All posts by Daniel McQuaid

The 2019 Toyota USATF Championships begin: A report on the Men’s Discus and women’s Javelin

The discus is a fickle event. Timing is everything, and a strong headwind doesn’t hurt either.

Last year’s USATF men’s discus competition has attained legendary status (three competitors over sixty-six meters, including a monstrous 68.61m for Reggie Jagers) at least in part because of beneficent winds that presaged the arrival of a violent thunderstorm.

No storm swept into Drake Stadium last night, just an annoying bit of rain that made footing treacherous during the final round of the men’s disc, a competition that will be remembered as more odd than epic.

That may be fitting, as 2019 is an undeniably odd year for track and field athletes with the World Championships taking place in Doha in late September and early October—a full six weeks later than normal.

These US Championships were pushed back a month as well, leaving athletes with the challenge of staying sharp during a portion of the summer when there are few meets available here in the States.

That can mess with a person’s training plan and with their head, and may help to explain why neither of the two favorites in the men’s discus made the podium yesterday.

Reggie Jagers, after a fairly consistent summer that included two excellent Diamond League performances (64.89m for fourth in Doha and 64.59m for sixth in Rabat) did not even make it out of the prelims.

Mason Finley, the 2017 World Championship bronze medalist who finished second to Reggie here last year with a toss of 67.06m, earned the full six throws but ended up finishing seventh with a best of 61.05m.

As best I can tell, though, Mason will still represent the US at the Worlds as the man who finished third yesterday, Kord Ferguson, does not have the qualifying standard of 65.00m and Mason is the highest finisher other than the top two (Sam Mattis who took first with a season’s best 66.69m, and Brian Williams who came next with a PB of 65.76m) to have met that standard.

Back in the day, Kord would have had a few weeks to “chase the standard” and make the team for Doha, but this time around the USATF has designated these championships as the final chance for any athlete to achieve the needed mark.

If that seems confusing to you, don’t feel bad. As you can tell from this interview with Mason neither of us had a clear understanding of the current qualification system when we spoke after the competition.

Could that have anything to do with the fact that the IAAF is constantly tinkering with the process? That they made substantial changes to it last year then changed their minds and kind of changed it but not really? I’m going to let Mason and myself off the hook and say yes.

One thing that is clear is that Sam and Brian showed up ready to rumble. Each had his best throw in round one, and when Reggie failed to make the final it was clear that they were Doha-bound.

Kord’s route to the podium was, shall we say, a bit more circuitous. Competing in flight one, he sandwiched a pedestrian 60.13m between two fouls, then had to sit fingers and toes crossed while the flight two contestants did their best to send him packing.

He entered the final sitting eighth and last, but opened the proceedings with a PB of 63.25m and hung on for the bronze.

Just how in the hell did that happen?

I’m not sure that Kord himself knows, but you can hear his thoughts on the matter in this interview with him, Sam and Brian.

While on the subject of dramatic and perhaps inexplicable turnarounds, let us turn our attention to the women’s javelin.

A nice feature of the throws setup at Drake is that the discus or hammer can be run concurrently with the jav, so fans can enjoy two competitions simultaneously.

That’s a lot of enjoyment, especially when it means getting a chance to watch Kara Winger ply her craft.

Are you a fan of consistency? Of sustained excellence?

Kara won her first USATF title in 2008. Last year, right here in Des Moines, she won her eighth.

That’s a Tom Brady-like run, with the significant difference that Kara does not come across as a weird, kale-eating robot. Rather, she seems to take joy in every aspect of competing. She’s happy when she throws well. She’s happy for her competitors when they throw well. She is unfailingly polite to fans who want to say hello or take a selfie. She is remarkably gracious when folks like me shove a camera in her face and ask her to analyze her performance when she’s got fifteen relatives waiting to take her to dinner.

She is, as I refer to her in this interview, a national treasure. If you don’t like her, you probably don’t like ice cream.

Kara has competed a lot this year, and she has had some nice results, including 63.11m on June 6th in Rome, and 62.89m on July 9th in Lucerne.

So far, though, she has been unable to produce a big, sixty-five-metersish throw, and that was the case again yesterday.

Her 59.73m toss in round three gave her a four-meter cushion over Avione Allgood entering the final, but her inability to improve on that throw left the door open for the aforementioned dramatic turnaround, this time courtesy of Ariana Ince.

Ariana announced herself as a contender by nailing a two-meter PB of 63.54m in June, which made her performance in yesterday’s preliminary rounds difficult to characterize. Baffling? Maddening? Bizarre?

She opened with 46.80m and followed that up with 49.05m, so you tell me.

