René Sack, the German national women’s discus coach, recently appeared on a Mcthrows.com webinar to share some thoughts on the fine art of discus throwing. René broke down video of two of his top throwers, World Championship medalist Nadine Müller and European Championship medalist Shanice Craft, and answered questions about technique and training.
Andy Bloom, one of history’s greatest shot/disc doublers, and his coach, Scott Bennett, will appear on a free Mcthrows.com webinar Saturday, June 20th at 12:00pm CST.
After winning the 1996 NCAA title in both events, Andy and Scott had trouble deciding which he should focus on as a pro, so they stuck with both. He ended up with PB’s of 21.82m and 67.46m in a marvelous career that took him all over the world, including to the Sydney Olympics where he finished fourth in the shot.
In this presentation, Andy and Scott will break down Andy’s technique and talk about their journey together.
Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout the webinar. Register here.
American record holder Lance Deal recently appeared on a Mcthrows.com webinar to discuss the fine art of hammer throwing. Whether demonstrating concepts from the comfort of his home office or breaking down film of himself and other hammer greats, Lance did his best to help us understand the approach that won him the silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games. You may access that video here.
Also available, is a recent session in which Colorado State University coach Brian Bedard examined the process by which shot putter Tarynn Sieg went from throwing 14.19m as a high school glider, to 17.44m her sophomore year of college using the rotational technique. Brian shared that journey using lots of interesting vids taken along the way. You may access his presentation here.
Check back soon for information on upcoming webinars!
René Sack, coach of two-time World Championship medalist Nadine Müller, and three-time European Championships bronze medalist Shanice Craft, will talk diskus technique in a free Mcthrows.com webinar on Saturday, June 6th at 12:00pm CST.
René will use video of Nadine and Shanice to delve into technical concepts.
He is a fantastic coach and great guy, and this webinar promises to be something special.
Attendees may submit questions throughout René’s presentation. Register here.
Determined to become the focal point of the javelin universe, Mcthrows.com is set to follow up presentations by Mark Mirabelli and Mike Barber with a lecture by the German biomechanist Dr. Klaus Bartonietz and the world record holder Uwe Hohn.
Titled, “The Javelin Technique of Johannes Vetter, Thomas Röhler, and Neeraj Chora” this webinar will take place on Friday, May 29th at 11:00am CST.
Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout this presentation. It is free. Register here.
On Thursday, May 28th at 12:00pm CST, American hammer great Lance Deal will discuss his concepts of hammer technique. Lance, the silver medalist at the 1996 Olympics, will use film of himself, Koji Murofushi, and 2019 World Champion DeAnna Price to illustrate his concepts.
Attendees may submit questions throughout Lance’s presention.
This is a free Mcthrows.com webinar. Register here.
Outstanding Australian javelin coach Mike Barber will break down the technique of 2019 World Champion Kelsey-Lee Barber in a free webinar on Thursday, May 21, at 3:00pm CST. In advance of that appearance, Mike graciously provided some details about Kelsey-Lee’s career and their big night in Doha. You can register for Mike’s presentation here.
It was one of those moments that throws coaches long for and dread. In the fifth round of the women’s javelin final at the 2019 World Athletics Championships, Kelsey-Lee Barber sat in fourth place with a best throw of 62.95m. Occupying the top three spots were China’s Liu Shiying and Lyu Huihui, along with Germany’s Christin Hussong. Having set a PB of 67.70m two months before, Kelsey arrived in Doha as one of the favorites, and she still had an excellent chance to medal if she could find a groove on one of her two remaining attempts.
In the stands of Khalifa International Stadium, Mike Barber, Kelsey’s husband and coach, sat peering into the screen of an ipad. He normally did not watch video of Kelsey’s attempts during competitions but, as he said later, “Something wasn’t right,” and he needed to figure out what that was. After her solid opener, Kelsey had planted her next three throws just on either side of the sixty-meter line (61.40m, 58.34m, 60.90m) a full five meters below what she’d need to get on the podium. She seemed stuck, he needed to help her get unstuck, and they were running out of time.
