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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.

ampomah

 

 

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

crouser

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What ya gonna do when Fawn Miller comes for you?

fawn miller

 

If you are an opponent in this week’s  SEC championships (or in next month’s NCAA championships for that matter) you are very likely going to lose.

That’s what.

Fawn won last year’s NCAA title in Eugene with a PR toss of 58.13m on her second throw.

As a typical American shot/disc obsessive, I paid no attention to that fact, and when I interviewed her coach, Steve Lemke, earlier this spring about his fine shot putter Stipe Zunic, I neglected to even inquire about Fawn.

It wasn’t until I noticed that she had notched a 56.01m toss at LSU on May 2nd that I decided I needed to learn something about her before my next conversation with Steve.

Imagine my surprise when I saw that she was the defending NCAA champion.

Woodward and Bernstein would be proud.

But hang on, it gets better.

Steve described some of the difficulties that Fawn has dealt with this season–typical javelin thrower stuff. A sore back tweaked originally in the weight room and then re-tweaked on a bad plant in practice forced her to throw from an abbreviated approach at the Texas Relays. Lousy weather messed her up at Penn. Her technique was still off at LSU (the bad back made her hesitant to hit her block hard) but she basically toughed out that 56m effort. She is still working to find a groove.

Then he mentioned “the accident.”

Turns out that during Fawn’s sophomore year she had been riding a motorcycle home from class when she was struck by a car traveling 50 miles per hour. Her right foot was nearly torn off, and she was very, very lucky to have survived.

She was also lucky to have grown up in Pennsylvania, and to have a friend who happened to be an acquaintance of the team physician for the Pittsburgh Penguins who happened to be extremely skilled at fixing badly injured ankles.

Steve said that initially the hope was that Fawn would be able to walk again some day. Later, that was amended to “maybe she will actually be able to throw again and possibly hit  150 feet.”

But two years after the accident, there she was on top of the podium in Eugene.

Fawn just graduated with a criminology degree, and when her javelin career ends may well become an FBI agent.

If she does, God help any criminal who crosses her path. That old ankle injury may prevent her from chasing you down, but if you are within 60 meters, take my advice and surrender before she has a chance to bust out the ol’ spear.

 

 

So my wife is standing in line at Disney World…

stipe wife

 

…when she hears some guy standing behind her talking about shot putting. She strikes up a conversation with him, and while they converse my daughter sends me a text (I was home, teaching and coaching and slaving away so that my girls could enjoy a nice long weekend in Orlando but I am in no way bitter about this). The text said…”We are in line for a beer at Germany and there is literally a young Arnold Schwarzenegger behind us. He could be a world class thrower and is with a group of guys that could be your throwers…It’s hilarious.”

(When she said that they “could be your throwers” I assumed she meant that they were afraid of girls and could not stop talking about food and video games, but she left out the specifics.)

Anyway, it turns out that this “young Arnold Schwarzenegger” was none other than NCAA indoor shot put national champion Stipe Zunic.

And when my wife (her name, by the way, is Alice Wood) sent me this photo, I realized that it was time for me to check in with Stipe’s coach, Steve Lemke.

The shot competition at the NCAA outdoor meet should be flat out epic. Here are the NCAA leaders at this point in the season:

http://www.tfrrs.org/lists/1552.html?standard_event_hnd=30&gender=m
To put this in perspective, my good friend Shawn Schleizer finished 8th at the 1994 NCAA Outdoor Championships with a toss of 18.43m. That would place him 48th on the above list.
Which makes me wonder what kind of human beings Mother Nature is creating these days as Shawn, even at his advanced age, could walk into a weight room right now, snatch 100k, and punch out an entire motorcycle gang.
But I digress.
Stipe, it turns out, is doing quite well, thank you very much. His outdoor best of 20.38m has him fourth on the leader board behind Ryan Crouser, Derrell Hill, and Jonathan Jones. And he has put a pulled quad, an early-spring bout of the flu, and a determination to finally visit Disney World for the first time after residing in Florida for five years behind him.
Also squarely in the rear view mirror is his once-thriving career as a javelin thrower.
Stipe and Coach Lemke had discussed the possibility of of taking one final crack at chucking the spear, but neither the SEC nor the NCAA championship schedules line up correctly for a young man wishing to pull off the rare jav/shot double.
According to Coach Lemke, this is just as well  because Stipe’s body is “no longer built for the javelin.”
I can relate.
Stipe is certainly built to put  the shot, though, and after checking one lingering item  (“visit to Disney World” ) off of his bucket list he is ready for the next challenge: face down a ferocious field to claim his first NCAA outdoor shot put title.

