Category Archives: Interviews

Werskey takes over at Cal State Northridge

 

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Determined to develop a top-notch throwing program, Cal State Northridge recently announced the hiring of former Auburn shot put all-American Eric Werskey as their new throws coach.

In hiring Werskey, Matador head coach Avery Anderson acted on the advice of two of the most highly regarded throws coaches in the United States–Jerry Clayton and Art Venegas.

 

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Clayton (pictured above) currently the head man at the University of Michigan, coached Eric at Auburn, where young Werskey first exhibited coach-like tendencies.

 

Clayton explained that, “When throwers get to their junior and senior years I try to get them to help coach the younger athletes because teaching technique helps them to have a better understanding of it themselves. Eric was always good at explaining things to the younger throwers.”

After Werskey graduated from Auburn, Clayton encouraged him to take up residency at the Chula Vista Training Center so he could work with Art Venegas and “be exposed to a different coaching philosophy.”

That turned out to be a great move for Eric. Though he struggled with injuries during his two years at Chula Vista (notice the bandaged calf in the photo below) …

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…he received what amounted to an intense seminar in the art of coaching like Art.

That would be Art Venegas, the man who in the 1980’s and 1990’s built UCLA into the dominant throwing program in the nation.

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Don’t let that smile fool you, folks. Art is an extremely intense, passionate man. A reliable source told me that when shot put World Champion Joe Kovacs (like Eric a resident of the training center and pupil of Venegas the past two years) had trouble finding his timing while warming up at the Triton Invitational last summer, Art’s sage advice to him was. “Relax, mother——!!”

Let it be noted that Kovacs responded by launching a 24-meter warm-up throw.

Anyway, if you want to gain Art’s respect you’d better work your butt off and show your own passion and respect for the sport of throwing, and that is exactly what Eric did upon arrival in Chula Vista.

“I knew,” explained Venegas, “right from the first year he was here that some day he would make a great coach. I spotted that potential in him right off the bat.”

That’s a meaningful statement coming from the man who readied Dave Dumble, Brian Blutreich, Don Babbitt and John Frazier to join the coaching ranks.

“If any of my athletes asks, I will tell them straight up if they are meant to be a coach. When Don Babbitt was throwing the javelin for me, I told him ‘you are wasting your time as a thrower! You were born to be a coach!'”

Art’s responsibilities sometimes keep him away from the training center for several days at a time, and he says that he came to rely on Eric as an unofficial assistant. Eric did so well and became so passionate about coaching that Art occasionally felt like telling him, “Stop coaching, dammit! You’re still a thrower!” But, before long  he decided that “I wanted him to coach with me here when his throwing career ended, but there was no position available.”

Art began his own coaching career at Cal State Northridge back in the 1970’s  (making the whopping sum of $800 per year) and when they called him this spring to ask his advice on hiring a throws coach, he did not hesitate in recommending Werskey.

According to Art, “Eric is a great match for Northridge. He is extremely dedicated and reliable, and Cal State is the ideal place for him to develop as a coach. He will deal with a lot of different levels of athletes there. They have great facilities. And California is a great place to recruit. He could have a long career there.”

When asked what advice he gave Eric as he prepared to take on the CSUN job, Venegas said that he told Werskey to “treat everyone equally and bring everyone into the program. I challenged him that if there is a kid who is reluctant to buy in, to reach out to him and get him on board. And once you develop those kind of relationships with the kids, recruiting will be easy because the athletes will sell your program.”

It is rare for someone with no formal coaching experience to be given a shot (pun intended) at a place like Northridge, but it is hard to fault Coach Anderson for taking a shot (sorry, could not resist) on Eric. A fine thrower. A fine man. A fine pedigree.

And if Coach Anderson should, at some point this winter, wake up in the middle of the night wondering if he made the right decision…well, I know what Art Venegas would tell him.

“Relax, mother——!! The kid is going to do great!”

Next up: a Q & A with Eric.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A smooth transition at SIU

One complicating factor for any athlete trying to choose a college is the question of whether or not the coaches who recruit him or her will remain at that school for the ensuing four years.

In football, that is extremely unlikely.  A typical DI player will have two or three position coaches during  their career. Many endure the upheaval that comes with a head coaching change.

