Category Archives: Meets

Stories from the 2014 European Championships, Part 2: the Men’s Discus

The discus qualification rounds were held during the evening session of the first day of competition (Tuesday, August 12) and the weather was excellent, as was my view of the cage:

photo (56)

Those photographers did not linger very long, and I was able to take some nice vids from my seat, which was in the last row–a testament to the intimate layout at Letzigrund.

Here, by the way, is a link to those vids:

I was especially jacked up about the prospect of seeing two of the all-time greats appearing in this competition, one–Robert Harting–still at his peak, the other–Virgilius Alekna–nearing the end of the road.

I had the pleasure of seeing Alekna compete four times in the old Letzigrund Stadium when he was in his prime. Here is a link to a vid I made of the 2000 competition when he hit 70 meters on four of six throws:

And here is a link to an article I wrote about the 2005 Zurich meeting and a rather humorous encounter I had with Alekna the next day:

http://mcthrows.com/?p=96

Suffice it to say, I am a big fan of that man. He always carried himself with great dignity. After those 70-meter throws he might raise an arm to acknowledge the crowd, but at the same time he’d smile sheepishly, seeming almost embarrassed by the attention.

I’ve always wondered if he felt like murdering Robert Fazekas in 2004.  If you recall, Fazekas prevented Alekna from enjoying a well-deserved victory lap celebrating his second Olympic gold. Fazekas defeated Alekna but not the drug testers in Athens, so Alekna received his medal in a delayed ceremony. Fazekas also kept Alekna from collecting a share of that year’s Golden League grand prize money by handing the large Lithuanian his only Golden League loss that season (athletes had to go undefeated to get a piece of the big prize).

But to be honest, it is difficult to imagine Alekna getting really cheesed off about anything. He reminds me of the ancient Roman hero Cincinnatus, who in times of war would set aside his plow, lead the Romans to victory, then quietly return to his fields caring nothing for glory or acclaim.

Harting, on the other hand, is more like Achilles. He carries himself with an undeniable air of superiority. And, like Achilles, he has earned the right to do that by defeating all challengers. In The Iliad, the Trojans are full of piss and vinegar as long as Achilles is away from the battlefield. But the minute he shows up looking to avenge the death of his friend Patroclus, they know it is all over for them.

So it is with the world’s best discus throwers. When I ran into Piotr Malachowski, the Polish record holder and this season’s world leader with a throw of 69.28m, in New York last June the first thing I said to him was “It is great to meet you. You are a fantastic thrower!”

His reply?

“Yes, but Harting always beats me.”

What makes Harting an interesting character, though, is that in conversation he is very self-deprecating. I ran into him in that same hotel lobby in New York where I had spoken to Malachowski, and he was extremely gracious. He had just arrived from the airport after a trans-Atlantic flight but he patiently answered my questions, and then answered some more following his win the next day at the Adidas Grand Prix meeting. Here are links to those two interviews:

Anyway, it turned out to be an interesting juxtaposition watching these two great champions, both competing in flight one of the prelims in Zurich. Alekna looked as smooth as he ever did, but simply could not generate the power necessary to reach the 64-meter automatic qualifier mark. The best he could muster was a first-round 59.35m.

Harting, flush with power, qualified easily by hitting 67.01m on his first attempt.

Gerd Kanter also looked sharp in the prelims, throwing 65.79m to go one-and-done.

Malachowski ended up taking all three of his attempts, ultimately reaching 64.98m.

I left the stadium that night thinking that we might see a pretty good battle between those three in the next day’s final.

As mentioned in my last post, I headed over to the Hilton Hotel early the next morning in order to attend a German team press conference. Afterwards, I sat down in the lobby to make some notes and eventually looked up to see a very tall man ambling past the front desk. It was Torsten Schmidt, a 2004 Olympian and, since last November, the coach of Robert Harting.

From what I understand, Germans, unlike Americans, are not comfortable with casual friendliness. My brother-in-law has told me that when a German meets another German he must speak to that person in a formal way until given permission to switch over to a more familiar style of address. In the press conference I had just attended, for example, I noticed that at least one of the German reporters had addressed David Storl as “Herr Storl” even though the reporter was much older than the shot putter.

I was a worried then, that I might cause offense by springing upon the unsuspecting Coach Schmidt and interrupting a heretofore peaceful morning stroll.

But doggonit, a fellow only lives once, and how often do you see the coach of the world’s best discus thrower wandering through a hotel lobby?

So, I pounced.

And it turns out he is a really nice man. I think he spent the first couple of minutes of our conversation wondering who in the hell I was and why in God’s name I was asking him questions, but eventually he understood that I was a fellow discus geek and we had a very nice chat.

He told me that he had retired from competition in 2007, and by 2009 was coaching young throwers at the German training center in Berlin.

I asked him if he felt a lot of pressure going from coaching teenagers to coaching the defending Olympic champion, but he said no because Harting has such a clear idea of what he needs to do to perform well, and that even when his form is a bit off he is strong enough to throw far.

In fact, according to Coach Schmidt, Harting’s entry was flawed on his qualifier, but he was able to muscle it 67 meters.

After a few minutes, I wished Coach Schmidt good luck in that night’s final, and headed off to the stadium to watch the women’s hammer qualifying.

It rained throughout the entire hammer competition, but the sun reappeared as I made my way towards the train station with the idea of heading back to Winterthur to relax for a couple of hours before returning to Letzigrund for the evening session.

On the way, I stopped at a plaza in downtown Zurich stocked full of track-related activities and displays, and dominated by this temporary wooden structure:

photo 1

The reason that all of the table umbrellas are tied up is that the wind was really whipping, and eventually blew so strong that the start of the evening session was delayed some 90 minutes.

After a nice nap back at my brother-in-law’s apartment, I saw news of the delay on Twitter but wasn’t sure how it would affect the start of the discus final, so I headed over to the Winterthur train station in plenty of time to get back to Letzigrund in case it proceeded on schedule.

And who should I run into on the train platform, but the fine Dutch discus thrower Eric Cadee and his girlfriend Kai Kand, the former heptathlete from Estonia.

I met Eric last June when I retrieved his shoe on Randall’s Island in New York. It was the day before the Diamond League meeting, and I had headed over to Icahn Stadium to see if any of the throwers were practicing. Eric was there with 2012 Olympic silver medalist Ehsan Hadadi, and they wanted to try out the ring but it was entirely filled with water from a morning shower.

I quickly snapped into Coach McQuaid mode, rounded up a broom and some towels, and cleaned up the ring. Eric just wanted to take some easy shoe tosses, and I shagged for him so that he didn’t have to keep walking through the wet grass. He and Ehsan were both very pleasant to talk to, and after they were done practicing I taped a quick interview with each. You can find those interviews here:

Unfortunately, Eric did not throw well in the qualifying in Zurich, so he was on his way to attend the discus final as a spectator.

It was great fun talking to Eric and Kai on the journey to the stadium, and I couldn’t help but fantasize about some day coaching their children. They are smart and friendly and just happen to be world class athletes. Eric and Kai, if you read this just know that the Chicago suburbs have lots of parks and excellent schools.

I mentioned that Malachowski seemed not to be at his best, and Eric said that he (Malachowski) was struggling with his timing and confidence. “I told him, just remember you are the defending European champion. You’ve thrown 71 meters!”

When we arrived at the stadium, the wind was swirling, the temperature was dropping, and the decathlon javelin was just getting underway. This meant that the discus final would not begin for another two hours.

Always one to make the best of a bad situation, I filled the time by eating brats and pretending to be interested in the decathlon.

Finally, the javelin sector lines were removed, the discus sector lines were set out, and the finalists were ushered into the stadium.

I had paid 140 francs for a second row seat hoping to be close to the cage for the final, and I was definitely close:

photo 3

The problem was that Harting’s presence made the discus a marquee event, and in order to give the folks watching at home a great view…

photo 5

…they totally blocked mine.

See that giant camera pointed at the stands? That was there to film the reaction of the coaches throughout the competition.

It is probably good that they did not point that camera at me, because while I do not speak German, I do know a universal hand signal that would have expressed my feelings precisely.

Ah well, it was still fun to be that close.

Shortly before they opened the ring for warmups, it began to rain.

