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Olympic Predictions: Women’s Shot

The contenders:

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Like Tom Walsh on the men’s side, Michelle Carter of the United States rolled the dice on a double peak in this Olympic year and the early returns were outstanding: a monumental 20.21m toss on her final throw in Portland for the win. Unfortunately, she injured her back on  that attempt and has yet to regain top form. Her best toss so far outdoors was her 19.59m winner at the Trials. Her ability to medal will depend entirely on her health. When fit, she has the experience, toughness, and horsepower to compete with anyone.

 

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Like Carter, Anita Marton of Hungary went all-in for Portland, blasting a sixth-round 19.33m to take the silver. Unlike Carter, she has been able to surpass that sterling  performance outdoors, hitting 19.49m earlier this month.  Twenty-seven years old and possessing  fine rotational technique, she is in her prime and throwing great. Unfortunately, at this Olympics it may well take 20 meters to medal, and that is out of her range.  She’ll make the final, but  not the podium.

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Another rotational thrower likely to make the  final in Rio is Raven Saunders of the United States, the twenty-year-old enfant terrible of the women’s shot. She set the NCAA meet record of 19.33m in June, followed that up with 19.24m to take second at the Trials and, under the direction of veteran Coach John Smith, will likely surpass 19 meters again at the Olympics. A top five finish would be a huge accomplishment, and if we had to  pick an early favorite for Tokyo, it would be her.

 

felicia

My money is on Felisha Johnson to make the final as well. She hit a PR of 19.26m in a low-pressure meet at North Central College in beautiful Naperville, Illinois, this summer (full disclosure: I live there) and backed that up with a 19.23m toss at the highest high-pressure meet of her life: the Trials. A similar distance won’t get her anywhere near the podium in Rio, but hopefully she will find a way to stay in the sport and put her Olympic experience to use in Tokyo.

 

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China’s Gong Lijiao has thrown at least 20 meters  in seven of the past eight years including a PR of 20.43m two months ago, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say that she will very likely throw 20 meters in Rio and contend for the gold.  Her most recent effort was a 19.73m toss on July 29.

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Since finishing 7th at the 2004 Olympics, New Zealand’s  Valerie Adams has won two Olympic golds, four outdoor World Championship golds, and three Indoor World golds. She could finish 57th in Rio and still be considered by folks in the know (well, by me anyway) the best shot putter in history.

Not that it’s been easy for her lately. Multiple surgeries kept her from throwing 20 meters last year for the first time since 2005. This winter, she took third in Portland with a 19.25m toss and began the long, slow climb back to the top.

Unfortunately for the rest of the world, she appears to have made it. Twice this month, she surpassed 20 meters with a best of 20.19m on July 18th.

It turns out that Val’s beloved coach Jean-Pierre Egger will not be able to make the trip to Rio due to a bum knee, but my guess is that his absence will only make Val more determined to bring home the win. And a determined, healthy Valerie Adams will be hard to beat.

 

 

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Germany’s Christina Schwanitz won gold at the Worlds last year in Val’s absence, but got a late start this spring due to knee surgery.  Like Val, though, she seems to be rounding into form just at the right time winning the European title with a 20.17m chuck. I’ve heard that a German biomechanics study determined that the  base in her power position is inefficiently wide, but her fixed-feet glide technique reliably produces 20-meter throws with no fear of fouling. That makes her a formidable opponent in any big meet.

 

Our picks:

Bronze: Carter. Having grown up in Texas with a former NFL defensive lineman (and Olympic medalist) for a father, she is not going to let a little thing like back pain slow her down.

Silver: Schwanitz.  The fixed feet glide can be deadly in a high-pressure meet.

Gold: Adams. She’s been a dominant competitor and tireless ambassador for the sport for a dozen years. Plus, her brother (NBA star Steven Adams) can beat up your  brother.

 

Olympic Predictions: Men’s Shot

With the Olympics just around the corner, it was time for me to sit down with my colleague Pat Trofimuk and come up with predictions for the throwing events.  As always,  predictions that turn out to be ridiculously inaccurate should be attributed solely to Pat.

