Suzy Powell is one of the most decorated female discus throwers in American history. She is a 3x Olympian and former American record-holder with a PR of 69.44m/227’9.” A product of the great UCLA throwing program, Suzy has been ranked among the top 10 discus throwers in the world numerous times. Currently she coaches throws at Modesto Junior College in Modesto California.
Suzy will present at this year’s ITCCCA Virtual Clinic on Thursday, March 18th at 6:00pm CST. Suzy’s talk is titled, “Throw Like a Girl—A systematic approach to learning and coaching the discus throw.”
Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout this live presentation and will also–for a limited time–have access to a video replay via Coachtube.
Don’t miss what promises to be a great session with one of the best discus throwers this country has produced!
That man is jacked up, and you will be too when you check out the lineup at this year’s ITCCCA Virtual Clinic.
Olympian (and one of the greatest shot/disc combo throwers in history) Andy Bloom will join the man who coached him to throwing greatness, Scott Bennett, for two sessions at this year’s clinic.
On Thursday, March 18th at 7:40pm CST, Andy and Scott will reveal their insights into rotational shot putting.
They will return on Friday, March 19th, also at 7:40pm CST to discuss discus technique.
Each session will feature substantial use of video to illustrate drills and technical points. Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout these live presentations and will also–for a limited time–enjoy access to a video replay via Coachtube.
Maggie Ewen, arguably the greatest thrower in NCAA history (she won, over the course of her career, the shot, disc, and hammer) and fresh off a PB shot put toss of 19.54m, will present at this year’s ITCCCA Virtual Clinic.
On Saturday, March 20th at 9:00am CST, Maggie will discuss “Physical Preparation for the Throws.” In that talk, Maggie will describe the methods she used in high school and beyond to build the power output necessary to make an implement go far.
On Sunday, March 21st, also at 9:00am, Maggie will present on her “Shot Put and Discus Journey.” In this session, she will examine her technique development over the years in each event.
Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout these live presentations, and will also–for a limited time–have access to a replay on Coachtube.
The glide shot put lives! At last week’s European Indoor Championships, four of the top six finishers were gliders, including Germany’s Sara Gambetta. This year’s virtual ITCCCA clinic will feature Sara’s coach, René Sack, himself a former world class glider.
Nobody knows glide shot putting like the Germans, and this is a unique opportunity to learn from a coach who knows the German approach to the glide inside and out.
René will present on Saturday, March 20th at 10:40am CST. Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout this live production, and will also have access to a recorded version on Coachtube for a limited time.
Speaking of Coachtube, you can currently purchase a talk the René gave last summer on the discus. That presentation may be found here.
As the 2019 World Championships begin, I thought it might be interesting to reflect upon the very different roads traveled over the course of this long season by two outstanding young Americans: shot putter Maggie Ewen and discus thrower Laulauga Tausaga.
Maggie, after an astonishingly productive NCAA career, endured some very difficult moments while navigating her first year as a professional.
Laulauga, known to her friends as “Lagi,” experienced almost unrelenting success over the course of a season that began last December and will not end, she hopes, until October 8th–the day of the women’s discus final in Doha.
Let’s focus on Maggie first.
Her plan, after graduating from Arizona State University in 2018, was to remain in Tempe and continue throwing the shot put under the tutelage of the man she worked with for most of her college career: ASU throws coach Brian Blutreich. As Blutreich coached Maggie to NCAA and USATF titles in the shot in 2018, this seemed like a wise approach.
She also intended to continue competing in the hammer as a professional, and though she had flourished in that event under Blutreich as well, winning the 2017 NCAA title and finishing second at that year’s USATF meet, Maggie decided that fellow ASU alum Kyle Long, who serves as a volunteer assistant to Blutreich, would be her primary hammer coach.
The plan seemed to be working well when she opened in January with a put of 19.28m at the New Balance Indoor Invitational.
But it would take her nearly eight months to produce another throw past the nineteen-meter mark.
Early in the outdoor season, she struggled to get within a meter of her 19.46m PB, opening with an 18.58m toss at the Oxy Invitational, followed by bests of 18.48m and 18.57m in Shanghai and Nanjing.
From there, things got worse as she failed to dent the eighteen-meter mark twice in early June, throwing 17.83m at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland and 17.30m at the Bislett Games in Norway.
That was a shocking regression for a thrower who, when she hit that 19.46m PB at the 2018 US Championships (a competition where she also had a foul just short of the twenty-meter line) seemed ready to succeed Michelle Carter as the preeminent American female putter.