To Mike, the video confirmed what he had suspected. Kelsey appeared a bit tentative. She seemed to be holding something back. As officials summoned her for her fifth attempt, Mike considered telling her to add half a meter to the length of her approach.“It looked like she needed more space to feel like she could run through the crossover,” he recalls. A longer run up might remove any worries she harbored about fouling and unleash her aggressiveness.
Or, it might not.
That’s what’s so great and so treacherous about these moments. The right adjustment at the right time can help an athlete unleash a big throw when they need it the most. The wrong advice, however–no matter how well intentioned–can cause them to overthink and lose their rhythm at the worst possible time.
We’ve all been there. Maybe not at a World Championships, but sometimes in the heat of a Conference or State championship we notice a flaw in our athlete’s technique and think “That’s it! Fix that, and we’re set!”
In our excitement, we begin shouting adjustments.
“Keep your eyes back!”
“Finish the throw!”
“Stay long! Be aggressive! But, relax!”
Sometimes it works, but sometimes advice delivered in the heat of battle can make an athlete self-conscious and muck up their rhythm.
One year at our State Meet, I had two shot putters competing simultaneously in separate flights in different spots within the oval. It took a lot of effort–I had to bolt back and forth from one side of the stadium to the other–but I managed to shout enough suggestions to make it impossible for either of them to get comfortable. Both threw poorly, and I realized afterwards that they’d have been much better off if I’d kept my mouth shut.
That night in Doha, Mike had to decide, as Kelsey stepped to the runway for her fifth throw, if the moment was right to suggest a change.
Luckily, he and Kelsey had survived plenty of high pressure moments during the five years they’d worked together. The entire 2016 season, for example. After taking bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and surpassing the sixty-three meter mark two years running, Kelsey hoped to make some noise at the Olympics, but instead spent the entire 2016 season trying to manage a stress fracture in her lower back. The focus of that year evolved into holding things together long enough to qualify for Rio and sample the Olympic experience–often an important step in a thrower’s development. Kelsey accomplished that goal–she finished 28th in Rio with a best of 55.25m–but the pain and uncertainty she faced made for a long and difficult summer.
She came back to set PBs in both 2017 (64.53m) and 2018 (64.57m) and picked up some additional big meet experience along the way. She made the final at the London World Championships in 2017, then won silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
The 2019 season began in promising fashion as Kelsy won the Australian Nationals with a toss of 63.33m in April, displaying in Mike’s words “a lot of horsepower.”
“She just couldn’t quite get it through the jav, but we walked away thinking ‘there’s a big throw in there, we just have to find it.’”
They found it in Lucerne in July, when Kelsey smashed a 67.70m PB that announced her as a major contender in Doha.
Unfortunately, ten days later at the London Diamond League Meeting, she suffered a flareup of a shoulder injury she’d originally sustained in 2014. I asked Mike if an injury history like Kelsey’s (she also ruptured an elbow tendon in 2012) was simply a byproduct of making a living tossing the spear.
“You want to believe that you can make your athletes resilient enough to stay healthy,” he said. “But the stress that throwing a javelin puts on your joints is immense. And going from being a sixty-four-meter thrower to a sixty-seven-meter thrower creates an exponential increase in the force on the shoulder.”
They had to adjust Kelsey’s training, and between the London meeting and Doha she never threw with anything longer than a seven-step run up, aside from at the Diamond League Final in late August where she tossed 64.74m and finished second to China’s Lyu Huihui. After that competition, Kelsey informed Brian that in spite of her shoulder issues, “I can beat Lyu. I can win the World Championships.”
Kelsey’s confidence was encouraging, but the shoulder remained touchy right up to their final throwing session before the qualification round in Doha when Kelsey took a few tosses using a seven-step run up and experienced “a hell of a lot of pain.”
Kelsey was assigned to the first flight during qualification, and the best she could manage was 61.08m in round one. That was well short of the 63.50m automatic mark, and afterwards she and Mike retired to the indoor warmup facility to watch the live feed of the second flight and await their fate. In order to advance to the next night’s final, Kelsey would have to finish in the top twelve.