The funny thing about football is that many players don’t mind losing their coach (the recent upheaval at the University of Illinois is a prime example)  as the greed and thuggishness which permeate DI football tend to prevent players from bonding with  staff.

It is different in track, though.  I’ve spoken to many DI track coaches over the years, and they all seem to have entered the profession for the same reasons as us high school coaches: love of the sport and love of the kids.

Ironically, the nature of the sport and the deep bonds that often form between coaches and athletes can make a coaching change in track and field all the more traumatic.

Take the recent decision by John Smith, the throws coach at Southern Illinois University, and his wife Connie, the head coach at SIU, to accept similar positions at Ole Miss.

For John, that meant facing the idea of leaving behind NCAA shot champion Raven Saunders, NCAA Hammer champion DeAnna Price, and NCAA 4thplace finisher in the shot Josh Freeman. (It turned out that Saunders was able to follow the Smiths to Ole Miss, but SEC rules prohibited Price and Freeman from transferring as they are down to their final year of eligibitliy.)

Luckily for all parties involved, the Smiths (both SIU alums) were determined not to leave the program in a shambles.

I spoke with John this summer, and he emphasized that while the Ole Miss offer came out of the blue, he had for some time been preparing his former All-American hammer and weight thrower JC Lambert to take over as SIU throws meister.

According to Smith, “JC has, for the last three years, been serving his apprenticeship. There have been times that he has been mad at me because I made him write his own workouts (note: Since graduating from SIU in 2013, Lambert has continued to train with Smith) but now he understands. I have full confidence in him.”

I contacted JC after he was officially named to succeed Smith, and he concurred with John’s description of his apprenticeship.

Via email, Lambert stated that “Coach Smith has been sculpting me for this moment for a long time.  After having a very good freshman year (2008-2009), I become very interested in how his program worked. I always asked questions about his training and why he did certain things. Coach would make a prediction on what would happen in my training down the road, and was always right about it. Whenever it did happen, I was very shocked and impressed by how accurate his predictions were. The one prediction he made that I will never forget: He told me after my first week of training that my best event was going to be the shot put. For those who don’t know, I threw the 12lb shot a whopping 46 feet in high school. After he made that comment, I thought ‘this old man is nuts.’But, after six months of training, I threw the 16lb over 50 feet and eventually 52 feet at the end of my freshman year. The next year I progressed to 58’10” and had a foul at 61 feet. But an unfortunate wrist injury took me out of the event to where I couldn’t train it at all. I really believe I would’ve been a 20.50m guy. After realizing the accuracy of the comment he made, I began to understand why he was one of the best coaches in the country.”

“By my Junior year, he would quiz me on training. He would ask me what I would do if I was in his position and why. I began to answer questions correctly and he was impressed. He began to have enough trust in me to write my own training. I would write it up and show him. He would examine it and express his opinion on what he would do different.”

“Also during my Junior year, Coach Smith had enough confidence in me that he allowed me to start helping out with coaching the younger athletes. This is the point where I started to really like and understand coaching.”

“My senior and redshirt senior year was when I gained the most knowledge. I finally learned how to put together a complete program. Not just for myself, but for others. Coach Smith came up to me and asked me to help put together the lifting and throwing for the 2013 outdoor season. We sat down and began to put the training together. He asked me how I would start the season and I began to explain what I would do for the weight room and the throwing. He kept writing down everything I would say and I would continue to explain up until it was peak week for Conference. He looked at the finished product and said ‘Looks like a winner.'”

“And we had a great result at our conference meet. We scored a total of 71 points in the 3 throwing events on the men’s side and 47 points with a young group of female throwers in a tough conference. I learned a lot from that experience and will always be thankful that coach had enough confidence to allow me to help put that together.”

“My two years as a post collegiate athlete, he allowed to design my training and experiment with different ideas I had. This is the point where I learned how to be creative and not so afraid to think outside of the box with training.”

“Being a volunteer assistant coach, he gave me several responsibilities. He allowed me to coach the hammer/weight throwers at practice and some meets. I also got to run several lifting sessions and throwing practices if Coach was either sick or out of town.”

After all that preparation, Smith has high expectations for his successor.

“I watched JC coach every day and he is better than 95% of all coaches right now. In the end, he will be a better coach than me. Since he is young, he has the advantage of being able to get in a ring and show kids and be in the weight room with them. That’s what I did at Ohio State with Dan Taylor. When you are older, you have to beat people with experience and treachery because I can’t jump in the ring and show people any more like I used to.”

