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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.

Cues and Corrections by Dane Miller and Trevor Stutzman: a Review

I really like this book.

One, it’s an actual physical book with pages, and I’m old so that puts it right in my wheelhouse.

Two, it’s laid out in a user-friendly way that will appeal to both new and veteran coaches.

It was produced by the folks at ThrowsUniversity.com, with Dane Miller and Trevor Stutzman credited as authors. Those two gentlemen have accumulated a ton of coaching experience at the high school, college, and international levels, and they do a nice job of distilling what they’ve learned into an easy-to-digest eighty pages.

They’ve broken down each throw (rotational shot, glide shot, and  discus) into various phases, and have identified anywhere from two to four faults common to each phase.

Each fault is illustrated with a photo like this…

…with the facing page containing three possible solutions to that particular error.

Anyone who has coached more than five minutes will be familiar with these flaws.  I had to ice my neck after reading it, so vigorously did I find myself nodding in recognition.

The corrections offered are generally simple and reasonable. For example, if a coach notices a rotational putter pulling out of the back of the ring with their left shoulder, the authors advise cuing the athlete to focus on a.) shifting their weight to the left foot, b.) rotating the left shoulder around the left foot, or c.)pushing down the right foul line on entry.

If you are new to the business, you’ll find it helpful to be offered three possible solutions for each problem. If you’ve been coaching for a while, you’ll probably be familiar with a lot of these cues, but it’s still nice to be reminded of them and to have this solid advice laid out in a simple, common-sense manner.

My only quibble with this book is that I disagree with some of their cues regarding the glide.  For example, the authors recommend that the right heel not touch down in the power position, and I don’t think that works for most gliders. The key, in my opinion, is to get that heel up again as quickly as possible.

But here’s the thing. We have won a lot of football games at my school with a 4-3 defense. Does that mean that the 3-4 is not an effective front? Or that a coach in a 4-3 system cannot benefit from learning about the 3-4?

No, it does not.

In my case, disagreeing with the author’s approach to the glide made me think more deeply about why I use the cues that I do, and that’s a healthy exercise for any coach.

Cues and Corrections: Fixes to Common Technical Errors goes for $24.99 and can be ordered from the Throws University website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing for Doha, Part 1

Winning a medal at a World Championships is never easy, but winning one in 2019 might be trickier than usual.

In most years, professional throwers practice and compete over a ten-month span. Serious training begins in November. Important competitions stretch from May through the summer with the most important–the World Championships or Olympics–generally taking place in early-to-mid August. At the Rio Olympics, for example, track events began on August 12th. The 2017 World Athletics Championships in London opened on August 1st.

The 2019 season, however, will be different. Due to the climate in Doha, where August temperatures tend to be unbearable, the 2019 World Championships will not begin until September 27th.

This creates a challenge for throws coaches who must design and manage a plan for their athletes that accounts for an extra six-to-eight weeks of training while somehow keeping them fresh for Doha.

Curious as to how different coaches would handle this predicament, I contacted a few.

One person I for sure wanted to check in with was Dale Stevenson, coach of the defending shot put World Champion Tom Walsh of New Zealand.

Dale and Tom have become experts at handling extra-long seasons because for them, every season is extra-long. As New Zealand is located in the Southern Hemisphere, their outdoor national championships take place in March, a full two months before the outdoor season even begins in North America and Europe where most of Tom’s competitors reside. 

So Tom and Dale have had to devise a system that allows Tom to maintain excellent form two-to-three months longer than many of his rivals.

And based on recent results, they seem to have figured out a way to do just that. 

Last year, for example, Tom won the Indoor World Championships in Birmingham on March 3rd with a monster toss of 22.31m.  A week later, he headed back to New Zealand and won his national championships with a put of 21.58m. He then stayed in great shape through the months of June (22.29m at the Oslo Diamond League Meeting), July (21.92m at Lausanne) and August (22.60m to win the Diamond League final in Zurich on the 30th of that month).

That’s six solid months of excellent putting.

I asked Dale, via email, how they’ll attempt to stretch that to eight months in 2019 and put Tom in position to defend his World title.

Dale seems confident that he and Tom can handle the challenge, and that confidence seems to stem in part from their use of block periodization.

According to Dale, he and Tom “always follow the same planning structure” for Tom’s training. That structure consists of a sequence of four training phases which Dale calls “Slow Eccentric,” “Fast Eccentric,” “Ballistic,” and “Competition.” The sequence can be modified to last anywhere from two-to-six months, and always consists of those four phases repeated in that order.