Of Manatees and Germans

So every day at the beginning of class I show my students the “BBC One-Minute World News.” The BBC generally covers topics like genocide and terrorism, just the thing to get a bunch of sixteen-year-olds excited about semicolons, but every once in a while they sneak in a fun story about koala bears or some such, and a few weeks ago they featured a manatee named Snooty who lives in Bradenton, Florida, and is the oldest captive manatee in the universe.

I could not wait to show my daughter KC some Snooty vids when I got home that night (turns out he is all over Youtube) as she loves animals as much as I do and and suffers as grievously as I do over the fact that my wife forbids us from owning one.

We gave up arguing long ago as the wife is an attorney and we know that crossing her means spending the winter living in the shed.

But the wife loves to travel, and it does not take much convincing to get her to head to Florida for spring break.

And truth be told, she loves animals as much as KC and me, as long as someone else is in charge of taking care of them. So she was happy to book us a flight to Tampa and a hotel room on the beach in Sarasota (just ten miles from Snooty and Bradenton). Here, by the way, is Snooty:

snooty

Truth be told, I had an ulterior motive for wanting to visit Bradenton. Last August, at the European Championships in Zurich, I struck up a friendship with Torsten Schmidt, one of the throws coaches in the German national system, and I knew that Torsten and his training group were going to be spending a couple of weeks at the IMG Academy in…Bradenton.

That’s right,  Snooty the Manatee and German discus throwers in…the…same…place.

No, I will not shut up.

So we (me, my wife Alice, KC, and KC’s extremely affable friend Eileen) caught a flight to Tampa at the crack of dawn last Sunday, and that night Alice, Torsten, and I sat down for an excellent seafood dinner not far from the IMG campus.

Torsten, who threw the disc for Germany in the 2004 Olympics, is an extremely tall, extremely affable man who admits to two obsessions aside from throwing: television and cake.

He and his training group (Julia Fischer, Robert and Chris Harting) had recently dined at the Cheesecake Factory, an experience he spoke of  with great reverence.

“I hear they have really good hamburgers,” my wife interjected.

“No,” he corrected her. “I do not go to the Cheesecake Factory to eat burgers. I go to eat cake.”

Four pieces, apparently. Two double chocolate and two Oreo.

In addition to the quality of the local cake, Torsten had other reasons to be happy. Robert’s recovery from knee surgery (he tore his ACL last September) seemed to be going well. Chris had been throwing practice PR’s. And Julia had, that very day, made a breakthrough when Robert suggested she try an abbreviated windup.

IMG_1315

We celebrated by inhaling seafood together. During the meal, I peppered Torsten with questions about German throwing technique while my wife graciously offered advice on his relationship with his girlfriend, Sanna,  “The man should always say yes,” she told him. “Then you will both be happy!”

After we dropped Torsten back at IMG, my wife gave him the ultimate compliment: “He has a good aura.”

The next day, the girls tried to kill me with exercise by making me join them on a kayaking tour of the local waterways. Afterwards, even my aura was sore.

On Tuesday, we got to meet Snooty. And he did not disappoint.

Snooty lives what could accurately be described as “the good life.” Come to think of it, he and my daughter have a lot in common.

Both consume massive amounts of vegetables.

Both like to spend their days floating around looking cute.

(Here is my little manatee)

photo(9)

Both have been raised entirely in captivity, and would be unlikely to survive in the wild (“wild” in my daughter’s case meaning any town where you’d have to walk farther than 100 meters to find a Starbucks).

At least my daughter feeds herself, though. Do you see Snooty in the background of this picture? He is looking up at a pile of vegetables that he knows are meant for him.

attachment

He won’t touch them, however, until one of his handlers…

IMG_1322

…leans over and offers them to him bit by bit.

That woman and her fellow Snooty-keepers spend several hours per day shoving produce into Snooty’s snoot.

And forgive me for digressing, but to those of you who have been contemplating switching to a vegan diet in order to lose weight, who looks better–the meat-eater with his elbow on the rail, or the 800-pound vegetarian floating in the background? I thought so.

