions under which he would consider mentoring Sophia.

As Ron remembers it, he told them that they needed to ” trust my vision as results will not happen for a few years.  Throwing and javelin in particular is to be developed over many years of training with progression determined by careful, incremental physical development, genetic predisposition, level of concern (mental maturity and training) and family support.”

Michelle recalls that first encounter with Ron this way:

“What I remember most about our first meeting with Ron was his passion/philosophy that excelling in sport is so much bigger than the podium.  He introduced us to a few concepts that resonated with our parenting style and approach but had never really been put into words.   These concepts have endured throughout the course of Sophia’s development.”

One of those concepts was that  “It’s not about being the best twelve or thirteen-year-old in the nation.”

Michelle explains:

“At first blush, this may seem contrary to the goals of a family whose child/children are involved in AAU or USATF summer/club track and field.  I mean, of course you want to get to Nationals and be on top of that podium, right?  Well if it happens then that’s great.  But what really matters is establishing a technical foundation in the chosen event/event family.  Being fanatic – and I mean OBSESSIVELY FANATIC about technique is fundamental.  For example, Sophia worked on perfecting the release for a year or more before starting the glide (shot put), spin (disc) or approach (javelin).    This also means not pushing a young athlete into an overly-rigorous strength training regimen too quickly.  The first step was to work on overall athleticism (hence the multiple sports–Sophia plays softball and basketball in addition to track) and core strength. Med Balls… lots of Med Ball work!  This helped Sophia create a solid core and develop specific strength for the throws.  And again – technique is the focus!  The goal is to really prepare the body for the rigors of throwing and training; particularly javelin throwing which is really hard on young backs, elbows, shoulders, hips and knees.”

Another important concept articulated by Ron was “Don’t chase a number.”

Again, Michelle explains:

“During a competition the focus is on one or two technical areas.  Early on, Ron would tell us what one or two things Sophia should focus on during a competition. At first it was/ could be anything from foot position to a relaxed left arm.  Then it progressed to more of a discussion with Ron and Sophia, and her dad and I would remind her.  Now it’s a chat over breakfast or before she checks in and we ask her what she’s going to focus on.  By focusing on the technique and one or two items, she’s learned to make corrections on her own and sort of ‘self-coach’ her way through a competition.  This also means that achieving technical goals is more important than distance.  So a good meet isn’t measured by place on the podium or whether she throws a PR – but on whether she hit her technical goals.  Did she hit her marks in the discus circle?  Is that left leg staying low in the drive?  Was her javelin approach fluid and did she accelerate throughout?  If those technical goals are achieved the distances will take care of themselves.”

After agreeing to coach Sophia, Ron asked her parents to sign her up at a local training facility called HammerBodies. Ron met with the staff there and created a routine to “develop Sophia’s core and solidify her balance and stability in a non-resistive and natural fashion.”

Translation: Tons of medball throws, as Michelle mentioned earlier.

Only in the past year has Sophia been exposed to Olympic style weight lifting, and that only in the form of technique work with a 45-pound bar.

This fall, after five years of preparation, Sophia will begin adding weight to the bar.

In terms of teaching throwing technique, Ron describes himself as having “a Euro/Far Eastern philosophy…stressing the fine points of the throws from the release working backwards to the load phases of each throw. The Far Eastern approach employs ultra slow movements similar to tai chi, only using aspects of the throws to enhance an awareness of each muscle group firing in their proper sequence.”

Mentally,  Ron has sought to develop Sophia “like a young musician…a young artist who will grow with her art as her mind matures along with her techniques. My goal has been to help Sophia understand her body so that as her technique advances she is able to incorporate and advance her techniques in a balanced fashion. As a voice major at NIU, my professors told me that I should not be overdeveloped as my body and my voice were still maturing. I would not hit my vocal peak util my mid-thirties, so I should be patient and persistent and learn to absorb and adapt healthy additions to a solid vocal foundation to be able to develop in a time frame dictated by my body and not by either my mind or the perceptions of others. As this related to Sophia, the more technique at an early age the more to address as the body grows.  Every year she has been dealing with a new body and a new center of gravity.  More technical elements just means more to adjust and, unfortunately, many coaches adjust by just adding more technique.  Like a machine that is constantly upgraded with new components.  Pretty soon the original engine is indistinguishable, so when something breaks it becomes more difficult to identify the source of the breakage and then provide a remedy without causing an imbalance elsewhere, hence another break.  She fully understands and accepts that her maturity as a thrower will not occur until her mid to late 20’s and in order to maximize her potential, she will have to continue to lay micronic strata of layers to her already established base techniques.”

Thus far, Team Sophia’s emphasis on the Long Game has worked well. Earlier this week, she finished second in the shot and eighth in the javelin at the World Youth Championships. She has attracted much interest from college track programs.

More importantly, she has built a solid technical base from which to launch a long and productive career.