A quick note on terminology. In the past, when coaches referred to “periodization” they generally meant “linear periodization.” A training plan based on linear periodization would begin with a high-volume “preparation” or “hypertrophy” phase and gradually morph over a period of months towards a low-volume, higher intensity phase before ending with a maintenance phase during which an athlete would devote a minimum amount of time and energy to strength exercises–just enough to maintain the raw power necessary to throw far. This final phase would be timed to coincide with the most important competitions, and if calibrated correctly would allow the athlete to derive the benefits of all those months of hard training and throw their best when it counts the most. 

In a plan designed in the linear style, the various phases would not be repeated. Once an athlete moved past the high volume phase, for example, they would not engage in high volume training again until the following season.

A training plan utilizing “block periodization” would include the same basic phases as a linear plan, but over the course of the training year those phases would be repeated in segments or “blocks” of varying length. So, instead of engaging in say ten weeks of fairly high volume training during the winter months and then leaving high volume workouts behind for good as might be typical in a linear plan, an athlete training in the block style would engage in a shorter period of high volume training each time the block was repeated. And over the course of a ten-month season, the block would be repeated several times.

Here’s an analogy.

Linear periodization is like working hard at your job and saving all the money you can from November through May so that you can enjoy yourself on an extended summer vacation.  The more money you sock away during your “accumulation” phase, the longer your vacation will last. 

Block periodization would involve breaking up the save/spend cycle into a series of mini-cycles during which you’d save for a bit, spend that money on a shorter vacation, and repeat the process several times over the course of a year.

Advocates of a linear periodization system would argue that each phase of training must be maintained long enough to produce the desired training effect. If you want to produce hypertrophy in your athletes, for example, you must spend the time necessary to create that hypertrophy before moving on to another phase. Chopping the training year into blocks might not allow each phase of each block enough time to work its magic.

The challenge faced in 2019 by those using a linear model is that athletes cannot maintain peak fitness indefinitely. Once they begin a “maintenance” or “competition” phase and get farther away from their last strength-building phase, the clock begins to tick on their ability to generate maximum power. Eventually, the strength they accumulated during several months of preparation will diminish, like the savings of the aforementioned vacationer. With the Diamond League schedule beginning as usual in May, and the Worlds not taking place until late September, coaches have to figure out how to keep their athletes in competitive shape for a much longer stretch than they are used to.

Those like Dale Stevenson who favor a block periodization model might argue that it provides coaches the flexibility they need to manage this kind of situation. Each block contains a strength building phase, which would ideally restore an athlete’s ability to generate maximum power and produce peak throws.  Repeating the block ensures that an athlete never goes too long without rebuilding their capacity to throw far. 

Dale and Tom vary the length of each sequence depending on the importance of various competitions.

“If a short cycle is required (such as before World Indoors), then each phase is fifteen to eighteen days in duration, whereas a longer cycle might be forty-two days per phase. Pretty simple but it works for us.”

Rest will also be important if Tom is to be at his best in October.

He took seven weeks off after the 2018 campaign before starting back with twice-weekly sessions. Last week marked his return to a full training schedule.

Dale also plans to help Tom conserve some energy by de-emphasizing the Diamond League schedule.

“We will be sacrificing some of the meets in May-August next year to ensure we’re ready for October, some by reducing expectation of performance or simply skipping them altogether.”

Another coach who will be employing block periodization and emphasizing rest as he prepares his athletes for the 2019 season is René Sack, the German national coach for the women’s discus. René’s most prominent athlete is 2011 World Championships discus silver medalist Nadine Müller.

I spoke with René via the worldwide web, and he told me that the main adjustment he will be making in preparing Nadine for the 2019 season will be figuring out ways to include more rest in her training.

“I think you have to plan much more regeneration time,” he said. “I switched to the block periodization model last year. With Nadine, we do the European Winter Throwing Cup in the middle of March to see where we are at, then I will give her one or two weeks off. Then we will go to Chula Vista for three weeks for a training camp and begin the next phase.”

“The German Championships are on 3rd and 4th August, and the week after this she will get one more week free. You can’t train and do competitions for eleven months without finding ways to sneak in rest.”