A round-three 52.95m bought Ariana three more attempts, but left her seven meters off the lead.

She remedied that situation in round five, drilling 61.06m and vaulting ahead of Kara. That throw would hold up for the win.

In a conversation afterwards, she made a valiant attempt to explain this rather astonishing turn of events.

Speaking of astonishing, third place went to Stanford’s Jenna Gray who hit a PB of 57.29m and who apparently competes in both track and volleyball for the Cardinal. Unless she has a twin sister who goes by the exact same name.

I will investigate this and other matters as the 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships continue today!

Full results, by the way, are available here.

coach Jerry Clayton on Andrew Liskowitz and the art of building a shot putter

I’m always looking for an excuse to talk to Jerry Clayton, and a couple of weeks ago his shot putter Andrew Liskowitz was nice enough to provide me with one.

Andrew just completed an outstanding redshirt junior year throwing for Jerry at the University of Michigan. He won the 2019 Big Ten indoor shot put title, broke the twenty-meter barrier twice during the outdoor season (including a 20.23m mark at the Virginia Challenge in April) and made First-Team All-American by finishing eighth at the outdoor NCAA Championships.

Then he really got rolling.

A near PB of 20.22m at the Ashland Summer Series on June 20 showed that he was still in great shape after the grueling collegiate season, and a 21.15m bomb a week later at the Michigan Throws Tune-Up vaulted him into the ranks of world class throwers.

But it’s one thing to drill a PB in a no-pressure competition at your home facility and quite another to travel across the pond, survive a qualification round, and face the likes of Poland’s Konrad Bukowiecki in a final as Andrew did at the World University Games in Napoli, Italy on July 8th. 

But Andrew did more than survive in Napoli—he took the silver medal with a toss of 20.49m. (A video of the competition can be found here.)

After that, I was left with no choice but to give Jerry a call and find out how a young man with a high school PB of 59’10” had become one of the best young putters in the world.

First off, I asked Jerry what he saw in Andrew back in his prep days that indicated he could be a successful Division I thrower.


Apparently, Andrew possessed a “fast arm,” and a powerful right hip action, which Jerry attributed at least in part to Andrew having grown up playing hockey. “To me, anything like hockey, baseball or softball the way you swing a bat or a stick has a lot of carryover to throwing. If you look at baseball, what they do swinging a bat where their left foot is flat and the left knee has slight flexion, it’s the same as the discus or shot.”

Once Andrew arrived on campus and hung up the skates for good, Jerry began the process of figuring out the best way to train him, which he says usually takes about a year and a half. 

That might sound surprising, as you’d think a guy who has been coaching world class throwers like Mike Lehman, Edis Elkasević, Gábor Máté and Cory Martin for the last four decades would be pretty set in his ways when it comes to how to train a putter.

But Jerry does not use a one-size-fits-all template when he sits down on Sundays to write workouts for his athletes. He tries to create training plans that best fit each individual, and says that anyone watching the way Andrew trains and they way any of his other throwers train would “not think they have the same coach.”

For example, Jerry used to have Grant Cartwright, a 19.61m putter who graduated in 2018, take a lot of throws with light implements in practice because Grant had been a glider in high school and throwing the light shot helped to smooth his transition to the rotational technique.

During Andrew’s first year at Michigan, he spent a lot of time throwing light shots as well, primarily the 6k to help him get ready for the 2016 USA Junior meet at which he placed fourth with a toss of 19.58m.

But as Jerry got to know Andrew’s strengths and weaknesses better, he decided that training often with heavier shots would serve him best. As Jerry describes it, Andrew was “so fast that I had to keep him more on the heavy implements to make him work the ground better and emphasize force production. Sometimes with the light implement, he doesn’t create much separation and he loses connection with the ball. So, I kind of go back and forth with him.”

When Jerry says he has Andrew throw “heavy implements,” he is referring mainly to the twenty-pound shot, and yes, Andrew takes full throws with it.

Be advised, though, that Jerry does not recommend any coach putting a twenty-pound shot in an athlete’s hand without one, thinking long and hard about whether or not throwing heavy is best for a particular kid, and two, devoting the time necessary to help an athlete who trains with the heavy ball keep his or her hand and wrist healthy. 

Over the years, Jerry has developed “a whole protocol for protecting the hand.”

He learned a lot about the topic from Christian Cantwell, the 2009 World Champion, who recommended a series of stretching exercises that the Michigan putters now perform before and after throwing sessions.

Jerry has also come to rely on a specific method of taping the hand and wrist in training. 