The Zurich ring has a good reputation. In New York, Harting told me he really likes throwing at Letzigrund, and Sondra Perkovic has said the same thing.

But there was something about the combination of the misting rain and the cool temperature that made the surface almost unmanageable.

Harting actually fell down performing an imitation.

And I don’t care how confident you are, that has got to shake you up a bit.

Throughout the competition, Harting took frequent strolls across the track to check in with Torsten.

photo 4

Most of the competitors did the same. Here is Martin Wierig conversing with his coach, world record holder Jurgen Schult:

photo 1

 

Here is Robert Urbanek with his coach:

photo 1

 

Malachowski had several animated conversations with the Olympic shot champion, Tomasz Majewski.

photo 3

Malachowski had told me that he and Majewski were best friends, and they acted like it. I do not speak Polish, but based on their gestures and facial expressions it seemed like their interactions went something like this:

“Throw farther, you idiot!”

“I can’t! The ring is a mess!”

“I don’t care! Just find a way!”

That photo above was taken after the competition though, and you can see that Majewski was genuinely pained when his friend was unable to defend his title.

Harting opened with 63.94m, followed by a foul when the discus slipped out of his hand, followed by one of those throws that he always seems to come up with: 66.07m in round three.

He passed in round four, hoping that the rain might let up a bit and let him extend his lead…

photo 2

…then fouled both of his final attempts. On his sixth throw, his right foot landed on the rubberized surface surrounding the ring and I thought he was going to do the splits.

Kanter, who had spent time between throws performing imitations on the track right in front of me…

photo 1

…finished second with a 64.75m toss, followed by a very happy Robert Urbanik…

photo 5

photo 2

…whose second round toss of 63.81m held up for the bronze.

You will notice that Harting is shirtless here, and that he is surrounded by a bunch of photographers.

After his final throw, the whole stadium was ready to see him rip his shirt off–his usual mode of celebration following a big win.

Harting, though, decided to have some fun with those expectations and performed a couple of fake shirt rips…

photo 1

…before peeling it off and pretending to take a nap on the track.

photo 3

His was not the only ecstatic celebration of the night, as French decathlete Florian Geffrouais seemed at one point about to jump on me:

photo 2

photo 3

photo 4

photo 5

 

One last observation regarding the men’s discus. The Germans are huge! Harting is a big man. Wierig is bigger. Fellow finalist Daniel Jasinski is even bigger. And Jasinski’s coach is the biggest dude I’ve ever seen!

photo 4

Do you see Majewski there talking to Malachowski? The guy in the red jacket next to Tomasz is Jasinski’s coach, and he…is…bigger…than…Majewski! Bet he doesn’t have any trouble getting his athletes to listen to him.

So, a couple of days later, Saturday morning to be exact, I headed back to the Hilton for another German press conference. This one mainly concerned the women’s hammer, which I will post about later, but afterwards I walked out into the lobby and who should meander by but Torsten Schmidt.

The poor guy must have wondered what he had to do to make it through the lobby without some idiot American jumping out from behind a potted plant.

But we had another really nice conversation! He said that prior to the competition the discus throwers had been told three times in the holding area that they would be taken to the ring in “10 minutes.”  Somehow, ten minutes stretched into an hour and then nearly two hours before they were actually brought out for warmups.

Then, as mentioned above, it was very difficult to find comfort with the throwing surface.

Most of the throwers also quickly gave up trying to perform imitations between attempts due to the slickness of the rubberized surface around the cage. That is why Kanter came over to the track to work on his steps, apparently finding a dry patch just in front of the stands.

It all added up to a potential disaster for  Harting,the prohibitive favorite, and for Torsten who must have felt the weight of expectations as well.

One thing that I was struck by throughout my week in Zurich was how much it meant for these athletes to medal at this meet. Obviously, the Olympics and World Championships are a bigger deal, but based on the reactions of the winners and losers, I’d say not by much.

I got the sense, especially from the Germans, that they felt great pride in representing their country. Each time I passed through the Hilton lobby, I noticed several German athletes watching the live feed from the stadium and cheering loudly when their compatriots performed well.

So it could not have been easy for Torsten to have watched Harting bite the dust during an imitation and then struggle mightily to find a semblance of rhythm.

“So,” I finally asked, “what did you say to help get him through it?”

“We decided that he needed to keep more bend in his knees so he could keep his balance. Fortunately, that was enough.”

Just then, Harting showed up. He looked at Torsten and then at me and then his eyes widened and he exclaimed, “You again!”

I held out my hand.

“Hello, Robert. Dan McQuaid. Congratulations on your victory!”

As we shook, he looked again at Torsten and said, “This guy is always hanging around asking questions!”

“Yes,” I replied. “Your coach is telling me all of your secrets.”

“Secrets?” he shot back. “There is no such thing as secrets!”

“Secrets,” he continued, tapping a long finger against his temple, “are only doubts!”

And with that he turned and strode confidently away looking fit and ready to storm the walls of Troy.

 

 

Queen Val at the Adidas Grand Prix

In ancient Greece, Olympic champions were feted with banquets and parades, immortalized in bronze and marble.

In modern New York, they are largely ignored aside from the occasional bystander who asks, “Do you play basketball?”

Such is the fate of Valerie Adams, two-time Olympic shot put champion, arguably the greatest putter in history but perhaps born 2,500 years too late.

Val came into the Adidas Grand Prix meet in New York City last weekend looking for her 50th consecutive win. Hoping to derail the Adams Express was a field that featured Michelle Carter (who broke the American record last year with toss of 20.24m) and Yevgeniya Kolodko (the London silver medalist and owner of a 20.48m PB).

I was  stoked to get a look at Kolodko and her excellent glide technique, and though I was rooting for Val to get number 50, I hoped that Carter and Kolodko would push her to extend her season best of 20.46m.

Alas, t’was not to be. In spite of perfect weather that had helped produce meet records in each of the two previous throwing events–Robert Harting’s 68.24m in the discus and Linda Stahl’s 67.32m in the javelin–and a raucous crowd that cheered Bohdan Bondarenko  and Mutaz Essa Barshim through the greatest high jump dual in history, none of the women putters could get it going.

Carter opened with a respectable 19.51m, but that turned out to be her only throw over 19.00m. Kolodko had nothing. I could tell she was in trouble during warmups when she took about a million throws, none of which looked sharp, and she fared even worse during the competition with a 17.25m sandwiched by two fouls. I have to think she was injured, but I didn’t get a chance to ask her as she packed up and left while the top six took their final three throws.

Meanwhile, the Carter/Adams dual played out as more weird than dramatic.  Val’s best in the first three rounds was 19.31m, but with the champ on the ropes and vulnerable to an upset, Carter  followed her 19.51m with an uninspired-looking 18.57m and 18.39m.

It must have been a strange feeling for Val not to be the final thrower after the re-ordering, and she quickly set things right with a 19.52m to take the lead. But even after extending that lead with a fifth-round 19.68m, you could tell she was not herself. After each attempt, she looked for advice from a gentleman watching from across the track. Val is coached by two very large Swiss fellows–Werner Gunthor and Jean-Piere Egger–and this man was neither Swiss nor large, so I’m not sure who he was but the advice he shouted to her (“Put your whole body behind it! Get it going on this one!”) was heartfelt and kind of sweet. The sort of advice one might expect to hear shouted by a parent at a middle-school track meet.

After the competition, I had a nice chat with Val that you can view here:

As always, she was humble and upbeat, and afterwards she strode off looking like a champion prize-fighter from back in the day, a bit weary but ready to move on to the next town and flatten the next challenger.

Forgive me for one minute, but I feel the need to switch to Negative Nancy mode.  As I was writing this article and reflecting back on what, by any measurement (5 meet records, 5 world-leading performances) was a fantastic track meet I realized that there was one aspect of it that bothered me.

On this sun-kissed day at Icahn Stadium, the shot put ran concurrently with (and right next to) that magnificent high jump competition.  As the bar was raised closer and closer to a world-record height, the attention of the crowd became completely focused on that event. By the time Bondarenko and Barshim started taking attempts at 2.46m (the world record is 2.45) I’m pretty sure that myself, my friend Peter, and the guy shouting encouragement to Val were the only people in the stadium paying attention to the shot put.