Just last week archaeologists digging at the sight of the original Olympic Games uncovered a stone tablet from 547 BC predicting an American sweep in the shot put. We’re still waiting on that, but with another powerful trio of putters heading to Rio,  might this be the year when the prophecy finally comes true?

Let’s take a look at the contenders.

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Sports psychologists tell us that in order to  excel in  pressure-packed situations–say the  Olympic Games, for example–you have to maintain your poise in the face of adversity. Just made a bad throw? Relax. Breathe. Remind yourself of all the times you’ve come through in  the clutch. The last thing you want to do is to stomp around trying to rip out clumps  of your own hair like some giant, demented opera singer. And yet, the latter approach has somehow netted Poland’s Tomasz Majewski two consecutive Olympic golds.

Injury and age have had their way with him in the four years since his 21.89m performance in London, but he is a 6’9″ glider who rises to the occasion better than anybody.  Raise your hand if you are willing to bet against Majewski throwing 21 meters in Rio… I’m waiting.

 

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My brother-in-law who runs an elementary school in Switzerland tells me that New Zealand produces the best teachers in the world. They also do a pretty decent job of cranking out shot putters, as evidenced by double Olympic champ Val Adams and  reigning Indoor World champ Tom Walsh.

Walsh  is sort of the Kiwi version of Joe Kovacs. Compact build. Friendly personality. Super explosive spin technique.

Unlike Kovacs, though, Walsh chose to gamble that he could peak once indoors for the World Championships and then again five months later in Rio.

His recent 21.54m performance at the London Diamond League meeting  indicates that his gamble might well pay off.

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Darrell Hill of the United States hit a PR of 21.63m at the Trials–a huge throw under immense pressure. He lacks international experience, but for the past year has been training with Art Venegas, the Yoda (if Yoda was perpetually chapped) of American throwing, and if anyone can get him ready to withstand the rigors of the Olympic pressure cooker it is, well…Chapped Yoda.

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Ryan Crouser of the United States won the Trials with a monster put of 22.11m, a distance that will likely get him the gold medal in Rio if he can replicate it.  In order to do that, he is going to have to overcome his lack of international experience. In his favor is his unique ability to throw 20 meters going half speed as he did when he won the 2013 NCAA meet with a safety throw of 20.31m–his only mark of the competition. So, we know he will get six throws in Rio. The question is will one of them be far enough to earn a medal?

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Trofimuk and I first met Joe Kovacs of the United States at the NCAA meet in 2012 when he was a senior at Penn State. At that moment, he was not sure whether he was going to continue throwing. After notching a PR at the 2012 Trials, he ended up moving to Chula Vista and teaming up  with Venegas. Fast forward four years, and he is now the defending World Champion and owner of  five of the top ten ten throws in the world so far in 2016.

So, it looks like he made the right decision.

You could say that Joe is the American version of Tom Walsh, a great thrower and better person with one World title on his resume. The difference? Walsh’s win in Portland came against a weak field–all the other top putters (including Kovacs) sat that one out. Joe, on the other hand,  took down the best of the best in Beijing, including…

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…Germany’s David Storl , the two-time World Champion and defending Olympic silver medalist who since injuring his left knee in 2014 has employed an extremely reliable fixed-feet glide. I’ll bet the house, the car, and my VCR tape from 2000 on which the Olympic shot final is sandwiched between Teletubbies episodes that Storl throws over 21 meters in Rio. But the fact that he is still using the fixed-feet finish tells me that his knee is not quite right, which makes it unlikely that he’s capable of hitting 22.00.

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Poland’s Konrad Bukowiecki just broke Storl’s World Junior record with the 6k shot. He is big, aggressive, and being a teen-aged male probably too dense to realize that he’s not meant to medal at the Olympics. This makes him a dangerous  dark horse candidate, and Trofimuk (himself a large, aggressive Polish man) came this close to predicting a spot on the podium for him.

Our Predictions

Bronze: Storl

Silver: Crouser

Gold: Kovacs

This was a rare case where Trofimuk and I came up with identical predictions and did not have to settle our differences with a tickle fight. We also consulted with former University of Wisconsin all-American Dan Block, who threw against both Crouser and Kovacs in  college.