René also plans to take special care to monitor the energy levels of his athletes throughout the season. He will regularly “do some surveys with the athletes where they answer a few questions to help me see how they are feeling so I can say ‘Ok, looks like you are really tired. Just go home and I’ll see you on Monday.’”

Like Dale Stevenson, René values the flexibility of block periodization and the way that the blocks can be stretched or shortened to suit an athlete’s needs.

René calls the first phase of his blocks an “accumulation phase.” During the first block of Nadine’s training, he will have her perform sets of ten during that phase. As the season progresses, the accumulation phase will always be the highest volume segment of a given block, but that volume will decrease relative to the accumulation phase in the first block. If Nadine’s first accumulation phase requires her to perform five sets of ten reps on various exercises, that may drop to sets of seven or “maybe a pyramid” in the second block.

“I change exercises too, ” he continued. “They might do heavy squats and leg press in the first block to prepare the structures for heavy lifting, and the next block maybe squats only, then later single leg squats or step-ups.” This is also designed to keep the athletes fresh over the course of a long season.

Like many coaches of elite throwers, René also has his athletes train with a variety of implements as a way of developing “special strength.”  Nadine routinely throws 1.2k and 1.5k discs in practice, with a 2k mixed in on occasion. Over the last two years, they have “played around” with a 0.8k disc, which Nadine can throw over 70 meters when she can get a good flight on it.

René estimates that Nadine has taken 120,000 throws in her life, so unlike a novice who needs to build technique, “she just needs to remind the body how to do it.”

If he can calibrate her training correctly, Nadine’s body and mind will be fresh and  ready to launch some big throws in Doha.

For part two of this article, I will share insights from JC Lambert, (coach of hammer thrower DeAnna Price) and Torsten Lönnfors, (coach of 2016 Olympic discus champion Chris Harting) on how they will prepare their charges for the rigors of the upcoming season.

 

A reflection on Berlin

My sister-in-law lives in the old East Berlin, and every day when she walks out of her door she sees this statue in a park across the street from her apartment:

That fellow was a German communist who was executed by the Nazis. His bust is one of many statues that the Soviets erected across East Berlin after World War II to remind the Germans who was in charge.

One of the most popular parks in that half of the city was converted by the Soviets into a mass grave and memorial for thousands of their soldiers who were killed in the assault on Berlin:

As you can tell by how tiny the people sitting at its base look, that is one hell of a big statue.

But that’s typical of totalitarian architecture. That’s the aesthetics of intimidation.

And you can see those aesthetics at work on a stroll around the Olympiastadion, which hosted the recent European Championships.

This is a picture  of my daughter inside the stadium during the recent European Championships:

Can you see that tower rising up beyond the opening in the far end?

That’s a structure that looms over the grandstands of a giant parade ground built, along with the Olympiastadion, in the 1930’s by the Nazis.

Here’s a closer look at it:

This picture does not do justice. There are twenty-five acres of grass in front of those grandstands.  That’s about the size of twenty American football fields. And the entrance is bordered with statues like this:

When you walk around those grounds, you can’t help but feel the sense of grandeur that the architects of this vast facility intended to convey. Then, you remember who those architects were.

That’s a heavy load for the Germans to bear. How do you forget the horrors of those years, and at the same time, how do you remember so as never to go down that path again?

That’s the difference between attending a track meet in Berlin and attending one in Zurich or Eugene or Des Moines. I’ve been mulling this over quite a bit, and I think I’ve finally got it figured out. It’s not the quality of the beer and chocolate. Those are just as good in Zurich. It’s not the enthusiasm of the fans. The folks in Eugene get just as nutty. It’s not the quality of the competition. Lots of the marks posted at the US Championships in Des Moines this summer would have earned medals in Berlin.

It’s the weight of history.

The ghost of Hitler. The shadow of Jesse Owens.

And it’s the grace with which the Germans bear that weight.

My sister-in-law told me that the Germans have left many of the Soviet-era statues intact because they don’t want to forget the cost of being seduced by fascism. I assume that they have let the Nazi parade ground outside the Olympiastadion stand for the same reason.

But it’s more than just letting a bunch of old structures stand as memorials to human folly. It’s what they’ve done with those structures.

One of my daughter’s favorite novels is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. When she heard that we would be visiting Germany this summer, she asked if we could travel to Dresden, where Vonnegut was held as a prisoner during WWII. He and his comrades were used as laborers throughout the city by day, and were kept at night in the basement of a slaughterhouse, hence the novel’s title.