Meanwhile, she wasn’t exactly killing it in the hammer either.
After setting a PB of 74.56m in 2017 and following that up with a best of 74.53m last year, she opened the 2019 campaign with a solid 72.50m only to tail off with a best of 68.62m at the Desert Heat Classic in Tuscon in late April.
When I traveled to California to cover the Prefontaine Classic in June, I was very interested to get some insight from Maggie as to what was going on with her career.
Quite a bit, as it turns out.
In this short interview recorded the day before the Pre, Maggie announced that she’d recently made a coaching change. She would no longer train the shot with Blutreich. Kyle Long would be her primary coach in both her events.
In that interview, Maggie mentioned a difficulty faced by post-collegiate throwers lucky enough to keep training with their college coach: How do you get the attention you need when you are no longer part of your college program? Coaches at places like ASU get paid to produce NCAA point-scorers–a very time-consuming job. How much of their time can they afford to give you when you are no longer one of those NCAA point-scorers? For an athlete like Maggie, it can’t be easy to go from being your college coach’s number one priority to being someone they struggle to fit into their schedule.
Compounding this problem was the fact that Maggie now had to travel on her own to compete. Her three indoor meets, for example, were in Boston, Albuquerque and New York. Then, during the first two months of the outdoor season as mentioned above, she traveled to Los Angeles, Shanghai, Nanjing, Turku and Oslo.
I spoke with Kyle Long recently, and he told me that all of the changes Maggie had to endure as she made the transition from collegiate to professional made it very difficult for her to find a comfort zone.
“Maggie and Blu were gearing up for a great year,” he said. “It was an issue of circumstance and being the first year that she traveled. We also had a new strength coach, so there was some variety in the lifting that she wasn’t used to. So, with a new strength coach, Blu as shot coach and me as hammer coach she was getting feedback from three different voices. That’s a lot going on in someone’s head.”
Shortly before the Prefontaine, with her season and a chance to compete at the World Championships possibly slipping away, Maggie, in consultation with Long and Blutreich, decided to revise her training plan.
According to Kyle, they realized that, “in the shot, we needed one voice. We also got a new lifting program with someone she trusts as well [shot put great Ryan Whiting, another ASU alum who trains his Desert High Performance athletes in Tempe and who Maggie has known for several years], and that helped.”
The transition to Long as shot put coach was made easier by the fact that Kyle was coached by and now coaches alongside Blutreich, so him taking over Maggie’s shot training did not involve any major adjustments in her technique.
“Everything we do is Blutreich based,” he explained. “I’ve been volunteering for him for two years, and my coaching alongside Blu has helped me help her. Basically, we stuck to his plan.”
According to Kyle, Maggie never lost hope that she could salvage her season.
“When we were at our low towards the Oslo DL meet,” he explained, “she understood that like training in the fall it’s going to suck, but if you keep chipping away it will turn around. So not throwing well didn’t make her not want to throw or to train hard. Her attitude was ‘I’m not going to let myself get buried in this.'”
“We both knew she was talented enough to make the World Championships team. Making the changes when we did gave us a month to figure some things out before USA’s. She did a great job of keeping her eye on that and having faith in me and having faith in herself.”
An 18.04m toss at Pre, though nowhere near her PB, may have been just far enough to reinforce that faith and save her season.
Kyle told me that “had she gone under eighteen meters again at Pre, it’s a different year.”
But something about the way she competed there, the way her throws felt, gave her confidence that her new plan was working and that she had a fighting chance to make the US team for the Doha Worlds.
Which she did, by going 18.44m in the pouring rain at the USATF Championships in Des Moines in late July (here is a quick interview with a rain-soaked Maggie after that competition).
In addition to putting Maggie on the team for Doha, her third-place finish in Des Moines got her an invite to the USA v. Europe match on September 10th in Minsk.
And it was in Minsk that Maggie finally found her groove, though it came about in an odd way.
After fouling out of the hammer competition that morning, then producing a less-than-prodigious opener of 17.06m on her first attempt in the shot, Maggie stepped into the ring in round three and blasted out a 19.47m PB.
You can view that competition and the look of utter relief on Maggie’s face after they announced the 19.47m here.
I asked Kyle whether he had any insight into why Maggie struggled so much with the hammer that day, and he suggested that things were going so well with the shot in practice and she was so focussed on throwing the shot in Minsk, the hammer was “pushed to the back of her mind.”