“That was the worst!” recalled Mike. “She was sitting fifth in her pool, and looking at the list of throwers in the second flight and their PBs and what we knew of them, there were definitely eight girls that could knock her out, and there was nothing we could do except prepare as if Kelsey was in the final. She started to go through her routine, and when we eventually saw that she had made it, she said, ‘I know what I did wrong. Let’s go out there and win tomorrow!’”
So, they’d been through a lot together by the time Kelsey stepped to the runway to line up for fifth attempt in the Doha final, and that gave Mike the confidence that she could handle a last-minute adjustment.
“Kelsey!” he called out. “Move back!”
She did, and it almost worked.
Kelsey’s throw measured 63.65m, to that point her best effort of the night, but when the fifth round ended she was still well behind Hussong (65.05m), Huihui (65.49m), and Shiying (65.88m).
Mike says that Kelsey “carried her momentum better” on that fifth attempt but “fell off it” a bit at the end. That did not, however, diminish her confidence. “I can do this,” she assured him as they conferred before her final attempt.
She used the lengthened run up again on her sixth throw, and this time there was no falling off at the finish. She smashed a 66.56m and vaulted into first.
She was now in for another wait, shorter than the qualification vigil but just as agonizing. Throwing behind Kelsey in the order, Hussong, Lyu each had another shot to overtake her.
Hussong’s 65.21m, Lyu’s 62.61m, and Liu’s 65.75m must have seemed to hang in the air forever, but they did not change the final order and Kelsey became the first Australian to win a World Championship gold in the throws since Dani Samuels took discus gold in Berlin in 2009.
If you’d like to learn more about Kelsey’s career and the technique that made her World Champion, join us this Thursday. Mike will break down Kelsey’s form using videos of some of her best throws. Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout. If you’d like to be part of this very special event, register here.
On Thursday, May 14 at 12:00pm CST, Mcthrows.com will present a free webinar with Mark Mirabelli, one of the country’s finest javelin coaches.
Mark was selected by the USA Olympic Committee as one of ten coaches to participate in the “Elite Javelin Coaches Camp” in San Diego. He is a nationally renowned speaker, and the owner of the “Mark Mirabelli Throwing School,” where he trains hundreds of HS and college throwers each year.
Under Mark’s tutelage, both of his sons have become outstanding javelin throwers. Christopher Mirabelli was a three-time Big Ten champion and All-American during his career at Rutgers, and Nickolas finished third at the 2019 USATF U20 Championships as a freshman at Texas A&M.
Mark, who has produced a series of “Mark Mirabelli Throwing” DVDs and has several courses on Coachtube, will detail the process he uses to help his athletes develop outstanding jav technique.
Attendees may submit questions throughout Mark’s presentation. Register here.
In a recent webinar, Vésteinn Hafsteinsson examined the technique of 2019 Discus World Champion Daniel Ståhl. Prior to that presentation, Vésteinn sat for a long interview about his coaching career. This post is the last of four based on that interview. It also includes some comments Vésteinnmadeduring the webinar.
On a July day in 2011, Vésteinn Hafsteinsson put his arm around the broad shoulders of seventeen-year-old Daniel Ståhland offered him a choice. “I said to him,” recalls Vésteinn, “You can keep doing what you are doing or you can decide to be the best discus thrower in the world.”
What he had been “doing” after a youth spent playing ice hockey, was dabbling at throwing the discus.
Daniel was part of a Stockholm athletics club whose membership already included Niklas and Leif Arrhenius, world class discus throwers whom Vésteinn had mentored. The throwing coordinator of that club invited Vésteinn to stop by and work with Daniel, and Vésteinn’s first impression of the young man was that he was big, tall, and perhaps nuts.
“He was throwing into a net in Stockholm, and he was all over the place,” Vésteinn said recently. “He was screaming and laughing, throwing to the left, to the right, straight up.”
Fortunately, Vésteinn is not intimidated by “guys who are odd.” He has never forgotten the “unbelievable passion” that Gerd Kanter exuded at their first meeting, and here was this giant kid displaying a “funny craziness” that made Vésteinn think, “If you could use this energy properly, oh my god.”