All of us agree that you can’t count out Storl, but with the bum knee Crouser may have surpassed him on the Freak-O-Meter. Joe may be in  the perfect situation to win this thing.  He has the horsepower, he has the international experience, he has Venegas in  his corner.

In Rio, that will be a winning combination.

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

deep squat

 

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:

symphony hall

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.

 

 

 

 

 

NCAA Predictions Part 3: The Discus

Women

Looking for a sure thing in this uncertain world of ours? Here you go.

shelbi

 

Texas A&M’s Shelbi Vaughan won the title last year. She then spent the fall and winter training rather than playing volleyball. This year, she threw 64.52m at the SEC Championships, which has her ranked among the top ten female discus throwers in the world.

Can Michigan State Freshman Katelyn Daniels (59.06m at the Big 10 meet)…

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…or Wisconsin Senior Kelsey Card (59.91m at the West Regional)…

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…pull off the upset?

Nope.

Here are Vaughan’s throws at various meets this season:

Regional (May 28) 60.93m

SEC (May 14) 64.52m

TCU Invite (May 2) 58.69m

Sun Angel (April 9) 58.70m

Stanford Invite (April 3) 59.19m

Texas Relays (March 25) 61.48m

Baldy Castillo (not sure who that is)  (March 20) 59.49m

Any of those throws would be far enough to win in Eugene.

Wild Card: None. Should be a great battle for second between Katelyn and Kelsey–two outstanding Big 10 throwers.

 

Men

This is a whole ‘nother story.

LSU’s Rodney Brown hit 65.04m in April at Penn…

rodney

 

…and with 6 meets over 63 meters this season has been Mr. Consistency.

Virginia has two dynamic sophomores…Filip Mihaljevic (63.11m PB):

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…and Jordan Young (62.27m at the East Regional):

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Sam Mattis of Penn threw his PB of 62.13m last year…

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…but has been over 61 meters on three different occasions this season.

And what about Alabama soph Hayden Reed, the defending NCAA and USATF champion?

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He has struggled a bit this year, hitting a season’s best 60.70m on April 17, and finishing 10th at the East Regional with a toss of 57.45m.

But can you count a guy out a year after he won the USATF meet as a college freshman?

Hmmmm.

And this year’s champion will be…

When we talked about Mattis, Trof got a gut feeling–and I don’t think it was from the cucumber dip. Trof thinks Mattis is a great athlete who is ready to break loose.

Reed caught lightening in a bottle last year, but I can’t see that happening again.

I’d say Brown would be considered a lock but for the memory of last year’s meet, when he threw 63.34m at the regional but finished 10th in Eugene with a disappointing 58.47m.

As a coach, you always hope your athletes learn from experience, and I think Brown will ultimately benefit from last year’s flameout.

He’s our man.

Wild Card: Mihaljevic. He’s a huge guy (6’7″) who talks like the Terminator. What’s not to like?

NCAA Predictions Part 2: The Hammer

 

 

 

Men’s Hammer

What a long, strange trip it has been for Connor McCullough.

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Will this be the year when he finally brings home an NCAA title? Or will Michael Lihrman of Wisconsin (PB 75.29m)…

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…or Chukwuebuka Enekwechi of Purdue ( PB 72.77m)…

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…crush his dreams in Eugene?

 

And how about the defending NCAA champion, Kent State’s Matthias Tayala…

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…who went 71.20m at the Mid-American Championships on May 14?

And the champion will be…

Trof is all for McCullough, and if you think a website named “Mcthrows” is going against an Irish guy…you have another think coming.

Wild Card: Tayala. I know, I know. Lihrman is a giant who threw the weight 800 feet indoors this year, and Chuck could easily beat up several motorcycle gangs, but…Tayala won it on his final throw last year and that…matters.

 

Women’s Hammer

Here is your defending champion, Julia Ratcliffe of Princeton by way of New Zealand.

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Her best is 68.53m this year.

 

This year’s collegiate best belongs to Brooke Pleger of Bowling Green…

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…who  hit 69.72m at the Mid-American Championships on May 14.

 

Southern Illinois senior Deanna Price nailed a 67.72m on May 2.