One night, the city of Dresden was bombed and at least 30,000 civilians were killed. Vonnegut and his mates, saved by their subterranean sleeping quarters, emerged to a scene of unspeakable destruction.

We did travel to Dresden, and engaged a tour guide to show us sights related to Vonnegut and his novel.

It turns out that the actual slaughterhouse five is still intact.

This cow marks the entrance:

But they don’t  process animals there anymore. The very spot where Vonnegut and the other POWs sheltered from the bombing is now a coat check room.

Above, the huge open halls of the slaughterhouse now host concerts and exhibitions. People gather there to drink and to dance and to remember never to forget.

 

A sweaty and glorious night in Berlin

Have you ever watched the video of the men’s shot competition at the 1988 Olympics? The one where Randy Barnes throws 22.39m on round six to take the lead,  then Ulf Timmerman answers with 22.47m to grab the gold. That throw of Ulf’s is famous (at least among throws nerds) because he raises his fist in triumph even before he sees where the throw lands.

There is one other memorable aspect of that video. The stands are almost completely deserted. The average Saturday morning freshman football game in the US  attracts more spectators than showed up at the stadium in Seoul that day to witness maybe the greatest shot competition ever.

Last night, at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, the situation was a bit different.

One reason was that the gentleman pictured above, the incomparable Robert Harting, was making his final appearance as a member of the German national team. He has a couple more competitions on his schedule before he hangs up his throwing shoes, but this was his last night representing the Fatherland, and it meant a lot to him and it meant a lot to the fans packed into that end of the stadium.

Here’s a video I took when Robert was introduced last night. The quality is not so good, but the sound is what matters. Take a listen.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ftI7Q-g9Kg

Compare that to the sound of crickets that probably greeted Ulf’s winning throw in Seoul, and you’ll understand why every single thrower I ‘ve spoken with at these European Championships loves competing in Germany.

And if Robert’s fairwell appearance wasn’t enough to get folks fired up, just a few meters away in that same end of the stadium, the 2015 women’s shot World Champion Christina Schwanitz was competing as well.

As much as the Germans love Robert, I doubt many considered him a candidate to win the men’s discus title last night. After four years spent battling knee injuries, a bronze medal finish was probably the best that Dee Harting could hope for.

Not so with Schwanitz. After taking off the 2017 season while giving birth to twins (Dear God, please let her move to the US so that I can coach those children some day), Christina has returned to twenty-meter form, and in the absence of Hungarian rival Anita Marton, appeared to be a lock to win the gold.

And if that still wasn’t enough to get everyone excited, there were Germans in contention in the men’s long jump and decathlon, which took place concurrently with the throws.

Hence the noise. Hence the madness.

Surprisingly, Schwanitz was unable to feed off the  energy of the crowd to produce a big throw. She tossed right around 19.00m in warmups, opened with 19.19m and never improved.

But, for most of the competition, none of her competitors appeared capable of surpassing her. Poland’s Paulina Guba opened with 18.77m but did not add to that over the first five rounds.

Aliyona Dubitskaya of  Belarus pounded away at the high 18.00m range the entire competition, eventually settling for a best of 18.81m in round five.

The oppressive heat that has settled over much of Europe this summer seemed to take the life out of most of the putters. They had, after all, been through qualification in that same heat the day before. And on this night, they had taken their early warmups under a blazing sun at the throwing area outside the stadium.

Maybe they were all exhausted, and Christina would walk away unhappy with a subpar performance but happy to have won in front of an adoring crowd.

Then, things got a little nutty.

The Polish mojo that has been wreaking havoc in the men’s throws (so far, Poles have taken first and second in the men’s shot and hammer) appeared and lifted Klaudia Kardasz to an U23 national record of 18.48m.

Guba must have gotten a whiff of it as well. She stepped in as the final competitor with a chance to unseat Schwanitz and promptly…well…unseated her with a throw of 19.33m.

Here is a vid of Christina’s final throw. Again, the quality is pretty awful but it will give you an idea of the noise level in that stadium.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Qa8P6RIlFEs

Schwanitz could manage only 18.98m on her final attempt, and as Guba celebrated another triumph for the Polish throws crew…

…a disappointed crowd turned its full attention to the men’s disc.

Humid air. No wind. Enclosed stadium.

These are not the conditions which generally produce big discus throws. And for the first couple of rounds, it looked like anyone who could somehow reach 66.00m would have a good chance at winning.

