On December 15-17, Portage High School in Portage, Indiana, will host the 2023 National Throws Coaches Conference, featuring some of the best throwing coaches in the entire US of A.
The sessions begin on Friday with Gary Aldrich of Carnegie Mellon University speaking on glide shot put technique. Gary has been a big part of the American throws community for many years, and was in charge of the USA throws squad at the 2021 Olympic Games. He’s a great guy with tons of practical experience to share.
Gary will be followed by Jerry Clayton, one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of the sport. During stints at the University of Illinois, Southwest Texas State, Florida, Auburn, Michigan and LSU, Jerry coached 16 NCAA champions, including Edis Elkasević, Gábor Máté, and Cory Martin. During his Friday session, Jerry will present on rotational shot technique.
The final speaker on Friday will cover discus technique. That will be current University of Wisconsin coach Dave Astrauskas, who has produced a bevy of top throwers including Danny Block, Riley Budde, Kelsey Card, Alicia DeShasier, and most recently 9-time All-American Josie Schaefer.
Saturday will feature additional sessions led by Gary, Jerry, and Dave, after top high school coach James Bell of North Central High in Indianapolis opens the proceedings with a presentation on practice planning. Gary, Jerry, and Dave (It’s fun to say. Try it.) will be hosting practical sessions, during which they will coach an athlete or two through their favorite throwing drills.
As if that were not enough, the legendary John Smith, coach of Connie Price Smith, Jeneva Stevens, Gwen Berry, Raven Saunders, Jessica Ramsey and many other world-class throwers, will present two sessions on Saturday, one on weight training and another on how to convert a glider to the spin technique, something he has done successfully over the years, most recently with Jalani Davis who finished third at the 2023 USATF Outdoor Championships and made the US team for Budapest.
As if that were not enough, lunch is included.
The conference will conclude on Sunday the 17th with hammer sessions led by Coach Smith and his former pupil JC Lambert, the throws coach at University of Illinois and husband and coach of 2019 World champion DeAnna Price.
You may have noticed that the United States has become a women’s hammer powerhouse recently, and John Smith and JC Lambert are two of the architects of that transformation, so you won’t want to miss this rare opportunity to learn their approach to coaching this event.
Also on Sunday, Coach Clayton will present on the javelin.
That’s a lot of knowledge for not a lot of money ($100 for coaches, $50 for athletes). Go to nationalthrows.com to register!
What is it that makes Australians so nice? Do the crocodiles eat all the mean people there? Or does growing up around koala bears naturally make folks more relaxed and outgoing?
We’ll never know.
One thing’s for sure, though. I greatly enjoyed speaking with members of the Australian contingent at the 2023 Diamond League Final.
The women’s jav kicked off the comp at 11 a.m. on a lovely Saturday morning in Eugene. At that moment, it was 5 a.m. Sunday in Sydney, which is where 2023 World Championships bronze medalist Mackenzie Little lives and trains. I might have been a tad grouchy were I experiencing the level of jet lag that Mackenzie and her coach, Angus McEntyre, must have been feeling at that moment, but they appeared to be having a wonderful time, smiling and laughing whenever she bopped over for a quick chat at the rail between attempts.
Mackenzie did not have her best stuff on this day. She set a PB of 65.70m at the Lausanne Diamond League Meeting earlier this season, and went 63.38m in winning her Budapest bronze, but she reached the 60-meter line only once in Eugene and settled for a best of 61.24m to take third behind Worlds champ Haruka Kitaguchi and fellow Australasian Tori Peeters.
That did not, however, harsh Mackenzie’s mellow. She was happy and gracious during a post-comp chat.
“I had a good time,” she admitted. “Not because I got the throws I wanted necessarily, but this core group of throwers has gotten quite close and I was excited watching them.”
When asked why the javelin ladies seem to get on so well, Mackenzie explained, “You can’t have an ego when you throw jav. I think we all know how frustrating it can be sometimes, so we understand each other.”
The most frustrating time for Mackenzie came when she returned to Australia after a stellar career representing Stanford, for whom she was NCAA champion in 2018 and 2019.
The transition from collegiate to pro athlete can be tricky, and Mackenzie had trouble finding her footing. Lingering shoulder and elbow problems did not help. She reached out to McEntyre on the recommendation of the head Australian jav coach, but her level of frustration gave him pause.
“I think we can make this work,” he told her at the time, “But I can’t do much if you’re stuck in a negative headspace.”
“She was,” McEntyre recalls, “a bit lost. I was coaching one of her good friends, a javelin thrower named Chrissie Grun, and Mackenzie told Chrissie, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore.’ But Chrissie said, ‘Yes, you can, and Angus is someone you can work with.’”
It was a plus that Coach McEntyre’s “day job” was running a chiropractic clinic, so he was able to help Mackenzie mend as they got to know each other. Looking back, he says “it was the chiropractic that started the relationship. During the Covid period we built up her shoulder and elbow, which also helped us build trust.”
In October of 2020, she reached 60 meters for the first time in two years, hitting a PB 61.47m at a comp in Sydney.
She PB’d again during the Olympic qualification round a year later in Tokyo, and ended up finishing eighth in the final. McEntyre says they’ve been “on cruise control since,” with only the occasional “hiccup” along the way.
At the 2022 Worlds, Mackenzie squeaked through qualifying in 12th place, then hit a 63.22m PB on her opener in the final. She was unable to build on that though, and finished in fifth, just five excruciating centimeters short of the podium.
This summer, she started slowly in the Budapest qualification round before bashing 63.45m on her third attempt, then started slowly again in the final. A best of 61.41m had her in fifth after three rounds, but this time she was able to keep climbing. “I learned a lot over the past year,” she said later. “And I was not going to be fifth again.”
Mackenzie produced her best throw on her last attempt, a 63.38m toss that won her the bronze.
And here I will tell you something crazy.
Mackenzie fought her way to the top of her sport while at the same time attending medical school. She is preparing for a career as a surgeon, and took her final exam on the flight from Sydney to Eugene for the DL final.
When asked how she managed this seemingly impossible task, Mackenzie shrugged. “Everyone in athletics has their passions outside. Mine just happens to be a little more structured. But I have a little more help than the average person with my coach taking care of me.”
Having played rugby at a high level while undertaking his chiropractic studies, McEntyre says he was able to relate to the challenges Mackenzie faced trying to balance athletics and academics.
“The biggest challenge for me,’ he says, “is to make sure she doesn’t get cooked or exhausted. I’ve always been careful around exam weeks, but it helps that the study side is more highly strung for her, so it can be a bit of a break when we switch to jav mode.”
McEntyre’s duties have included helping Mackenzie on practice quizzes, sometimes at unlikely moments. During early warmups prior to competing in Budapest, for example.
“We were having a contest to see who could get the most questions right,” he explained. “I guess most people might think that’s weird.”
Not as weird as being lucid and engaging while jet-lagged, as both “Macs” were on this exquisite afternoon.
“I’ve come to comps a little jet lagged and a little tired before,” Mackenzie told me. “It just builds my confidence. There’s no excuse for not throwing well. I am ready, though, for a big sleep.”
And with that, she left the shade of the media tent and strode off into a sun almost as bright as her future.
Another amicable Aussie competing in Eugene was discus thrower Matt Denny, a man who has mastered the art of throwing big when it counts. In 2018, for example, he produced a lifetime best of 64.03m to win the Australian Championships. A year later, he repeated as Australian champ with another PB, this time 65.28m, which he topped at the Doha Worlds by launching 65.43m to take sixth. He broke 67 meters for the first time during the Olympic final in 2021, and 68 meters for the first time this summer in Budapest.
Denny’s coach, Dale Stevenson, says that some people are just “exceptional competitors,” and Matt is one of them. “His happy place,” according to Stevenson, “is out there competing against the top athletes. It brings the best out of him.”
That was evident in Eugene, where Denny injected some much-needed brio into an otherwise subdued competition. He did his best to engage the crowd before each attempt, and refused to take it personally when they ignored him prior to his third throw. (The men’s 800 meters was about to begin and this was, after all, Eugene.)
The 66.36m he produced on that attempt put Denny in third place behind Kristjan Čeh and Daniel Ståhl, the twin Everests of the event.
A lesser individual might have been content with such a throw, coming as it did at the end of a loooong season. For unexplained reasons, winter here is summer in Australia, and Denny’s first comp took place way back on February 11th.
But Coach Stevenson knows his man, and throwing against giant World Champions (Kristjan, Daniel and Andrius Gudžius have won every World title since 2017) did in fact bring out the best of Denny on this gorgeous afternoon in Eugene.
He jumped ahead of Ståhl by a centimeter with a 67.37m toss in round four, then blasted a new PB of 68.43m on his final attempt to barge past Čeh for the title of 2023 Diamond League Champ, a win Denny described afterwards as “really satisfying.”
“You idolize the greats,” he explained. “You put them on a pedestal. Especially Daniel, who is probably the greatest ever as a competitor. So it was a special moment to get the win and have Daniel be the first guy to give me a hug and congratulate me. It reminded me of how good a community this is, for them to be like, ‘Lets go get some beers!’”
As to the varying levels of crowd support, Denny said he learned from Olympic and World champ high jumper Gimbo Tamberi that it’s best to get people’s attention by yelling before asking them to clap. He tried this before his sixth attempt and drew a spirited response. The extra bit of energy he absorbed from the crowd was all Denny needed on a day when he felt ready to rumble.
“I had some warmups of around 65 meters,” he explained. “And I know I’m in good nick if I’m doing that. When the comp began, I kept falling out of my delivery, but I knew there was something there.”
The next step will be getting on the podium at an Olympics or Worlds, no easy task with Čeh, Ståhl, and Mykolas Alekna throwing at historically high levels. With those three in the mix, it could conceivably take 70 meters to get on the stand in Paris and Tokyo.
In an effort to raise his game, Denny added a wrinkle to his technique this season by setting up for the throw with his right foot offset a bit then stepping forward after his windup. You’ve heard of the “Crouser slide”? Let’s call this the “Denny step.” If you say it fast like it’s one word it sounds pretty cool. Denny-step. Denny-step. Denny-step. See?
Matt and Dale, if you pursue a trademark, I’d like a t-shirt.
Dale says the Denny-step evolved to help Matt keep his hips “underneath his shoulders on entry,” and it might not be the end of their tinkering.
