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The Next Croatian Sensation

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So my wife and I were stuck in a doctor’s office for nearly four hours this morning, which I imagine is a lot like spending time in purgatory but with less comfortable chairs.

The doctor was running two hours behind schedule, and it was becoming increasingly clear to me why Buddy the Elf started eating those cotton balls when I remembered that the European Indoor Championships started today. I’d had a very nice conversation with University of Florida throws coach Steve Lemke earlier in the week, and I was interested  to see how things were going for his shot putter, Stipe Zunic, who was in Prague representing Croatia.

Turns out things were going just fine.

So fine, in  fact, that when one of the nurses mentioned that she had grown up in Croatia, I was able to inform her that her country had a new indoor national shot put record of 20.67m.

She had no idea what a “shot put” was and seemed confused as to why I would be excited about a Croatian throwing one far, but my wife assured her that I was harmless, and something tells me that if I run into her again a couple of years from now, say after the 2016 Olympics, she’ll know all about the shot put and Stipe Zunic.

Recruited  out of Zadar, Croatia, Stipe was always, in the words of Coach Lemke, “a javelin thrower in a shot putter’s body.”

After earning All-American status in the jav as a freshman and sophomore, a shoulder injury forced Stipe to redshirt the 2013 season, and to consider becoming a shot putter in a shot putter’s body.

According to Coach Lemke, Stipe was so strong (he could bench 500 pounds) and athletic (he was a Junior World Champion in kick-boxing) that reaching 18 meters in the shot seemed like a realistic goal.

In  February of 2014, he threw 18.98m at the Texas A&M Invitational.

Outdoors, at the Texas Relays, he reached 19.30m.

Shortly thereafter, at the Florida State Twilight meet, he surpassed 19.80m four times and established a new PR of 19.52m

Then things started to get a little crazy.

20.52m at the conference meet.

20.60m at the NCAA East Preliminary Round.

A slightly disappointing 19.67m at the NCAA Championships.

And then a personal best of 20.68m at the European Championships last August.

I was at that competition, and I remember being confused because I had also been at the 2011 and 2012 NCAA championships when Stipe was still a javelin thrower.

Throughout the final in Zurich, I kept thinking “Wait, is that the same Stipe Zunic?”

The answer is “Yes and no.”

It is the same Stipe who placed in Des Moines in 2011 and 2012, but he  now weighs 286 pounds, benches 570, behind-the-neck jerks 455 and puts the shot 18 meters from the stand.

Coach Lemke says that Stipe has been reluctant to completely abandon the jav, and actually threw it at last year’s SEC outdoor championships but felt too “beat up” afterwards to throw again at the regional.

This year, they talked about having Stipe throw only the shot at the SEC meet then compete in both at the regional and NCAA finals, but that is not likely to happen now that the schedule for Eugene has been announced and the men’s shot and jav are to be held on the same day.

But, that’s still a ways down the road.

The European Indoor shot final is tomorrow, and if he can come away with a medal, Stipe will have taken another major step towards sharing the “Croatian Sensation” mantel with discus great Sandra Perkovic.

Here are Stipe’s throws from the qualification round:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brittany Smith is ready for Nationals

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Brittany Smith, the former NCAA all-American in the shot and hammer, is ready for her first big competition as a professional–the USATF Indoor Championships this coming weekend.

The women’s shot will be held on Sunday, March 1st, at 3:20pm Eastern time.

Brittany opened her indoor season on January 17th with a 19.01m bomb that, according to the Track and Field News website, is still the best throw in the world this year.

Here is that throw:

 

Brittany currently works as Director of Operations for the track and cross country programs at Illinois State University (her alma mater).

Unfortunately, this does not involve performing surgery. Instead, Brittany’s duties include arranging travel plans for meets and also creating itineraries for recruits when they visit the ISU campus.

On a typical day, she trains for an hour or two at the ISU facilities before reporting for work. If she needs to squeeze in a second training session on a given day, she has to figure out how to do it before 2:00 because the ISU fieldhouse tends to be packed between 2:00-8:00. Luckily, Smith’s office is in the same building as the fieldhouse, Her workday usually ends around 4:00

Greg Watson, the throws coach at Kansas State, writes Brittany’s throwing and lifting workouts. Greg also coaches Amanda Bingson, the current US  champion in the hammer.

Brittany met Watson last summer at the Chicagoland Throws Invite. She said that initially she was “too scared to approach him, then I got the courage to ask if he was interested, and he said ‘yes’ and now here we are.”