But that’s as it should be. Witnessing a world record is a big, honking deal.

What bothers me is that Valerie Adams, arguably the best ever at her event, will never be involved in a competition like that. The world record in the women’s shot (Natalia Lisovskaya, 22.63m, set in 1987)is so far out there (Val’s PB is 21.24m) and so obviously the result of PEDs that nobody in this age of random drug testing is ever going to beat it.

And that sucks, for Val because it unfairly diminishes her accomplishments, and for shot put fans because it deprives us of the chance to experience a moment in the shot equal to the moment when Bondarenko or Barshim began their approach to the bar and an entire stadium held its collective breath.

Okay. Just had to get that off my chest.

After the meet, my very patient wife, my friend Peter, and I had a fantastic dinner at an Italian place in midtown and then stopped by the athletes’ hotel to have a drink in the lounge overlooking the lobby.  Several beers later, we spotted Val and a couple of friends just back from dinner themselves. I grabbed Peter and dragged him down to meet her, my wife trailing us with her cellphone at the ready.  I’m not sure exactly what we said to her, nor can I guarantee that anything we said made much sense, but she listened to us patiently and agreed to pose for a picture.

val in 14

That’s no basketball player, folks. That’s the best shot putter ever.

 

 

 

 

der Harting at the Adidas Grand Prix

Do you ever fantasize about things you’d like to have a reason to say at some point in your life?

I’m a fifty-year-old guy, so tops on my list are statements like…

“For god’s sake, I wish Angelina Jolie would stop sexting me!”

Or…

“Good news, honey!  The doctor says I actually need to gain weight!”

I’m also a throws fan who loves the discus and in particular the way the Germans throw the discus so also high on my list would be something along the lines of…

“I’m going to watch discus film with Robert Harting.”

And last Saturday, I actually got to say that. Here’s how it happened:

Anyone who knows me knows that the one really, really smart thing I’ve done in my life was to marry the Most Patient Woman in the World. This woman knows how much I love the throws, so last weekend she accompanied me on a trip to cover the Adidas Grand Prix Diamond League Meeting in New York. Due to the demands of television, the men’s discus competition (featuring most of the guys who made the final in last year’s World Championships) was the first event of the day, and I had a primo view of the competition.

adidas grant prix 14

Standing next to me throughout was a woman named Vera, the manager of the German throwing contingent competing that day. It was fun watching the meet with her as she fretted over the wind (it seemed to constantly change directions), beamed when her throwers performed well (Harting and javelin thrower Linda Stahl both set meet records), suffered when they did not (Martin Wierig did not advance past the first three throws), and made the occasional tart comment (when I noted the hugeness of one of the competitors she replied, “And yet, his head is so small”).

A bonus of watching the competition alongside Vera was that as the discus ended and the women’s javelin began, Martin Wierig came over and sat by her. I knew he was bummed about his performance, but a friend of mine is a big fan of Martin’s so I just had to get a picture.  I asked as nicely as one should when approaching a 6’6″ man in a lousy mood,  and he graciously complied.

wierig

The dude visible over Martin’s left shoulder is the Australian thrower Benn Harradine, on his way over to watch teammate Kathyrn Mitchell compete in the jav.

Harradine, it turns out, is a really nice guy and a lot of fun to talk to. You can find part of our conversation here:

While Harradine and I were chatting, along came Robert Harting. The next thing I know, the three of us are standing along a fence watching the jav and shooting the breeze.

Harting, though more reserved than Harradine, is also a nice guy and a lot more thoughtful than one might think if one’s only impression of him was formed while watching video of him tear his shirt off after winning the World Championships and Olympics.

Here are vids of two conversations I had with him:

He actually did remove his shirt while watching the jav, as did Harradine and Ehsan Hadadi who came over as well.  But there was nothing celebratory in the gesture. All three were simply trying to stay cool. I was tempted to join them in going shirtless but didn’t want to intimidate anyone.

Anyway, at one point Harting began telling Harradine that in spite of throwing 68 meters, he felt like his technique was off. “I need to get pictures from the side,” he said.

Remarkably, my friend Peter Trofimuk was also attending the meet and had filmed the discus competition from the grandstand located across the track from the side of the cage. Just the view that Harting wanted to see.  I immediately walked over to the grandstand and reached up to Peter. In response to his quizzical look, I uttered those immortal words. “I am going to watch video with Robert Harting.”

I felt terrible that Peter, as big a throws fanatic as I am, had to sit in the stands and watch me watch video with Harting, but I got over it pretty quickly.  Here is Peter, expressing his frustration at dinner later that evening:

peter

Unfortunately, the viewer on the video camera was small and the midday sun was large, so Harting could not see his throws very well. After a minute, he handed the camera back to me and asked if I could post them on youtube and send him the link.

I agreed, and did my best to hide my disappointment. I have watched video of Harting’s throws approximately twelve million times, but to do it with him standing there providing commentary?  Holy guacamole.

It was still a great day at a great track meet. More on that later.

 

 

Lust and the Lithuanian

2005 Zurich Weltklasse

An international airport is not a place normally associated with solitude, but there I was sitting in the darkened expanse of the waiting room in Zurich terminal number one at 5:30 on a Saturday morning feeling like I was the only person on the planet. Which I didn’t mind. Just a few hours earlier, my brother Mike, our friend Anna Swisher, Anna’s mother, and I were wedged into the standing room section along the north curve at Zurich’s Stadion Letzigrund joining the raucous crowd in urging the world’s best track and field athletes to run fast, jump high, and throw far in spite of a drenching rain occasionally punctuated by the flash of lightning. A soggy journey back to our hotel, followed by a late night of packing and a 4:00AM wake-up call (necessitated by a 7:00 AM flight to Manchester), left me feeling somewhat less than chipper as I slouched into a plastic seat in the waiting area and buried my nose in a Napoleon biography. Reading about the Grand Army of the Republic slogging west from Moscow with swarms of Cossacks nipping at their heels helped me to forget about my own fatigue and rendered me oblivious to the fact that the terminal was slowly coming to life. By the time I looked up from my book, there were dozens of passengers milling about and the shops lining the terminal were beginning to open their doors. A few feet in front of me, a very tall, broad-shouldered man dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt braced himself against a railing while casually stretching his legs. I couldn’t see his face, but his unusual size (my throwers would call someone with his build “gi-normous”) made me wonder whether he was a thrower from last night’s meet.

Speaking of last night’s meet, it appeared beforehand to possess all the necessary ingredients for a classic discus competition. The field was loaded with top throwers still in peak form after competing two weeks earlier at the World Championships in Helsinki. Foremost among them was the victor in Helsinki (and two-time Olympic champion) Virgilius Alekna, who entered the competition with a chiseled six-foot-eight­ inch frame and a habit of launching 70 meter throws. The big Lithuanian had pretty much owned his event since the summer of 2000 when I had the pleasure of watching him deposit four of six throws past the 70 meter line in that year’s edition of the Zurich Weltklasse. In the intervening years, the only man to defeat him in a major competition and not run afoul of the folks in the white lab coats was Lars Reidel at Edmonton in 2001. Fit, confident, and very comfortable with the ring at Letzigrund, Alekna seemed primed on this night to extend his seasonal best beyond the 70.67m he’d posted a month earlier in Madrid.

This is not to imply that the rest of the competitors were content to duke it out for second place. Indeed, Gerd Kanter, the fine Estonian thrower who broke the 70-meter barrier once himself earlier this year, had Alekna on the ropes until the final round at Helsinki. Would this be the night he’d finish the job? Also in the field was Franz Kruger, a crowd favorite in Zurich who’d handed Alekna his only defeat of the year at a meet in Talinnjust after the World Championships. Aside from these two, the field was loaded with former World and Olympic medalists including the aforementioned Lars Reidel, Athens second-placer Zoltan Kovago, Athens third-placer Alex Tammert, and the shaggy-haired Michael Mollenbeck, third in Helsinki and a man who seemingly never met a hair style that he would not try. These, then, were the challengers who hoped to make Alekna sweat in his attempt to snag a third Weltklasse Zurich title.