“We’re playing around with other variations, too,” he explained. “We’ll experiment with some of those during the Aussie domestic season from January to April.”
Dale did not divulge the exact nature of what they’ll be trying, but according to internet sources, he and Denny are considering everything from learning to cuss in Lithuanian to a never-before-seen discus move known as the “Kick-the-Crotch-of-Kristjan.”
In the meantime…
Are you free on 10-12th November?
If so, join me in beautiful Tallinn, Estonia, for the 2023 European Discus Conference which features excellent beer and major insights into the technique and training of guys like Daniel Ståhl, Sam Mattis, Kristjan Čeh, and Mykolas Alekna.
The coaches you see in the above photo will share their knowledge through a series of lectures and live demonstrations and, even better, you can ask follow-ups or just shoot the breeze with them and other coaches from all over the world while dining or maybe doing the backstroke at the amazing Tallink Spa and Conference Hotel where the conference is held. Here’s a bird’s-eye view:
And see this person popping out of the water?
On November 10-12th that might be Gerd Kanter or Kristjan Čeh or Dane Miller. I’ll end here so you can start checking flights.
I’ve always admired Canadians for their bacon and civility, but how in the name of Gretzky did they suddenly turn into a hammer powerhouse?
It started with poop, actually.
The sweet smell of success
In 2002, Derek Evely, at the time head coach of the Kamloops Track and Field Club, received an email from a retired hockey player named Igor Chibirev who was contacting Derek on behalf of his father-in-law, a former Soviet hammer coach who wanted to immigrate to Canada.
“He didn’t say his father-in-law’s name,” remembered Evely. “But he referred to him as the ‘coach of Sedykh,’ so I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s Bondarchuk!’”
The “Sedykh” referred to in the email was Yuriy Sedykh, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and longtime World Record holder in the hammer. His coach, Anatoliy Bondarchuk, was and still is considered by many to be the world’s foremost hammer expert.
Once Evely did some detecting to make sure he wasn’t being pranked, he called Igor and found out that Bondarchuk, widely known as “Dr. B”, was currently coaching in Kuwait but wanted to move closer to his daughter, who lived with Igor in Calgary. Igor found Evely by googling the words “hammer” and “Canada.”
That search initially yielded the name “Dylan Armstrong,” the 2000 World U20 hammer silver medalist. Further research led Igor to Evely, who was Armstrong’s coach.
Excited by the possibility of bringing Dr. B to Kamloops, Evely set about finding a way to pay him. He asked for assistance from the provincial and national federations but was turned down.
That left Evely with no choice. He would resort to poop.
For years, the Kamloops club had done an annual fundraiser where they delivered manure to local farmers, gardeners, anyone really who found themselves in need of a load of crap.
“By that point,” he recalls, “we’d been doing the manure sale for five years and it had really taken off. We’d take orders for weeks in advance, then deliver it during the first weekend of April. It got so popular that we were making fifty grand every spring.”
Evely decided to take a shot and offered Dr. B $33,000 from his poop proceeds along with a free room in his basement. Dr. B accepted.
That summer, Evely traveled to Paris as part of the Canadian team for the 2003 Worlds, then took a train to Hungary where Dr. B was presenting at an IAAF clinic.
He brought a contract for Dr. B to sign, and was invited to attend a training session during which he sat between Dr. B and fellow hammer legend Pál Németh while newly-minted World champ Yipsi Moreno took some throws.
Evely remembers Moreno’s coach being so intimidated by the presence of Németh and Bondarchuk that he hid behind a post for the entire session.
Dr. B agreed to make the move to Kamloops following the 2004 Olympics. At the time, he was coaching 2002 U20 Worlds silver medalist Ali Mohamed Al Zenkawil, and wanted to mentor him through his first Games.
Ill health further delayed Dr. B’s arrival, but finally, in the spring of 2005, he made the move. He arrived the weekend of the manure sale.
“That weekend is always nuts,” says Evely. “I picked Dr. B and Igor up from the airport in a passenger van that was loaded with manure. They were looking at each other like, ‘What the..?’”
Evely dropped Dr. B at his house then went on distributing poop until late that night.
“I got home and just wanted to go to bed, but when I knocked on his door to check on him, he handed me four pages of what looked like gobbledygook. It turns out he’d spent the day with a Russian/English dictionary trying to translate his training theories so he could publish them as a book.”
Every night for the next six months, Evely sat next to Dr. B at a computer trying to find a way to clearly enunciate his methods in English. They did not end up publishing a book, but Evely eventually developed an online course based on their collaboration.
A year or so after Dr. B’s arrival in Canada, Evely left Kamloops to take a coaching assignment in Edmonton, and Dr. B took over as Dylan Armstrong’s full time coach. Dylan, by then, had become primarily a shot putter, and under Dr. B’s tutelage went on to win a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, a silver medal at the 2011 World Championships, and a bronze medal at the 2013 World Championships.
Use the force, Luke
After hanging up his throwing shoes, Dylan went into coaching. He continued to learn from Dr. B, and dreamed of some day using that system to produce a champion hammer thrower.
“I’ve been around hammer my whole life,” he told me during a recent phone conversation. “I understood it, understood what I did wrong and what I did right when I was a hammer thrower. And with all the knowledge I got from Dr. B, I felt like I could do something special if I could just find the right guy.”
The “right guy,” in Armstong’s mind, had to be tall.
“You look at the top throwers,” he says, “the guys that produce fantastic results like Ryan Crouser and Daniel Ståhl, and they are tall and fast, not short and fast. I knew if I had a shorter athlete with some speed, I could get them to 75 or 76 meters, but when you have someone with levers and a good training system, that’s ideal.”
Dylan found his man at a local meet in British Columbia. His name was Ethan Katzberg.
At the time, Katzberg was 6’3” and growing, but like a lot of tall young guys, very skinny.
“He looked like a high jumper,” Dylan recalls. “But when I saw him throw, I was like ‘Man, that guy can move!’ I pointed him out to a buddy of mine and said I thought I could get that kid to throw 80 meters some day, and he was like, ‘That’s crazy talk!’ But I didn’t care. To me, all Ethan needed was a long term plan and a good environment with good support and he’d be something special.”
Even Dylan, though, was surprised at how quickly Ethan developed. Per the World Athletics site, here is Ethan’s progression since 2019:
According to Dylan, several factors allowed Ethan to improve so swiftly. First, “he’s very coordinated and coachable. If I tell him I need it an inch higher here or an inch lower there, he can do it.”
Also, Ethan possesses a remarkable “talent for development.”
“The way Ethan is wired genetically, I can peak him really fast,” Dylan says, “and we can peak multiple times per year, which is something a lot of athletes can’t handle. You can have a guy with the same skills and body type, but they might need seventy or eighty or even a hundred sessions to reach peak condition, so it takes them a lot longer to develop.”
Ethan also possesses a rare ability to remain calm under pressure, a trait he first displayed at the 2022 Commonwealth Games where he PB’d to take the silver medal.
Dylan was not surprised when his angular apprentice showed poise that day in Birmingham. “Ethan,” he pointed out, “is from Vancouver Island. So, he’s laid back.”
But performing well at a Commonwealth Games is one thing. Standing up under the pressure of a World Championships against the likes of Poland’s Wojciech Nowicki and Pawel Fajdek is quite another matter. Those gents came into Budapest with a dozen World and Olympic medals between them, and no one would have blamed Ethan, a twenty-one-year-old World Champs rookie, had he wilted in their presence.
Luckily, Dylan began preparing Ethan for such a scenario earlier this season. In order to “normalize competing against the world’s best,” he took Ethan to meets like the LA Grand Prix where he faced Nowicki, top American Rudy Winkler, and Olympic and World medalist Eivind Henricksen. They then embarked on a European tour featuring comps in Germany, Poland, France, and Norway.
Dylan also used the trip to impart the hard lessons he’d learned during his own career as a thrower. “We’d talk one-on-one on the train in Germany or at our hotel or during lunch, and I’d take him through all the possible scenarios that can come up at big meets. What happens if there’s a delay because the laser breaks or the hundred meters is about to start, for example. You can lose focus and things can go sideways pretty quickly if you’re not ready for that stuff.”
Ethan demonstrated his readiness in round one of qualifying in Budapest by launching an 81.18m PB.
After that throw, Ethan and Dylan went immediately to the warmup track where Ethan took another eight tosses and got in a quick lift. This was in keeping with his normal training routine. “You have to complete your session,” says Dylan. “It’s important to stay regimented and not throw anything out of whack.”
The day of the final, Ethan informed his coach that he felt “really good,” then went out and hit 80.18m and 80.02m on his first two attempts.
It was, according to Dylan, the most exciting hammer comp he’d seen. “Being there in a country that loves hammer and supports the throws, was amazing. They had so many people there for Bence Halász, it was almost like we stole the show from the 100-meter final. Right about the time the 100-meters was supposed to start, Halász went 80.82m, and people were going crazy. They were like, ‘Oh, the 100-meters is on? Great. Now, let’s get back to the hammer.”
After three rounds, Ethan was in third behind Halász and Nowicki. When he and Dylan spoke before his fifth attempt, Dylan reminded him to “be patient. Keep the right foot on the ground a little longer and let the ball stretch on you.”
Ethan then stepped in and launched another PB, this time 81.25m. It ended up being enough to earn him gold.
“He put a little more cream on the end of that one,” says Dylan. “But all his throws felt relatively easy to him. He told me later that he could have gone further, but I just said ‘Let’s get back home, take a rest, debrief, and get ready for next year.’”
Make mine a double
The fun resumed three days later as 2022 World silver medalist Camryn Rogers secured a spot in this year’s final by hitting 73.95m on her second attempt in qualifying.
For anyone thinking it is no big deal for a defending silver-medalist to advance, let me point out that neither defending champ Brooke Andersen nor 4x World and 3x Olympic champ Anita Wlodarczyk made it through qualifying.
The prospect of bombing out in prelims has, according to her coach Mo Saatara, “caused Camryn a lot of stress” in the past, so in spite of her success at the 2022 Worlds, they decided to focus on building qualification confidence this season.
At the Brutus Hamilton Invite last April for example, Mo and Camryn decided to mimic the pressure of a qualifying round by limiting her to three attempts (rather than the full six all competitors received) with the goal of surpassing 75 meters on each.