These precautions have allowed Andrew to stay healthy while training with shots ranging from the twenty-pounder all the way down to the 5k. And that consistency in training has produced remarkably consistent improvement during Andrew’s time in Ann Arbor, as evinced by his seasonal bests:

2016: 18.52m

2017: 19.15m

2018: 20.28m

2019: 21.15m

His outstanding throws of the last month may have been set up during a training block Jerry put Andrew through in March. 

He knew that this would be an especially long season with Andrew scheduled to compete in the World University Games and the US Championships, so after the NCAA Indoor Championships he “took Andrew back into training for a pretty good block” with no competitions for four weeks. They needed that time, according to Jerry, “to do things in the weight room and with the heavy implements” that would prepare Andrew for the long outdoor season ahead. 

Speaking of the weight room, Jerry’s approach to lifting has evolved quite a bit over the years. 

He used to construct his training plan using a double periodization model, but now he peaks his athletes primarily by manipulating the weight of the implements they train with. “The weight room is part of it,” he says, “but I look at lifting as general strength. We don’t max out, and I don’t use percentages any more.”

Instead, he uses an app called GymAware to measure bar speed on squats, bench presses, and cleans.

“I have certain ranges I am looking at whether we are working on max strength, absolute strength, or speed strength, and I don’t let the bar speed go below a certain level. If it does, we stop or we do another set with less weight, but we can keep pushing the weight up as long as the bar speed is right.”

Jerry adopted this approach four or five years ago. Prior to that, he wrote workouts using percentages based on his athletes one-rep maxes, but he came to believe that those percentages were often inaccurate as the maxes were achieved when the athlete was in peak lifting form.

During the course of a long season, there are going to be many times when an athlete is lifting while fatigued from throwing or traveling or just being human, so their actual max on that day is significantly less than what they produced under ideal conditions.

This leads to what Jerry refers to as “grinding out reps” in the weight room. “And if the bar is moving slowly,” he asks, “how much carryover does that have for our sport?”

Jerry says that with his current approach his athletes rarely miss a rep and are less susceptible to injury or overtraining.

During the competitive season, he breaks his training cycles into two-week blocks, which he designs based on how things are going for each athlete. 

“I look at what they did the previous two years. I look at different workouts they’ve done. But the biggest thing is the feedback an athlete gives me and what I‘m seeing. If I’m not seeing what I like, if they need more of a speed component we’ll throw lighter stuff. If they are blowing through positions, we will emphasize the heavy implement.”

This ability to synthesize experience, observation and intuition is what Jerry refers to as “the art of coaching,” and it has served him well in his training of Andrew.

In the two-week block leading up to Andrew’s 21.15m bomb for example, Jerry had him back off the heavy implements so he could “get the feel of throwing far.” He soon produced a practice PB of 21.20m with the fifteen-pound shot and surpassed twenty-three meters with the 6k, which showed Jerry that he was ready for a big throw with the sixteen.

Next up is the US Championships in Des Moines. Andrew finished sixteenth there last year, so making the final would be another nice step forward.

This fall he will be back at UMich for another year of training under Jerry’s guidance. With Ryan Crouser, Joe Kovacs and Darrell Hill still in their prime it would be asking a lot for Andrew to get in the mix for a spot on the 2020 Olympic team, but in the meantime he and Jerry will be tucked away in Ann Arbor constructing his future one two-week block at a time.

The Diamond League Men’s shot record falls at the 2019 pre Classic. To Darlan Romani. No, You shut up.

It’s not easy being a shot putter these days.

Think of Joe Kovacs.

He fought his way to a World Championships gold in 2015 and established himself as one of history’s great putters with a massive PR of 22.57m.

But a year later, Ryan Crouser comes along, blasts out an Olympic record of 22.52m in Rio, knocks Joe down to second, and gets us all talking about a world record with his unprecedented combination of size and agility.

Of course, Crouser maintained his domination in 2017, right?

Nope. Sorry, mate, but New Zealand’s Tom Walsh, who finished third behind Crouser and Kovacs in Rio, stepped up to defeat them both that year at the London Worlds.

Which left Tom alone atop the shot put world for about three weeks, or until Darrell Hill bested him, Crouser, and Kovacs with a 22.44m PB at the Diamond League final in Brussels.

Crouser seized the spotlight again this season by surpassing twenty-two meters twice indoors then putting together a monumental series in Long Beach in April that culminated in a new PB of 22.74m.

So, heading into yesterday’s Pre Classic, Joe, still in his prime and still quite capable of mounting his own assault on the world record, was not part of the hype surrounding this meet.

As it turns out, he threw quite well—21.39m, a distance which not too long ago would put a guy on the medal stand at a major championship.

Yesterday at the Pre, it got him fifth place.