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And the champion will be…

Ratcliffe has two advantages: she is from New Zealand and was smart enough to get into Princeton. That’s enough for Trof, who picked her to repeat. I, however, am not one to go against the John Smith factor. He has been coaching since the 1870’s and if there is any trick in the book…well…he wrote the book. So, we are going with Price.

Wild Card: Kearsten Peoples of Missouri. According to Trof, she has won about 8 million medals at NCAA meets in the past 4 years, so she is not likely to be intimidated.

NCAA Throws Predictions: The Javelin

 

Time for some serious chucking in Eugene!

Time also for myself and fellow throws obsessive Pat Trofimuk to make some predictions.

 

Men’s Jav Contenders: 

John Ampomah of Middle Tennessee State threw an NCAA best 81.55m at the Penn Relays on April 23.

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Defending NCAA champ Sam  Crouser of Oregon threw a season best 78.94m on March 20.

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Ioannis Kyriazis of Texas A&M has a season best of 78.41m and won the West Regional with a toss of 77.87m.

ionnis

 

 

Last year’s NCAA runner-up Raymond Dykstra of Kentucky has thrown 77.63m this year.

Dykstra_jm

And the champion will be…

If there is any event in track and field that falls under the “who in the hell knows?” category, it is the javelin. Trof favors Crouser because of the experience factor. Ioannis has the Greek thing going for him. They did, after all, invent the sport. Since it is my blog, and I have an MA in History,  we are going for Ioannis.

Wild Card: Dykstra. Anyone with the confidence to rock those shades in competition has got to be considered a serious threat.

 

Women’s Jav Contenders:

Irena Sediva of Texas A&M hit 58.66m at the ACC Championships on May 14.

irena

 

Elizabeth Herrs of Oklahoma threw 57.77m on April 17.

herrs

 

 

Texas Tech’s Hannah Carson…

2010 Youth Olympic Games

 

 

…Nebraska’s Sarah Firestone…

2012_ship_firestone_400

 

…and defending NCAA champion Fawn Miller of Florida…

fawn-miller

 

 

…have all gone 56.00m or better this year.

And the champion will be…

Trof campaigned hard for Sediva, probably because she is Czech and good-looking (he is the shallow type). I’m all in for Miller. She has struggled with back problems this year, likely a lingering result of the horrendous motorcycle accident she overcame to pull off the win in 2014. Would you bet against someone who was told they would be lucky to walk again and less than two years later won the NCAA title? I wouldn’t.

Wild Card: I’m going for Firestone because I’m a fan of her coach, Scott Cappos (I’m shallow that way).

 

 

Peaking for the Big Meets Part 2: The University of Nebraska

 

 

 

 

cappos

 

University of Nebraska throws coach Scott Cappos is more than just a pretty face.

I’ve known him since his days coaching the throws at the University of Iowa where he combined passion and intelligence to produce a fine string of throwers. At the University of Nebraska, Scott has developed more outstanding  throwers, including 2015 NCAA qualifiers…

Nick Percy

percy

 

 

Will Lohman

lohman

 

 

and Sarah Firestone.

firestone 2

 

 

I asked Scott about his approach to peaking for the big meets, and he graciously shared the following information.

First, some general guidelines…

 

Glide Shot Put and Discus Throw

Peak Training

Design the peak phase based on what works best for each athlete. Observe how each athlete reacts to different training methods during the season and use the style that works best for each individual during the peak phase. Look for patterns during various training sessions and competitions to see what works for each athlete.

Basic Recommendation For Peaking

Keep the training design consistent during the season

Reduce the training volume by 30-50%

Keep the intensity of training high for all the lifts except the squat

Throw lighter implements for speed during the peak phase

(30% of the total throws)

Limit heavy implements during the peak phase

(10% of the total throws)

Follow the same format for the competition during practice. If an athlete has the shot put on day one, then the discus on day two, set up the practices the same way during the peak phase.

Do not take off days, use low intensity medicine ball throws, easy throwing drills and dynamic warm up exercises focusing on range of motion to keep the athlete loose and active.

Individualize each athletes peak program based on previous success and failures during the year.