“But honestly, he has done most of the work with Deanna, and he has done a lot of work with a lot of our kids.  When he threw in practice, I’d watch him and coach him, and when he was done throwing he coached  the hammer and I coached the other events.”

“After we accepted the Ole Miss offer, the first thing Connie and I told the SIU administration was they have to keep JC if they wanted to keep the throwing program strong. He is the only one who knows how to do what I do. When I was in Canada this summer (coaching DeAnna at the Pan Am Games) he ran my throwing camp, and I had parents email me telling me how great the camp was and I wasn’t even there.”

“Deanna should repeat as NCAA champion next year, and has a chance to break the NCAA record. If not, I will hold JC responsible.”

Lambert seems energized by the challenge, and agrees that DeAnna could have a monster year.

“I want to build off of her spectacular Junior year, where she only had 5-6 months of hammer training due to a bad knee injury. She just has an outdoor season, so we will have the privilege to focus more towards hammer. She will throw the weight indoors at a few competitions. We use the weight as an indicator for her hammer.  But we will be building up her specific strength with heavy throwing and hammer related core work. We will continue to slowly fix her technique and keep working on what she learned last year. In the weight room, I want to bring her power up another level and make that level consistent. She’s already one of the strongest females in the nation, but continuing to grow her power while having her learn to transition it to more hammer strength will be another step towards getting a female hammer thrower on the podium at an international event. My ultimate goal for her this year is to have a repeat win at NCAA’s, break the overall NCAA record, go to the Olympic trials and finish top 3, and go to the Olympics and make the finals. I also for see her having a good year in shot put. This past year she had a few fouls at the end of the season that were over 17m. I would like for her to throw at least 18m in shot put and have a great finish at NCAA nationals.”

Not to be forgotten is Josh Freeman, who had a huge PR on his final throw at this year’s NCAA outdoor meet.

“For Josh, we’ve been working on some technical issues in shot. So far, it has paid off with great results especially while in base training. We will keep working and attacking the heavy implements, but really trying to learn to stretch out the light shots. Learning how to throw far, with mid-to-light shots, in base training is very important in my opinion. It gives you a look into how the future will play out. Everyone can throw far when you feel good, but learning how to throw far when your body is slow and sore will pay off big when it comes time to peak. Especially as an experienced athlete. In the weight room, his squats have become more powerful, which has resulted in more explosive legs. His bench has been climbing up, as well as his cleans. Ultimately, I want to get him to 21m this next season and to win 2 national titles. Also, I want to have him ready to make the finals at the Olympic trials and see how well he can fight for a spot against the professionals.”

For his part, Smith is excited about what lies ahead at Ole Miss.

“We had certain training demands, and they granted all of them. For example, I run the weight room workouts and they will give me one or two strength coaches to assist me. I had a long talk with the strength coach and he is fine with it. When I am training kids, what they are doing on the throwing field dictates what we do in the weight room. I often adjust their lifting based on how they throw in practice. A strength coach doesn’t see that, and one of the biggest reasons why we have done a good job peaking is that I control all aspects of training.”

“Also, it is the SEC. Connie will have a lot more help, including a director of operations. They are building a new track which will be done next May. They have a temporary throwing field four or five miles away. But all I need is a piece of concrete until they get the other facility done. At SIU, we felt like we had done about everything we could do. Connie was looking for a new challenge and I go where she goes.”

“And there is no hostility there between us and SIU. It was a good breakup. We built the program and want to make sure it stays intact.”

It sounds like anointing JC Lambert as his successor was a key step in ensuring that it does.

 

 

 

A quick chat with Art Venegas after Joe’s big win

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Art Venegas, coach of freshly-crowned shot put World Champion Joe Kovacs, graciously answered a few questions following Joe’s win.