Apostolos Parellus of Cyprus must love him some dead air, as he opened with a PB of 63.62m. No one else was close to their best.

Daniel Stahl, second at the 2017 Worlds opened with a foul. Andrius Gudzius, the defending World Champion started with, for him, a pedestrian 65.75m.

Gerd Kanter, who had hit the automatic qualifying mark of 64.00m on his first throw the day before, could manage only 59.30m in round one.

Robert, meanwhile, hit 61.09m, a distance that was not likely to buy him the full six throws.

In round two, Gudzius fell to 62.89m but maintained his lead when Stahl fouled a big one—at least 67.00m.

Robert pleased the crowd if not himself with a 63.45m toss, which at least prevented him making an early exit from the competition.

Stahl, facing an early exit himself, went 64.20m in round three. Gudzius answered with 67.19m, an impressive display of horsepower in these conditions.

For a moment in round four, it looked like Robert might be able through sheer toughness and force of will to seize a medal. His 64.33m put him into second place.

The moment did not last.

Stahl, exhibiting his own reserves of grit, blasted one 68.23m to take the lead and knock Robert into third. Gudzius replied to Stahl with another big toss, this one 67.66m.

Then, in round five, Lucas Weisshaidinger of Austria, who had struggled mightily in the qualifying, came through with a toss of 65.14m to oust Robert once and for all from medal contention.

A final round 64.55m from Sweden’s Simon Pettersson and a 64.34m by Kanter pushed Robert further back in the standings.

Here is Robert’s final throw as a member of the German national team.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj2VksB-yJs

Meanwhile, Stahl and Gudzius still had to settle the matter of who would go home with the gold.

Daniel fouled his final attempt, so Gudzuis entered the ring needing to surpass 68.23m.

Gudzius is a large man, and he is remarkably fast for his size. Sometimes, he seems a bit out of control, and this may be why he struggled in qualifying. He did not hit the auto mark until his third toss on Tuesday.

But when he hits one right, he generates an astonishing level of power. It took that kind of power to launch a 68.46m final throw for the win.

Afterwards, the competitors were exhausted, drenched in sweat, and very grateful to have experienced a competition in this environment.

Alin Alexandru Firfirica, a twenty-three-year-old Romanian who finished seventh was totally spent.

This European Championships was his first major international meeting at the senior level (he was European U23 champion in 2015) and the experience was a bit overwhelming.

”The stadium is great,” he said.  “And I am in good shape, but today I was tired. It is hot! I start with fifty-eight meters! Every time they stop us when a race starts. It was disturbing. I try to ignore because I don’t have anything else to do. My next meet will be throws only meet here in Germany. It will be fantastic! I hope there to throw sixty-six meters again. Here was hard because we don’t have wind; with wind is possible to throw sixty-seven meters.”

Alin recently wrapped up his studies, and is excited about his future as a thrower.

What did he study?

”Sports, of course!”

Simon Pettersson, who entered the meet with a PB of 65.84m and finished fourth with is sixth round 64.55m effort, said that he loved the energy in the stadium.

“It was very fun. The atmosphere was unbelievable, kind of like Worlds last year. I even like when they run the 200 and everybody is like ‘whoa!’It gives me energy. Sometimes I get too hyped!”

That was apparent tonight, as Simon fouled four of six throws, once literally falling down out of the front of the ring. But, his ability to regain his composure and drill a near PB in the final round bodes well for his future in meets of this caliber.

Daniel Stahl, the Swedish giant, was exhausted, proud, and defiant after the competition.

I asked him how he was able to keep his cool sitting on two fouls going into round three.

“It was mental strength.  I’m really happy. It was great conditions, and I’m very happy. I was focused all six throws. My goal was to win, but I’m really proud of 68.23m. This was great atmoshpere. Germany is really good to track and field. It was a great audience, great people. I really Like Germany. Now, I prepare to win in Doha.”

Unknown to me, these European Championships will also be the final international competition for Gerd Kanter, one of the true gentlemen of the sport.

Though the attention of the crowd was understandably focused on Robert, Gerd was happy to have made his farewell in this stadium.

”As expected, the environment was very good, I remember from 2009, and today everybody focused on the discus. When I was planning my retirement I wanted to have it here. Next year at Doha, I don’t think will be very exciting. This was where I wanted to have my last Championships.”