…then a sample peak week for a glide shot putter…

 

Glide Shot Put Sample Peak Sessions 

Sample #1 (early in the week)

Stand Throw Series

            Heavy shot put

  • Stand throw with no reverse x3
  • Stand throw with reverse x3 

Glide with Reverse

            Mix weights 1-1 (standard-light alternate each throw)

  • Glide throws x12

 

Sample #2 (last session before competition)

Stand Throw Series

Standard shot put

  • Stand throw with no reverse x3
  • Stand throw with reverse x3

 

Glide with Reverse

  • Straight leg glides x3
  • Glide throws with standard shot x10
  • Glide throws with light shot x4

 

…followed by a multi-week peaking plan…

 

Day 1   Day 2   Day 4 (Day 1 NCAA Finals)  
  Reps        
Hang Clean 3-3-2-2-2 Squat 6-5-(4×3) Hang Snatch 3-2-2-2
week 1 (off or home meet) 60-70-75-80-85 week 1 (off or home meet) 60-70-75-80-85 week 1 (off or home meet) 60-70-75-80
week 2 (Big Ten) 65-70-75-80-x week 2 (Big Ten) 65-70-75-80-x week 2 (Big Ten) 65-75-80-85
week 3 (off) 60-70-75-80-85 week 3 (off) 60-70-75-80-90 week 3 (off) 65-75-80-90
week 4 (NCAA Prelim) 60-70-75-75-75 week 4 (NCAA Prelim) 60-70-75-80-x week 4 (NCAA Prelim) 65-75-80-85
week 5 (off) 65-75-80-85-90 week 5 (off) 65-75-80-85-x week 5 (off) 65-70-75-80
        week 6 (NCAA Finals) 65-70-70-x
           
           
Snatch Pulls 4×2 Bench  6-5-(4×2) F Sqt (1-3-5) Speed Sqt (2-4-6) 6-5-(3×3)
week 1 (off or home meet) 85 week 1 (off or home meet) 60-70-75-75-75-75 week 1 (off or home meet) 60-65-70-70-70
week 2 (Big Ten) x week 2 (Big Ten) 65-75-80-80-80-x week 2 (Big Ten) 50
week 3 (off) 100 week 3 (off) 60-70-75-80-85-90 week 3 (off) 60-70-75-75-75
week 4 (NCAA Prelim) x week 4 (NCAA Prelim) 65-75-80-85-85-85 week 4 (NCAA Prelim) 50
week 5 (off) 100 week 5 (off) 65-75-80-85-90-x week 5 (off) 60-70-75-80-80
   x     week 6 (NCAA Finals) 50
           
DB Push Press 4×3 (light) Step Ups 4x3e Incline (1-3-5) Speed B (2-4-6) 6-4-3-3
        week 1 (off or home meet) 60-70-75-80
        week 2 (Big Ten) 60
Circuit x3   Circuit x2   week 3 (off) 60-70-75-80
Box jumps or hurdle hops x10 MB hammer tosses x10e week 4 (NCAA Prelim) 50
Shot put sit ups x10e MB v-ups x20 week 5 (off) 65-75-85-85
Walking winds with plate x10e MB trunk twist x10e week 6 (NCAA Finals) 40
    MB shot put throws x5e    

 

…and a specific plan for Will Lohman beginning the Monday after the regional meet…
Monday
Shot
6 stand (heavy) 6 half turns (heavy) 12 full (4 heavy, 8 standard)

Tuesday
Hammer
Dry turns 4×4 turns
16 4 turn throws

Thursday and Saturday
Shot
4 stand 4 half turns 10 full (8 standard, 2 light)

Hammer
Dry turns 4×4 turns
12 4 turn throws (8 standard, 4 light)

Monday
Shot
 2 stand 2 half turns 8 full

Hammer
Dry turns 2 x4 turns
6 4 turn throws

Wednesday
NCAA Finals (hammer and shot)

 

Thanks much, Scott, for sharing this valuable info!

Peaking for the Big Meets Part 1: The University of Virginia

 

Not a bad year for the University of Virginia throwing squad!

Christine Bohan…

bohan

 

…qualified for Nationals and broke the school record in the shot put with a toss of 16.73m (54’10.75″).

Jordan Young…

jordan young

 

…qualified for Nationals in the shot, disc, and hammer and in one season broke the school record in the hammer (70.73m, 232’1″) and moved into second place on the UVA all-time list in the shot (19.80m, 64’11.5″) and the disc (62.27m, 204’3″).