How did you help Joe get ready for the epic scale of a meet like the World Championships?
It has been a gradual learning curve with the championships  always as the goal
How did you approach the qualifying round? Do you warm up the same as the final? Do you hold anything back? 
The Q round is the most important part of the meet. I have a series of preparatory phases during practice that simulate the arduous challenges World Championship qualification  presents that allows for a better chance to get to the final. We don’t hold back, but we try to not foul and keep our technical model in mind
Could you share what you were thinking during the final? It took Joe a while to get rolling. What did you say to him when he came to the rail between throws?
The final is the end of a throwing Marathon that started at 6 AM and finished at 9 PM with intense waiting periods both on and off the track. My job is to determine where the athlete is at and ask some specific questions. If the answer matches my observations, I try to make simple adjustments with usually one cue to focus on. After that, I watch the activity  of the athlete on the apron between throws and see if they are in need of rest or some drills to prepare the next throw
 As you know, making the leap from fine college thrower to world champion is not easy. What allowed Joe to do it?

Joe is an exceptional student and a long-term thinker and planner, added to his great talent and drive. I have felt since I met him that he had greatness in his future, and having been blessed with some great throwers in the past I felt that he had the intangibles that help create champions

 

 

Team Sophia plays the Long Game

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the USATF World Youth Trials in Lisle, Illinois and watching sixteen-year-old Sophia Rivera win the shot put and javelin competitions.

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Afterwards, I had a nice chat with Sophia. You can find a transcript of that interview here:

https://throwholics.com/2015/07/q-a-with-sophia-rivera-at-the-world-youth-trials-wvideo/

One thing that became clear as I spoke to Sophia was that her parents (Edwin Rivera and Michelle Hessemer) and her coach (Ron Eichaker) were taking a measured approach in developing Sophia’s athletic talents. They understood that Sophia was in the beginning phase of what will likely be a long career as a thrower, and they were determined not to sacrifice her long term potential in the interest of short-term gains.

In order to get a deeper understanding of the philosophy behind Sophia’s training, I contacted Ron Eichaker.

It turns out that Ron is a man of wide-ranging interests and experiences, many of which have contributed to his determination to play the Long Game with Sophia.

Ron grew up on north side of Chicago where he attended an Orthodox Jewish Day School in his early years.  When he graduated from Niles North High School in 1974, he held the school records in the shot put, discus and triple jump. In his spare time, he high jumped and ran the hurdles. His discus PB of 174’11” remains the school record.

When not on the track, Ron pursued what would become another lifelong passion: music. He sang in and around the Chicago area in Jewish choirs and as a solo performer beginning at the age of seven.

Somehow, Ron also found time to master the javelin, an event that was not even contested in Illinois High Schools.

Ron first picked up the jav during the summer between his freshman and sophomore years after seeing a college thrower chucking it around. As Wikipedia (affectionately known to us English teachers as “Satan’s Site”) had not yet been invented, Ron researched the javelin in the World Book Encyclopedia and “saw its historic connection to early civilization and found that the sport tied in perfectly with my affinity with ancient history and religion. It didn’t hurt that I had a pretty above average throwing arm anyway. And I also had a dance background in childhood.”

While in high school, Ron joined the University of Chicago Track Club, then in its heyday, which availed him the opportunity to rub elbows with some pretty beefy dudes. Brian Oldfield, Rick Bilder, George Tyms, Jesse Stuart, Al Feuerbach and “many other pretty good throwers” all competed at UCTC at that time.  He also met Bill Skinner, who helped him learn to throw the jav well enough that he hit 227’9″ in the spring of his senior year and received a scholarship to Northern Illinois University, where he was likely the only member of the Music Education department ever to hit the Olympic qualifying standard in the javelin.  Ron made the NCAA meet in 1975 but, unfortunately “threw way beyond my physical capabilities, and got injured.”

After rehab, Ron came back to throw his senior year and finished second in the MAC Championships before heading off to New York City to attend the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Following his ordination in 1982, Ron focused his considerable energies on his congregation (first in Milwaukee, and since 2000 as Cantor of the United Hebrew Congregation in Chesterfield, Missouri) and his family (he and his wife Heidi have raised two daughters).  During that time, Ron occasionally consulted with local college coaches, and even broke out the jav boots when administering motivational programs “for children and teens about how to realize goals and go after them.” But he never worked directly with athletes, and had to mothball the spear for good after rupturing his left Achilles tendon during a throwing exhibition in 1999. For a decade thereafter, Ron’s primary connection with the world of athletics came through helping his younger daughter, Lindsay, develop into a fine softball pitcher.