When I spoke with him after the meet, he had to remind me that throwing 21.39m in June with a couple of fouls in the 22.00m range is a pretty positive development when the World Championships is still three months away.

As always Joe, like Michelle Carter a great ambassador for the sport, provided a thoughtful take on his career and his season so far.

As for Crouser…

…he opened with a nice, smooth 22.17m and struggled from there. He never improved on his opener, and ended up finishing second.

It cannot be easy when folks expect you to threaten the world record every time you compete and are disappointed with a measly 72’9” effort, but that is the world in which Crouser now exists.

I have to say that based on his post-meet comments he’s handling the pressure quite well. It was fun talking technique with him, and he shared some interesting insights about how gliding during his formative years influenced his approach to spinning.

As with Kovacs, Tom Walsh seemed to be this close to smashing one yesterday.

Tom is a classic example of the downhill racer nature of the rotational technique. Once you tip out of that starting gate and start zooming down the mountainside, a little shift in balance one way or the other can make the difference between triumph and disappointment.

As evidenced by this practice toss taken the day before the meet, Tom relies on speed to make the shot go. In yesterday’s competition, the speed was there but he couldn’t quite get everything lined up.

Like Crouser, Tom is at a point in his career where a 21.76m toss (his best yesterday) seems pedestrian. The day before the meet we spoke about his season and his prep for Doha, and based on that conversation and on his natural buoyancy I expect that he will shake off his third-place finish at the Pre and come out ready to rumble at the Worlds.

As it turns out, he better be.

As if Kovacs, Crouser, Hill and Walsh weren’t enough to give each other and any other putter with pretensions of medaling at Doha vivid nightmares, along comes Brazil’s Darlan Romani.

It’s not that Darlan was invisible prior to yesterday’s meet (he finished fifth in Rio and fourth in the 2018 Indoor Worlds) but you tell me, were you looking for him to break the Diamond League shot record, put together one of the great series in the history of the event (full results here), and move up to tenth place on the all time list?

As you can imagine, his performance raised quite a stir among us folks in the grandstands overlooking the shot ring, so I was really anxious to talk to him after the competition.

Unfortunately, Darlan does not speak English, and I do not speak Portuguese.

Fortunately, he had a friend with him who stepped in to translate. I think you’ll find the resulting interview quite charming. Being surrounded by a pack of suddenly curious reporters firing questions at him in a language he does not understand was clearly not Darlan’s idea of a great way to celebrate a life-changing performance, but he showed a lot of class in humoring us as long as he did, and in the process won himself at least one new fan in the US of A.

The question of whether or not he can recapture in Doha the magic he found in Palo Alto will be one of the more intriguing subplots at the Worlds.

But for his American competitors, it’s on to Des Moines first. There they must pass through the crucible of the US qualification system in order to earn another whack at Walsh, Romani and their like.

Like I said, it’s not easy being a shot putter these days.

The glide is dead! The glide is…Hang on…China’s Gong dominates the 2019 Pre Classic Women’s Shot

I’m old enough to remember an era—the Pleistocene maybe—when it seemed perfectly right and natural for high jumpers to go over the bar stomach first. The straddle technique, I think they called it.

Then Dick Fosbury came along and flew over the bar backwards and the straddle went the way of the steam engine, the rotary phone, and politeness.

So thorough and abrupt was the transition that the term “Fosbury flop” was adopted then dropped seemingly over night. We now just call it “high jumping.”

Shot putting has been undergoing a similar if more gradual transition from the glide technique to the spin. If memory serves, the first Olympics to feature a rotational thrower was Montreal in 1976. Male spinners took Olympic gold in 1996, 2000, and 2004, but then Polish glider Tomasz Majewski led a counter revolution, winning in Beijing and London. Germany’s David Storl did his part to hold back the rotational tide by winning World Championship gold in 2011 and 2013.

But Storl is the last male glider who still gets invited to competitions like Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic. An injury prevented him from making the trip to Stanford’s Cobb Track and Angell Field, but had he come he’d have cut a lonely figure, a tall and relatively svelte glider surrounded by a pack of beefy, turbocharged spinners.

The transition has been slower among the women. No female spinner has ever won an Olympic or World Championship gold. Many fine throwers have adopted the rotational technique, with the American Jill Camarena-Williams first among them to medal at a major championships when she won silver at the Daegu Worlds. After that, Hungary’s Anita Marton nabbed Rio bronze and London 2017 silver, and just last year Jamaican Danielle Thomas-Dodd took second at World Indoors, but the likes of New Zealand’s Valeri Adams, Germany’s Christina Schwanitz, China’s Lijiao Gong and American great Michelle Carter have maintained the glider monopoly on gold medals.