The result was the best series of Camryn’s career to that point: 77.00m, 76.04m, 77.30m.
“After the Hamilton Invite,” Mo explained, “we said, ‘Ok, now you got through qualification, let’s see how you do if we treat Mt. SAC like the final.”
At a major championships, athletes are given the opportunity to take some early throws at a warm-up facility outside the main stadium. They are then transported to a call room and left to sit for the better part of an hour before being escorted into the competition venue. Once inside, they are generally allowed two or three warm-up throws before the comp begins. This is different, sometimes drastically so, from the procedure at a lesser comp like the Hamilton or Mt. SAC, where athletes receive a plethora of warm-up tosses just prior to competing.
As mentioned above, Dylan Armstrong took care in the months leading up to Worlds to talk Ethan Katzberg through championships protocol and alert him to all the possible stressors that might arise. On the day of the comp, they were ready to take a minimalist approach to warmups,
“With the adrenaline that comes from competing at a championships,” he says, “all an athlete needs is some stretching and those two throws inside the stadium, anyway. It’s best to preserve all the energy you can, especially when it’s thirty-four degrees and humid like it was in Budapest.”
Mo advocates a similar approach.
He says the problem with taking throws at the warmup track is that “you do a bunch of stuff then have to sit in the call room, and that can cause your rhythm to get weird.”
At Mt. SAC, he had Camryn rehearse for Budapest by doing a general warmup then sitting for an hour. Prior to competing, she took only two warm-up throws.
Apparently, that was enough, as Camryn produced the kind of series (77.84m, 75.61m, 76.79m, 76.03m, 75.37m, 77.14m) that would likely put her on the podium if she could match it at Worlds.
“The series was stable,” Mo said afterwards. “Which is critical. If you look at the great champions, they had stable technique they could repeat multiple times in a competition.”
Besides stability, any female hammer thrower with ideas of contending in Budapest would also need the ability to go big. The average winning throw from the five previous Worlds was 78.74m, and with Brooke Andersen improving her PB to 80.17m in May, 2019 champ DeAnna Price getting back into form after two years of battling injuries, Wlodarczyk also returning from injury, and defending bronze-medalist Janee’ Kassanavoid putting together another solid season, it was likely to take at least that distance to challenge for gold in 2023.
In Camryn’s third meet of the season, the USATF LA Grand Prix, she showed, with an assist from Dylan Armstrong, that she could bang with the best of them.
Mo, busy that weekend with NCAA regionals, received video updates from LA courtesy of Dylan, who was on site coaching Katzburg.
Mo could tell Camryn was ready for something big based on the videos Dylan sent him of her warm-up throws. Once the comp began, she “got a little tight and started having some problems with her orbit,” but with Dylan relaying corrections, Camryn found her rhythm and launched a PB 78.62m in round five.
“The field at UCLA is a little bit uphill,” Mo explained. “So that throw could have been even farther. Either way, she showed she can put a throw out there and beat some of the best women, which was important going into Worlds.”
Camryn surpassed 77 meters again twice in June while competing in Poland, then once more at the Canadian Championships in July.
Mo and Camryn did a pre-Worlds training camp at a facility near Barcelona, adapting to the time change and acclimating to the kind of heat they’d experience in Budapest. They were thrilled to see Katzberg take gold, an achievement that Mo says, “set the standard high” for Camryn.
Her first attempt in the Budapest qualification round went only 70.97m, a slight misstep that Mo attributes to a slight difference in the surface texture between the ring at the warmup track where they had practiced since arriving in Budapest and the competition ring inside the stadium.
“They were both good circles,” he says. “The one in the stadium was just a little faster, so Camryn had to get adjusted. After that first throw she said, ‘Whoa, what just happened?’ but she was feeling really good, so I just told her ‘Go take care of business and let’s get out of here.’”
She did, surpassing the automatic qualifying mark with her 73.95m toss.
As a side note, the unusual design of the cage was another factor the hammer throwers had to contend with.
German throws coach René Sack told me he’d seen athletes struggle with the same type of cage at a past German championships. “It feels different from a normal cage,” he explained, “because it is shaped like a rectangle”
American throws meister John Smith concurred. “Most cages are more of a semicircle,” he said when asked about the setup in Budapest. “But this one felt more like you were throwing out of a tunnel. That changes the thrower’s perception visually of how to get the throw out of the cage.”
The main challenge though, according to both coaches, was the lack of support poles in the Budapest cage, which made it harder for the athletes to orient themselves when setting up for a throw.
According to Smith, a typical cage will have a pole “lined up dead center to the ring.” Without that reference point, throwers had to choose other landmarks to get themselves in the right spot.
JC Lambert, husband and coach of DeAnna Price, said they used the pre-meet walkthrough day in the stadium to try to figure out a suitable marker. They decided they couldn’t use the television camera stand that was set up behind the cage as it was slightly off center, so JC suggested lining up on one of the wheels attached to the cage as it appeared to be in just the right spot. All went well for DeAnna in qualification where she was one-and-done with a 76.25m toss, but JC realized something was amiss when she fouled her first two attempts in the final.
His view was obstructed by the television camera, but Smith was sitting in a different spot and realized right away that DeAnna was lining up incorrectly. He immediately texted a video to JC.
“Luckily,” JC recalled afterwards, “we had time before her third throw, so I called her over and said, ’Move three or four inches to the left.’ It turns out she had seen a chalk line on the ground and lined up on that assuming it was the center.”
DeAnna got her third attempt out of the cage and earned three more attempts with a distance of 73.28m, then got on the podium with a fifth-round toss of 75.41m. It was her first championships medal since claiming Doha gold in 2019, and so a truly lovely moment–but, the question lingers as to how far those first two attempts might have been had she gotten them out of the cage.
Camyrn’s college teammate Anna Purchase, had thrown from a similar cage at the 2022 European Championships, so she was able to give Cam and Mo a heads up going into Budapest. That seems to have helped, as Anna advanced to the final in this, her first Worlds, with a 71.31m qualifying toss, and Camryn made it through all six rounds of the final with no fouls.
With no Brooke or Anita in the final and DeAnna getting off to a rough start, the competition turned into what Mo describes as a “tactical contest.”
“We expected fireworks,” he said afterwards. “Like an MMA fight. I thought it might take 78 meters to get on the podium, so it was important for Camryn to start strong and establish herself.”
That she did, with a 77.22m blast that gave her a three-meter lead on the field. She followed that up with 77.07m in round two.
Between attempts, Mo says they “talked about simple stuff. I just wanted to keep her in her own zone and not have her get too analytical, just help her stay within her mindset, stay engaged, and be ready to respond.”
In the end, she did not have to.
Janee’ Kassanavoid pushed Cam a bit with throws of 76.00m and 76.36m in rounds two and three, but no one besides Janee’, DeAnna, and Camryn touched 75-meters, so it ended up being a “North Americans only” podium.
Kudos, by the way, to Kassanavoid who put on a clinic this year on how to throw your best when it counts the most. She came to Budapest having thrown 76 meters on only two occasions in 2023, once at the Tucson Elite, and again at the fiercely competitive US Championships.
She struggled in qualifying, opening with 71.04m and a foul before advancing with 72.70m on her third attempt.
But after opening with a foul in the final, Janee’ found her steady and put together a nice series, backing up the two 76m tosses with two more over 75m.
It was a fine performance under what Mo calls, “the difficult mental conditions of a championships final.”
It’s interesting to note that besides being North American, all three medalists came through the NCAA system.
Mo says that competing in the US collegiate system “really shaped who Camryn is as a competitor. The mental side of competing for an NCAA title is extremely challenging. The regionals teach you how to qualify, and in the final you have to be stable while dealing with adversity. It’s a priceless experience for someone who wants to contend at the World level.”
Cam will head back to Berkeley this fall to continue training with Mo, while Ethan and Dylan get back to work in Kamloops.
Meanwhile, Canadian shot-putter Sarah Mitton, who took silver in Budapest, will be plotting with her coach Richard Parkinson to make it a full out Canadian gold rush in Paris.
More on Sarah in my next newsletter, which will focus on the recent Diamond League final.
I spoke with Mitch Crouser by phone during the recent World Athletics Championships. His son Ryan had just taken gold with what Mitch described as, “the best throw of his career considering the circumstances.”
After winning his sixth US title in early July, Ryan embarked on a European tour consisting of three meets in eight days, all victories. His throws in those comps were, according to Mitch, “not great technically, but showed a lot of horsepower.” At the final stop, on July 23rd in London, Ryan was fighting a cold. “I talked to him on the phone,” Mitch recalled, “and he sounded terrible.”
Ryan assured his father that he “felt better than he sounded,” then went out and threw 23.07m.
“He was,” says Mitch, “starting to dial it in.”
After London, Ryan returned to his training base in Arkansas and produced one of his best practice sessions of the year, a pleasant surprise since normally, according to Mitch, Ryan’s practice distances would fall off a bit after returning from an overseas trip. “Everything,” he recalls, “was looking good for Budapest.”
But, the next morning Ryan called with unexpected news. His left calf was so sore he could barely walk.
At first, they assumed he’d suffered a muscle strain or tear, but an ultrasound detected no tissue damage. And it was strange, Mitch says, that Ryan had felt no pain during the workout. “Also,” he explained, “with a muscle tear, it should hurt worse when you try to walk, but in this case walking made it feel a little better.”
With the Worlds just three weeks away, Ryan began physical therapy including deep tissue massage, but he could not lift or throw. “It was really frustrating,” Mitch recalled. “Three weeks before Worlds is not the time to unload.”
Still thinking the problem was in a muscle or tendon, Ryan and Mitch got ready to fly to Serbia for a pre-Worlds training camp. But the night before they were meant to leave, Ryan’s physio and fishing buddy Andy Glidewell suggested getting a Doppler ultrasound to rule out the possibility of a blood clot which, according to the Centers for Disease Control, “can be a serious risk for some long-distance travelers.”
The scan revealed two clots in Ryan’s lower left leg.
Ryan called his father immediately. “Hey,” he said. “We’re not going to Budapest.”
Doctors provided by USATF and the USOC immediately put Ryan on a high dose of blood thinners, to which he responded well. The pain in his calf diminished, and within a day or two he could walk more comfortably.