Anyway, it turns out that Snooty often shares his home with various injured or traumatized manatees who will at some point be returned to the wild. These sorry creatures are forced to fend for themselves at feeding time so that they do not get too comfortable with humans. Here is Snooty’s current roomie wrestling his dinner from the clutches of a traffic cone:

IMG_1334

This youngster currently weighs in at 500 pounds which, in the manatee world, qualifies him as emaciated. He will not be released from Chez Snooty until he hits the 800 mark.

After bidding a reluctant farewell to Snooty and his anorexic friend, we headed for  IMG and what I anticipated to be the highlight (sorry Snooty!)of the trip: watching Torsten’s group practice.

As previously mentioned, Torsten’s group consists of three discuswerfers, and the first to begin werfing  in this particular session was Robert Harting.

After several years under the tutelage of Werner Goldmann, Harting asked Torsten to take over his training in November of 2013. Watching them interact on this absolutely gorgeous Florida evening, I could tell that they were a good match.

I’ve never seen Harting practice before, so I don’t know if this was typical, but he approached this session with great focus and intensity. There was no laughing. No small talk. No smiling, even. He conferred with Torsten after each attempt, whether a stand or full, and seemed utterly intent on finding a way to make the next throw go farther.

It reminded me of the stories you used to hear around Chicago of Michael Jordan and his approach to training. There was no such thing as a meaningless drill or scrimmage when Jordan was involved. Even after the Bulls started winning titles, he practiced with a fury that few could match.

That’s why Phil Jackson was the perfect coach for Jordan. Naturally laid-back, Phil could interact with Jordan without inciting him. In fact, it is hard to imagine Jordan flourishing under a coach with an aggressive, “in your face” style.

I suspect that Robert and Torsten have a similar relationship. Robert listened intently to Torsten’s advice after each attempt, but that advice was delivered in a quiet, reassuring tone.

This relationship may be the very thing that gets Harting through this difficult period of recovery from major knee surgery. When you are used to being the strongest, toughest mothertrucker in your entire sport the prospect of losing your edge, of falling back to the pack must be agonizing. Obviously, Robert did not anticipate this situation when he signed on with Torsten, but in the end it may prove to be the smartest move he has ever made.

After Harting had thrown for 45 minutes or so, Julia Fischer arrived at the ring. This is an important season for Julia, who was to celebrate her twenty-fifth birthday the following day.

220px-Julia_Fisher_Ostrava_2011

The 2011 Under-23 European Champion, Julia finished fifth in Zurich last August and needs to raise her game a notch if she is to contend for a medal in Beijing and Rio.

As noted above, Torsten was really happy with the progress Julia made during their time in Florida, but this was her second throwing session of the day and, probably owing to fatigue, she fell into the habit of yanking her head a bit at the finish of her throws many of which sailed off beyond the right foul line.

Torsten and Robert took turns adjusting her technique, largely without success. Towards the end of her session she took extra time to gather herself between throws, and this seemed to help. Either way, she finished the session in good spirits and I would not be surprised to see her make a breakthrough this summer.

I hope so. She seems like a very nice person and she is clearly a fine, fine athlete.

The final member of the group to arrive at the cage was Chris Harting, Robert’s younger brother. Chris is in a situation similar to that of Julia as he is just on the cusp of throwing far enough to make noise at the international level (his PB is 64.99m).

chris harting

In order to represent Germany in Beijing this August, Chris must have one of the top three throws by a German man after April 1st (This does not include Robert, as the defending champion gets an automatic entry). With Martin Wierig and Daniel Jasinski leading a strong group of contenders, Chris, like Julia needs to have a breakout year.

We chatted a bit as he worked to loosen up a slightly strained back prior to taking his throws, and he seemed pleased with the progress he had made this off-season and confident about his prospects come the summer.

Unfortunately for me, I did not get to see Chris take any serious throws as in order to give his back a break Torsten limited him to a few left-handed stands.

Yes, you read that correctly. Left-handed stands.

According to Torsten, it is very important that throwers take regular attempts left-handed. Stands. Half-turns. Even fulls. He told a great story about the recently retired German shot putter Ralf Bartels watching the former Olympic discus champ Virgilius Alekna struggle to break the 65-meter line at a practice session. Ralf could not figure out what was troubling the giant Lithuanian until he finally noticed that Virgilius was launching those 60-meter-plus throws…left handed.

Torsten says that throwing left-handed forces right-handed throwers to think about positions and thus helps them to gain a deeper understanding of their technique.