Understandable, but the obvious follow-up question is this: After all her struggles this season, should throwing the hammer be “pushed to the back” of Maggie’s mind permanently?
Kyle says no.
He acknowledges that “doing both hammer and shot takes a serious physical gift,” but thinks it is possible if an athlete also has “a serious amount of discipline in taking care of themselves.”
In training, he says that “we always have to be aware of how she feels, especially with her history of back trouble.”
But, he believes that Maggie’s “natural rip in the hammer” gives her a chance to compete at a world class level without training it every day and points to her late-season results as proof a balance can be struck.
“We got 75.04m at USA’s and then 19.47m in Minsk while we were training for both, so it can be done.”
He acknowledges that “some people will be skeptical of our decision,” but believes that Maggie is “clearly capable” of excelling in both events.
And the main reason they intend to continue with both?
“She enjoys it so much. It was hard enough for her to give up the discus–her favorite event. If you’re going to break new ground, you’d better be passionate and she is passionate about throwing both the hammer and the shot.”
Speaking of breaking new ground, how about an American discus thrower who travels to her first senior-level international competition, one held in a stadium in Europe, and bombs a PB?
Unfairly or not, American discus throwers have been maligned over the years for launching wind-aided PB’s from wide open cages located outside of stadiums then folding in big international competitions in settings like the one illustrated above.
But it seems that Laulauga Tausauga, the 2019 NCAA discus champion from the University of Iowa is out to change that narrative.
Lagi’s 2019 season could not have been more different from Maggie Ewen’s. She was shockingly consistent, going undefeated in the discus in the months of April, May, and June. a streak that included a 63.26m blast for the win at the NCAA meet in Austin.
A month later, she made the US team for Doha by tossing 62.08m to take third at the US Championships in ideal conditions outside the stadium in Des Moines.
She then threw even farther, a 63.71m PB, inside the stadium in Minsk.
I asked Lagi’s coach at Iowa, Eric Werskey, how she pulled it off.
It turns out that many factors combined to make her performance possible.
First, according to Eric, Lagi possesses “true, raw power.” She can, for example, trap bar deadlift 515 pounds. With that type of strength, Lagi does not need a helping wind in order to throw far.
Second, Lagi is, as Eric puts it “an incredible competitor. When she gets into a stadium her adrenalin gets going and she channels it really well.”
Third, it turns out that Lagi is used to throwing from an international style cage like the one used in Minsk. Eric told me that when Iowa was ready to install a new cage a year ago, he requested one in the IAAF style with doors that are ten meters tall. He says that “if the wind blows slightly, it pushes the net right up to the sector line,” so Lagi has no problem launching throws through a narrow opening.
Also, Eric spent time during his own career as a shot putter training at Chula Vista alongside Joe Kovacs and Whitney Ashley. Their coach, Art Venegas, was very careful to prepare his throwers for the odd quirks of international competitions where throwers might, for example, be given a few warmup tosses at a facility outside the stadium then experience an extended wait before getting a brief warmup period inside the stadium just prior to the competition.
Eric says that while training for the World Championships in 2015, Venegas sometimes had Kovacs and Ashley take a few warmup tosses, sit for half an hour, take two more warmup throws, and then do a practice competition.
Eric took a similar approach in preparing Lagi to compete in Minsk, and it turned out to be a good thing because once the discus competitors were brought into the stadium, they received exactly two warmup throws.
One last factor contributed to Lagi’s big night in Minsk.
Eric says that Lagi did not have great practices in the days leading up to the USA v. Europe meet.
“Usually in training, if she’s on she’ll throw sixty-two meters pretty consistently, but we weren’t at that level. She was hitting sixty or sixty-one maybe one out of every eight throws.”
Eric was not able to make the trip to MInsk, so he asked Justin St. Clair, who has built a fantastic throws program at North Dakota State University (and who was present at the USA v. Europe meet to coach Payton Otterdahl) to keep an eye on Lagi when she practiced the day before the competition.
It turns out that St. Clair noticed Lagi was letting the discus sneak ahead of her as she began her right leg sweep out of the back. That made it difficult to high point the disc as she hit her power position and was really messing her up as she practiced on the day before the meet. St. Clair suggested that Lagi focus on locking the disc back at the end of her windup, and that did the trick. She hit some nice practice throws and showed up the next day confident and ready to rumble.