Vésteinn stopped by Daniel’s club maybe six times over the next two years. Each time, he was struck by Daniel’s potential, and one day he decided to challenge him to get serious.
So, he asked Daniel to choose.
“He laughed his big laugh,” recalled Vésteinn, “And said ‘Of course I want to be the best.’ So I told him, ‘You must work with me, and be ready because it will take you eight years to reach the top.’”
It would prove to be a significant moment for the sport of athletics, and perhaps for hockey as well. How many opponents might have been obliterated against the boards had Daniel returned to the ice while filling out to his current stature of 6’7”, and 155 kilograms? Fortunately, we will never have to find out.
Vésteinn set about helping Daniel develop strength and effective technique. The greatest challenge, though, was to teach him to throw his best when it counted the most.
“In the beginning,” Vésteinn recalls, “Daniel was not a good competitor. He was a different personality than Gerd. Daniel is a comedian, while Gerd was very serious. But both needed to learn how to win.”
Luckily, one thing Gerd and Daniel had in common was their passion to be the best. “They bought into the concept,” Vésteinn says. “They believed in what I said, and they followed it.”
While coaching both Gerd and Daniel, Vésteinn drew on his own career as a discus thrower, a career in which he struggled mightily to produce his best results in four Olympic Games and five World Championships. “I could use my weakness as an athlete,” he says now, “to be a strong coach to help them mentally.”
Three hard years of training and competing paid off when Daniel drilled a huge PB of 66.89m in 2014, but he showed at the European Championships that he still wasn’t quite ready to compete against the best. His top effort in the prelims was 59.01m, which left him in twenty-fourth place.
He performed much better at the 2015 World Championships, reaching a season’s best 64.73m in the final and finishing in fifth place–one spot behind Gerd. But, instead of building on that performance in 2016, Daniel took a big step backwards. He upped his PB to 68.72m but could not come close to that mark in the biggest competitions. His 64.77m still got him fifth at the Euros, but he dipped to 62.26m and fourteenth place in Rio.
Gerd had endured a similar humiliation at the 2004 Games, finishing nineteenth with a throw of 60.05m–more than eight meters below his season’s best. Then, in 2005, he broke through with a 68.57m bomb at the World Championships that won him the silver medal and gave him the confidence he would need to eventually become World and Olympic champion.
For Daniel, the breakthrough came at the 2017 Worlds, a competition that will be remembered for the size of the medalists (the smallest of the three–Andrius Gudžius–was listed at 6’6” and 300lbs) and the ferocity of the second round in which Mason Finley (6’8”, 350lbs) took the lead with a PB 68.03m, only to be knocked into second by Daniel’s 69.19m, and then into third when Gudžius hit 69.21m. There was no change in the ranking after that, and Daniel had to settle for silver.
It was a frustrating result, but also a turning point as he demonstrated a year later.
I was present for his 2018 rematch with Gudžius at the European Championships in Berlin. Daniel qualified easily with a 67.07m opener in the prelims, but found himself on the brink of disaster in the final with fouls on each of his first two attempts.
It was a crazy night. Berlin was in the middle of a heatwave and the air was heavy with humidity. I remember that at each stop on the subway ride to the stadium, boarding passengers would exclaim “Ooof!” as they stepped into the sweltering cars. But the stadium was packed, and folks were in a raucous mood as this was Germany, this was the European Championships, and this was Robert Harting’s last appearance in the German national uniform.
Daniel had to shut all that out–the noise, the heat, the awful prospect of fouling again–as he stepped into the ring for his third attempt. His toss of 64.20m showed that he’d come a long way since Rio, and lifted him into second place. More importantly, it earned him a full six attempts.
Gudžius responded by knocking the crap out of one. His 67.19m was an impressive toss in that heavy air and threatened to put the competition away.
It would take a hell of a lot of horsepower to launch a discus much farther in that stadium on that night, but horsepower is one thing that Daniel never lacked. His Humvee-sized body contains what Vésteinn refers to as a “Formula One” engine. In round four, he pressed the pedal to the metal and grabbed the lead with a monster throw of 68.23m.