But it was still hard to imagine him competing at Worlds. Getting to Budapest would require a long flight, which raised the possibility of one of the clots breaking up and causing a pulmonary embolism. And even if he made the trip, what were the odds that, after three weeks of enforced idleness, Ryan would be able to hold his own against Joe Kovacs, Tom Walsh, and Darlan Romani?
The doctors let the blood thinners work for a few days, then laid out the risks Ryan would face on an overseas flight. “It was,” Mitch says, “a “very sobering conversation.”
The effectiveness of the blood thinners, the size of the clots (small) and their location (at the end of a limb) all worked in Ryan’s favor, but the possibility remained that something could go wrong.
(I’d like to note that during a recent episode of the Throw Big Throw Far podcast, I incorrectly described the clots as “big.” As I was writing this article, Mitch notified me that one of the medical staffers they worked with heard the podcast and wanted to make it clear that the blood clots were actually small, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) clots. Had they been “big,” traveling to Budapest would have been out of the question for Ryan.)
After conferring with the doctors, Mitch and Ryan engaged in some heart-to-heart talks. With his calf starting to feel better, Ryan was confident that the nine months of preparation he’d put in before contracting the blood clots would allow him to be competitive at Worlds–if he could get there. “I can walk again,” he told his father. “I think I can still do something.”
They considered the odds, and decided to put their trust in the effectiveness of the blood thinners. Six days before the competition, they boarded a plane for Europe. On the advice of the doctors, Mitch and Ryan flew into Vienna so they could have access to the top-notch hospitals there in case Ryan needed care upon landing. He did not, and after the plane touched down, they traveled on to Budapest by car.
Upon arrival, Ryan did a brief “shakeout” session at a facility near the hotel. According to Mitch, “he looked pretty good technically. The pain in his calf was still there, but not nearly at the level it had been.”
A big moment came during their next training session, where Ryan took his first hard throws in three weeks.
“We needed to know what we were dealing with before competing,” Mitch explained. “So we cranked it up, and one thing we found out right away was that his throws from a static start were not what they had been.”
Shot put fans have gotten used to Ryan beginning competitions with at least one attempt from a static start before switching to his full windup and–as of the 2023 season–his now famous “Crouser slide.” It’s his way of setting his timing and posting a solid mark with very little risk of fouling. It can also be intimidating to the rest of the field when Ryan opens with a big throw from the static, as he did earlier this season at the LA Grand Prix, dropping a 23.23m first-round bomb on the way to setting his 23.56m World Record.
But after Ryan was unable to approach 22 meters with the static at the practice session in Budapest, he and Mitch decided to go exclusively with the slide in the competition.
The automatic qualifying mark was 21.40m, and if there was ever a day when Ryan needed to go one-and-done, this was it. With his lack of fitness and the final scheduled to take place that night, he needed to conserve energy. Of course, after the putters warmed up, a thunderstorm hit and delayed the competition for an hour.
When matters resumed, Ryan put his first attempt out to 21.48m.
He was first up that night in the final, and all eyes were on him as he stepped in the ring hoping, says Mitch, to “put some pressure on the field.”
Ryan’s 22.63m opener did just that, and with his competitors looking sluggish (The heat? The stress of having the qualification and final on the same day? The shock of seeing Ryan throw so far after being laid up for three weeks?) it seemed possible that the competition was over before it had begun in earnest.
But great athletes are not inclined to coast, and Ryan extended his lead with a 22.98m haymaker to begin round two.
Italy’s Leonardo Fabbri did his best to liven things up with a 22.34m PB in round three, but nobody else got within a meter of Crouser until Walsh (22.05m) and Kovacs (22.12m) found a little rhythm in the fifth stanza.
Then Fabbri, throwing directly before Crouser, dropped his fifth-rounder just at the front edge of the 23-meter line. (By the way, does anyone else remember the days when the idea of needing a 23-meter line at a World Championships would have been laughable?)
He fouled it, and fouled his sixth attempt as well. Then Ryan put an end to any “what if Fabbri had saved that throw?” speculation by going 23.51m on the final put of the night.
“After all he’d been through,” Mitch said, “and with his static throw down a meter, he caught that one as close to perfect as he could.”
Since returning home, Ryan has remained on blood thinners. He’ll have regular Doppler scans to make sure the clots are dissolving, and will see how he feels over the next couple of weeks before deciding whether to compete at the Diamond League final in mid-September.
As to what caused the clots in the first place, it’s hard to say. According to Mitch, clots do not run in the family, so they might have resulted from an unlucky combination of factors. The flight home from London could have contributed. And after he’d been back for a couple of days, Ryan realized he’d lost his sense of smell. which might mean he’d contracted Covid.
(Let me take a second here to correct another mistake I made on the podcast. When discussing possible causes of Ryan’s blood clots, I stated definitively that he was suffering from Covid after his European trip. Not true. Losing one’s sense of smell suggests but does not prove Covid.)
Anyway, according to the American Heart Association, Covid increases the likelihood of contracting blood clots. So does dehydration, and the day before his calf started hurting, Ryan did two hard training sessions in 100-degree heat.
He may never know the exact cause, but either way, few who witnessed the men’s shot comp at this World Championships will ever forget it.
Not long ago, I realized that it had been ages since I’d caught up with Cory Martin. so I gave him a shout. He took my call while driving from Louisville, Kentucky, back home to Bloomington, Indiana, after putting in a day’s work at his new job as throwing coach for the University of Louisville Cardinals.
In his younger years, Cory was part of a remarkable group of Auburn University throwers coached by Jerry Clayton. Among them were Jake Dunkelberger, the 2007 NCAA hammer champ, and Edis Elkasević, the NCAA indoor and outdoor shot winner in 2005 (and later the coach of discus great Sandra Perković).
“It was an extremely competitive environment,” Cory recalled. “Edis and I used to have ab workout contests after our lifts to see who would quit first. Having him around helped me a lot. I was meant to be a hammer guy when I went to Auburn, but because I got to throw against Edis every day and found myself pushing to be as good as him, I ended up becoming a pretty good shot putter.”
“Pretty good” indeed. At the 2008 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Cory blasted a 20.35m PB on his last attempt to snatch the title from Arizona State’s Ryan Whiting. Two days earlier, he’d thrown a final-round PB in the hammer to take the win over Dunkelberger.
That summer, Cory embarked on a professional career, joining a powerful group of American putters, guys like Adam Nelson, Christian Cantwell, Reese Hoffa, and Whiting, as they plied their trade across the globe.
It was not an easy transition.
“The biggest thing facing anyone coming out of college,” he says, “is the institutional support goes away. After four years of being a priority and having a set routine, suddenly you’re on your own. You have to figure out your own schedule, arrange your own travel. A lot of times when you go to meets, your coach isn’t with you. My first year on the circuit, my agent called one day and said, ‘Hey, I got you into a hammer meet in Brazil, but you’ve got to fly to Miami tomorrow to get a visa.’ The next day, I was sitting by myself in a La Quinta Inn in Miami thinking ‘What am I doing here?’ I called my wife and said, ‘I’m coming home,’ but she kicked me in the butt and the next day I went to Brazil and threw a PB. I was really lucky to have her in my corner.”
When newbies on the pro circuit ask his advice, Cory tells them the first two years might be tough, but things will get better if they keep grinding.
Cory had his own breakthrough during his second year on the tour when he made the US squad for the 2010 Indoor Worlds and threw 22.10m outdoors at the Tucson Elite meet.
His best finish at an international championships came at the 2013 Outdoor Worlds in Moscow, where he came in ninth. But by then, Cory was just about ready to move on from the “me first” world of elite athletics.
“Not long ago,” he recalled, “I talked to a thrower who was at Auburn when I was training there as a pro and he said, ‘Don’t take this wrong, but you were kind of mean in those days.’ Looking back, I can understand why he thought that, because as a pro you have to be selfish and you can’t apologize for it. You feel the pressure of trying to make a living, and if you don’t do well, you’re out of the sport. So you have to be self-centered, you have to build up an ego for protection. In 2010, when I had my best year, I was really selfish. That’s just the reality of the sport.”
But he and Taryn wanted to start a family, and Cory was ready to follow his father into coaching. Cory’s dad had made his mark as a high school football coach, but Cory had his sights set on the NCAA,
In 2014, he was hired by the legendary Ron Helmer to take over the throwing program at Indiana University, a dream job that allowed Cory and Taryn to settle in the town of Bloomington, Indiana, where they’d both grown up.
Years went by, and Cory employed the knowledge he’d gained from coaches like Clayton and John Smith to produce numerous All-Americans, Big Ten champions, and school record-holders. Meanwhile, he and Taryn welcomed a son and a daughter into the world.
The winds of change started blowing in the spring of 2022, though, when Helmer announced that the 2023 season would be his last. Whoever took over the program would want to bring in their own staff, and the prospect of moving on led to many late-night conversations in the Martin household.
“I was confident with the coaching part,” Cory explained. ”I knew wherever I ended up, I could get things going in the right direction. The hard question was, ‘How would this affect our family?’”
Cory and Taryn tried to keep everything normal around their house as they weighed different options. Earlier this summer, Cory decided to accept an offer from the University of Louisville. Impressed by the city, the facilities, and the support for athletics on the part of both the university and the community, they were excited about this new chapter in Cory’s career.
When it came time to tell the kids, they weren’t too worried about how their daughter Harper would react. She was four and hadn’t started school yet, so relocating would probably have less of an impact on her. But their son Knox was seven, and moving to Louisville would require him to leave behind his school, his friends and his little league teammates.
Fortunately, Louisville is home to the Louisville Slugger Museum and bat factory, a baseball shrine along the lines of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and a visit there was enough to convince Knox that moving to Kentucky might not be a bad idea. “I want to say we visited the museum on a Wednesday,” Cory recalled. “And after our tour, Knox asked if we could move by Friday.”
Buying and selling a home is no simple matter though, which explains the long daily commute. Four or five days a week throughout the summer, Cory hit the road at 6am to make the two-hour drive to Louisville. In the evenings, he’d do his best to get back to Bloomington in time to help Knox hone his hitting stroke. There were days when Cory found himself wondering if he should just get an apartment in Louisville while he and Taryn navigated the logistics of moving, but he couldn’t stand the idea of not seeing Taryn and the kids every night.
Another tricky aspect of making the jump to Louisville was that it meant leaving behind the throwing family Cory had established at IU.
After Heller’s announcement, Cory’s group knew that he would likely be moving on as well. That created some anxiety, which Cory did his best to manage as the 2023 campaign approached.