Coincidentally, a sweaty Alekna just happened to occupy the top spot on Anna Swisher’s wish list for the upcoming holiday season. A recent graduate of Williams College and herself a thrower, Anna arrived in Zurich harboring a mad hot crush on the Lithuanian studmuffin. Her goal for the 2005 Weltklasse was simple: find Alekna and get his autograph. If a marriage proposal followed, so much the better.

This aspiration (at least the autograph part of it) was not-so-far-fetched. The athletes’ hotel is just a few blocks from Letzigrund, and it is not uncommon to see them walking to or from the stadium. In fact, as Mike, Anna, and I entered Letzigrund, we ran into Franz Kruger making his way towards the athletes’ check-in area. We did not trouble him for an autograph, but Anna was encouraged by the thought that a certain Lithuanian dreamboat might be in the vicinity as well. Unfortunately, we could not afford to spend any time staking out the entrance if we wanted to secure a spot in the north stands with a clear view of the discus ring. The Zurich Weltklasse pretty much sells out every year, and the general admission area overlooking the discus cage fills up quickly.  Owing  to necessity  then, we temporarily  suspended  the “hunt for Alekna”  portion of our mission  and managed  to grab a nice spot not too far from the cage and just  across  the track from an open area where the throwers  tend to congregate between  attempts.  Not a bad perch, as it turned out, for a passionate woman armed with a telephoto lens. From there, Anna and I anxiously awaited the beginning of the discus warm-ups while Mike (himself armed with a telephoto lens and a positively Japanese-like passion for using it) contentedly   snapped photos of the steeplechase water hazard.

Unfortunately, the steeplechasers would not be the only ones dealing with water and its hazards on this night. A few minutes prior to the discus warm-up, a steady drizzle began to fall and continued as Alekna and the other throwers were escorted to the cage. As the group began their warm-up tosses, it quickly became clear that the wet ring was forcing everyone to move cautiously.  Further complicating matters was a fairly steady breeze blowing in along the right foul line. Normally a boon to right-handed   throwers, the wind seemed to make it harder to get a proper flight on the disc, resulting in many weak-looking “pop-up” type throws-not the sort of thing one might expect from the world’s best.

After a few rounds, the warm-ups were halted for the “Introduction of Champions,” during which any recently crowned World Champion competing in the Weltklasse was paraded on the infield to the accompaniment of some sort of regal sounding techno music. After the introductions, the champions scattered to toss t-shirts into different sections of the stands. Alekna trotted right over to us and tossed several t-shirts into our section but just out of our reach.  It is testament to Anna’s genteel upbringing that she refrained from a.) hopping the railing and tackling Alekna, or b.) drawing blood in an effort to snag a shirt, especially when she realized that the world’s most hunkalicious Lithuanian had autographed them!

All eleven throwers were given a couple more warm-up tosses, and then with the rain still falling, Mario Pestana opened the competition with a very decent (considering the conditions) 64.90m.  This seemed to set the tone for the night. Yes, the ring was wet. Yes, it was hard to get a good grip on the disc. Yes, Anna was giving everyone but Alekna the evil eye. But these guys were professionals, and regardless of those distractions they were going to fight to get off some good throws.  This point was made abundantly clear when Franz Kruger fired a season best 67.30m on his first attempt.  This got me jacked up, as Franz is a class act and a lot of fun to watch.  The 2000 Weltklasse, the first that I attended, was something of a coming out party for the big South African who launched a couple of PR’s that night and endeared himself to everyone in the north stands by playing to the crowd before and after each throw. Two weeks later, he collected the bronze in Sydney and seemed to be on the brink of a fantastic career. After a stellar 2001 campaign, however, he slipped a bit and became just another member of the pack of throwers who struggled to stay within five meters of Alekna week in and week out. I often wondered if he was struggling with injuries during that span. Or if getting married had crushed his spirit the way it has with so many other men over the eons (just kidding, dear). What a pleasant surprise then, to see him suddenly conjure the mojo of Bachelor Franz and throw down the gauntlet on a night where 67.30m  looked to have a real chance of holding up for the win.

Things continued to look good for Franz for the rest of the first and most of the second round.  Even though the rain stopped for a few minutes, nobody, not even Alekna, could seem to get comfortable.   Of the first twenty-one throws, six were fouls and nine others were less than 64 meters.  Unfortunately for Franz, on the twenty-second throw Alekna demonstrated that he did not need to be comfortable to throw far, launching one 68.00m while nearly falling down during his reverse. This pleased Anna quite a bit, but not nearly so much as when the large Lithuanian stripped off his wet shirt prior to round three. Aside from Alekna showing off his pecs (an event that Anna was able to capture via her telephoto lens) the highlights of that round were Franz backing up his 67.30m with a solid-looking 66.68m, and Zoltan Kovago (he of the crazy mad right-leg action)  launching a season best 66.00m.

A poignant but largely unnoticed moment occurred during the re-shuffling of the order, as Lars Reidel, certainly one of the all-time greats and a six-time winner of the Weltklasse during the 1990’s, packed up and left the field after failing to qualify for the final three throws.  How odd to see this former ubermensch almost sneak away from a stadium where he had been the object of much adoration over the years. Too bad he didn’t announce his retirement during the “Parade of Champions” to give the crowd a chance to go nuts over him one last time.  I guess when you’ve reached the heights that Lars, has it must be hard to know when and how to bow out gracefully, but going three and out in Athens, Helsinki, and now Zurich is probably a sign that it’s time to go. Perhaps Mother Nature was as sad as I was to see Lars go, because the rain really began pelting down prior to round four. Predictably, this led to lots more fouls­ eleven over the final three rounds. Unpredictably, Kanter nailed 67.92m on his fourth throw to bump Franz to third, and Mario Pestano pitched a season best 66.57m on his final attempt. Neither Alekna nor Franz was able to improve, so the final ranking went Alekna (68.00m), Kanter (67.92m), Kruger (67.30m). A fun competition, but probably disappointing to these athletes who clearly were in shape to throw far had the conditions been better.

One final note regarding the disc. Both Ian Waltz (seventh with 63.08m) and Jarred Rome (eighth with 62.68m) demonstrated once again that they belong among the world’s elite. They both look big, strong and technically sound, and I predict they’ll be major players throughout the current Olympic cycle.

The completion of the discus put Anna in a slight bind. True throws fan that she is, she wanted to remain in the stands to watch the javelin competition (eventually won in a downpour by the young Finnish thrower Tero Pitkamaki with a fine throw of 88.71m) but longed to stake out the exit to catch Alekna on his way out. Anna’s mom (a charming woman born and raised in Austria who enjoys escorting Anna on jaunts over the Pond) settled the dilemma by noticing that the program promised a meet and greet with the night’s champions after the final event. Anna decided to pin her hopes on the chance that Alekna would stick around. Mike and I both had early flights to catch the next morning, so we left the stadium just before the meet ended, and were busy packing when Anna arrived with the sad news that Alekna did not stay for the autograph session. She faced this unfortunate development with her usual pluck and optimistic demeanor, wishing Mike and I a pleasant journey as we finally hit the hay around 1:00 AM. And thus our adventure came to an end.

Almost.

The next morning, fairly numb from lack of sleep and distracted by a sort of generalized ache to see my wife and daughter again after ten days away from home, it took me several moments to realize that the man standing before me in the waiting lounge of Zurich Terminal One was none other than Virgilius Alekna.

So Anna was to get her autograph after all, though not in the way she’d expected.  He was extremely gracious as he signed, nodding politely as I pantomimed “rain” and told him how great I thought he was. My best guess is that he did not get any English in school as Lithuania was still part of the Soviet Bloc in those days, and he certainly did not try to speak any to me. But I didn’t care. I took the autograph, thanked him profusely and went back to my Napoleon book, wishing I knew how to use a pay phone in Europe so that I could call Anna and wake her up with the good news.

But a few minutes later, the news got even better.

Nose buried in my book, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to find Alekna standing over me. Without a word, he handed me a postcard-sized autographed photo of himself on the awards stand at Athens, nodded politely, smiled and walked away. Now I was really stoked. How cool to find out that someone you admire is a genuinely nice guy. I only hoped that Anna’s seizure upon receiving the photo would be a small one.