Filip Mihaljevic…

532e05b9e9056.image

…qualified for Nationals in the shot and disc, and sits ahead of Young on both lists as the new school record holder in each (20.16m, 66’1.75″ and 63.11m, 207’0″).

The man behind this success is the current UVA throws coach: 2009 NCAA discus champion, two-time Olympian, and Croatian national record-holder Martin Maric.

maric

As the NCAA Championships approach, I was curious to find out how different coaches approached the difficult task of coaxing peak performances out of their athletes during the Conference/Regionals/Eugene gauntlet.

Here are some of Coach Maric’s thoughts on that topic conveyed to me via email:

First question: Are you afraid that  fellow Croatian Stipe  Zunic will use his kick-boxing skills on you if your guys beat him?

 Haha, Stipe is such a nice of a guy, the only person he would kick-box if he losses would be himself. (editor’s note: I would pay to see that).

Seriously, what I’d like to do is get an idea of how you have approached these big end-of-the-season meets (ACC, Regionals, NCAA Championships) with your throwers. I know that Filip, Jordan, and Christine are in different situations in terms of what kind of athletes they are and what events they are competing in, but I’d be interested in how you trained them over the last month in the weight room and while throwing. Are there certain lifts that you have emphasized? Certain reps and percentages? How do you manipulate the number of throws per session and perhaps the weight of the implements they throw in order to help them have their best performances this time of year? 

No two throwers are the same so no two training plans should be the same. In preparation for ACC, Regionals and NCAAs I have reduced number of reps and sets to each of them, but not in the same manner. Ideally, I would have my throwers have a similar lifting plan to those of other world class throwers. A plan that includes bench press, incline bench press, clean, jerk, push-press  snatch, deadlift and many others. However, reality is not always perfect and injuries could dictate what one can or can not do. Our group was mostly without injuries, with the exception of Jordan who came to us with back problems.

When it comes to intensities and repetitions in training at this time of the year, Christine, for instance, responds better with high-intensity and low-reps when it comes to power and Olympic lifts in the days before major competitions. I have set up a training plan for her to peak for ACCs and Regionals where the intensity stayed high but the number of reps were reduced to about 60% of that in the Fall/Spring training. I am not very strict when it comes to percentages of 1-repetition-max since that measure is relative to a particular day. Some days one feels better then others due to numerous reasons, so obviously his/hers  % of 1RM will fluctuate as well. But if we would to put a percentage to Christine’s lifts’ intensity it would have been around 90% of her 1RM. We would do about 2 to 3 reps on the last, heaviest set and no more then 5 sets per lift. Also, since Christine is more stable technically this year, and In order to peak, we have also used 3kg shot put in training for the past 4 weeks in 2 out of 4 weekly shot put sessions, which proved to be very beneficial for Christine.

For Jordan, due to a long history of back injuries we avoided any Olympic or power lifts that might worsen his health further and rather focused simply on his technical development in the field and endurance training. With that said, I am still developing a comprehensive lifting plan for Jordan that we can hopefully start following this Fall. However, we were able to postpone/time his peak with different specific exercises such as Underhand-Overhead Shot Put Throws, Russian Twists, Stadium Runs and Walks, Planks and many others. Since Jordan is extremely good in Hammer/Weight, Shot and Discus, we needed to keep his endurance training at the highest level possible in order for him to maintain a high number of good quality throws during the week. Jordan would throw Hammer/Weight 4 times a week, discus and shot 3 times a week. Wednesdays would be easy and Sundays he will have off. He would throw two events each day at the number of throws that would never exceed 100 per day. As you can calculate easy, that could add up to as high as 2,400 throws a month, therefore, it was very important for us to keep his endurance up. There were days when Jordan would be able to do up to 100 stadium walks, but also there were days when he would only complete 10 or 15. We went off the feeling more than of the percentages or numbers for him this year. I believe that finding the right balance between hard training and quality rest is very important, for that reason, as you can see, I had somewhat of an unorthodox type of training for Jordan that was based more on technical and endurance this year rather then strength and speed development. As the season was approaching the end we reduced the number of throws and intensity of specific and endurance training by almost 50%, which is why I believe Jordan was able to throw his PRs in 2 out of 3 of his events at the Regionals. 