It is possible, however, that women’s shot putting may have found its Fosbury.

The American Chase Ealey glided her way to a successful collegiate career, finishing second at the 2016 NCAA Championships. But after two lackluster seasons as a pro, she switched to the rotational technique last September and is now one of the top putters in the world.

After posting a 2018 season best of 17.78m, she has, in 2019 thrown at least nineteen meters in eight different competitions, including yesterday at the Pre when she hit 19.23m to take third behind Gong and Thomas-Dodd. (Full results for the women’s shot can be found here.)

So I ask you, if Ealey could add two meters to her average throw and vault herself into the elite level of the event merely by switching to the spin, shouldn’t every glider make the change?

Apparently, it’s a little more complicated than that. In this post-comp interview, Ealey discusses her glide-to-spin journey, her prosperous coach/athlete partnership with former World Indoor shot champion Ryan Whiting, and why taking long walks while wearing throwing shoes might be beneficial.

Watching Gong (here she is sharpening her technique on Saturday) also makes one realize that the glide is not going the way of the dodo bird any time soon. The simplicity of her technique, and her mastery of it, allowed her to put together this series yesterday: 19.00m, 19.46m, 19.55m, 19.52m, 19.79m, F.

That kind of consistency is going to make her very hard to beat in Doha, and is something that may never be available to rotational throwers like Ealey and Thomas-Dodd.

Ealey’s series featured four fouls. Thomas-Dodd was more consistent, producing three throws over nineteen meters (with a best of 19.26m). She seemed close to knocking out a big throw—in the words of her coach, Nathan Fanger, “had she stayed on the ball through the release” she could have reached the 19.60m range.

But to put it crudely, spinners throw far by hauling butt (take a look at this practice throw by Thomas-Dodd from Saturday) and hauling butt while maintaining precision is no easy task

So the glide/spin debate will likely rage on a while longer.

One matter that is not up for debate is the remarkable graciousness of Michelle Carter.

She is far from being in top form (she finished 6th yesterday with a best of 18.21m) but as always she took time after the competition to share some thoughts about her season.

In that interview, you’ll hear her refer to her “You Throw Girl” camp and an upcoming competition she is hosting. Check out her website for more info.

Next up for Carter and Ealey is a trip to Des Moines at the end of July where they will fight for a chance to lock horns with Gong in Doha.

If you happen to pass through Tucson and spot Ealey out for a walk in her throwing shoes, please know that it is all part of the plan to finally get a female spinner to the top of the podium.

Pre-Competition Video Interviews at the 2019 Prefontaine Classic

Danniel Thomas-Dodd has had an outstanding career already, placing second at the 2018 World Indoor Championships. In a conversation after her pre-Prefontaine Classic workout at the track today, she talked about what it will take to get to the top of the podium in Doha.

Poland’s Konrad Bukowiecki is another fine young putter competing in Sunday’s Pre Classic. He got the silver medal at last summer’s European Championships, and at twenty-two years old is hungry for more. In this video, he discusses his career and the great Polish throwing tradition. At some point, a large creature resembling a grizzly bear pops up behind him. As this is Northern California, I assume this qualifies as a Big Foot sighting.

I’ve never met an American thrower who did not struggle in their first year as a pro. Finding your bearings while trying to make it on your own is treacherous business. In a conversation at Stanford’s Cobb Track and Angell Field, former Arizona State great Maggie Ewen discusses the trials and tribulations of life after college and trying to make it as a pro in both the shot put and hammer.

New Zealand’s Tom Walsh is one the world’s great putters and a very nice guy to boot. In this chat, he talks about his early season struggles and his preparations for Doha where he hopes to defend his 2017 World title.

These are just a handful of the magnificent putters who will be battling at the Pre on Sunday. It promises to be an epic day of chucking!

For Big Dogs Only: A Prefontaine 2019 Men’s Shot Preview

The 2019 New York Yankees have put together the type of lineup that could give a guy a bladder infection. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Edwin Encarnacion, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, and Gleyber Torres can all hit the long ball, so you have to sip your beer slowly at a Yankees game. Head to the bathroom, and you risk missing something spectacular.

Same thing this Sunday during the 2019 Prefontaine Classic men’s shot.

Olympic champion Ryan Crouser (22.74m PB) leads a stellar field of putters including 2017 World champion Tom Walsh (22.67m PB) 2015 World champion Joe Kovacs (22.57m PB), 2017 Diamond League champion Darrell Hill (22.44m PB), and 2018 European champion Michal Haratyk (22.08m PB).