Meanwhile, a New Jersey fourth-grader named Sophia Rivera was raising eyebrows by throwing the mini-jav farther than most boys in her area. When the Rivera family relocated to Missouri as Sophia entered the sixth grade, they were eager to find a coach who could mentor their rocket-armed daughter. Luckily, Sophia’s mother Michelle Hassemer worked with a member of Ron’s congregation. That coworker knew of Ron’s secret past as a spearman and recommended that Michelle contact him.

Initially, Ron was reluctant to take on the responsibility of coaching Sophia. He was completely devoted to his 1,100 family congregation, and to his own family.  He agreed to meet with Michelle and Edwin however, and during a two-hour lunch at a local restaurant outlined the conditions under which he would consider mentoring Sophia.

As Ron remembers it, he told them that they needed to ” trust my vision as results will not happen for a few years.  Throwing and javelin in particular is to be developed over many years of training with progression determined by careful, incremental physical development, genetic predisposition, level of concern (mental maturity and training) and family support.”

Michelle recalls that first encounter with Ron this way:

“What I remember most about our first meeting with Ron was his passion/philosophy that excelling in sport is so much bigger than the podium.  He introduced us to a few concepts that resonated with our parenting style and approach but had never really been put into words.   These concepts have endured throughout the course of Sophia’s development.”

One of those concepts was that  “It’s not about being the best twelve or thirteen-year-old in the nation.”

Michelle explains:

“At first blush, this may seem contrary to the goals of a family whose child/children are involved in AAU or USATF summer/club track and field.  I mean, of course you want to get to Nationals and be on top of that podium, right?  Well if it happens then that’s great.  But what really matters is establishing a technical foundation in the chosen event/event family.  Being fanatic – and I mean OBSESSIVELY FANATIC about technique is fundamental.  For example, Sophia worked on perfecting the release for a year or more before starting the glide (shot put), spin (disc) or approach (javelin).    This also means not pushing a young athlete into an overly-rigorous strength training regimen too quickly.  The first step was to work on overall athleticism (hence the multiple sports–Sophia plays softball and basketball in addition to track) and core strength. Med Balls… lots of Med Ball work!  This helped Sophia create a solid core and develop specific strength for the throws.  And again – technique is the focus!  The goal is to really prepare the body for the rigors of throwing and training; particularly javelin throwing which is really hard on young backs, elbows, shoulders, hips and knees.”

Another important concept articulated by Ron was “Don’t chase a number.”

Again, Michelle explains:

“During a competition the focus is on one or two technical areas.  Early on, Ron would tell us what one or two things Sophia should focus on during a competition. At first it was/ could be anything from foot position to a relaxed left arm.  Then it progressed to more of a discussion with Ron and Sophia, and her dad and I would remind her.  Now it’s a chat over breakfast or before she checks in and we ask her what she’s going to focus on.  By focusing on the technique and one or two items, she’s learned to make corrections on her own and sort of ‘self-coach’ her way through a competition.  This also means that achieving technical goals is more important than distance.  So a good meet isn’t measured by place on the podium or whether she throws a PR – but on whether she hit her technical goals.  Did she hit her marks in the discus circle?  Is that left leg staying low in the drive?  Was her javelin approach fluid and did she accelerate throughout?  If those technical goals are achieved the distances will take care of themselves.”

After agreeing to coach Sophia, Ron asked her parents to sign her up at a local training facility called HammerBodies. Ron met with the staff there and created a routine to “develop Sophia’s core and solidify her balance and stability in a non-resistive and natural fashion.”

Translation: Tons of medball throws, as Michelle mentioned earlier.

Only in the past year has Sophia been exposed to Olympic style weight lifting, and that only in the form of technique work with a 45-pound bar.

This fall, after five years of preparation, Sophia will begin adding weight to the bar.

In terms of teaching throwing technique, Ron describes himself as having “a Euro/Far Eastern philosophy…stressing the fine points of the throws from the release working backwards to the load phases of each throw. The Far Eastern approach employs ultra slow movements similar to tai chi, only using aspects of the throws to enhance an awareness of each muscle group firing in their proper sequence.”