After a pedestrian 54.43m opener, she hit 63.03m in round two and that 63.71m PB and under twenty-three world lead in round five. You can see those throws here.
Doha is next, and in spite of the Lagi’s youth and the fact that her college season began nine months ago, Eric believes she can perform quite well there.
He anticipates the automatic qualifying mark for the finals to be in the 62.00m-62.50m range, and sees that as comfortably within reach.
“Based on how well she competed in Belarus, my goal for her is to make the finals. She’s the person to do it. It’s been an incredibly long year, but she trains well, she accepts the challenge and always rises to the occasion. I don’t want to leave empty handed.”
Neither does Maggie Ewen. At the end of this impossibly long season, a strong showing in Doha might provide just the momentum both these fine young throwers will need to carry them through a short off season and onto the next challenge–contending for a medal in Tokyo.
It’s been a heck of a year for the University of Iowa’s Laulauga Tausaga. She opened her outdoor campaign with a second place finish in the discus at the Florida Relays and then went undefeated in that event for the months of April, May and June.
The highlight of that remarkable streak was the 63.26m bomb that won her the NCAA title in Austin. Iowa throws coach Eric Werskey was kind enough to give us a frame-by-frame breakdown of that throw.
Here she is at the end of her wind up, just about to begin her shift left. What do you see here? Her wind is not as extensive as some—is that the result of experimentation?
Yes. Once I arrived on campus [Eric took over at Iowa for the 2017-2018 season] I noticed her balance seemed to be a bit inconsistent at the back on the ring, which created some inconsistencies at the front with her delivery. We spent a lot of time in the fall doing static start drills. She seemed to take a liking to it, so we carried it into her full throw because it became comfortable to her.
In her first movement, our goal is to be centered with the center of mass with a slight stretch through the right side. Now, you may not see it in the photograph, but she has a slight “rock” into her right side with her right heel planted in the ring. This creates a stretching feeling, and once she feels that she will start to sit into her left side.
These next three pics take us from the moment she starts to unwind to the moment her right foot leaves the concrete. What do you two emphasize in this portion of the throw?
Once Lagi comes out of her backswing we emphasize having a “long and wide” back of the ring. We want to shift the center of mass to the left side by thinking of an “out and around” approach. Her tendency is to cut the back of the ring “short” and fall into the middle a bit. We try to prevent that with the way we set up the throw out of the back. The “long” aspect refers to patience and loading the center of mass to the left side and the “wide” cue is to emphasize a wider sweep leg. Once she executes that part of her throw, she can then look to get across the ring efficiently and maximize her middle separation.
Here we have the portion of the throw from Lagi’s right leg sweep to right foot touchdown in the center. What do you focus on during this phase?
In the first picture (photo 5), she has executed her “long and wide” out of the back cue, which made it really easy for her to complete her long sweep into the middle. As you can see, in single support she is balanced and her right foot is about as wide as the edge of the ring. As the sweep leg penetrates into the middle, we want the knee to bend slightly and we use the cue “let the ground come to you” versus reaching for the ground. The idea is if the right leg lands flexed or loaded she can pivot with balance and transition seamlessly into the power position.
Throughout the season, she would often execute the back of the ring well but had a minor habit of a delayed push from the left causing her left foot/leg to over-rotate and be open/”in the bucket” at the front. To correct this, we cued “bring the left with you.” As she felt the right leg sweep carry her into the middle with her upper body facing the direction of the throw, the idea was to have her left leg coming with to the front with a tight squeeze of the knees (photo 7). That way when she made ground contact in the middle, her left foot/knee/leg was in the same plane as the right side which helped her keep the discus back with tension/torque. Once she executed that cue, it was a matter of keeping the lower body moving to the front. She tends to “peek” over her left shoulder (as you can see a bit in photo 7), but we also try to face the back of the ring so the head and eyes stay back as she lands in double support at the front with the discus back and under tension.
Speaking of double support at the front, here she is hitting her power position then blasting through the finish.
As she rotates to the front, she lands (photo 8) balanced with her chest slightly down, head/eyes back and the discus back. You can see that her right heel is a bit off the ground. Lagi is incredibly explosive and vertically jumps exceptionally well (she is 6’0”, 240lbs and can grab a 10’ basketball rim with ease) so we use the right leg slightly different than some might. When she is loaded with the right foot this way, it caters to her vertical, then rotational finish.