With Filip I use more of a “traditional” type of training both in weight-room and field. Filip responds the best with significant reduction in his lifting and number of throws before his main competitions of the year, so we have reduced his power and Olympic lifts to about 60% of 1RM and started to incorporate lighter implements in training. Filip now does not exceed 30 throws per throwing session both in discus and shot, and does not practice more then 90min in this period, throwing and conditioning combined.

Overall, reduction in repetitions and intensity generally works very well for most individuals. However, there are exceptions, such is Christine in my group, where high intensity is necessary to be maintained at this time of the year in order to produce the best results. It is not always easy to conclude which athlete responds the best to which type of training, but it is very important not to rush into conclusions even if at the cost of the athlete’s  “underperformance” in his or hers first year of college.

 

So there you have it. Wise words from a coach who currently has one of the deepest throwing squads in the country. And by the way, Bohan, Young, and Mihaljevic are all sophomores.

Brittany’s Big Adventure

britt

Here is a quick look into the glamorous but exhausting life of Brittany Smith,  a young 19-meter shot putter trying to make it on the international circuit

Thursday, May 7

Brittany boards a flight from Chicago to Tokyo at around noon. It is the biggest plane she has ever seen (two levels) and even though the Wi-Fi doesn’t work the twelve-hour flight passes quickly. Strangely, upon arrival in Tokyo it is now Friday afternoon.

Sunday, May 10

Along with fellow American Felisha Johnson, Brittany competes in the Seiko Golden Grand Prix meet. In spite of some confusion involving warm-up logistics and phantom fouls called on her first two throws, Brittany finishes second with a very respectable 18.51m toss.

After the competition, she is shuttled to a hotel near the airport. The following morning she will embark for Shanghai and her first ever Diamond League meet.

Monday, May 11

Brittany arrives at the stadium in Shanghai intending to take some practice throws but is kicked out. She takes her shot and heads to the nearby warm-up track, which is completely dark. Luckily, she is carrying two phones (one for international calling) and uses them to light up the ring. This attracts the attention of several soldiers patrolling nearby. They begin cheering her practice throws.

Eventually they tell her, in broken English, that they would like to try some throws as well. Striking a blow for international relations, she agrees to share the ring.

Tuesday, May 12 to Saturday, May 16

Brittany and Felisha are joined by another fine American shot-putter, Tia Brooks. They spend the days leading up to the competition practicing at the warm-up track, lifting in a weight room adjacent to the stadium, walking around the city, occasionally taking a meal at McDonald’s (according to Britt, the food provided at the hotel was good but basically the same every day), napping (the jet lag seemed to get worse as the week wore on) and trying to ward off boredom until…

Sunday, May 17 

Britt has never seen a 20-meter throw in person, but now finds herself warming up along side two athletes (Germany’s Christian Schwanitz and China’s Lijiao Gong) who have surpassed that distance in championship meets.

She watches herown first attempt a bit too long and ends up fouling it. On her second throw, the shot slips down her neck as she spins through the ring and ends up flying out of bounds to the left.

Sitting on two fouls, she feels the pressure to “get a mark” and throws a disappointing 17.76m.

Meanwhile Gong, cheered on by countrywomen Tianquian Guo and Yang Gao (according to Britt, there was a lot of screaming. Guo and Gao would scream as Gong entered the ring, and then Gong would rip off a nice one herself as she finished each throw) crushes a world-leading 20.23m.

Schwanitz hits 19.94m for second place.

Monday, May 18 

Brittany boards the long flight back to Chicago at 4:00pm. Many hours later she arrives in the US at…5:00pm.

 

Wednesday, May 20

Struggling mightily with jet lag, Brittany graciously agrees to an interview. She is philosophical about her adventures abroad, recalling that her first trip to the NCAA meet as a freshman at Illinois State University did not go well, but that subsequent trips went very well (she was a several-time All-American in the shot and hammer).

She is not sure if she will compete again prior to the US championships, but is confident that should she earn a trip to Beijing for this summer’s World Championships, the experience she gained on her Far East adventure will come in very handy.