At that point, it was time to head to the gate to catch a bus to the tarmac where I’d board the flight to Manchester. Within ten minutes I was standing on the bus, still shaking a bit from the excitement of having met the Olympic champion. All of a sudden, I looked around and guess who was standing on the same bus just a few feet away from me? Yep. Now I started to feel a bit self-conscious, in no small part because of the fruity bag I was using as a carry-on. Earlier in the week, Mike and I had spent a couple  of days touring Salzburg, and I felt like I needed about five hands to carry all the stuff I was trying to schlep  around.  My solution was to buy a big canvas sack decorated with brightly colored images of fruit that would a.) hold all my stuff and b.) make a great beach  bag for my daughter  when  I got it home.  I knew it looked silly for a grown man to be carrying a bag like that. I even joked with the shop owner when I bought it that people would think I was “less than manly.” And indeed, a group of teenagers kept snickering at Mike and I when we sat down for lunch that afternoon. But I didn’t care. Until, of course, I suddenly found myself holding it in the presence of the Olympic discus champion.

Luckily, it was a short bus ride, and in a few minutes I was standing in the aisle of the plane trying to find my seat. The aisle was blocked by a lot of people still stowing their carry-ons, so I craned my neck to see around them and began counting rows. My seat was 12A. Take a wild guess who was already sitting in 12B.

Now I started to feel a bit panicky. As I mentioned earlier, Alekna is an enormous man who as far as I can tell does not speak English.  Were I to squeeze into that seat next to him, we’d  be smashed up against each other for two hours with absolutely no way to communicate.  And who could blame him for suspecting that I was some sort of fruity-bag-carrying stalker?  I mean, what are the odds that the only guy in the whole airport who recognized him would just happen to end up sitting next to him on the plane? And what could I say to assuage his fears?  “Me no stalk you. This coincidence.  Anna stalk you. She have picture of you no shirt. She want marry you.”

Nice guy that Alekna is, he started to get up to let me have the seat when he saw me staring at it, but no way was I going to sit there.  “Thanks again for the autographs,” I said and scrambled down the aisle clutching my fruity bag until I found an empty seat.

by Dan McQuaid

this article originally appeared in the Long & Strong Throwers Journal in October 2005

2013 USATF Championships Women’s Hammer

Anyone who has read my stuff and assumes that I only care about the shot and disc is in for a big surprise because I covered the heck out of the women’s hammer at this meet.

There are two reasons why.

One, the timing fell just right. At these types of meets, the throwing events often overlap, and at Drake if one of the overlapping events is the shot put, you are forced to choose because all of the other throws take place outside the stadium. No worries on this very sunny Saturday afternoon, though, because there was plenty of time after the women’s shot to meander over to the hammer cage without missing anything.

Two, I had Trofimuk–a straight up hammer aficionado–with me, and he assured me that this would be a competition well worth watching.

Holy crap, was he right.

The hammer cage at Drake (it also serves as a discus cage when people are throwing discs from it) is set up in a fan-friendly way.  You can probably tell from this photo of Britney Henry warming up that…

DSCN0128

…I am looking down at her from above the cage. That’s because the hammer cage is nestled into the corner of a huge athletic field that is rimmed with a grassy hill. Spectators, therefore, can flop on the grass and enjoy a sweet view of the the thrower and the landing area. Here is Art Venegas talking with Kristin Smith on that hill.

DSCN0131

Unfortunately, the layout at Drake turned out to have one design flaw. On the other side of that fence you see with all the signs on it is an alley, which leads farther down to a parking lot. Have you ever seen those giant nets that they sometimes erect at driving ranges to keep the golf balls from flying onto a road or into a subdivision? Well, the folks at Drake have placed several of those nets along the left foul line to make sure that an errant throw will not make it to that alley or parking lot. Amazingly, in spite of those precautions, the left-handed thrower Jessica Cosby Toruga launched a warm-up throw out of the cage, over the giant safety nets, and into (I think) the parking lot. I say “I think” because you can’t see exactly what’s on the other side of those nets, but it sounded like the hammer skidded across the alley and thunked against a car.

Art, who coaches Cosby Toruga, must have sensed right away that something like that could very well shake a thrower’s confidence because he immediately called out, “I’ll pay for the car!” to try to lighten things up a bit. Unfortunately for Cosby Toruga, this would not be the only confidence-killing challenge she would face on this day.

Here are a few more photos I took during warmups…

Amber Campbell:

DSCN0132

Jeneva McCall:

DSCN0130

 

Cosby Toruga:

DSCN0138

 

Gwen Berry and Jeneva McCall:

DSCN0139

 

Ashley Harbin, Chelsea Cassulo, and Brittany Smith

DSCN0140

 

Once the competition began, Amanda Bingson dropped the first bomb.

Bingson-72.58

 

McCall trumped her a couple of minutes later:

Jeneva-74.00

That, my friends, is a legit world-class throw.

 

But Bingson wasn’t nearly finished. I was at Drake last year for the NCAA meet, which Bingson had a serious chance to win. Unfortunately, she had a lousy day and finished third after fouling four of her six throws. She clearly was not haunted by those memories, though, as in round two she stepped in and set a new American record.

Bingson-74.92

After they announced it, she ran up the hill to show some love to Mom and Dad.

Bingson-hug

One might reasonably think that all this excitement would tire a person and make it unlikely that they might shatter their freshly-set American record on their next throw. Au contraire, mon frere.

Bingson-75.73

Even world class hammer throwers have their limits, though, and Bingson went 72.41m, foul, foul, in the final. She did, however, punctuate her victory with a very impressive series of back flips after her sixth throw.

I had a long talk with her afterwards, which you can view in it’s entirety if you go first to Macthrow.com and then to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVmrJtfuzVk as the interview is divided into two parts.

McCall, suffering from an abdominal strain that she had incurred competing in the shot, could not better her 74.00m opener in rounds two and three, and then passed all of her throws in the final.

There were, however, some fine throws in the late rounds.

Here is Britney Henry going 69.57 in round four to capture fifth place:

Britney-Henry-69.57

Here is Amber Campbell reaching 72.58m in round five to finish fourth:

 

 

And we’ll finish with what might have been the most remarkable throw of the day. I mentioned earlier that Jessica Cosby Toruga launched one out of the facility during warmups. It would be perfectly understandable if she had become a bit tentative after that. To her credit, though, she maintained her focus and nailed a round-two throw of 72.47m  that had her right in the thick of things going into the final.

She began the final with a fourth-round 71.09m, but on her fifth throw she lost her balance in the middle of the ring and hit the concrete hard. My first thought, when she went down, was that they had better get an ambulance over here quickly because there was no doubt she was badly injured. It was like seeing someone come crashing down on the sidewalk after jumping from a fourth floor window.

Shockingly, though, after a few tense and weirdly quiet minutes Cosby Toruga got up and walked out of the cage under her own power. Even more shockingly, when her name was called in the sixth round, she was ready to take her throw. Most shocking of all,? It turned out to be her best throw of the day.

Cosby-Toruga-72.58

As Joe Gargery, my favorite character from my favorite novel (Dickens’s Great Expectations) would say, “Astonishing!”

So, that was the women’s hammer competition. I’ve got the second flight of prelims and much of the final on my youtube page:

It is pretty exciting that the US is sending legit medal contenders to Moscow in this event, especially considering the fact that very few kids are exposed to the hammer until they reach college. Honestly, though, I don’t see how that is ever going to change. As evidenced here at Drake, there are safety concerns with the hammer that you just don’t have with the shot and disc and it is hard to imagine high schools being willing to take on those risks. I guess we just have to hope that Fate keeps guiding the right athletes–like Bingson and McCall–to the right college programs.

by Dan McQuaid

 

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on July 3, 2013

2013 USATF Championships Women’s Shot Put

The 2013 USA Track and Field Championships were held in Des Moines last weekend, and a great time was had by…well, by me for sure and also by numerous throwers who not only qualified for the World Championships to be held in Moscow this August, but revealed themselves to be serious medal contenders as well.