It was only natural for Cory’s IU kids to want to follow him to his new destination. Getting to throw for him was, after all, a big reason why most had come to Indiana in the first place. But, even in the era of the transfer portal, switching schools is no easy matter. For one thing, as the 2023 season progressed, Cory still had no idea where he would end up. And, once he did secure a new position, there was no guarantee that his new school would have scholarships available to offer any of his throwers who wanted to transfer.
One IU thrower who felt especially anxious about her future was Jayden Ulrich, who developed into a 59-meter discus thrower under Cory’s tutelage. They had built a close bond, and even after drawing a lot of interest from other schools through the portal, Jayden told Cory, “Wherever you’re going, I’m going.”
Cory says he encouraged Jayden to explore all options, but in the end was thrilled when she was in fact able to follow him to Louisville. She’ll have two years of eligibility remaining, and Cory says the “sky’s the limit” for Jayden in the disc.
The third piece of the puzzle Cory faced was how to create a new throwing family at Louisville. A priority this summer was sitting down with each returning Louisville thrower for a one-on-one meeting during which he reminded them that he was experiencing change just as they were, and promised to come into his new position with an open mind and treat each of them as individuals.
“It was fun,” he says, “to talk to the kids and find some commonalities to help them get comfortable with me. Coaching is all about communication, and going forward I’ve got to figure out the best way to reach each athlete.”
Having Jayden on board should speed the process. “My new throwers,” he explained, “can look at Jayden and say, ‘Oh, that’s what he means,’ which will be a big help.”
“Wherever you’re coaching and whoever you’re coaching,” he continued. “It’s all about being an educator and understanding what motivates a kid.”
“And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from practicing baseball with my son in our backyard,” he says, “it’s patience.”
On that note, we said our goodbyes so Cory could turn his attention back to the road. The one that led to his family.
They’re back. Almost.
Something besides the world’s best beer is brewing in Germany these days.
After a tough 2022 European Senior Championships at which German throwers took just two medals (jav gold by Julian Webber, disc silver by Kristin Pudenz), and consecutive World Championships with no German men in the shot final and no German women on the shot podium, it appears that a batch of fresh talent is fermenting.
At the recent European U20 Championships held in Jerusalem, German teens tossed their way to nine medals including two in both the men’s and women’s shot, and a sweep in the women’s disc.
Among the most promising of those youngsters is Nina Chioma Ndubuisi, who took shot put gold with a throw of 17.97m.
According to Christian Sperling, the German national shot and disc coach for juniors, Nina was a heptathlete until 2021. She decided to focus exclusively on throwing after finishing third in the shot at the European U20s in Tallinn with a mark of 15.71m, and has improved quite a bit since even though she currently lacks the bulk and weight room strength associated with 18-meter shot putters.
“Nina,” according to Coach Sperling, “is very good in jumping and sprinting. This is why she is able to throw the shot so far with a body weight under 80 kilograms.”
She and other young German throwers have also benefited from a series of training camps hosted by the federation where Coach Sperling says, “the best athletes in every developmental stage are together with the best experts in Germany.”
Those training camps were begun in 2022, as was an annual series of five developmental competitions called the “Deutscher Wurf-Cup.”
Will such efforts eventually pay off with senior European, World and Olympic medals?
According to American throws meister John Smith, who coached his wife Connie Price-Smith against the likes of Olympic and 3x World champion Astrid Kumbernuss during the glory days of German putting, the answer is yes.
Smith remembers when “nobody thought the day would come that American women would beat the Germans. A top German thrower would have been ashamed to lose to an American.”
Early adoption of the rotational shot technique eventually gave US throwers a leg up and put Germany in its current catch-up mode, he says, but they are now making a strong move to close the gap.
“They’ve gone missing for a few years in the shot,” he says, “but they’ve got a good young crop and it won’t be long before they reappear at the World level.”
It’s interesting to note that Nina has accepted a scholarship to the University of Texas, where she will be coached by Zeb Sion and presumably train in proximity to Val Allman, who along with newly-minted champ Lagi Tausaga, has helped keep German women off the discus podium at the last two Worlds.
Will Nina flourish in the American collegiate system, learn the secrets behind American rotational dominance and use them to accelerate the revival of German shot putting?
And if so, will the Germans reciprocate by teaching us how to mass produce outstanding beer and delectable chocolate?
Personally, I would consider that a fair exchange.
Many throwers have a rough time during their first year as a professional, but in 2022 Laulauga Tausaga made the transition from amateur to pro look easy peasy lemon squeezy by breaking 60 meters in fourteen of her nineteen comps and smashing a PB of 64.49m at the USATF Championships. She also qualified for her second World Championships and first Diamond League final.
Still, she was not satisfied.
“That’s how it is,” explained John Dagata, Lagi’s coach for the past two seasons. “With high-level athletes, nothing is good enough. When we looked back at her accomplishments in 2022, her reaction was, ‘Why didn’t I medal at Worlds?’”
With another World Championships coming up in 2023, Lagi pushed hard during fall sessions at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Center, where she and Dagata train. By January, according to Dagata, Lagi was “throwing farther than ever,” on a daily basis.
“Some of the Chinese athletes I coach, who didn’t really know her, saw Lagi throw and were like, ‘How is her PB only 64.49m?’ That’s how good she looked.”
Then, Lagi’s progress was interrupted by, of all things, a bout of gout, the cause of which, according to the Mayo Clinic website, can be hard to pin down.
Coach Dagata says that Lagi had experienced some mild gout-like symptoms in 2022, but never missed a day of practice because of it. Then, one morning in February of this year, she called to say that her ankle was swollen and so “locked up” that she could not walk.
That forced them to shut down her training for several days, and to limit the number of throws she took for the next several weeks. Essentially, Dagata says, they “lost the month of February.”
A 63.92m toss in her season opener at Triton in April was encouraging, but Dagata says that all the lost practice time made Lagi’s technique unstable. Instead of throwing consistently well as she had in January, they started having “one good practice, then one bad practice.”
After Triton, Lagi went 60.43m at the Pacific Coast Invitational, followed by 62.74m at Mt. SAC, and 60.37m at Tucson.
Matters came to a head when she threw 60.34m at the USATF LA Grand Prix in late May.
“We had a serious meeting afterwards,” recalls Dagata. “I told her I was not happy with the way the season was going, that we had to find a way to get consistency back in our training, and that with only a month before USAs, we had to do it immediately.”
Lagi agreed, and they decided to “go backwards to go forward,” which in Lagi’s case meant switching to a “static start” where she would pause for a moment after winding up at the back of the ring. The pause would limit the amount of speed she could create at the start of her throws, but it would also make it easier to keep her balance and hit sound positions as she moved through the ring.
As is often the case with technical adjustments, this one did not pay immediate dividends. Lagi dropped to 59.84m at a comp in Chula Vista before departing for Europe where she dropped even further to 55.34m in Italy before rebounding to throw 62.62m at the Paris Diamond League meeting.
Back in the States, she went 58.65m at another Chula Vista comp on June 18th, then 56.61m a week later in New York.
It was about that time, though, that the static start throws began to feel more comfortable.
“Practices started getting better,” says Dagata. “Then, during the five or six days we were in Oregon leading up to USAs, we were locked in.”
Lagi and Dagata knew that she could throw farther using her regular, more active start, but they decided to stick to the static at USAs.
Dagata explained that “with the disc, you have to be consistent. If Lagi loses control and starts to rip it out of the back, she might end up with a great throw or it might go 50 meters, and then she starts to doubt herself. Consistency gives her confidence, and the static start gave us the best chance for consistency.”
With Val Allman receiving a Budapest bye as Diamond League champion, the US had four spots to fill in the women’s disc and Lagi used her modified start to stake her claim to one of them. During the first five rounds she went 62.13m, Foul, 62.67m, 60.96m, Foul. That was good enough to ensconce her securely in second place, and when she walked into the ring for her sixth and final attempt, Lagi was guaranteed a spot on the team for Worlds.
That being the case, she and Dagata decided to have another go at using a full windup.
“Her confidence on that last throw was so good,” Dagata says. “She had made the team, and while she was waiting she did a couple of dry throws off to the side and looked really good. Then, she got in and rushed her entry and only used three quarters of the ring. I have no idea how she kept that throw from going into the cage. It was unreal.”
A 65.46m PB to be exact.
Which windup will she use in Budapest?
At the 2022 Worlds, it took 61.21m to get through qualification, a distance that Lagi surpassed twice using the static start at USAs.
Dagata says they will wait and see how the next couple of weeks of training play out before deciding on their plan of attack for Worlds, but as at USAs, the most important factor will be Lagi’s confidence.
“One thing a lot of people don’t understand,” Dagata explained, “is that athletes like Lagi live their lives by every competition. Most throwers don’t get great funding, and they feel like they are one bad meet from losing what they do get, and that puts them under a lot of pressure. I try to balance that out by keeping a positive outlook and reminding her all the time of the great things she’s done.”
Can’t you hear me knocking?
Speaking of maintaining a positive outlook, did anyone else notice that Tom Walsh went 22.58m at the recent London Diamond League meeting?
That was Tom’s best mark since his 22.90m bomb at the 2019 Worlds, and a sure sign that the man cannot take a hint.
If he could, he’d have accepted by now that Fate has no intention of letting him be the World’s Greatest Shot Putter. To many, that would have been clear after he shattered the World Championships record by 67 centimeters that night in Doha and ended up finishing third.
Tom got another reminder at the 2021 Games when he hit 22.47m–tied for the best ever pre-Crouser throw at an Olympics–and once again finished third.
He was faced with even more discouragement at the 2022 Worlds when an American sweep kept him off the podium at an Olympics or outdoor Worlds for the first time since he finished fourth in Beijing in 2015.
What keeps him going? In an interview conducted last year, Tom told me that he takes a lot of motivation from proving people wrong. “Plenty of people over my career have told me I’m not the guy,” he explained. “I love showing them I am the guy.”
Tom also credited his support team, two members of which–strength coach Angus Ross and sports psychologist John Quinn–have been with him for years. “They challenge me,” Tom said. “Whether it’s by changing up my training programs or getting me to think outside the box.”
His ultimate goal?
“Being the best thrower of all time.”