I told Gerd that the first time I ‘d seen him throw was in Zurich in 2005, and asked him if he remembered being overtaken by Virgilius Aleena in the final round there.

“Yes, but he fouled it! The winner got a nice watch, and he got it. He still owes me that watch.”

“We had just came from Helsinki, the World Championships. I was leading until last round there, too, and he threw a championship record to beat me!”

As long as we were on the subject of the ones that got away, I asked him about the 2012 Olympic Games where he came within one discus length of taking a second consecutive gold medal.

“It was reallyemotional,” he recalled. “But it wasn’t like losing a gold medal, it was like winning a bronze medal. Compared  to Beijing, I was not the favorite. And it was first time I set my season best at a major championships, so I am very proud of that bronze medal.”

The last sweaty giant I spoke with was Lukas Weisshaidinger, who was about as happy as a man on the verge of heat exhaustion can be.

 

“It was my first time at European Championships, so to come home with a medal, I’m extremely happy,” he told me. “My whole family is here, so this is an awesome moment.”

Lukas had struggled in the qualifying rounds, going Foul, 59.48m, and then finally 62.26m which got him in the final. I asked him how he had been able to get his act together after almost failing to qualify.

“This was a new day. And also, I know that Alekna once placed eleventh in qualification and ended up with gold medal, so I knew I could make a medal today.”

Lukas also credited the atmosphere in the stadium for elevating his performance.

“It was awesome! They clap for everyone, not just the Germans. And there  were a lot of Austrian fans. That gave me power!”

I couldn’t resist asking Lucas how he had developed his rather unique setup at the start of his throw. If you’ve never seen it, he has his left foot back like Tom Walsh in the shot, and he winds the disc very high before beginning his entry.

“I’m not the biggest guy,” he explained. “Or the tallest guy, so I have to make something different, so we try this.”

Is his setup an attempt to increase the path of acceleration? Does it have something to do with creating a certain orbit of the disc?

“That I cannot tell you. It is top secret.”

Not wanting to offend a man that beefy, especially at the happiest moment of his life, I changed the subject and inquired about the future. Was he thinking ahead to Doha?

“It is really hard with the World Championships in October, then followed by the Olympic Games. It is really hard to make a perfect plan for those two competitions.”

I have asked a few coaches recently how they plan to handle their training schedule next year with the Worlds coming so late. But talking to Lucas, I realized that it wasn’t just next year, but the following year as well (when everyone will want to peak for the Olympics) that will be thrown off by the odd schedule.

Torsten Lönnfors, coach of Chris Harting, told me that Chris will be in an exceptionally difficult situation as he is required to put in four weeks of police training at the end of each season. So, if he competes in the 2019 Worlds in October then takes a break then has to do his four weeks with the police, that makes for a very late start for his Olympic preparation.

But those are matters for people much smarter than me to figure out.

This was a night to celebrate giant, sweaty men who devote their lives to throwing things far.

Speaking of which, after all was quiet I stood with a group of journalists waiting for a final word with Robert Harting. But the hour was late, and I had a long train ride ahead of me, so after a while I gave up and began the long walk up the stadium steps towards the exit.

And there he was. Signing autographs, Surrounded by fans. Happy and sad and probably wishing that this long, humid Berlin night would never end.

It’s not so simple, this qualification business

 

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

Some made qualification look easy.

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

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

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

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

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

For some, though, it was not so simple.

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

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

Afterwards, he seemed perplexed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just one of those days?

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

 

 

 

 

Torsten Schmidt Lönnfors Discus Webinar Coming Tomorrow!

On December 9th at noon Central Standard Time, Torsten Schmidt Lönnfors, Coach of Rio Olympic Champion Chris Harting, will present a webinar on the German method of training young discus throwers.

Here is an outline of the topics he will cover:

  1. German Support Systems for Young Athletes

sports school

sports clubs

Olympic support center

the role of the German federation

2. Long Term Education Concepts

3. Possibilities for Training During Youth/School Years

4. Planning a Season for Youth Athletes

main training resources

build-up, progression, shaping

condition training

5. My Philosophy on Youth Training

general training

weight lifting/special strength training

training technique/motor learning

6. My Personal Coaching Principles

The cost for this webinar is $30. To register, first follow this link to pay on Paypal.

Next, follow this link to register on Zoom.

You will then receive an email invite allowing you to access the webinar.

Anyone who registers and pays will also be given access to a video of the webinar on Coachtube.