With the discus back, the idea is maintaining tension through its orbit. The way Lagi does this is by feeling her right heel lifting then rotating to the throwing sector (photo 9). We also cue “eyes up” or “head back” to help create some “reverse C” in her body. By doing this, it creates maximal tension on her discus. We want her left arm to stay level and reach for the sector. We don’t cue the left arm as much as we probably should, but it’s something that she naturally does. She predominately has her weight loaded on the right side, allowing her to lift and rotate the right knee and hip while keeping a long-levered reach with the left arm.
Lagi has had an innate ability to make the discus fly with some of the best that I have seen and trained with. I have only ever seen a few athletes with such feel that I witnessed daily, those people being, Aretha Thurmond and Whitney Ashley.
Once she feels the right side begin to penetrate and the left arm reach to the sector, she attempts to lift and rotate violently. I like to have the left foot come off the ground first (photo 10). As the left pops off the ground, this will trigger her right side to slam through the finish. I don’t like to use the term “jump”, but at times we do so she can feel her legs extend. Lagi has an ability to stay long through the point of delivery, so when she squares up to the finish I know there will be some serious heat on the release. As she releases the discus and recovers (photo 11), we cue her to finish her right hip and right leg to the left sector with the heel down. To me, when this cue is executed, the hips and body have put all tension through the discus and the landing/recovery is balanced. This also allows for a clean recovery and no debates about the heel brushing the top edge of the ring.
We spend a large part of the fall dedicated to stand throw drills and cueing how the legs work through the finish. In the fall, we spend roughly two to three weeks on each segment of the system/sequence of drills then by November we are beginning to work into full throws, but not many. Roughly two-thirds of the throws workouts in November and December are still dedicated to drill-type motions and partial movements. The idea is that we get a large base from these drills that allows the carryover into the full throw rhythm. Once positions are natural and locked in, we can just focus on rhythm then distance. During the season if we have a week off, we will get back to the drawing board and revisit some of the drills and cues from the fall for a quick touch up.
Lagi is incredibly dedicated to her craft and trusts the processes that develop within the course of the year(s). It is not always easy for her physically and when she does not understand the cues or positions we are aiming towards, she will communicate that versus going with the flow of her own interpretation. To me, this is significant because it makes me have to break things down a bit simpler which caters to my coaching development.
Note: Lagi’s amazing season continued with a third-place finish at the 2019 USATF Championships in July. She and Eric are now preparing for the World Championships in Doha. The women’s discus prelims will take place on October 2nd, nearly ten months after Lagi’s collegiate season began. Hopefully, we will catch up with Eric afterwards and get him to reflect on the challenges of maintaining top form over such a remarkably long period of time. Stay tuned!
Self-doubt is antithetical to great throwing, especially when it starts to creep up in the moments before a big competition. To keep it at bay, many athletes rely on a warmup routine designed to calm the nerves while limbering up the joints.
One of the best parts about attending a meet like the 2019 USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships is that you get to watch the athletes go through those routines.
As mentioned in a previous post, Joe Kovacs used the warmup period prior to the men’s shot to unleash a series of ferociously passionate throws. Power positions. Step and throws. Fulls. All launched with maximum effort.
It was an impressive display, and it worked. Dropping bomb after bomb near the 22-meter line in warmups put him into the mental and physical state he needed to go 21.99m, 22.00m and 22.31m during the first three rounds of competition.
It also may have drained him a bit, as his final three throws of 21.28m, 21.43m, and 21.39m seem to indicate that he became fatigued. But, who cares? Every thrower’s job is essentially to produce one great throw in competition and that’s what he did.
Ryan Crouser also produced one great throw on Friday, going 22.62m in round five.
But he took a very different approach in getting himself ready for the competition. He began with power positions, then launched quite a few full throws, but I didn’t get the impression that he put one hundred percent effort into any of them, even the ones that travelled nearly twenty-two meters.
I’d argue, in fact, that his first three competition throws (a foul, 21.91m, 21.93m) were just a continuation of his warmup. He spent more time tinkering with his rhythm during the additional warmup period between prelims and finals, and finally when round five rolled around he was ready to hammer one.
Valarie Allman demonstrated a totally different approach prior to the women’s disc. Her entire warmup consisted of two full-out full throws, and that was it. A few minutes later, she drilled a first-round 64.34m that would turn out to be the winning throw.
Probably the most interesting warmup period of the entire weekend, though, came prior to flight two of the women’s shot.