Eye witnesses have reported that Brittany’s boyfriend (and current Grand Valley State throws coach) Sean Denard made Watson an offer he could not refuse. Here is a photo of Sean from his college days at Mount Union:

denard

Sources at Mount Union (who requested that their names not be divulged in this article) tell me that Sean grew that beard in approximately 17  minutes.

Coach Watson has Brittany on a Bondarchuk-style strength program which emphasizes quick movements rather than heavy poundage. This approach seems to suit her, and she says that she feels “very strong now.”

Brittany throws different weighted implements in training for full throws and for specific strength exercises. The heaviest ball she has thrown is 6k, which “forces me to slow down and hit the right positions because if I rush through the throw I’ll have to deal with the consequences of the ball coming off my hand and bending my fingers wrong, or landing on the toe board if I’m not positioned right.”

Her practice PR’s with the various implements include 20.11m with the 3k, 19.70m with the 3.5k, approximately 18.15m with the 4k, 17.20m with the 10lb, and 13.70m with the 6k.

For throws fans wondering if Smith will attempt to compete in both the shot and hammer this upcoming outdoor season, wonder no more. She will throw the shot only.

“As of right now, I have focused my attention 100% on the shot  put. I’m not ruling out that I will ever throw the hammer again, but my coach and I want to put our best foot forward toward making a couple of national teams the next couple of years, and we’ve decided to give all my time and energy to the shot in order to accomplish that.”

Opening this season at 19.01m was certainly a step in the right direction.

Brittany hopes to take another big step this Sunday.

Josh Freeman gets it rolling

freeman

After setting a Missouri Valley Championship outdoor record of 19.86m last spring, Southern Illinois putter Josh Freeman showed up for fall training ready to begin his assault on the venerable 20-meter mark.

Unfortunately, injury problems in the late fall have him, by his estimate, five weeks behind in his training.

Not a comfortable situation during a year in which it may well take somewhere in the mid-19 meter range  to qualify for the NCAA indoor championships.

This past weekend, though, Josh showed that he is catching up quickly as he hit a season-best 19.40m at the Fred Wilt Invitational hosted by Purdue University.

John Smith, Josh’s coach at SIU, said that in the week leading up to the Purdue meet Josh threw 56’8″ with a 20-pound shot, 61’2′ with an 18-pound shot, 65’8″ with a 15-pounder, and 69′ with a 6k.

Josh says that his bench and squat numbers are up 5-8% from last year, and that his hang cleans are up almost 15%.

In terms of technique, he has been concentrating on staying back more in the middle of the ring and giving his legs a chance to do more work.

Josh will compete this weekend at Eastern Illinois University in an effort to clinch a spot at the NCAA’s.

 

Raven Redux

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Looks like we are going to have to start getting used to this.

Another weekend, another American Junior record in the indoor shot for SIU’s Raven Saunders.

SIU throws coach John Smith sensed earlier in the week that this might be coming.

He said that during practice Raven put the 16-pound  shot 39’4″, the 12-pound shot 47’7″, the 8-pound shot 59′, and the 3k shot 63’10”.

So she was clearly in fighting trim.

Raven’s new Junior record of 17.99m should have a longer shelf life than her last, as she will not compete this coming weekend.

But with her conference meet on the horizon (Feb 28-March1) followed two weeks later by the NCAA Championships, will the record remain at 17.99m past mid-march?

Allow me to quote 97% of the girls I asked out in college as a way of answering that question:

“Not a chance, buddy.”

 

 

Raven Saunders grabs the US Junior indoor shot record

raven

 

It took all of five collegiate competitions for high school national record-holder Raven Saunders to take over the American Junior indoor record in the shot.

Former UCLA great Seilala Sua set the previous mark (17.46m) in  1997. Raven took over the top spot with a 17.64m heave on her sixth throw at the SIU Invitational this past Saturday.

Here is a vid of that throw:

Raven brought some serious weight room numbers when she arrived on campus last fall (245 bench, 400 squat, 200 power clean) and SIU throws coach John Smith was determined to boost those numbers even higher.

He put Saunders on a high rep routine  of 10’s in bench and squats and 8’s in cleans during her first month in Carbondale and by mid-October she had benched 250 for a set of 6, squatted 375 for a set of 8, and hang cleaned 100k for a set of 8.

Coach Smith estimates that she is now 20-30% stronger than when she arrived on campus.

In terms of technique, John estimates that they have spent 95% of their throwing time teaching Raven how to use her legs. “Lots of non-reverse stands, half turns, giant steps, walking throws…also working on controlling her head. She likes to throw it harder than the shot. Heavy balls have been fixing a lot of this.”