And if you think he was taken aback by the rise of 2022 Worlds bronze medalist Josh Awotunde, or by Joe Kovacs breaking 23 meters last September, think again.
Tom says that seeing Kovacs–his elder by three years–hit a big PB, only inspired him more.
“I love it,” he said. “I still want to throw a long way and I still believe I can. I just have to keep knocking at the door.”
A man in full
For the book about Daniel Ståhl I’ve been working on with Vésteinn Hafsteinsson and Roger Einbecker, we asked some of Daniel’s friends and colleagues to share anecdotes about the Big Fella. Many were kind enough to do so, and I think fans of the sport will enjoy reading these little glimpses into his life and career.
One especially lovely piece came from 2016 Olympic discus champ Chris Harting, who wrote about a night before a meet in Finland when he, Daniel, Simon Pettersson, and Kristjan Čeh waded out into a shallow lake and talked about life in the fading light of a late summer sun.
I thought about Chris and about that piece recently when my wife’s sister who lives in Berlin sent me a link to a newspaper interview he gave last month.
In it, Chris discusses some difficult personal issues he’s dealt with over the past couple of years, and opens up about his battle with depression.
In a world where young men are told by their favorite Youtubers or podcasters or whatever those idiots are called that the way to become popular is to embrace a version of masculinity that Neanderthals would have found regressive, it was refreshing to see Chris speak in such an honest and vulnerable way. And I know that someone, somewhere is going to read that article and realize that if it is okay for a 6’10” inch Olympic champion to seek help, it’s okay for them too.
The fun began on Day 1 when former Tar Heel All-American Madison Wiltrout finished third in the women’s javelin, in a nice ending to what had been an up-and-down season.
Plagued all year by foot and back issues–nothing major, just “typical javelin stuff” according to Coach Nikfar–Madison captured her third ACC Conference title in May with a promising 58.51m toss, but ended up eighth at the 2023 NCAA Championships after placing third in 2022.
In all her comps leading up to USAs, Madison used a short approach as a way of reducing the stress on her body, but Coach Nikfar says she insisted on going with a full runup in Eugene.
“She was adamant about it,” he says. “Madison is strong, and could throw far enough from a short approach to make any domestic final, but she was not going to play it safe at USAs.”
Her temerity paid off in round one when she produced the 55.51m toss that eventually got her on the podium next to Maggie Malone (58.79m) and Maddie Harris (60.73m).
Madison has not hit the 63.80m automatic qualifying mark for Worlds, nor is she close to the top thirty-six in ranking. She would have until the end of the month to chase one or the other, but agreed with Coach Nikfar that the wiser move right now is to shut it down for 2023, get healthy, and come out firing in 2024, when she hopes to put the experience she gained in Eugene to good use.
Her coach says that competing in a “high octane meet” like the USAs provides an athlete with a “clear view of what they have to do to make their technique tolerant to high pressure situations.”
He described Madison’s performance in Eugene as, “good, not great. She did a good job, and I think any time a highly-driven athlete finishes anywhere but on top of the podium, if I call it ‘great’ they won’t believe me. But, she learned a lot and got more experience, and she’s ready to get some rest.”
Another of Coach Nikfar’s athletes, hammer thrower Alex Young, showed how valuable championship experience can be when he earned a podium spot in Eugene despite coming in with a season’s best of 73.38m–well below his 78.52m PB.
Alex opened with a season’s best 73.52m, which put him third behind Winkler (78.23m) and Haugh (74.95m) until Eager jumped him with a 74.28m toss in round two.
But Eager, who PB’d earlier this year with a 76.58m chuck at Ironwood, was unable to improve on that second throw, and Geist, who reached 75.97m and 75.25m in the two comps leading up to USAs, topped out with a 73.48m fourth-rounder.
From his spot near the cage, Coach Nikfar could hear the sound of opportunity knocking.
“If you leave you leave the door open,” he observed afterwards, “a guy who is talented and has experience will get through.”
Alex’s six USATF Championships appearances, including four podium finishes and one win (in 2017), made him one of the most battle-tested athletes in any event at USAs, and allowed him to stay calm as the competition wore on with, in Coach Nikfar’s words, “no freakouts and no intent to try to break records.”
Alex’s 75.87m toss in round four demonstrated his veteran moxie. It was more than two meters under his PB, but more than two over his season’s best prior to USAs. Most importantly, it moved him into third place and earned him his third World Championships appearance.
It was hard to imagine a first-year pro having any chance against that Murderers’ Row, especially a first-year pro who had finished no better than thirteenth in her two previous USATF Championships, but Coach Nikfar says that Jillian Shippee, whom he began coaching when he came to UNC in the fall of 2019, had two things going for her: consistency in training and boldness in competition.
They set a “manageable” goal of making the top eight, and decided that anything beyond that would be a bonus, but in a phone call a few days before USAs, Coach Nikfar expressed optimism about Jillian’s chances. “If you can be bold in a competition like this,” he told me, “a lot will come your way.”
Jillian got right after it when the festivities began, going 72.40m in round one, a distance which would almost certainly garner her a top-eight finish. Her “manageable” goal fulfilled, she found herself in fourth place behind Brooke, DeAnna, and Annette going into round two, with Kassanavoid sitting fifth.
That’s rarified air for someone who finished ninth at NCAAs her senior year, and it would have understandable if Jillian lost her equilibrium in the bigness of the moment. Instead, she stepped in for her second throw and smashed a PB of almost two meters. That toss–74.93m–surpassed the automatic qualifying mark for Worlds and elevated her into third place, where she stayed until Kassanavoid jumped her in round six.
“It was amazing,” Coach Nikfar said afterwards, “to have an athlete be able to endure that pressure and also thrive in it and just take big swings every throw.”
Jillian will now join Anderson, Price, and Kassanavoid on the squad for Budapest, and whatever happens there, Coach Nikfar says that making the team showed her that she belongs among the best in the event.
“The sense of belonging is a thing that matters,” he says. “She got the best version of that ever at USAs. These are people she watched for a long time, and now she’s on a USA roster with them.”
The Big D!
This is getting redundant, but how about ol’ Daniel Ståhl laying the wood to the best discus dudes in the world once again at the London Diamond League meeting? His winning distance of 67.03m was not epic, but on the broadcast it looked like it rained the morning of the comp, so the air might have been a little heavy or the ring a little slick. Either way, a win is a win when you’re going against the top guys, and the Big Man is looking mighty dangerous as the World Championships loom.
The book about Daniel’s career that my friend Roger Einbecker and I have been putting together with Daniel’s former coach Vésteinn Hafsteinsson has been sent to a graphic designer and should be ready soon. We are going to self-publish this one, and as this is our first rodeo I’m sure there will be a few more obstacles to overcome, but in the meantime, Daniel, keep up the good work!
At this rate, we may have to start working on a sequel.
I once helped out at a middle school meet where the person in charge of the discus decided that after each throw, the athlete should remain in the ring until the measurement was recorded. This created much ridiculousness, as those who remembered to follow this new “rule” inevitably got in the way when the guy tried to pull and read the tape, and those who forgot and walked out after their disc landed had their throw nullified.
I was among several coaches who tried to explain to the man that there was no “stay in the ring until after the measurement” rule and that he’d have a much easier time running the event the normal way, but he refused to listen. He had been put in charge and would manage the ring as he saw fit.
I thought of that gentleman as I watched via the USATF.TV webcast while officials made a hash of the women’s shot at the recent 2023 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships. Much to the relief of my wife, I’ve reached the point where I expect and forgive the inevitable laser malfunctions and no longer feel compelled to scream, “Just use a damn measuring tape!” at my laptop while watching throws comps.
And there did seem to be laser-induced delays that night in Eugene, but it quickly became clear that something else was contributing to the glacial pace of each round. The camera angle used on the webcast made it possible to see the timer mounted near the ring, and for some reason the officials would not allow a thrower to step in for their attempt until the sixty seconds allotted to the previous thrower had expired.
The existence of those timers has always struck me as extraneous. Why would a thrower, once their name is called, want to spend the better part of sixty seconds standing there thinking about throwing? That’s what NFL coaches force the other team’s kicker to do when he’s trying to make an important field goal, right? They call a timeout to give the poor bastard time to ponder and worry and get tight. That strategy is called “icing,” and again, it’s something you do to an opponent to mess them up. Why would an athlete want to ice themselves?
The answer is, they don’t. In a normal comp, each thrower is in and out of the ring in just a few seconds, except when the laser glitches and people like me start wishing they’d let the Amish run all major meets.
But that night in Eugene, the athletes had no choice but to stand by awkwardly watching the timer tick down to zero before entering the ring, which made for a maddeningly slow competition. By my estimate, it took fifty minutes to complete the first three rounds, twice as long as normal.
Afterwards, I messaged a handful of coaches and athletes to ask if they knew whose idea it was to run the women’s shot that way.
Kyle Long, coach of Maggie Ewen, said that Maggie told him an official showed up as the comp began and–for reasons unknown–ordered the person running the ring to wait the full minute between attempts.
“We always prepare for something weird at every meet,” he told me. “But I had no idea why they were making everyone wait so long between throws.”
Fortunately, Maggie smashed a 19.76m opener, which made it easy to stay in relaxo mode the rest of the comp, and ended up producing the most consistently excellent series of her career: 19.87m, 19.54m, 19.80m, 19.48m, and 19.92m.
John Smith, who was there coaching Jalani Davis, thought the slow pace was per request of the TV folks, but like Kyle, he had no hard feelings as Jalani’s fourth-round toss of 18.62m earned her a ticket to Budapest.
Kara Winger, who worked all weekend as a member of the broadcast crew, said afterwards that TV did not dictate the pace of the shot comp, which made sense because…have the TV people ever wanted the throwing events to last longer? Not in my lifetime.
Strangely, though, Kara had heard that an official visited the call room prior to the event and asked the putters if they wanted the full minute between each throw. She also pointed out that most throwers would be so focused on themselves and their cues while sitting in the call room that they probably would not have had enough available brain space to process what the official was actually asking them.
We may never know the true explanation behind the Great Shot Put Slowdown of 2023, but fortunately all the other throwing events were run at the normal pace. Now, if they would just ditch the damn lasers!…Sorry, honey.
After winning the NCAA weight title in March, Jalani Davis headed into the outdoor season looking to do some damage in the hammer and shot put. And for a while, things went as planned.