Rain started falling at the end of flight one, and it picked up in intensity as the ladies of the second flight lined up to take practice throws.
Before long, it was pounding down and the competitors started draping themselves in towels and jackets while waiting for their turn in the ring, which quickly became slick enough that one of the throwers face planted over the toe board on her follow-through.
The timing could not have been worse for Chase Ealey, who over the course of the season has established herself as the best American putter. She was indoor national champion, and is the current Diamond League points leader in her event. On a normal day, she would be a lock to advance to Doha. But this is her first year as a rotational thrower, and competing in a wet ring in a high pressure meet would be a challenge even for the most grizzled veteran.
Speaking of which, I’ll bet Michelle Carter was glad her father had made her a glider each time she sloshed her way into that ring for a warmup throw. After two seasons hovering around the eighteen-meter range, she needed to get on the podium here and advance to Doha in order to get her career back on track, and maybe the rain would give her an advantage in a field full of spinners.
It turns out that one of those spinners, defending champion Maggie Ewen, was glad to see the rain, which is surprising because if anyone needed a confidence-building warmup followed by a confidence-building performance it was Maggie.
Her first year as a pro has been difficult. She split earlier this season with her college coach Brian Blutreich, and coming into this meet had shown no sign of the confidence and impeccable rhythm that allowed her to throw 19.29m to win the title last year.
But she hit a hammer PB of 75.04m on Saturday, and the possibility of inclement weather for Sunday got her thinking about her triumph in a rain-soaked battle for the 2018 NCAA discus title. So the skies opening up on Sunday may have actually helped Maggie dispel any doubts she had about her ability to get back on the podium in the shot.
In terms of their approach to warming up, all three of these ladies seemed to be most like Crouser. They all started with easy power position throws and built from there. None of them launched any bombs aside from a nineteen-meter-plus South African by Ealey which, come to think of it, is actually a bomb.
But as far as full throws go, I’d say Chase was a bit over nineteen meters, while Michelle and Maggie each dropped a couple in the mid-eighteen meter range.
All three were methodical and calm, and it turns out that once the competition began, all three were ready. Maggie opened at 18.14m, Michelle with 18.02m, Chase with 18.46m,
Maggie followed that up with a second-round 18.44m, then Chase basically sealed the win with a 19.56m bomb.
Michelle improved to 18.69m in round three, and with the rain pelting down and no other thrower able to establish any sort of rhythm, it looked like the medalists were set.
Finally, in round six Jeneva Stevens, whose best throw of the day to that point had been 17.70m, dug deep and launched one that must have made Maggie’s heart skip a beat. It turned out to be 18.36m, and Jeneva was left with the small consolation of being the only thrower outside of the top three to break eighteen meters.
I spoke with the three medalists afterwards. You can view Chase’s comments here, Maggie’s here, and Michelle’s here.
I also had a nice chat with Lena Giger the recent Stanford grad who finished seventh after throwing 17.35m out of the first flight. Lena is a very articulate young lady who is about to take the great leap from collegiate to professional. I, for one, am confident that she will flourish as she was born and raised in the great state of Illinois.
So that’s it for the 2019 Championships.
Much thanks to the athletes who put up with my hopefully not-too-inane questions, and to the folks at Drake and the USATF who ran a fantastic meet.
I hope that, in spite of the fabulous facility soon to open in Eugene, the Championships will return to Des Moines on occasion. If not, I will miss the kindness and cheerfulness of all the folks who volunteered their time to make this event happen.
I will also miss Jethro’s BBQ, where my friends and I spent hours after each day’s competition happily rehashing all the big throws
Finally, I’d like to give a shoutout to two fellows who I’ve had the privilege of working alongside in the interview room at Drake Stadium the past two years, Mark Cullen who writes for Track and Field News and runs a website called trackerati.com, and Erik Boal who covers meets for Runnerspace.com.
Their passion for and knowledge of our sport is truly breathtaking. I’ve seen them conduct an insightful interview with a thrower, then turn around and do the same thing with a distance runner or sprinter. It is a weird and wonderful sight to behold, and I hope to join them in reporting on next year’s Olympic Trials in Eugene.
Last year a storm blew in on the final day of the USATF Championships, and the winds that preceded it helped produce some fantastic results in the men’s discus.
Yesterday, throws fans seated on the hill overlooking the discus cage at Drake Stadium were hoping for a repeat performance, this time by the women.