Mentally,  Ron has sought to develop Sophia “like a young musician…a young artist who will grow with her art as her mind matures along with her techniques. My goal has been to help Sophia understand her body so that as her technique advances she is able to incorporate and advance her techniques in a balanced fashion. As a voice major at NIU, my professors told me that I should not be overdeveloped as my body and my voice were still maturing. I would not hit my vocal peak util my mid-thirties, so I should be patient and persistent and learn to absorb and adapt healthy additions to a solid vocal foundation to be able to develop in a time frame dictated by my body and not by either my mind or the perceptions of others. As this related to Sophia, the more technique at an early age the more to address as the body grows.  Every year she has been dealing with a new body and a new center of gravity.  More technical elements just means more to adjust and, unfortunately, many coaches adjust by just adding more technique.  Like a machine that is constantly upgraded with new components.  Pretty soon the original engine is indistinguishable, so when something breaks it becomes more difficult to identify the source of the breakage and then provide a remedy without causing an imbalance elsewhere, hence another break.  She fully understands and accepts that her maturity as a thrower will not occur until her mid to late 20’s and in order to maximize her potential, she will have to continue to lay micronic strata of layers to her already established base techniques.”

Thus far, Team Sophia’s emphasis on the Long Game has worked well. Earlier this week, she finished second in the shot and eighth in the javelin at the World Youth Championships. She has attracted much interest from college track programs.

More importantly, she has built a solid technical base from which to launch a long and productive career.

 

 

 

Chicagoland Throws Meet – Saturday Interviews

Here is Dan’s interview with Gia Lewis-Smallwood after throwing a season’s best 64.01M.

 

Here is Kaylee Antil, recent HS graduate who will be joining Dave Dumble’s throws squad at Arizona State in the Fall.

 

Here are the exceptional Davis brothers, Carlos and Khalil who are heading for Nebraska this Fall as football and track athletes.

 

Here is Michael Marsack, who came to be known as PR Mike by the meet announcer as he repeatedly set new PRs during the competition.

 

Here is Riley Dolezal who came into the meet looking for the “A” standard in the jav.

 

Here is Dani Bunch, a recent graduate of Purdue and converted from a glider to a rotational shot putter.

 

 

Chicagoland Throws Meet – Friday Interviews

This is Dan’s interview with American discus legend Mac Wilkins.

 

This is Adam Kelly, a recent HS grad who will be attending Princeton in the fall.  Adam set a new PR at the meet of 74.10M.

 

This is Gwen Berry, the women’s hammer throw winner.

 

This Darrell Hill, who has thrown exceptionally well recently, placing second at NCAAs and was sixth at Nationals.

 

This is Stephanie Brown Trafton, 2008 Olympic gold medalist in the discus.

 

This is Becky O’Brien, recent graduate of The University of Buffalo and an emerging force in women’s shot.

 

A chat with shot putter Bobby Grace

 

Bobby Grace raised a few eyebrows (mine included) when he bombed a 20.51m toss out of the first flight of the US Championship men’s shot on Sunday.

As soon as the competition ended (Bobby’s throw held up for 8th place) I set about tracking him down. It turns out that Bobby, a graduate of Youngstown State,  is both a fine shot putter and a very articulate young man. The following is an interview I conducted with him yesterday via email.

Thanks for agreeing to an interview. Let’s jump in. As someone who coaches throwers, I want to personally thank you for providing a left-handed role model! I’ve been coaching for 25 years, and I can tell you that excellent lefty throwers are a rare commodity. Do you ever feel self-conscious being the only left-handed thrower at meets? And was learning technique from (I assume) right-handed coaches while watching film of right-handed throwers difficult?

Thanks Dan, I appreciate that. No, I’m never self-conscious going to meets being a left-handed thrower. To be honest, until the end of my collegiate career I didn’t realize that I was the only lefty in finals most of the time. As far as coaching goes, I’ve always been coached exactly as a right-handed thrower. My coach in high school would give me technical advice as a righty; and I had to learn to translate that to lefty. So now I just hear everything right-handed and it processes lefty. As far as video I’m the same way. I actually prefer to watch right handed throwers and break down technique. It feels more natural at this point to translate righty to lefty.

The German discus coach Torsten Schmidt told me that it is important to have your throwers take regular left-handed throws because they have to really think about what they are doing, and this helps ingrain their technique. I wonder if the process of translating everything righty to lefty has had a beneficial effect on your technique?

I would agree with that most definitely. I think that all of the constant translation from right to left has given me a good mental picture of what my technique should feel like. I also think that has helped me to self-diagnose technical issues on a day-to-day basis so that I can keep focusing on big picture issues that I am trying to work on.