The session ended with Chris whanging a couple of left-handed stands into the cage.

A few minutes later, my wife returned to pick me up and Torsten and I said our goodbyes.

It should be a very interesting summer for his training group.

Torsten, if you read this, thanks loads for greatly expanding my understanding of discus technique.

Sanna, if you read this, take it from my wife, you’ve got yourself a great guy.

Snooty, if you read this, you are a hell of a lot smarter than you look.

Alice, my wife, if you read this…I’m thrilled to be your husband, even if you won’t let me have a dog.

Now, how about a manattee?  They’re cute. They don’t bark. They don’t need to be walked. They…uhhh, what did I do with that key to the shed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stipe Zunic can kick your butt!

stipe euro

 

In so very many ways.

Bench pressing?

He has put up  570lbs.

Javelin throwing?

He is a two-time All-American.

Fisticuffs?

He is a former Junior World Champion in kickboxing.

stipe boxer

 

Shot putting?

Hmmm. A couple years ago, you might have had a chance. But since Stipe and his coach at the University of Florida, Steve Lemke, decided sixteen months ago to focus exclusively on that event  Zunic has made quite a bit of progress.

At the time, Stipe was recovering from shoulder and elbow surgery and Coach Lemke hoped, with a lot of hard work, to help him become an 18-meters-plus shot putter who could score points for his team at the 2014 SEC meet.

Turns out he did score points at that meet. In fact, he ended up winning…with a toss of 20.52m.

Then, last August he upped his PR to 20.68m and finished fourth while representing his native Croatia at the European Championships .

After a fall and winter spent refining his technique (Coach Lemke says that Stipe can be inconsistent with his sweep coming out of the back and sometimes gets a little tall in the middle of the ring) Stipe returned to Europe two weeks ago and set a new Croatian national record of 20.67m during the prelims of the European Indoor Championships in Prague.

The Stipe Express was briefly derailed by a jet-lagged night before the finals spent staring sleeplessly at the walls of his hotel room–he finished a disappointing 7th place with a throw of 20.28m–and who could blame him if he showed up at the University of Arkansas for the NCAA Indoor Championships a week later throwing like a man greatly in need of some alone time?

With triple NCAA champion Ryan Crouser of Texas leading a loaded field into Fayetteville, I’m not sure how many people other than Stipe figured he had a chance to win.

But, Stipe’s greatest asset right now in the shot (aside from size, strength, balance, and ridiculous hops) might be the fact that he is so new to the event it doesn’t occur to him that he should not be…well…great at it just yet.

I asked Coach Lemke if he and Stipe were worried about the surface of the ring in Fayetteville (it was  apparently quite rough) and he said that when they practiced at the facility on Thursday the condition of the ring never came up.

“Stipe has great balance and plenty of horsepower,” Lemke told me later,”and he is so new to the event that he didn’t know to worry about the surface of the ring. We never even discussed it.”

Apparently there was no need to, as during the competition on Saturday Stipe broke 20 meters on each of his six throws, including a third-round 20.85m which put him solidly into first until Crouser answered with 20.90m, and a fifth-round 21.11m which put him back into first and allowed him to hold off Crouser’s round six toss of 20.93m.

So when will Stipe finally get some well-deserved rest?

Good question.

With only two weeks until the Texas Relays and two months before another outdoor SEC meet and three months before the outdoor NCAAs and six months before the World Championships in Beijing?

That’s a lot of asses waiting to be kicked.

Rest will just have to wait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Smith loses an argument…and gains an NCAA champion

raven ncaa

Okay, I don’t know if it was a full-blown argument.

But John Smith, throws coach at Southern Illinois University, is a man who makes decisions based on data. So, if you are going to disagree with him, especially on something as important as how to get ready to throw bombs at the NCAA Indoor Championship, well…you’d better present a solid case.

According to Coach Smith, 80% of throwers perform better in big meets if they lift the day before. So when it came time to set up a training schedule for freshman phenom Raven Saunders as she prepared for last Saturday’s competition in Fayettville, he naturally penciled her in  for a lifting session on Friday.

It turns out, however, that during her national-record-setting high school career Raven had become accustomed to lifting two days prior to a big competition and then resting completely the day before. It worked for her then, and she insisted to Smith that, in spite of his data, it would work for her now.

The resulting impasse was finally settled when Smith called Raven’s high school coach, who confirmed that Raven responded well after lifting two days prior to a competition.