Foul weather loomed on the horizon as flight one of the women’s discus warmed up, and the flags dangling from the safety ropes strung along the right foul line indicated a right-to-left cross wind was developing. Though for sure not a world record wind or a Hawaii wind or even a 2018 men’s discus wind, we spectators hoped that it might prove useful to Val Allman, Kelsey Card, Gia Lewis Smallwood, Laulauga Tausaga, Whitney Ashley and others fighting to make the team for Doha if they could fly the disc just right, or that it mind change direction a bit and morph into more of a headwind.
It was interesting to watch the flight-one competitors wrangle with the wind during warmups. A couple of throws released prematurely and seemingly headed out of bounds to the right were blown back into the sector. Several of the athletes had trouble keeping the disc flat, which can be challenging in a cross wind.
All in all, it seemed to be of no help to the gals in the first flight, as once the competition began only one of them notched a season’s best. That was Jere Summers, whose round-two toss of 59.66m was also a PB.
It might be that most of the flight-one competitors simply lacked the horse power to take advantage of this wind, as some of the flight-two throwers (most notably Allman, Card and Tausaga) hit long throws when their turn came to warm up.
As with the previous throwing events, each flight was given thirty minutes to prepare, which for a group of nine discus throwers is quite a lot of time.
I wrote previously about how some of the men’s shot putters, especially Joe Kovacs, used the long warmup period to take a lot of throws, and it was interesting to see the different approach taken by Val.
She went right to full throws, no stands, wheels, or fixed feet fulls, and she only took a handful of them.
When I asked her about this after the competition, she said it was a habit she developed while competing overseas. “You’re only ever guaranteed two warmup throws,” she explained, “so you have to learn to make do with that.”
She looked sharp on the warmups she did take yesterday, and seemed to be in great shape to defend her national title.
Once the competition began, things quickly got interesting.
Card, third up in the flight, took an early lead with a throw of 62.37m.
Kelsey is really fun to watch. She lacks the long levers possessed by a lot of world class discus throwers, but her entry and sprint through the ring are smooth and efficient and her fixed-feet finish allows her to thoroughly work the ground. Two years ago her coach, Dave Astrauskas, was nice enough to break down Kelsey’s technique for me, and you can read his analysis here.
Val was next up, and she snapped off a 64.34m just to let everyone know there would be no let down on her part.
Tausaga and Ashley both fouled their openers, and the round ended with Gia Lewis Smallwood moving into medal contention with a toss of 61.49m.
What can be said about Gia, aside from the fact that she is amazing? Like Kara Winger, she has spent a remarkably long time at or near the top of the US rankings in her event. Gia is the only thrower I’ve ever researched whose “Progression” page on her IAAF bio does not fit on one screen. You have to scroll down to find out that she threw 55.52m in 2000, and has thrown over sixty meters in nine of the last ten years, the exception being 2016 when she injured her back so badly that just bending down to pick up a discus off the ground was difficult.
Also like Kara, Gia is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
So it was cool to see her banging away at what was, in the words of Kara who was serving as PA announcer for the long throws, “at least her fifteenth US Championships.” According to Kara, the records “only go back to 2002,” so I guess we will have to wait for archeologists to fill in the gaps some day.
Tausaga knocked Gia out of third with a round two throw of 61.51m, while both Card and Val fouled. Ashley got on the board with 54.70m, but that left her in thirteenth place.
She punctuated her round three effort with a long and barbaric yell, which resulted in a mark of 61.52m. Thus was Tausaga knocked into fourth.
I have, by the way, a soft spot in my heart for Whitney. Not only is she an excellent thrower and super articulate person (check out this post-competition interview), but I have a great memory of watching her blast her first-ever sixty-meter throw right here in Des Moines in round six of the NCAA final her senior year at San Diego State. That throw lifted her from middle of the pack into the lead and showed for the first time that she had world class potential.
As Whitney mentions in that interview, a funny thing happened during the short break between prelims and finals yesterday: the wind stopped.
So, those on the outside looking in (Val, Kelsey and Whitney occupied the top spots going into round four) would get no help from Mother Nature.
It turns out that Tausaga didn’t need any, as she smashed a 62.08m toss that jumped her back into third.
That put Whitney into a bad spot (fourth place when the top three go to Doha) and she bombed away at the 60-meter line on each of her final three attempts, determined to claw her way onto the podium.
Each time she came up short (60.29m, 60.57m, 60.19m) as did Gia, whose sixth-round 61.51m left her in fifth place.