She finished second at the SEC Championships in both, with throws of 67.27m and 17.94m, and seemed ready to contend for podium space at the NCAA finals in Austin.
Then regionals happened.
The University of North Florida, site of the East Regional, had recently redone their cage, and in the remodeled version the hammer ring was placed in front of the discus ring. Because of this, the cage door felt closer than normal for the hammer throwers, which bothered some, Jalani included. She lost her rhythm and maybe her composure, and finished eighteenth with a throw of 60.89m.
Jalani’s disappointment carried over to that night’s shot comp, where her best effort of 16.15m put her nineteenth.
Coach Smith assured Jalani that every thrower has tough days, and the experience would benefit her in the long run. “I told her,” he recalled recently, “the more battle scars you accumulate the better you will be in the end.”
A week later, she bounced back, going 67.00m and 18.64m at the Music City Track Carnival.
Based on that performance, and on the potential he’d seen Jalani display in training, Smith believed she had a chance to make the squad for Budapest.
But he did not say that to Jalani.
Smith worried that any talk of competing for a spot at Worlds might make it impossible for her to relax and find a flow. “Throwing,” he says, “should be a reaction. If you walk into the ring and try to think through a throw, you’re done. You’ve got to learn to be on autopilot, or you’ll never survive in a high-pressure situation.”
Luckily, Jalani went into USAs with the best U23 hammer and shot put marks in the Western Hemisphere, which made her nearly a lock to qualify for the U23 NACAC team. Smith told her to focus on that and never mentioned the possibility of qualifying for Budapest.
He also tried to put Jalani into autopilot mode during practice by having her throw into a net or over a set of bleachers that blocked her view of where the shot landed.
Smith estimates that Jalani launched eighty percent of her practice attempts over the bleachers in the runup to USAs, including every throw during her final training session before heading to Eugene.
Smith’s plan paid off when, after fouling her first attempt in the competition, Jalani belted an 18.53m second-rounder that put her into third place. In round four, she improved to 18.62m. And then, she started to get suspicious.
“I knew,” she said later, “that to make the U23 team I only had to beat one other U23 girl. But then, after my fourth throw, I asked Coach if I’d make the team for Worlds if I stayed in third or fourth place. He didn’t say anything, so I knew that was a ‘yes.’”
The 18.62m held up for third place, so Jalani will be heading this week to Costa Rica for U23 NACACS before returning home to prepare for Budapest.
Not bad for an athlete who was not recruited out of high school. Jalani got herself on the Ole Miss squad by showing up at a practice one day with her father and convincing Smith to give her a chance.
“I was mad at walk-ons at the time,” Smith recalls. “I’d just had one who had been a problem. But I liked what Jalani’s father had to say. He’s a military guy, she’s a military kid, and they both impressed me.”
Four years later, Jalani is on the team for Worlds. She has also become the first woman ever to throw eighty feet in the weight and sixty in the shot, though Smith says she is still in the developmental stage. “She’s only been spinning in the shot for three years,” he explained. “And it usually takes four years to click. Right now, she can throw 18 meters from a non-reverse, but she’s still getting comfortable with reversing. Year four is when Jessica Ramsey broke through to 20 meters. So, we’ll see.”
In the end, though, the hammer might be her best event.
Jalani’s current PB is 69.53m, but according to Smith, she is poised for a breakthrough there as well.
This season, after three-and-a-half years of training the hammer, Jalani threw the 3-kilo implement 82 meters in practice. Smith has had other athletes reach that distance with the 3k, including 2019 World Champion DeAnna Price, 2017 US Champion and two-time Olympian Gwen Berry, and 2013 World Championships finalist Jeneva Stevens, but none did it as early in their career.
Will Jalani some day follow DeAnna’s path to a World Championships podium? Maybe, but that’s something to think about at a later date. For the rest of this summer, she’ll be on autopilot mode.
Big Man Update
Daniel Ståhl is having a hell of a season with four meets over 70 meters so far, including a best of 71.45m. After a tough 2022 campaign where he finished out of the medals at Worlds and Europeans, what more could you ask?
“I’d like,” Daniel’s former coach Vésteinn Hafsteinsson told me via a Zoom call last week, “to see him throw far outside of Sweden and Finland, which are his favorite places to compete, and to see him beat Kristjan at least one more time before Worlds.”
That would be defending World champ Kristjan Čeh, whose 71.86m toss at the Heino Lipp Memorial gave Daniel the honor of owning the farthest second-place throw (the aforementioned 71.45m) in history.
Daniel had tagged Kristjan with his only loss of the season three days earlier at the Paavo Nurmi Games, but outside of that comp the big Slovenian had been untouchable.
The United States is stacked in the women’s hammer. How stacked? A top-30 ranking is enough to qualify an athlete for the World Championships in Budapest, and 11 of the women on the start list for today’s 2023 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships are in the top 30.
Because Brooke Andersen was nice enough to win the event at last year’s Worlds in Eugene, the United States gets to send four women’s hammer throwers–Brooke and three others–to Budapest. The competition for those three spots begins at 4:00pm Pacific time today, and it will be fierce. Let’s take a quick look at the contenders.
Several of the athletes in today’s comp have made senior international teams in recent years, and three have gotten on the podium. Among them is defending World champ Andersen, whose Budapest bye allowed her the freedom to spend two weeks competing in Europe in June rather than staying home to prep a mini-peak for USAs.
While across the pond, Brooke competed in four meets in four different countries, and won them all. The prize money from meets like those along with support from USATF and Nike have allowed Brooke to quit her job at Chipotle and finally devote herself full time to training. While she probably misses the employee discount, Brooke has performed at an extremely high level all season and on May 20th became the third woman ever to crack the 80-meter barrier, something which she may well do again today in Eugene.
Janee’ Kassanavoid took the bronze at last year’s Worlds, and is a favorite to grab one of the three open spots on this year’s squad for Budapest. After smashing a 78.00m PB in 2022, Janee’ has shown consistency in 2023–three comps over 75.00m–but has yet to hit the Big One. The USATF Championships has been known to bring out the best in the women hammer throwers, though, so this might be the day.
Speaking of hitting the Big One, two years ago at the Olympic Trials, 2019 World Champion DeAnna Price set the current American record of 80.31m before falling afoul of the hip and foot injuries which derailed her hopes of medaling in Tokyo and made 2022 all about rehabbing. The good news for hammer fans is that she’s baaaaack, and in spite of a small issue with a benign growth on her foot earlier this spring, looks a lot like her old self. She, too, has been over 75.00m three times this season, with a best of 77.25m at the Ironwood Classic. As to her ability to make the team and contend for the podium in Budapest, DeAnna’s husband/coach JC Lambert says that “it will ultimately come down to staying healthy. She had a couple of training PBs this year for the first time since 2021, so if she can get enough high quality reps in training this summer, I won’t rule out another 80-meter throw.”
Another veteran looking for a return to PB Land is Annette Echikunwoke, who was twelfth in last year’s Worlds. Annette posted her all-time best of 75.49m in 2021, and came close to equaling it in Tucson this May, hitting an even 75.00m at the USATF Throws Festival. That was her only comp of 75.00m or more this season, and she’ll need to throw at least that far to make the Budapest squad. But if you know her story, you know that the challenge of popping off a season’s best at the USATF Championships will not intimidate Annette. She is tough, determined, and battle-tested, and unlikely to wilt under the pressure of today’s comp.
Maggie Ewen, who dominated in the shot put last night, made the US team for the 2017 Worlds as a hammer thrower, but largely set that implement aside after finishing 4th in the shot at the 2019 Worlds.
In the fall of 2021, just after Maggie won the shot at the Diamond League final, I asked her coach, Kyle Long, if they’d ever go back to trying to compete in both events. He described a shot/hammer double as possible, but expressed concern that trying to compete at a world class level in both would be tricky. “It would take a lot of experimental training,” he cautioned, “and the result might be mental exhaustion. The women have pushed the event so far, it might be disrespectful to think ‘Oh yeah, we can do both.’”
But he and Maggie agreed that she had a lot of untapped potential in the hammer, and focusing only on the shot made Maggie miss her days at Arizona State where she won NCAA titles in both (and the disc as well).
They started training hammer again in 2021, but competed only three times. This year, Maggie has thrown the hammer in five comps, and launched a 75.10m PB in Tucson. And, funny thing, splitting her time between the two events has made her a better shot putter.
For one thing, Kyle says, “the hammer is a good specific strength exercise. It trains the dynamic aspect of throwing and is a heck of a workout for Maggie, so even if she doesn’t make the team for Budapest, we’ll keep throwing it in practice.”
Then, there’s the mental aspect. It turns out that training the same implement every day might have caused Maggie to overthink, and certainly made it harder to shake off a bad performance.
“When she was throwing three events in college,” Kyle explained, “it was easy to move on from a bad day or a bad session because there was always another event to focus on.”
Maggie has described the hammer as a “stress reliever” and after winning the shot title last night with a remarkably consistent series (4 of 6 throws at 19.76m or better) should be in great spirits as she tries to earn a second slot in Budapest.
So far this season, Rachel Tanczos has been an exception to the rule that throwers always struggle during their first year as pros. Rachel has done the opposite of struggling, instead surpassing her 2022 PB in seven of eight meets as a pro. In her most recent outing, at the Ironwood Classic, she blasted a 73.87m toss that stands as the ninth farthest throw in the world this year.
How did this happen?
According to Rachel, “it’s a combo of things. When I was in college at Notre Dame, I competed in shot, disc, and hammer, so I just did not get a ton of reps as a hammer thrower. Now, I don’t have to worry about training three events or going to classes. And I’m really happy to be working with AG Kruger at Ashland University.”
Rachel recently made another change that should help her effort to make the podium today.
“Until a couple of weeks ago,” she says, “I was waitressing at a local brewery, so some days I’d throw, lift, then work five hours on my feet. And I also had to decline a couple of opportunities to compete because I couldn’t get out of my weekend shifts. Finally, I decided that I didn’t move to Ashland to be a waitress.”
Will the additional rest allow Rachel to get near her 73.87m PB and get in the hunt for Budapest?
“Me being a first-year pro, I don’t feel like I have too much pressure, “she explained. “I’m not sure if I’m on too many people’s radars, but hopefully I can be someone to apply some pressure and maybe come out and make some noise.”