Smith caved, and told me later that the recommendations of Raven’s high school coach “likely won her a title.”

It turns out that Saunders needed every bit of whatever it is you get from peaking properly, as LSU’s Tori Bliss (who, by the way, attended the same high school as Coach Smith) blasted a fifth round PR of 18.32m to knock Raven and her third round best of 18.22m into second place on Saturday.

After Tori’s distance was announced, Smith told himself that he was “about to find out what I’ve got here.”

“When someone hits a PR ahead of you, you either die or attack,” he said afterwards.

Apparently preferring the latter, Raven barged into the ring and notched her own PR–an 18.62m bomb that was long enough to withstand Tori’s final round 18.47m.

One other bit of preparation may also have made a big difference for Raven.

In the weeks leading up to the NCAA Championships, Smith was told by a fellow coach that the newly-poured concrete rings in Fayettville were extremely rough.

To acclimate his throwers to a slow surface, he attached a toe board to a hammer insert and placed it on a mondo surface. For two weeks leading up to to the NCAA’s, that is what his throwers practiced on.

It took a while to get used to it, but based on the results (four All-American finishes) Smith’s throwers seemed well prepared on their arrival in Arkansas.

 

 

The Prospect from Prospect Comes Up Big

babicz 3

 

So I’m at the Illinois state track meet a few years ago and on the day of the prelims it is cold and raining and the discus flights are delayed several hours. They finally start warmups for the flight that my athlete is in, and it is slow going.

Every kid has to wipe off the ring before his warmup throw, and even then the footing is dicey.

So, of course, the official in charge of this particular flight ignores the conditions and strictly enforces a 20-minute warmup period, which means that each kid gets in the ring twice.

My kid, who had come up big at the sectional the week before when he threw a PR of 155′ to qualify for the state meet, was totally rattled by the situation. The disc looked like it weighed about twelve pounds  when it left his half-frozen hand, and the best he could muster on his three prelim throws at state was 135 feet.

I wasn’t mad at him, because under those conditions it was hard to imagine anyone throwing far.

And yet…

There was this kid from Prospect High who did not exactly look ummm….gazelle-like moving through the ring, but seemed very strong and very determined.

I don’t remember how far he threw that day, but it was enough to move on to the final where he threw even farther and earned a spot on the podium.

Later on, someone told me that his name was Matt Babicz, and this was his first year in the sport.

The following year, this prospect from Prospect reached the 180’s and then…I wasn’t sure what happened to him.

He lacked the lanky looseness common to premier discus prospects, and also lacked the kind of shot put prowess (his high school PR was 57 feet) that would have attracted attention in that event.

It turns out that he ended up in the perfect place: Depaul University in Chicago, Illinois, under the care of throws coach Brandon Murer.

And it didn’t take Coach Murer long to figure out that this thick, tough, explosive-aggressive young man was best suited to throw the shot in college.

When Matt arrived on campus, he informed Coach Murer that he intended to be a discus thrower.

The first time he tried throwing the 16-lb shot he barely broke the 13-meter barrier.

But he finished his freshman campaign with a shot PR of 16.84m and a disc PR of 48.13m and started to realize that maybe, just maybe, coach knew what he was talking about.

As a sophomore he was Big East champion in the shot with a career-best throw of 18.33m.

The following year was lost to shoulder surgery.

Last year, Matt was again Big East champion and, in spite of a finger injury (the plague of many if not all shot putters) he hit 19.47m and qualified for nationals.

Surgery last summer relieved him of a couple of bone chips in a knuckle on his throwing hand and, combined with the maturity that all coaches hope to see in their veteran athletes (Matt now understands the importance of regular stretching, regular treatment for various aches and pains inherent to shot putting, and regular shall-we-say hitting of efficient positions rather than rushing through the throw) set him up for a very successful senior year.

In spite of his recent surgical experiences, Matt has been able to squat over 500 pounds and bench over 400 pounds.

More importantly, he has recently been named Depaul’s Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Oh, and by the way, he blasted a PR of 19.96 meters at Notre Dame’s Alex Wilson Invitational on February 21st to secure a spot in this year’s incredibly-competitive NCAA indoor championships.

And though he will be going up against the likes of Ryan Crouser and Stipe Zunic (4th place finisher at last year’s European Championships) don’t count this guy out.

I’ve seen him compete in less-than-ideal conditions.  He came up big then, and he may very well do the same this weekend.