Holy cow, is Des Moines a great place to visit for a track meet. I live in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago which often finishes near the top in those “Best Places to Live” features you see in magazines, and justifiably so.  The schools are fantastic. The library system is one of the best in the country. A scenic riverwalk curves its way through a thriving downtown. But people can get a little intense here, so before you try crossing a street in that downtown you had better look both ways or the woman making a left into the yoga studio will run your butt over–that is if the dude racing to drop off his son for a cello lesson doesn’t get you first. I remember one time I was standing near a busy intersection downtown with my daughter listening to an outdoor Christmas concert when two drivers got into some sort of dispute. Suddenly, the cheery sound of a tuba playing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was interruped by blaring horns and shouts of “F— you, idiot!” Good will to men, indeed.

But it is hard to imagine anyone ever cussing someone in Des Moines, or running them over. People there seem to live at a more leisurely pace, one that allows room for cordiality.

I was accompanied on this outing by my friend and former thrower Pat Trofimuk. If you read my post on the New York Diamond League, you saw photos of Pat’s twin brother Peter. One of the standards that I live by is that I will not cover a track meet unless accompanied by a Trofimuk. They both possess encyclopedic knowledge of the throws, and can spend a five-hour car ride speculating on who might qualify for Moscow in the men’s shot. That makes them invaluable to me.

Anyway, late Saturday afternoon Pat and I pulled up in front of the Hotel Fort Des Moines to check in for the night. Though we were in the middle of downtown Des Moines–the state capitol need I remind you–the process of checking in, getting a room key, and then parking for the night in a free-on-the-weekends garage took about ten stress-free minutes. Parking in the Naperville garages is free as well, but on a Saturday night you’d probably have to punch someone in the face to get a spot.

Another thing that Des Moines has over Naperville is the Blank Park Zoo, which is an awesome place to take embarrassing photos of your friends. For example…

Dan-phone-march-13-021-e1372618750648

That’s Pat. And here he is again…

Dan-phone-march-13-028-e1372618988900

Luckily, we live in a world where it is okay for a giant shot putter to publicly display his sensitive side!

Since Pat and I arrived on Saturday, we missed the women’s javelin and men’s discus throws.

I am not nearly smart enough to figure out the whole “A standard” and “B standard” deal, but of the top three finisher in the women’s jav (Brittany Borman 60.91m, Ariana Ince 56.66m, and Kara Patterson 55.88m) none–as far as I know–has the A standard of 62m and only Borman has the B standard of 60m. Therefore–as best I can tell–Borman will be the only representative for the USA in that event in Moscow, unless Ince or Patterson goes out and nails the A between now and July 20th.

Of the top three finishers in the men’s disc (Lance Brooks 62.29m, Russ Winger 62.03m, and James Plummer 61.96m) none has the A or B standard. Winger told me that in order to make the team for Moscow, he has to get the A (66.00m) or hope that Brooks gets the A, which would allow Winger to make the team by hitting the B standard (64.00m). Got that?

Pat and I arrived in time to see the Women’s shot, which featured two throwers who had already hit the A standard of 18.30m–Tia Brooks and Michelle Carter. Notable by her absence was Jill Camarena-Williams, the 2011 bronze medalist who apparently was sidelined with an injury. I was afraid that this was going to be a boring competition as Carter and Brooks appeared to have a lock on the first two places. When I suggested to Pat that I might skip part of the women’s shot to check out the Junior women’s discus competition (the shot is contested on the infield of Drake Stadium, the other throws are held next to the stadium) he cautioned me that I might miss some big throws.

Apparently, he is not only sensitive but psychic as well.

All the big throws came in round five. First, the University of Arizona’s Alyssa Haslen hit a  PR of 18.10m to capture third place and a spot in Moscow (since she now has the B standard). Here is that throw:

Haslen 18.10

And here is an interview I did with her afterwards:

Tia took a while to get comfortable, but finally grabbed a ticket to Moscow with this throw:

Brooks 18.83

I had a nice chat afterwards with her also, and you can find that at Macthrowvideo.com.

Here is the throw, though, that, had I missed it, would have required Trofimuk to hide all sharp objects in the hotel room. There are a lot of records in the throws that date back to the late 1980′s. I know that many current throwers despair of ever breaking them. A couple of years ago, I asked Valeri Adams, a two-time Olympic champion who was 26 years old at the time, if she thought she’d ever break the world record of 22.63m (which, by the way, was set in 1987). She laughed at the very idea. To me, that’s kind of discouraging.  Adams is one of the all-time great shot putters and just entering her athletic prime. If she can’t imagine taking a run at the world record, then who ever will?

The American record has lasted nearly as long.  It is 20.18m, and was set by Ramona Pagel in 1988. Sorry, I should say it “was” 20.18m because…

Carter 20.24

She looks pretty unimpressed by herself, doesn’t she? Oh, did I just break a 25-year-old record? Ho hum.

When I spoke with Carter afterwards (a chunk of our conversation is on Macthrow as well) I was struck by how grounded she was. As in the video of her throw, she did not go nuts or seem surprised even. She’s really happy training in Dallas with her father (who, by the way, still holds the American high school record in the shot) and was ready to head back there and get to work. To me, her attitude bodes well in terms of her chances of getting on the podium in Moscow. The rest of us might be astonished/overjoyed that she is now a 20-meter shot putter, but to Carter it is just a natural result of her training and…no big whoop. I see that as an indication that she will not be intimidated in Moscow. She’s ready to shine on the big stage.

Another interesting thing about Carter that I don’t think showed up in the interview owing to technical difficulties is that she’s not crazy strong. Her best bench press is 225 for a set of three. Her best squat is 405 for a set of five, and her best clean 275 for a single. Not too shabby, but wouldn’t you have thought a 20-meter shot putter would be stronger than that?

Anyway, the weekend could have ended there and it would have been worth the trip. We had some great moments ahead of us, though, as we headed over to watch the women’s hammer. More on that next time.

by Dan McQuaid

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on July 1, 2013

2013 Chicagoland Summer Throws Series

All of us throws fans in the Chicago area owe Tom Pukstys a big, fat man-hug for putting together a great meet last Saturday, June 7. He got a bunch of elite athletes to come from the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, and somehow rounded up outstanding high school throwers from all over the country.  Before I forget, the results can be found here:

http://www.prepcaltrack.com/2013/06/08/chicagoland-summer-throws-series/

On Friday night, the throwers gathered for a reception at Benedictine University, the highlight of which was a couple of speeches–one by Jarrod Rome and one by Art Venegas.

Jarrod, a two-time Olympian in the disc, gave a lot of encouragement to the young throwers and told a hilarious story about how L. Jay Silvester, one of the all-time discus greats, advised him to take a shot at the NFL because he’d never succeed as a discus thrower. Luckily, every time Jarrod told his mom that he was thinking about hanging it up, she cried. Dutiful son that he is, Jarrod could not stand to see his mother cry so he kept at it.

Art, the longtime throws coach at UCLA and current throws coach at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, also directed encouragement towards the young throwers. I taped most of his talk, and it is worth watching. Art has been in the business for about twelve decades, but he has lost none of his competitive spirit and cantankerousness. And he is very funny. You can find his speech here:

The throwing events took place the following day, and I have to admit, I did a lousy job of covering them. In my defense, there was so much going on, so many fine throwers competing, so many interesting people to talk to that it would have taken a crack team of expert throws journalists to keep up with it all. There just wasn’t enough of me to go around, doggone it, so I focused on one flight of the elite shot put competition and one flight of the elite discus and covered them like the proverbial blanket. Here are some photos from the shot:

This is Russ Winger, who won with a toss of 20.53m (67’4.25″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 045

 

This is Braheme Days, the fine high school thrower from New Jersey who put the 12-pound ball 19.78m (64’10.75″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 044

 

This is Nick Ponzio, a high-schooler from California who put the 12-pounder 19.99m  (65’7″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 039

 

 

Brandon Lombardino from Grant High School here in Illinios. He put 18.09m (59’4.25).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 026

 

Kurt Roberts. He finished second with 20.09m (65’11″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 019

 

Another look at Braheme Days.

Chicagoland summer throws 13 022

 

Joe Kovacs, who finished fourth in last year’s Olympic Trials. Joe put 19.83m (65’0.75″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 009

 

Winger.

Chicagoland summer throws 13 046

 

Kovacs.

Chicagoland summer throws 13 051

 

Lombardino.

Chicagoland summer throws 13 048

 

Roberts.