Raven is now the fifth-ranked women’s putter in the US for the 2015 indoor season, and she seems poised to join SIU grad Jeneva McCall and recent Illinois State grad Brittany Smith in what should be a ferocious competition to represent the US in Beijing and Rio over the next two years.

 

 

More on Betty…then back to Perkovic

Keiner-kennt-Hammerwerferin-Betty-Heidler-l-so-gut-wie-ihr-Trainer-Michael-Deyhle-r-

 

I began my last post meaning to talk about the women’s discus competition at the 2014 European Championships but ended up switching over to the women’s hammer and my conversation with Betty Heidler.

There she is above with her coach, Michael Deyhle.

My conversation with Betty consisted mostly of me telling her how impressed I was with her ability to stay calm when the knuckleheads running the hammer at the 2012 Olympics somehow neglected to measure one of her throws. Watching the webcast, you could tell right away that something was wrong because until that point the previous thrower’s new mark and place always appeared on the screen prior to the next competitor’s attempt.

But the distance of what was clearly Betty’s best throw so far never showed up on the screen. Nor did her place change. Nor was she charged with a foul.

The competition simply continued as if Betty’s throw had never happened.

My earliest Olympic memory is sitting in front of my family’s one and only television (Oh yeah, we had it rough back then) watching the men’s marathon at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The American, Frank Shorter (sporting a very suave ’70’s stache) had built a substantial lead heading into the stadium and had only to complete one lap around the track to claim the gold.

But, just as Frank was about to appear, some idiot dressed in running clothes ran out onto the track pretending that he and not Shorter was leading the race.

When Frank appeared he had no idea what in the hell was going on. He looked very confused and worried and was I’m sure wondering how this guy who was–as a British announcer put it–“as fresh as a buttercup”had somehow passed him along the route.

Anyway, one of the American broadcasters started going nuts. “Frank! He’s a fake! Don’t worry, Frank! You’re the winner! Fraaaaaank!”

And that is exactly how I reacted as the women’s hammer competition ended with Betty in fourth place.

I had just come in from football practice and was watching the webcast in my classroom. Luckily, there were very few people in the building because I’m sure I sounded like a nut job.

“Betty! They didn’t measure your throw! Tell them they have to measure your throw!”

Meanwhile, the three alleged “medalists” began their victory lap.

But the camera stayed on Betty as she filed a protest with one of the officials and then sat down to await the result. Remarkably, she stayed calm and even smiled and waved at the camera.

I was so taken by her poise that when I got home that day I told my wife that if Betty ever decided to propose to me I would have no choice but to accept.

Luckily, Betty saved me from a terribly awkward situation when she did not propose during our conversation in Zurich. We had a very nice chat, and off she went.

Afterwards, I spent a few minutes talking with Michael Deyhle.

Deyhle is part of a generation of German coaches who I strongly suspect of being hard asses.I would put David Storl’s coach (his name escapes me) and Harting’s former coach Werner Goldmann in that same category.

During the press conference after his victory in Zurich, Storl made mention of his coach chewing him out between throws. This during a competition which, despite a damaged knee, he was never in danger of losing.

I don’t know for a fact that Goldmann is a hard ass, but I suspect that Harting switched coaches last year largely because he was tired of butting heads with the man. It is no accident that his current coach, Torsten Schmidt, possesses a very low-key, encouraging manner.

Deyhle is definitely a hard ass. His assessment of the performances by Betty and his other pupil, Kathrin Klass, in the Zurich hammer final?

“Shit. Complete shit.”

He is also very outgoing, and took the time to talk with me about his interactions with Betty during the final.

In spite of the steady rain, Betty had launched her final warmup throw 75 meters. When they conferred prior to the first round of the competition, Deyhle told her that her technique and rhythm looked good and that she should approach her first competition throw with the same level of intensity.

Apparently, though, Betty decided, as many throwers do, to open with a relaxed, easy toss in order to make sure she got a mark and made it to the final three rounds.

Unfortunately, her resulting throw of 67.65m guaranteed her nothing but a good chewing out from Deyhle. She never regained the rhythm she had found during warmups, and finished fifth with a best throw of 72.39m.

Had she equaled that 75-meter warmup toss in competition she’d have placed second.

That’s the kind of performance that causes throws coaches at all levels to rethink their choice of profession, We’ve all been there.

So I asked Deyhle what is to be done in a situation like that, when a thrower loses their “touch” in the middle of a competition.