It was a manly effort, and perhaps the farthest throw ever in an outdoor sauna. Once again though, Gudžius was able to respond. In round six, he snatched the gold with a 68.46m bomb.
I spoke with Daniel afterwards (my post about that night’s competition in Berlin is here) and asked him how he’d been able to keep his composure after opening with two fouls.
“It was mental strength,” he replied. “I’m really happy. It was great conditions, and I’m very happy. I was focused all six throws. My goal was to win, but I’m really proud of 68.23m…Now, I prepare to win in Doha.”
And prepare he did.
Daniel came into the 2019 World Championships as the Diamond League champion and world-leader with a season’s best of 71.86m. The challenge, according to Vésteinn, was to handle the pressure of being considered the favorite.
That he ended up winning was a testament to all the years of “traveling and learning.”
The eight-year process that Vésteinn had laid out for Daniel back in 2011 had built him into a performer of such consistency that in his top ten meets of 2019 he averaged 69.94m. So, even on a day when, as in Doha, he struggled to find his rhythm, he was hard to beat.
Last fall, I interviewed several coaches and athletes about the weather conditions at the Worlds. You can find that post here. Bottom line, the oppressive heat made for a very strange situation in Doha. In the days prior to competing, most athletes did not leave their hotel during daylight hours. Even when they ventured out to train at night, the heat quickly sapped their energy. Then, on competition days, those wishing to take early warmup throws outside the stadium (a common routine at a championship meet) had to expose themselves to the brutal heat shortly before reporting to the air-conditioned call room and then being transported into the open-air, but also air-conditioned, stadium.
It was a strange situation, and certainly not one designed to help athletes find a familiar rhythm. The men’s shot putters flourished, with Joe Kovacs, Ryan Crouser, and Tom Walsh all breaking seventy-five feet, but that might have been due to the meat-headed nature of the event. World class putters, once their technique has been fully ingrained, can operate successfully in caveman mode, which makes it easier to block out distractions. Discus throwers, on the other hand, must maintain a more delicate balance between competitive fire and long-limbed relaxation.
Whatever the reason, long throws were in short supply in the men’s disc in Doha. Daniel was the only one to reach the automatic qualifying mark in the prelims, and even though he and Fedrick Dacres had repeatedly demonstrated the ability to throw sixty-nine-meters-plus in stadiums during the 2019 season, only Daniel would break 67.00m in either the prelims or final.
He opened in the final with 66.59m, lost the lead to Austria’s Lukas Weißhaidinger who hit 66.74m, then regained it in round two with a toss of 67.18m. He improved to 67.59m in round three and reached 67.05m on his sixth attempt. Each of those three throws was long enough for the win.
Fedrick ended up taking the silver with 66.94m. Weißhaidinger finished third at 66.82m.
This year, the pandemic has delayed Daniel’s chance to fight for an Olympic medal, but he has continued to train with Vésteinn and a group that includes fellow Doha finalist Simon Pettersson and Jakob Gardenkrans. It is hard to say what the next few weeks will bring, but Vésteinn is hoping that his group will be allowed to host a couple of throwing meets beginning in May.
Vésteinn puts it this way:
“When you’ve thrown the fourth farthest throw ever, and you have the second best average for ten throws ever, of course the goal is to break the world record. But, as Daniel says, it is not like ordering a pizza.”
Vésteinn also acknowledges that even freakish athletes like Daniel have a narrow window during which world-record distances are possible. By the time they gain the technical mastery and experience to get the most out of their talents, age often begins to take its toll.
He says that if Daniel is going to take down Jürgen Schult’s record of 74.08m, it “has to be done in two years. It is prime time now, and after that it is about getting more medals.”
Hopefully, athletics fans will get a chance to see Daniel chase his massive potential later this summer.
One last note: I want to acknowledge that the 2018 European Championships in Berlin were not only Robert Harting’s final championship appearance, but Gerd Kanter’s as well. He retired shortly thereafter, one of the greatest competitors and nicest dudes ever to chuck the platter.