I am a throws obsessive, but to be honest when I saw your 20.51m pop up on the flash results page, my first thought was “Who in the bleep is that?”  Can you tell us a bit about where you came from, how you got into the sport, how you ended up at Youngstown?

I’m assuming most people thought the same thing you did. I’m originally from Cleveland, Ohio and I started throwing in 8th grade. I was very much a late bloomer physically and finished with a best of 57ft in high school. I had a few smaller schools recruiting me out of high school but I knew I wanted to compete against the best. I chose Youngstown State which was my biggest offer at that point. I lucked into getting three great coaches (Brian Sklenar, Willie Danzer for all of my programming and Brent Shelby for all of my technical work).

Can you tell us about your progression while at Youngstown?

Freshman: 15.85 (52 ft)

Sophomore: 16.90 (55 ft)

Junior: 18.84 (62)

Redshirt: 19.31 (63 5)

Senior: 19.90 (65 5)

So senior year rolls along, and 19.90m is a great throw. But in this country, you’ve got to get to 21.00m to have any hope of making the National team for a Worlds or Olympics. What was it that convinced you to stay in the sport and take your shot? (sorry for the lousy pun)

The decision to stick with throwing after I graduated was relatively easy for me. Aside from figuring out obvious money/living situations, I knew I was going to throw. I’ve always known that my progression would be a long-term process. I just need to keep working hard and that takes time. I also have an extremely supportive family and coaches that encourage me to chase my dream.

Can you describe your current situation? Where you live, how you support yourself, where and with whom you train?

I currently still train at YSU. I work part time at a consulting company to help pay some of my living expenses. I typically throw by myself or with a few of the collegiate guys and work with my coach Brian Sklenar on an everyday basis. Periodically I will go to Ashland and throw with Kurt Roberts which has been a huge help this year as well.

Can you tell me about the cues you use for your entry? For example, when do you want your left foot to leave the ground? Some would say “as soon as possible.” Others try to leave it down to create a stretch in the groin/hip area. What is your approach? (Note: Bobby graciously agreed to send me a recent vid of one of his throws. The following pics are stills from that vid.)

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I usually don’t have to think of much out of the back.  That is easily the most natural part of the throw for me.  Occasionally if my legs are tired and I am moving somewhat sluggish I may think about activating my left foot toward the middle more.  But to answer your question about any cues I use for entry, most of my issues out of the back are upper body.  I think about keeping my right arm passive out of the back and keeping my shoulders level through the entire throw. 

How about here? Can you tell us about your left leg sweep? And at what point do you try to get your right foot out of the back? Sorry to press you on all these details, but the people who read these interviews like to know how the sausage is made. 

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No problem at all. So this part of the throw is one of the bigger issues I concentrate on.  As you can see in the picture, my left foot is somewhat high off of the ground. I am constantly working on trying to keep both of my feet as close to the ground as possible so that I can get that left foot down in the middle and start turning through the ball.  My hip level usually goes hand in hand with how high my feet are off the ground. Basically, when I get tall through the throw good things don’t happen.  When I can keep my hip level down and work my feet the throw lines up.  

As far as thinking about getting my right foot out of the back, I never think of both getting the right foot out and the left foot sweeping at the same time.  Depending on how a particular day is going I will think of one or the other, for me that is just too many things/issues to try and work on during one throw. 

Absolutely. But is there a cue that you use, like…there is that big yellow house out beyond your landing area. Do you ever think something like, “I want my right foot off the ground while my chest is facing the yellow house”?

No I don’t really have any cues that work off of landmarks.  Mostly all by feel so that I can self correct and feel what I am doing through the throw. Typically, I find that if my right leg is hanging in the back too long, it is a result of my left leg not being active enough from the start. So, my cue for getting my right leg out of the back would then work backwards and become “OK, I need to be more active with my left leg” and I would work through that particular issue that way. 

Almost done! Looks like you are in great shape here. Your feet are down and you are wrapped. What’s next?

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So here I would like to be a little more upright in the shoulders and also give myself a bit wider of a base with my feet. The finish is the area of the throw where I feel I have the most to work on. I still have a pretty big pull away with my right shoulder and my block could get substantially longer.  If I can consistently correct those issues at the finish and stay longer on the ball, I will be a much more consistent 20.50+m thrower. 