He said that a coach has to find a way to help the athlete to “reset.” You have to get their mind off of how badly things are going and get them to fall back into throwing with rhythm. He said this can often be done by taking imitation throws off to the side.

Unfortunately, the steady downpour that night made it impossible to perform hammer imitations on the rubberized surface outside of the cage. So Betty was not able to relocate her lost “touch,”

Back to Perkovic in the next post. Scout’s honor.

 

 

 

 

 

More Perkovic

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The next time I got to see Perkovic throw in person was last August at the European Championships in Zurich. The weather was all over the place that week, and there was a bit of rain on and off the day of the women’s disc prelims.

I asked Torsten Schmidt how an elite thrower should approach their prelim throws. Do you get in there and try to knock the hell out of one to be sure you reach the automatic qualifying distance on your first throw? Do you take a low key approach so you have plenty of adrenaline left for the final?

He told me that the elite athlete has to find a balance. They must enter the ring on their first throw focused enough to get the job done, but they also must try to conserve energy.

Robert Harting played it perfectly in round one of the men’s discus in Zurich. He looked almost casual as he dropped one out to 67m. You can see that throw here at the 1:24 mark:

 

Anita Wlodarczyk did the same thing in the women’s hammer prelim. Even though it was raining like a bastard, she calmly launched a first round 75.73m and was probably warm and dry back in her hotel room by the time the rest of the field had been sorted out.

Interesting story. Betty Heidler also surpassed the automatic qualifying mark on her first prelim throw in Zurich, after which there was a long and unexplained delay which ended when she returned to the ring and launched another throw of about the same distance, then packed it in for the day.

I had no clue why Betty had to take two throws (here she is walking over to talk to her coach during the delay)

 

 

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until I got to talk with her the morning after the women’s hammer final when I attended a press conference at the hotel where the German athletes were staying.

In an earlier post I described my experience at the German press conference the morning after the men’s shot final when I finally got to ask David Storl why he had been throwing without a reverse for most of the summer. Everybody in the room spoke German except me, so I felt a little teeny bit like an intruder when I raised my hand and asked, “May I speak to David in English?”

The guy running those press conferences is, I’m sure, a good dude, but I wouldn’t go so far as to describe him as “friendly” or “welcoming.”  So, I got to ask my question but he didn’t exactly go out of his way to make me feel welcome.

Anyway, the morning after the women’s hammer final (which Wlodarczyk dominated–you can see a video of it here:

although I don’t have Anita’s 79m bomb because the men’s high jump was going on at the same time and I got distracted when Bogdan Bondarenko was attempting some ungodly height) I showed up at the German press conference again but this time I was late because I had run into Torsten in the lobby and had a nice chat with him.

Now, there are certain stereotypes in this world that are ridiculous (English teachers are nerds, Irish men have small…bladders) but there are some stereotypes which contain a nugget or two of truth, and one of those is that Germans have very little tolerance for…shall we say, “inefficiency.”

And walking into a press conference late definitely qualifies as an inefficiency. As does neglecting to shut the door behind you when there is lots of noise and activity in the hallway.

So the guy in charge of the press conference looks at me, frowns, sighs, walks off the podium, goes to the back of the room and shuts the door.

Not exactly a suave entrance on my part, but at that point I did not care. I was  about to meet Betty Heidler. IMG_0628[1]

 

Now, Betty was not very happy at that particular moment because she did not throw well the night before. She finished fifth, and as you can see in this photo, she was more than a little disappointed.

But the thing is, I love Betty.

It’s cool. My wife knows.

I have a great marriage, in large part because my wife has endless patience for my eccentricities, one of which is my love for Betty Heidler.

And who among you could blame me?

If you are reading this blog, and are a male, I know that “pretty, great personality, world record holder in the hammer” basically describes your dream girl.

So stop judging.

Anyway, when the press conference broke up Betty just about sprinted towards the exit, but I intercepted her and found myself talking to the world record holder in the hammer the same way I would talk to one of my high school throwers after a disappointing performance.

“Betty, you are a great thrower. You’re going to come back from this.”

She brightened up a bit, and I asked her what happened in the prelims that she had to take an extra throw.

“It was the same as the Olympics!” she said. “They did not measure the throw!”

Gotta go. More on Betty, and back to Perkovic next time.

 

 

On to Berlin, Part 2

So they hand over my passport just in time for me to catch the subway to O’Hare, and I make it to the gate of the Frankfort flight just as they are about to start boarding. It is the same gate that my wife and I flew out of in August when we got bumped up to first class, so my memories of it are, to say the least, fond. This time they call me up and hand me a ticket for a seat in economy, which was fine by me–I just wanted to get to Germany.