Add in 2019 NCAA Indoor champion Payton Otterdahl (21.81m PB), former World Junior champion Konrad Bukowieki (21.97 PB), five time Brazilian national champion Darlan Romani (22.00m PB), and World Indoor bronze medalist Tomáš Staněk (22.01m PB) and you have one outstanding group of shot putters.

Any one of these gents could mash a huge throw on any attempt and all of them enter Sunday’s competition with something to prove.

In his short career as a pro, Crouser has accomplished a lot. He’s got an Olympic gold and the Olympic record. He doesn’t have the American record yet, though, which also happens to be…I’m not going to to say it…I refuse to say it…if I say it, I’ll jinx it…the WORLD RECORD. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. No pressure, Ryan, but I did fly all the way from Chicago to see this meet, so if you could maybe toss one out there around 23.13m I would appreciate it.

One person who seems to have had enough of this world record talk is Crouser’s rival, the courtly kiwi Tom Walsh who, in a recent interview, took pains to remind the mammoth American that he is not the only big dog in the kennel.

Walsh took a while to get rolling this season. His inability to hit the 22-meter mark early on prompted his coach, Dale Stevenson, to describe his results during the winter months (summer in the Southern Hemisphere) as “disappointing.”

They spent, according to Stevenson, “about six months in a holding pattern before making the necessary changes.”

Those changes paid off starting in May when Tom hit 22.06m at the Doha DL meeting. He has maintained a nice groove since, going 22.18m and 22.27m in two competitions leading up to the Pre, and there is nothing he’d like more than to interrupt Crouser’s march to the…you know what.

Back in 2015, talk of the “you know what” revolved around Joe Kovacs as he won his World title and gained notoriety for a massive warmup throw (at an earlier competition) well beyond the “you know what” line. He took the silver behind Crouser in Rio and the silver at the 2017 Worlds behind Walsh. Joe told me yesterday that he is “slow playing” things this year with the Worlds in Doha still three months away. But he is a fantastic thrower in the middle of his prime and a highly competitive young man. If people start dropping bombs Sunday, he will not sit idly by.

Nor will defending USA champion Darrell Hill.

His season so far as been fairly quiet. Like Kovacs, he appears to be “slow playing” in preparation for what promises to be a hellacious battle at the US Championships in late July. But he has gone 21.72m this year and is a big man with a big personality who loves a big stage. As he did at the Diamond League final in 2017 when he knocked out a huge 22.44m, he’d be quite happy to preempt the Walsh v. Crouser show.

The athlete in Sunday’s field with the most to prove is one with the least experience competing at this level.

A few months ago, Payton Otterdahl, a senior at North Dakota State University barged his way to the top of the world shot put rankings when he posted indoor marks of 21.64m, 21.81m, and an Indoor NCAA winner of 21.71m.

He maintained his form as the outdoor season got rolling, hitting 21.37m and 20.75m in the month of April.

Unfortunately, a lower back injury sustained while lifting weights just prior to the Drake Relays in late April forced him to curtail his training.

A couple of weeks later, just as he started feeling better, Payton aggravated the injury while warming up to throw the hammer at NDSU’s conference meet

After that, according to his coach Justin St. Clair, Payton had to drop serious weight lifting from his training. Even worse, he could barely throw in practice. During the two weeks between the conference and regional meets, Payton had “maybe two” throwing sessions.

In order to maintain his feel for the throw, St. Clair said that Payton needs to do a lot of full non-reverse throws, “to make sure that his balance and direction are all in line.” Payton also normally took a lot of throws that St. Clair calls “up and overs,” basically non-reverse attempts that he would finish by stepping over the toe board.

He could do neither of those once his back flared up.

The lack of training made it difficult for Payton to maintain his mojo as the outdoor NCAA meet approached.

St. Clair says that physically Payton felt pretty good when they arrived in Austin, “but his confidence wasn’t where it needed to be.” The day before the shot put competition he threw twenty-two meters in training, but the fact that Payton wanted to throw the day before he competed told St. Clair that “he wasn’t confident. Traditionally, we will never throw the day before a meet, but he felt the need to go throw, and that tells me he was doubting himself.”

The next day Payton managed a best of 19.89m, a fine throw but good for only fourth in the hyper-competitive men’s shot competition.

To his credit, he followed that up with an outstanding discus performance two days later, his third-round toss of 62.48m snagging him second place, just five centimeters behind the winner.

After that, he and St. Clair returned immediately to hard training, as the US Championships and a chance to qualify for Doha loom.

He received an invite to the Pre, his first competition as a professional, after two-time World champion David Storl of Germany had to bow out with a back injury of his own, sustained, according to Storl’s coach Wilko Schaa, just before the Doha DL meeting. Storl went five weeks without being able to take serious throws, so he is now focused solely on preparing for Doha.