Chicagoland summer throws 13 027

 

This is Nick Baatz  of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Nick put 17.88m (58’8″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 047

 

This is Jacob Thormaehlen, formerly of the University of Texas. Jacob put 18.97m (62’3″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 036

 

The discus competition was loaded with great talent as well. Here is 2012 Olympian Lance Brooks. He ended up throwing 60.71m (199’2″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 063

 

 

Here’s a vid of Lance throwing 60.30m (198″).

Lance Brooks

 

This is Aretha Thurmond, who has made (I believe) three Olympic teams. She finished the day with a best of 59.54m (195’4″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 061

 

Russ Winger was the only elite old guy who competed in both the shot and disc. His best throw was a sixth-round 59.08m (193’10″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 074

Here is a vid of that throw:

Russ Winger

 

Here is Chase Madison, who had the best throw among the men with a 60.86m (199’8″) toss in round four.

Chicagoland summer throws 13 079

Here is a vid of Chase throwing 58.30m in round 5:

Chase Madison

 

Brandon Lombardino finished with a best of 56.22m (184’5″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 065

 

Two-time Olympian Jarrod Rome threw 59.76m (196’1″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 083

Here’s his round six throw, which was a foul:

Jarrod Rome

Gia Lewis-Smallwood had the best throw of the day: 61.90m (203’1″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 082

Here she is throwing 58.80m in round six:

Lewis-Smallwood

 

Luke Bryant, formerly of the University of Oklahoma, threw 58.83m (193′).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 077

 

I do not know the name of this thrower, but check out that beard:

Chicagoland summer throws 13 078

 

And now, as with every time I cover a meet, I must apologize to fans of the javelin and hammer. I don’t doubt that karma will eventually catch up with  me and I will be reincarnated as a javelin catcher in my next life, but the javelin competition overlapped with the shot put, leaving me to choose between watching an event that I coach or watching one that I know next-to-nothing about.

I did get to watch the elite hammer competition, which followed the discus.

Here is Jeneva McCall, the 2012 NCAA champion from Southern Illinois University. She threw 71.75m (235’5″).

Chicagoland summer throws 13 088

Here is a vid of one of Jeneva’s throws (although I don’t know which round this is).

Jeneva McCall

 

Finally, here is a vid of Rudy Winkler, the fine high school thrower who had the best toss of the day–77.67m (254’10″).

Rudy Winkler

I think that might have been his 77-meter throw.

 

Anyway, this was a fantastic day for throws fans, and I hope Tom, Greg Raimondi (Benedictine throws coach), and James Kluckhohn (Benedictine’s head track coach) make it an annual tradition.

by Dan McQuaid

 

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on June 13, 2013

2013 New York Diamond League Men’s Shot Put

Probably the coolest part of the men’s shot competition was meeting some of the throwers in the hotel lobby the night before.

Dan-phone-may-2013-011

That’s Peter in the  middle surrounded by an awful lot of shotputting firepower: Former NCAA champ Cory Martin, fourth-place Olympic Trials finisher Joe Kovacs, two-time Olympic Champion Tomasz Majewski, and World Indoor Champion Ryan Whiting.

They are all good guys, and it was fun chatting with them. Cory said he is training and working as a volunteer jumps coach at Indiana University. He hopes to become a full time college coach some day, so he is trying to get some experience in events other than the throws. He was really optimistic about this season, as he said he is feeling totally healthy for the first time in a couple of years.

Joe is training with Art Venegas at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. I last spoke with him a year ago during the NCAA meet in Des Moines, and at that time he was not sure about continuing his career post-collegiately. But that was before his sensational performance at the trials where he launched a 21.08 bomb and came within 20 centimeters of making the Olympic team. He is very happy with the setup in Chula Vista, and seems likely to contend for a spot on this summer’s World Championship team, especially with Reese Hoffa receiving a bye for winning the 2012 Diamond League shotput competition.

Majewski is a giant, and luckily for mankind seems to be quite friendly.

Whiting has been without a doubt the best shotputter in the world so far this season. He has accumulated tons of international experience over the past few years, and it has given him great confidence. The only thing that might slow him down for a couple of weeks this summer is the imminent birth of his first child.

We also ran into European indoor champion Asmir Kolasinac of Serbia. Here he is with Peter:

Dan-phone-may-2013-012

All in all, it was a pretty solid linup of putters.

http://www.diamondleague-newyork.com/Live-StartlistsResults/Overview/Mens-Shot-Put/

Unfortunately, it rained like crazy throughout the warmup and competition. These guys are pros, and nobody lost control running the ring, but it had to make it hard to really let loose. Also, the landing area was covered with fresh, thick turf and the shots just about disappeared upon landing. All the guys were forced to spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning and drying the shots between throws.

Here are a bunch of photos from warmups that Peter took from the grandstand.

This is Cory Martin performing a step-around drill:

DSCN0221 DSCN0222 DSCN0223 DSCN0224 DSCN0225 DSCN0226 DSCN0227

 

 

Here’s Kolasinac:

DSCN0242 DSCN0243 DSCN0244 DSCN0245 DSCN0246 DSCN0247 DSCN0248 DSCN0314 DSCN0315 DSCN0316

 

 

Here’s Majewski performing a fixed feet glide:

DSCN0261 DSCN0262 DSCN0263 DSCN0264 DSCN0265 DSCN0266 DSCN0267

 

 

Here’s Joe Kovacs getting out of the back:

DSCN0282 DSCN0283 DSCN0284 DSCN0285 DSCN0286 DSCN0287 DSCN0288

 

 

Here’s Dylan Armstrong:

DSCN0324 DSCN0325 DSCN0326 DSCN0327 DSCN0328 DSCN0329 DSCN0330

 

 

Whiting:

DSCN0331 DSCN0332 DSCN0333 DSCN0334 DSCN0335 DSCN0336 DSCN0337

 

Hoffa:

DSCN0338DSCN0339 DSCN0340DSCN0341 DSCN0342 DSCN0343 DSCN0344

 

Rodhe:

DSCN0349 DSCN0350 DSCN0351 DSCN0352 DSCN0353 DSCN0354 DSCN0355

 

Martin:

DSCN0363 DSCN0364 DSCN0365 DSCN0366 DSCN0367 DSCN0368 DSCN0369

 

And here are some videos:

Armstrong-

Cory-Martin

Hoffa-best

Kovacs

Tomas

Whiting

Hope you enjoy the photos and vids. Should be a fantastic summer of competetion in the shot. For Whiting to throw 21.27 in those conditions? Amazing. And you know Majewski will be there when it counts in Moscow.

Stay tuned.

by Dan McQuaid

 

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on May 31, 2013

2013 New York Diamond League Women’s Javelin

WOMEN’S JAVELIN

So, as the women’s discus ended, the javelin throwers began warming up and I’m pretty sure the temperature dropped even more. Here is a clip of me down by the javelin runway trying not to die of hypothermia:

At the javelin runway

For some reason I refer to the measuring system as the “timing system” and Icahn Stadium as “Randall Stadium” but I defy anyone as cold as I was to make sense when talking into an I-phone.

It was a great field of throwers…

http://www.diamondleague-newyork.com/Live-StartlistsResults/Overview/Womens-Javelin-Throw/

…but how anybody got loose enough to sprint into their throw is beyond me.

My favorite thrower was Martina Ratej of Slovenia. Here she is:

New-York-Diamond-13-001

The reason I liked her so much is that her coach gave her an animated pep talk between every throw, but her expression never changed. She opened with a season-best 60.51, and I guess her coach figured that he could berate her into an even greater effort. I do not speak Slavic, but based on his tone and his body language, he seemed to be saying, “You are throwing like a wuss and that is making me look bad!” But she totally ignored him.

My other favorite thrower was Christina Obergfoll, if for no other reason than that I love Germany, and that when I spoke to her after the competition she dropped an f-bomb when talking about the weather conditions. Here she is:

New-York-Diamond-13-005

Here are vids of some of the throws. I apologize to you jav fans out there for my less-than-excellent camera work, but I had two factors working against me. One, I could not feel my fingers. Two, javelin throwers have the annoying habit of running away from you as you try to film them.