Turns out I got a seat in a row all by myself with plenty  of leg room. Just as I was settling in, a voice comes over the intercom.

“Passenger Dan McQuaid, please come forward.”

I was none too happy to hear that, but come forward I did, only to be met by a guy from the ticket counter who was now standing just inside the entrance to the plane.

“You’re Dan McQuaid?”

“Yes.”

“Grab your stuff. We just had an opening in first class.”

He didn’t have to tell me twice.

I spent the next three hours stuffing my face, then watched a little TV, took a nice snooze, watched a little more TV and next thing I know, we are in Germany!

So, suck it Air Berlin. It’s going to be a short trip because they still won’t give me credit for the flight I missed or let me switch to a Saturday return flight, but at least I got here!

And apropos of nothing, I’d have to say that having gone through security twice at O’Hare, twice at the Federal Building, and once in  Frankfort (I ended up taking Luftansa from there to Berlin) Frankfort has by far the friendliest and most thorough security. They even gave me a little extra feel because I accidentally left a pen in my shirt pocket.

 

 

 

 

 

In Berlin

It seemed like the perfect plan. My wife’s sister who lives in Berlin recently had a hip replacement. My wife wanted someone to go and stay with her for a few days to make sure she’s doing okay.

Chivalrous bastard that I am, I volunteered.

My school has the entire week off. I got a great fare on Air Berlin. I made a lunch date with Torsten Schmidt, the coach of Robert Harting, so that I could continue to badger him into helping me understand why the Germans consistently produce great discus throwers.

My wife and mother-in-law dropped me at the airport on Saturday and then headed to the outlet mall while I breezed through security.

Got a couple of magazines. A nice iced tea. A rather excellent gyro.

They begin to call out group numbers. I heard mine, stepped up and handed over my boarding pass and passport, the guy takes a look at it, then looks at me and says “Please step over to the counter.”

As I do, he yells to the counter person “Check his passport!”

At this point, I imagine everyone in the vicinity figured they had just nabbed a terrorist trying to board with a fake passport. I could not imagine what was the deal. Then they told me.

“Sir, your passport expires in two months. You cannot travel to Germany within three months of your passport expiring.”

Imagine my vexation.

I stood there probably looking a bit stunned and watched the plane fly away without me.

After a while, the gate supervisor explained to me that this was a fairly new regulation and that I might be able to get an expedited passport on Monday and they would put me on their next flight, which would not be until Tuesday.

My immensely patient wife came back to the airport to get me and immediately upon our arrival home started working the phone to make sure Air Berlin was going to honor the supervisor’s promise that I would get on the Tuesday flight.

Long story short, they were less than keen about doing that in spite of my wife’s pointing out that that they ought to let a guy know  there might be a problem with his passport before he is ten feet from boarding the plane.

The last person she spoke to in Berlin finally told her that I should show up for the Tuesday flight and basically throw myself on the mercy of the ticket agent.

At that point we had no idea if they’d let me on the flight or if they’d say “tough luck” and make us eat the cost of the ticket.

Luckily, we had one other option. If I could get a new passport on Monday and get to O’Hare by 4:00ish I might be able to use a buddy pass on United (another of my wife’s sisters is a stew) that would at least get me to Frankfort. From there I could figure out how to get to Berlin and then come home on the return portion of my Air Berlin ticket.

If you can’t tell by now that my wife is a saint, just know that she spent about seven hours at the passport bureau with me on Monday and if you think that was a barrel of laughs…try it some time.

Got to go. I’ll finish the story later!

 

How Could They?

Is anyone else astonished that the IAAF chose Qatar to host the 2019 World Championships?

Let’s see…Qatar has been strongly suspected of bribing their way into hosting the soccer world cup in 2022, they have been accused of badly mistreating the foreign workers that they import for construction projects, and the competition will have to be delayed until late September/early October to avoid the insane summer temperatures in that region.

Great call IAAF!

Here are a couple of excellent articles on this matter:

http://www.insidethegames.biz/sports/summer/athletics/1023933-exclusive-iaaf-claim-doha-s-37-million-offer-in-2019-world-championships-bid-was-legal-and-within-guidelines

http://www.insidethegames.biz/blogs/1023916-mike-rowbottom-why-the-iaaf-disregarded-a-herd-of-elephants-in-the-room-to-give-doha-the-2019-world-athletics-championships

Any thoughts? I just don’t know what to think other than to wonder if the IAAF  is as corrupt as FIFA.

–McQ