Another rookie on the pro tour hoping to get in the mix today is Jillian Shippee, whose coach, Amin Nikfar, describes her as a “talented athlete, who has developed a lot as a hammer thrower lately.” Jillian demonstrated that development when she PB’d by nearly three meters this season, hitting 73.01m in April.
The secret to her success? Time on task, according to Coach Nikfar. “We just throw a lot,” he told me recently. “Jillian is really good with consistency, and also with being bold on throws. If you can be bold in competition, a lot will come your way. I always tell my athletes, the meek might inherit the earth, but they ain’t gonna get six throws.”
Look for Jillian to get the full six tonight, and if any of the Big Guns falter, to make a play for the podium.
Erin Reese showed boldness at the 2021 Trials where she blasted a PB of 72.53m. A lousy 2022 season ensued, but she is back in form this year and has gone over 70 meters six times, including a 73.47m bomb in April and a 72.48m toss at Ironwood. She’s tough under pressure (you can read more about her exploits here) and like Jillian, looks ready to barge her way into the conversation at USAs.
Another up-and-comer, Maddie Malone, smashed a 72.37m PB to take second at the recent NCAA meet in Austin. That was her first time over 70 meters, and though she may not be quite ready to compete for a Worlds spot, the experience she gets tonight will serve her well as she embarks on her own career as a pro.
Janeah Stewart, the 2018 NCAA champion, hit 75.43m in 2019 but took time away from the sport to become mother to a little girl named Ja’Myri, who can of late be found running around at practice harassing coach John Smith. “She’s a pickpocket,” he said recently. “She’ll grab your keys or phone if you’re not looking. Great kid, by the way.”
Smith says that it has taken two-and-a-half years for Janeah to finally get back to her old strength and performance levels, but that just in the last thirty days they are again seeing training PBs.
Stewart has been remarkably consistent this year, throwing between 70.00m and 71.63m in six of seven comps. And Smith is a legendary master of the art of peaking, as evinced when Jalani Davis came up big last night in the shot and made the squad for Budapest.
With Smith in her corner, Stewart cannot be counted out.
Another exciting young hammer thrower, Alyssa Wilson, will sadly not be competing tonight. Wilson caused a sensation at the 2021 Trials when she launched a 73.75m PB in qualification, and followed that with a remarkable 2022 campaign during which she went 74.78m to take second at the NCAAs and 71.73m for sixth at USAs. Unfortunately, a back injury has put a premature end to her first year as a pro.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Adelaide Aquilla is one of the world’s best shot putters. The 19.64m PB, which is an NCAA record. The four NCAA titles. The third-place finish at the 2021 Olympic Trials. The second-place finish at the 2022 USATF Championships. The recent 19.17m toss at the Bislett Games to score her first Diamond League points in her first year as a pro.
That would be enough to convince just about anyone, except maybe Adelaide herself, who still sometimes grapples with “walk-on imposter syndrome.”
She was, in fact, a walk-on at Ohio State University coming out of high school, but quickly proved she belonged in DI athletics by making it to the 2019 NCAA finals in Austin, Texas, as a sophomore. She threw a PB 16.29m there to finish twelfth, the first of many occasions that the NCAA Championships would bring out her best.
The following February, Adelaide threw another PB, this time 17.82m, to win her first Big 10 indoor title just before the world closed up shop. When the world opened up again a year later, she earned her second Big 10 indoor title, and first NCAA indoor crown, the latter by tossing a PB of 18.12m.
She smashed a 19.12m PB to take the 2021 Big 10 outdoor meet, and followed that up with a win at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and, shockingly, that third-place finish at the Trials which put her on the Olympic team at the age of twenty-two.
Adelaide had a great time hanging out at the training center the US established in Tokyo to keep the athletes Covid-free during the Games, and tried to approach the qualification round with the confidence she’d shown at the Trials, but after throwing 18.95m in Eugene to make the team, she topped out at 17.68m and did not advance to the final.
That resurrected some of the old doubts about whether or not she really belonged at the top level of the sport. “There was,” she recalls, “a big adjustment period coming back from the Olympics. I wasn’t happy with my performance, and I had to realign how I looked at myself and to realize I performed well at a bunch of high level meets in 2021, so one bad meet–even if it was the Olympic Games–did not define me.”
Adelaide also had to adjust to working with a new coach, as Ashley Kovacs moved on to Vanderbilt and was replaced by Travis Coleman.
There was a period of adjustment as she and Coleman got to know each other, and at the same time Adelaide was learning to deal with the expectations she perceived others had for her now that she was an Olympian.
That proved to be not so easy, and after opening the indoor season with two meets over 19 meters and taking her third consecutive Big 10 Indoor title, Adelaide struggled to a best of 17.95m at the NCAA Indoor Championships, which consigned her to second place.
Her slump continued outdoors, and she did not reach 19 meters during March or April.
Then, one day at practice, she had an epiphany. “One of the guys on the team was throwing a light ball and talking trash to me, as you do in practice,” she recalls. “And he said ‘I bet I can throw this thing farther than you can throw your four-kilo shot.’ This was like twenty minutes after I was done throwing for the day, but I put on my shoes and just got in the ring and beat him. And I was like, this is what’s missing! I need to have fun and be confident in meets just like I was that day in practice. It was a big mindset shift for me.”
Her new attitude paid off big at the NCAAs as she opened with that 19.64m PB and NCAA record. Two weeks later, she reached 19.45m to take second at the USATF Championships and qualify for Worlds.
Adelaide struggled in qualifying there as she had at the Olympics, but enjoyed the experience and looked forward to the 2023 indoor campaign, which would end her college eligibility.
She and Coleman had developed an excellent working relationship by then, and preparations for her final tour as a Buckeye were going well, until one day she called in an order to a Starbucks near her house.
“I went down there to get my coffee,” she recalls, “but I was walking downhill and it was icy. All of a sudden, I was sliding down the hill, and about to fall against a car–a Porsche, actually–so to avoid it, I fell backwards and hyperextended my ankle. That was not surprising for me. I’m very athletic in the ring, but that’s where it ends.”
Adelaide was not allowed to throw or lift for a month, and when she made her season’s debut at the indoor Big 10 meet, she fouled every attempt.
Next came the NCAA Indoor Championships, and her first four attempts there went 15.92m, 17.26m, 17.81m, and 17.17m. Her fifth throw was a foul.
“My throws at the Big 10 meet were out of the right sector,” she explained. “So at NCAAs I was worrying about getting them in instead of relaxing and having fun. Then, on my last attempt, I realized this was my last throw ever as an NCAA athlete, and somehow, I relaxed.”
The result was a 19.28m bomb for the win.
But that was it for college, and her experience this season as a pro has reminded Adelaide of when she was a freshman.
“I had to find my place in the NCAA, and I eventually proved that I belonged. Now, I have to do it again. All the girls on the tour have been welcoming to me, offering advice and encouragement, and that gives me a lot of hope. But I have to keep reminding myself that these girls have been pros for five or six years, and this is my first season. I’m just trying to prove to myself that I belong.”
The hardest part of life on the circuit?
Traveling alone and not having Coleman at meets to consult between throws.
That’s one reason Adelaide says she is excited about Saturday’s competition.
“It will be the first time outdoors that my coach will be there,” she says. “So at least if I think something is wrong, I have a second set of eyes to help me. And I have a level of comfortableness throwing at Hayward. I’ve had a lot of success there, and I know exactly what the ring feels like, so it’s easy for me when I do my visualization to imagine making a perfect throw.”
A perfect throw might not be in the offing, but competing at the USATF Championships has brought out the best in Adelaide Aquilla for the past two years. Will she capture the magic again on Saturday?
The women’s shot final begins at 6:15 pm Pacific time. Tune in and find out.
Look up “huge breakthrough” in any dictionary worth its salt and you’ll find a link to the video of shot putter Maggie Ewen launching a 20.45m rocket earlier this year at the LA Grand Prix.
She added another 20-meter toss that day, and in her next four comps went 19.61m, 19.26m, 19.52m, and 19.68m.
Keep in mind that her previous outdoor PB was 19.47m.
According to her coach, Kyle Long, the impetus for this Great Leap Forward can be traced back to the 2021 Olympic Trials where Maggie threw 18.92m and missed making the squad by three centimeters. During that comp, she had a front row seat as first Raven Saunders then Jessica Ramsey produced historic distances for female rotational putters. Saunders’ 19.96m blast briefly put her second all-time behind Jill Camarena-Williams on the list of rotational women. A few minutes later, Ramsey went 20.12m to become the only female spinner besides Camarena-Williams to surpass 20 meters at that point.
Camarena-Williams threw her 20.18m PB in 2011, and as is often the case with visionaries (Did you know Ben Franklin invented swim fins in 1717 at the age of 11?), the world was not quite ready to follow her lead. The glide technique continued to predominate among women for another decade, until the success of Saunders and Ramsey heralded a major shift in the event.
Maggie too had always been a rotational putter, and a successful one at that. She won the 2018 NCAA title in the shot while competing for Arizona State, and that same year raised the NCAA record to 19.46m.
After graduating that spring, Maggie, according to Coach Long, “seemed to be in a great place. She chipped away and got points at Diamond League meets. She finished fourth at the World Championships in 2019 (with a throw of 18.93m). But when Ramsey threw 20.12m at the Trials, and then Chase threw 20.49m at Worlds last year, it was a reality check. The women’s shot put world had moved forward, and Maggie could either move forward as well or be left behind.”
Kyle noticed when they began training for the 2023 season that Maggie was on a mission. “She has always wanted to do her best,” he says. “But now, she’s focused on making sure her best puts her up there with the world’s best.”
So far in 2023, mission accomplished. Maggie’s 20.45m PB has her ranked number one in the world.
Going into Saturday’s USATF women’s shot comp, Maggie says she is in a good place.
“After the season ended in 2022,” she said in a recent appearance on the Throw Big Throw Far Podcast, “we made some changes to my strength training, and Kyle got the job as throws coach at the university of South Dakota, so we moved to Vermillion. The move helped give me a fresh start in a new place, and now I’m in a much better place in my life and my mindset…a place where I have the ability to thrive and accomplish the things I want to accomplish.”
First on that list of accomplishments will be securing a spot on the squad for Budapest.
Chase has a bye this year after winning the 2022 Worlds, so three spots will be up for grabs with Maggie, Woodard, and Adelaide Aquilla as the favorites.