Hjalmsdottir

Abakumova

Obergfoll

As you can see from the results, Obergfoll came through with a pretty decent 65.33 for the win. She’ll be competing in Eugene this coming weekend, and I anticipate a nice effort out of her as even the unpredictable and occasionally maddening Eugene weather should seem luxurious after what she fought through on Saturday.

by Dan McQuaid

 

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on May 30, 2013

2013 New York Diamond League Women’s Discus

My friend, Pete Trofimuk, and I headed to New York this weekend to take in the Adidas Grand Prix Diamond League meet. Here is our report.

The women’s discus was scheduled for 9:00am, so we left the Hotel Jolly Madison around 7:15.(I know that’s a weird name for a hotel, and I wasn’t sure what to expect when my wife booked us there, but it’s totally legit–a great location and a very helpful staff. The elevator made a funny creaking noise, but that just made riding to the tenth floor more interesting.) After walking three blocks to Grand Central Station, we jumped on a number 6 train heading uptown. Even on that short walk, it was readily apparent that the weather was going to be an issue. We got pelted the entire way by a cold, steady rain while gusts of wind threatened to yank the umbrella out of my hand. It was a little slice of November that somehow showed up in late May, the kind of weather that made you want to hunker down in your hotel room and whine like a little girl. Luckily, Pete and I are built of sterner stuff, so we just whined while we walked.

We got off the subway at 103rd street and made our way to the East River where a pedestrian bridge arches up and over to Randall’s Island, home to jogging paths, ball fields, a large structure that looks like an old hospital, and Icahn Stadium where the track meet was to be held. On a normal May day, I would highly recommend taking this route to Randall’s. You can see from this picture that the pedestrian bridge offers some potentially awesome views of the city. On this particular day, it was a bit uncomfortable being exposed to the elements way up on that bridge, but manly men that we are, we soldiered on.

Dan-phone-may-2013-015

After crossing the bridge, it’s about a one-mile walk to Icahn. Here we are upon arrival:

Arriving at Icahn

We got into the stadium just as the discus warmups were beginning, and I was able to make my way to a spot just across the track from the cage. This was my view:

Dan-phone-may-2013-017-e1369655272790

Notice the cameraman behind the cage looking like an eskimo?

I was amazed at how well the throwers were able to control the discus on their warmup throws. I don’t recall seeing one end-over-ender or cage shot in spite of the cold and rain. Then again, this was a solid field.

http://www.diamondleague-newyork.com/Live-StartlistsResults/Overview/Womens-Discus-Throw/

Glanc, Lewis-Smallwood, Randall, Robert-Michon, and Thurmond have all been Olympians, and Perkovic, of course, won the London games with a sensational 69-meter performance.

I had seen Perkovic compete here in New York in 2010 when she was just starting to make her presence felt on the international circuit, and I remember being impressed by her vitality. It was hot and humid on that day, and the air was pretty heavy, but she did not give a rip. She got in that ring and banged, barely fouling a 65-meter throw before winning with 61-something.

And this day would be no different. In spite of the presence of the fine throwers listed above, this was to be a battle between Mother Nature and Force of Nature. Throughout the competition, I had the good fortune of standing next to Perkovic’s coach and boyfriend, the former NCAA shotput champ from Auburn, Edis Elkasevic, and though I do not speak Croatian, I could tell from their interactions that Sondra had arrived in New York ready to rumble. She seemed concerned about the slickness of the wet ring, and she did not launch any monster warmup throws, but as the competition was about to begin she exhanged a fist bump with Edis, turned, sang herself part of a song, let rip with a “Whoop! Whoop!”, and then marched off towards the cage ready to kick some ass.

Which she did, in a rather amazing fashion.

The early highlight of the first round was a 61.86 toss by Lewis-Smallwood, which, given the conditions, was a pretty nice throw.

Lewis-Smallwood

Then Perkovic went to work.

Perkovic Round-1 64.00

The previous meet record was 63.97, set by Stephanie Brown Trafton in 2009. Throwing last in the first round, Perkovic etched her name in the record book with a toss of 64.00. She was clearly jacked by that solid opener, and looked more than capable of adding on to her new record when, two throws into the second round, the competition was halted due to a glitch with the automated measuring device. As the delay dragged on, I had a nice chat with Edis, who told me that he and Sondra had met when he returned to Croatia after graduating from Auburn and began coaching a club team in Zagreb. Edis’s team shared facilities with the club to which Sondra belonged, and one thing led to another. He said that she comes from a pretty tough background, and is fiercely competitive. The results from last week’s competition in Wiesbaden where China’s Gu Siyu went 67.86 had gotten her attention, and she arrived in New York determined to strike back.

Now, after that promising start, she was forced to “chill out” literally and figuratively while officials tinkered with the measuring device. Needless to say, she was not happy about the delay, and she came over to the fence several times and engaged in spirited conversations with Edis. Afterwards, she revealed that they had considered retiring from the competition rather than risking injury by getting back into that wet ring. They decided to stick it out, however, and she killed time by dancing, singing, and fashioning a skirt out of a towel.

When the competition finally resumed after a break of at least 20 minutes, she stepped in and fired a 62.50 then started walking back towards the fence to discuss the situation with Edis. For some reason, one of the officials decided to intercept her. “No, no, you can’t go over there,” he said, motioning for her to return to the throwing area.

She did not even break stride. “Oh, shut up, you!” she said, and dismissed him with a wave of her hand.

Now, I’ve got great respect for the people who sign up to officiate track meets. This guy was out there freezing his nuts off like the rest of us, and I doubt very much he was getting paid. But you’re going to pick that moment–after a 20-minute delay in the bitter cold caused by the incompetence of your fellow officials–to all of a sudden decide that she’s violating some rule by conferring with her coach over whether or not it was safe to continue competing in genuinely wretched conditions?

Well, Perkovic was having none of it, and she blew right past him. Luckily for all parties, the official decided not to press the issue. He went back to his seat next to the cage and Perkovic, after conferring with Edis, stepped in at the end of round three and killed one.

Perkovic Round 3 66.31

After that she smelled blood, and for a time probably got a little too fired up. The officials took forever reordering the throwers for the final three rounds and when Sondra finally got back in the ring she pulled the trigger early and caged it. After some more advice from Edis (as best I could tell he was reminding her not to yank her head through the finish) she looked like she could barely wait to get back in for her fifth throw. Here it is.

Perkovic Round 5 68.48

I’m sure people are wondering about the wind. As I said earlier, I almost lost my umbrella a couple of times on the walk over, so the wind was definitely blowing. Inside the stadium at the ground level, I couldn’t feel it very much, but Peter was sitting on some bleachers that were elevated a bit on the other side of the track from the right foul line, and he felt like the wind was blowing across the sector from right to left. Whatever the case may be, it was certainly not an ideal wind and there is no arguing that 68 meters was a massive throw in those cold, wet conditions.

And Perkovic is immensely entertaining to watch. She reminds me of Adam Nelson in 2000 when it seemed like he could throw 22 meters whenever he wanted to. He was happy, confident, animated. A barbarian warrior slashing his way through the world of shotputting.

Right now, Perkovic is the barbarian princess of the discus. And I mean that as a supreme compliment. Jet lag? Rain? Cold? Delays? A slippery ring? None of that mattered. As Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock would say, she took all those potential distractions and crushed them in her mind vise.

She intentionally fouled a disappointing sixth throw, but it didn’t matter. That 68.48 had sent the message that she wanted to send. The Olympic title was no fluke. Hope you all had a nice time throwing PRs into that world record wind in Weisbaden, but how many of you could throw 68 in this crap?

And she seems to have the perfect partner in Edis. You can tell that she trusts him completely and his calm demeanor seems to be a nice compliment to her passion and volatility. He told me a great story about how he dropped her off at the airport as she headed off to the London Olympics and then found that she’d left an envelope in the car. Inside was a suprise–an airline ticket to London so he could be with her at the games.

We all know how that worked out, and if Saturday was any indication, there will be more golden days ahead for them.

I asked Edis how they would celebrate the big throw. “We will go shopping,” he replied. “I will follow her around and end up carrying many bags.”

Hmm. Maybe they’re not such an unusual couple after all.

by Dan McQuaid

 

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on May 27, 2013