For Payton, throwing at the Pre offers a huge opportunity. A solid performance might get him invited to more DL meetings, which would give him a chance to prove that he belongs among the world’s best, which would bolster his case when applying for a USATF grant, which could make or break his ability to focus on training during the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.

Bottom line, as Payton said recently to Coach St. Clair, “If I want to be a big dog, I’ve got to show I can beat the big dogs.”

The kennel will be filled to bursting on Sunday. Tune in.



The ladies who Launch: A Prefontaine 2019 Women’s shot Preview

This Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic—to be held at Stanford University due to the ongoing overhaul of the Temple of Track in Eugene—will feature a rollicking women’s shot put competition. Some of the best putters in the history of the sport will be there, along with a corps of youngsters vying to make their mark. Here are three questions for throws obsessives to ponder as the meet approaches.

Can Michelle Carter Recapture the Magic?

It’s not easy to stay on top in this business.

For Michelle Carter, it was a long climb just to get there. She was U20 World Champion in 2004. In 2008 she won the first of her seven outdoor national titles. In 2009, she competed in her first World Championship, taking fifth in Berlin. In 2012, she took silver at the Indoor Worlds and fourth at the London Olympics. Finally, in 2016 she broke through with a dramatic final-round 20.21m bomb to take gold at the Indoor Worlds.

She repeated that feat a few months later in Rio, launching an American record of 20.63m on her sixth attempt. It was one of the great moments in the history of American shot putting and definitively established her as the best thrower in the world and possibly in the Carter family as well.

Unfortunately, she has struggled since, slipping to third at the 2017 World Championships with a 19.14m effort. Last year she posted her lowest season’s best (18.16m) since 2007, and in her only competition so far this season put 18.28m.

I had a pleasantly rambling chat recently with Nathan Fanger (coach of Danniel Thomas-Dodd who will also be competing at the Pre) and he pointed out how difficult it is to compete at the highest level of this sport over a long period of time.

He made the point that a professional athlete has to be selfish. “You wake up in the morning and your breakfast has to be just right…you train hard all day and you might come home exhausted and edgy. Then you have to go to bed at a certain time. Day in and day out, everything has to revolve around you, which is fine when you’re young and single, but when you get married and have a family that gets tough.”

Michelle got married last year. And had knee surgery. And turned thirty-three.

Not many throwers compete for World or Olympic medals at that age, but count me among those who hope that she returns to her butt-beating ways. Round six in Doha might be kind of dull without her.

Is it Possible to Throw Twenty Meters on No Sleep?

Germany’s Christina Schwanitz had a heck of a 2015 season, winning the World Championships and setting a massive PR of 20.77m. She followed that up with a lackluster sixth-place finish at the 2016 Olympics. She followed that up by giving birth to twins.

A guy I teach with became the father of twins two years ago, and it transformed him from a fit, happy-go-lucky sort of man into an exhausted, haunted-looking creature who no longer gets asked to play on the faculty dodgeball team.

Schwanitz, obviously made of sterner stuff, was able to come back last year after sitting out the 2017 campaign and post a remarkable 19.78m season’s best.

She is the same age as Michelle Carter, and likely shares the same goal: to close her career with medals in Doha and Tokyo.

Sunday’s Pre, Schwanitz’s first outdoor meet ever on American soil, should provide some indication of how likely she is to achieve that.


How is Chase Ealey Doing What She’s Doing?

Here’s what I know about Chase.

She was a fine college shot putter, finishing second at the 2016 NCAA meet while representing Oklahoma State University. She also finished seventh at the Olympic Trials that year with a toss of 18.46m.

As a glider.

In 2017 and 2018 videos of her throws would pop up on social media occasionally as she tried to build a post-collegiate career. She notched season bests those years of 17.79m and 17.78m respectively.

As a glider.

This past winter, videos of Chase throwing began appearing on Ryan Whiting’s Desert High Performance Instagram page.

But now, she was spinning.

I happened to run into Whiting at a clinic this winter, and I asked him how Chase’s glide-to-spin transition was going. He said she was doing just fine, thanks.

I interpreted this to mean that she was struggling mightily as putters commonly do when switching techniques, but that she was staying positive. I also felt admiration for her courage in adopting the rotational style when it was clearly going to take her a few years to get comfortable with it.

Then, on February 9th, she threw a PR of 18.84m. “Good for her!” I remember thinking. “A PB during her first year as a spinner? Outstanding!”

Then, on February 24th, she won the US Indoor Championships with a toss of 18.62m.

Then, the outdoor season began and things got really strange.

She raised her PB to 18.95m on a trip to New Zealand in March, before returning home and blasting a 19.37m toss in Arizona, her home base when training with Whiting.