So you feel like you have pulled away a little prematurely here?  And you anticipated one of my final questions. What do you have to do to get to the level that Jordan Clarke just reached? Also, what does the rest of the summer look like?

 

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Yes, this throw is one of my better ones with the pull-away but could definitely keep getting better, and is very visible in the picture. 

One of the major things I need to do to reach that 21+m level is get bigger. I’m currently about 265 lbs and need to get that closer to 285-295 lb range, which will help a lot of things. As far as technique goes, I am planning to concentrate on all of the key points I told you about so far, along with getting more throws under my belt. The more special strength I can accumulate, the better. I am not sure what the rest of the summer holds for me. As of now I believe I am an alternate for NACAC and Pan Ams. Currently, nothing is set in stone in terms of scheduling.

You can find the vid of Bobby’s training throw here:

 

John Smith talks about SIU’s big day at the NCAA meet

Not a bad NCAA meet for the Southern Illinois throwers.

Josh Freeman, a junior, hit a PR of 20.15m on his final throw to jump from ninth place all the way to fourth.

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Another junior, hammer thrower DeAnna Price, surpassed the 70-meter line for the first time. Her winning throw of 71.49m set an NCAA Championship Meet record.

 

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Freshman Raven Saunders nailed a PR on her final throw in the shot put. Her winning toss of 18.35m broke her own US Junior record in the event.

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I checked in with SIU throws coach John Smith a few days before the NCAA meet, and he assured me that his crew was ready to throw far.

How did he know?

It’s all in the numbers.

John uses overweight and underweight implements extensively when training his throwers, and he believes that there is a light “indicator ball” in the shot and hammer that, combined with their performance with a heavier implement and in the weight room, allows him to tell how far his athletes are physically ready to throw.

In the men’s shot, the indicator ball is the fifteen-pounder. A week before the NCAA’s, Josh Freeman threw the fifteen-pounder 67 feet in practice. His performance in Eugene:  66’1 ½”.

In the women’s hammer, the indicator ball weighs 3.5 kilos. Prior to her victory in Eugene, Deanna Price threw the 3.5k two-hundred and thirty-four feet.  Her 71.49m Championship record toss translates to 234’6”.

The indicator ball for women shot putters is the 8-pounder. Raven put that implement 61 feet in practice, then hit 60’2 ½” in Eugene.

John is the first to admit that there is a difference between being physically ready to throw a certain distance and then getting in the ring and actually throwing it at a big meet. “It’s like Mike Tyson said, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Under pressure, the first thing that will go is technique. Strength is like a loyal dog. It’s always on your side. But technique is like a cat. Sometimes it will come when you call it, and sometimes it won’t.”

All three SIU throwers had a little trouble getting the cat to settle in their lap.

Freeman, for example, opened with 18.81m (which would not have qualified him for the final), pulled himself into medal contention with his next three efforts (19.30m, 19.42m, 19.46m), then fell back to 19.12m in round five before launching the big one.

“Josh was short-punching the ball, at first,” recalled Smith. “I kept yelling at him to get over the board.”

Price opened with 63.72m, which pretty much assured her a spot in the final, but struggled to relax even as she nailed a 67.33m toss in round 3. According to Smith, Price was “falling back into the ring on the 67.33m throw. I finally got her to laugh between the trials and finals. Then, when she got in there for her last throw with the world off her shoulders knowing she had won, she was able to relax and show what she had been doing in practice all week.”

Saunders, the NCAA Indoor champion who has made 18-meter throws look fairly routine, could manage no better than 17.39m going into the sixth round.  Smith: “Raven went back to her high school technique. She had a 16-meter warm-up throw with the 5k, then out of nowhere she started yanking her head.”

And how did he snap her out of it? “Connie told her to keep her damn head stil!”

“Connie,” is, of course, Connie Price Smith the SIU head coach and many time US shot put champion.

Next week, the SIU trio will head back to Eugene for the USA Championships. How will they fare?

According to Coach Smith, the numbers so far are looking pretty good.

Cory Martin Interview

Cory was instructing at the Wheaton North HS Throws and Running Clinic in December 2013.  Dan McQuaid spoke with him about his past throwing success and plans for the future.

The meet report from the 2008 NCAA Championships where Cory was a double winner in the shot put and the hammer can be found in this blog.