That earned her a May appearance at the Diamond League meeting in Shanghai. It generally takes throwers a couple of seasons to get acclimated to the rigors of traveling to compete overseas, even those who have not completely changed their technique over the past six moths. It would have been perfectly understandable for Ealey to wilt under the pressure of traveling halfway across the globe to take on the likes of Lijiao Gong, Anita Marton, and Danniel Thomas-Dodd (all World Championships medalists and all, by the way, appearing Sunday at the Pre) but instead she put 19.58m for the win.

She followed that up over the next few weeks by tossing 19.21m in Nanjing, 19.38m in Finland, and 19.20m in Norway, making it clear that it had not taken her long to adapt to the rigors of travel.

I asked Coach Fanger how in the world Ealey could be so consistent so quickly after switching to a technique whose best and most experienced practitioners experience bouts of maddening inconsistency.

He said that the secret may lie in Ealey’s particular version of the rotational technique.

“She is very slow out of the back, “ he told me, “and has a heck of a strike. She’s long and really drives the ball like a glider.”

“She starts slow enough,” he continued, “that she doesn’t lose control and then she’s still able to smack the finish. She’s similar to Ryan Crouser in that sense.”

As Coach Fanger sees it, rotational throwers are often erratic “because they are a little spastic out of the back, but if you can control the back it doesn’t have to be that way,”

He pointed out that some throwers, Joe Kovacs for example, have to be fast out of the back because of their stature.

“The shorter throwers like Joe or Adam Nelson back in the day have to use speed to throw far because they don’t have long levers. It’s a trade off, though. They are sometimes inconsistent because they have to be as fast and dynamic as possible even at the start of the throw.”

So what happens a couple of years from now when Ealey gets more comfortable with her technique and becomes more dynamic out of the back?

Tune in to the Pre this Sunday, and you might just get a glimpse of America’s next great putter.

Here is the start list for what should be a fantastic competition.


Rotational Shot Put webinar now on youtube

Cody Foerch and Kip Gasper of Deerfield (IL) High School have built an outstanding throws program, and yesterday they delved into their approach to rotational putting on a Mcthrows webinar.

It was a super informative session. These guys have an in-depth understanding of rotational technique and an ability to plainly explain their approach.

Much of the session was spent breaking down film of a 63-foot toss by current Deerfield senior Sam Liokumovich, who is the best skinny putter I’ve ever seen.

If you are a new coach wanting to get started teaching the rotational style, this webinar is for you.

If you have been coaching for a long time and have your own approach to teaching the spin, you’ll still love this presentation.

Take a look, and stay tuned for more webinars from Mcthrows.

Free Rotational Shot put webinar with deerfield throws force

Have you ever wanted to see a video of a high school kid who looks like a high jumper but is actually a consistent 60-foot-plus shot putter? Well, here you go:

Pretty remarkable eh?

If you are wondering how that kid (his name is Sam Liokumovich) learned to throw this way, you are in luck. Sam competes for Deerfield High School in the suburbs of Chicago, where he and the other members of the Deerfield Throws Force are coached by Cody Foerch and Kip Gasper. This Sunday, March 3 at 1:00pm CST, Cody and Kip will discus the fundamentals of the rotational shot technique employed by Sam and his teammates.

Log into this free webinar to listen and watch as they break down Sam’s big throw. Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout the webinar.

Cody and Kip have built a fantastic throws program at Deerfield. We at Mcthrows.com invite you to join us for what promises to be an extremely informative hour with these two gentlemen.

Register here.

Throws Webinars on Youtube to help you prepare for the season

If you are ready to start planning for the 2019 track season, there is no better place to begin than with our 2018 series of throws webinars currently available on Youtube.

Roger Einbecker’s presentation on discus technique covers all the basics for that event.

Jim Aikens and Sean Foulkes detail the methods they used to construct outstanding high school throws programs.

Dan McQuaid digs into glide shot basics, for those not ready to fully commit to the spin.

If you are all about the rotational method, we have two outstanding presentations for you. In the first, Kent State throws coach Nathan Fanger examines the technique of his most successful putter, Danniel Thomas Dodd, silver medalist at the 2018 Indoor Worlds.

Our second rotational shot webinar features Illinois State University throws coach Jeff Rebholz. Jeff details the throws progression he puts his spinners through during a typical practice.

In addition to these presentations, which are available free on Youtube, we have a webinar from German national discus coach Torsten Lonnfors available on coachtube for $30.00. Torsten’s presentation details the German approach to youth discus training.

Feel free to give these webinars a look, and stay tuned for more presentations by top coaches this winter and spring.