Afterwards, I spoke with Tausaga and Card about navigating the difficulties inherent to collegiate (Laulauga) and post-collegiate (Card) chucking. That interview is here.
I also spoke with Val, who is making the transition from collegiate to post-collegiate athlete look pretty easy. That interview is here.
A storm that drifted by on the outskirts of Des Moines forced a ninety-minute evacuation of Drake Stadium at the start of day three of the 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships yesterday. But Mother Nature could not slow down the Force of Nature that is DeAnna Price.
DeAnna provided one of the highlights of the meet last year when she blasted a fifth-round toss of 78.12m to break the American record. The crowd had to wait a bit longer this time—round six—but you could tell from her first attempt that she was locked in. Her series went: 75.66m, 77.51m, 76.40m, 75.77m, 76.72…and then the big one, 78.24m for an American record, facility record, personal best, and world lead.
That last bit carries a more legitimacy right now than it might have in years past because Poland’s Anita Włodarczyk will not be defending her World title in Doha. She is on the mend from knee surgery and has shut it down for the year.
So a solid case can be made that DeAnna is the favorite going into Worlds where a seventy-seven or seventy-eight meter throw will likely win.
Talking to her after the competition (you can find that interview here) I was surprised to learn that her season was almost derailed by back and hip issues that have plagued her for weeks.
She credits former hammer thrower and current chiropractor Brian Murer with keeping her in one piece and is confident that with his help she can keep the train rolling through Doha.
Second-placer Gwen Berry took a very different route to the podium, opening with two long fouls out of bounds to the right. Thus she found herself in the nightmarish situation of having to dial down the intensity to get a mark in round three while still putting enough juice into the throw to make sure she advanced to the final.
Complicating matters was the way she set up at the back of the ring. From my perspective, looking down from directly behind the cage, Gwen stood way to the left, almost facing the landing area as she began her wind.
I’m not an expert on hammer technique, but it seemed like she would have to consider altering her stance and moving over a bit to make sure she placed her third attempt between the sector lines.
And while messing around with the start of your throw is no big deal during practice, it’s not something you want to do in the middle of a competition when you basically have one attempt to keep your dreams and maybe your career alive.
To her great credit, Gwen kept her composure and squeezed out a 68.62m toss that moved her into sixth place and guaranteed her three more attempts. Again, my knowledge of the hammer is superficial, but it looked like she moved over a bit at the start of that throw to avoid the disaster of a third foul.
Since the prelims consisted of one flight of fifteen, there was only a brief pause for reordering before the finals. And while making those finals was essential, Gwen still faced the task of climbing into the top three. She did that with a 76.46m toss that vaulted her into second and knocked Maggie Ewen to fourth.
Maggie, maybe the greatest thrower in NCAA history, has gone through some first-year-as-a-pro struggles this season, compounded no doubt by the challenge of competing in both the hammer and shot put.
So it was a nice surprise to see her launch a PB of 75.04m in the second round. Unfortunately for her, business is booming in the women’s hammer in this country (seven of the fifteen competitors came in having already achieved the Worlds standard) and that throw did not get her on the podium.
She was in great spirits afterwards though, and is looking forward to defending her title in the shot put today. You can view my interview with Maggie here.
Brooke Andersen arrived in Des Moines with a season and personal best of 76.75m but could not find her rhythm in warmups. That’s not a good feeling when a World Championship spot is on the line, but she kept her composure and her round three toss of 76.46m held up for third place. I think you’ll enjoy her rather delightful account of this rather terrifying experience. My chat with Brooke can be found here.
Alyssa Wilson of UCLA is determined to follow in Maggie’s footsteps as a triple threat. She is the only thrower competing in the hammer, discus and shot put here in Des Moines, a task that today’s predicted high of eighty-eight degrees will make all the more challenging. The disc starts at 3:00 today, with the shot following at 6:20, so she won’t have much time to recover between events.
I spoke with her after the hammer, in which she finished a very respectable eighth place, and something tells me we will be hearing a lot more from her in the future. Alyssa’s comments are here.
The second throwing event on Saturday was the men’s javelin, and unlike the women’s hammer, not one competitor in the jav came to Des Moines having achieved the Worlds standard, which is 83.00m.
Nor, after five rounds did it seem likely that anyone would.
As the sixth round began, the top three spots were occupied by Michael Shuey (77.32m), Riley Dolezal (76.82m), and Tim Glover (76.33m).
Not the kind of marks likely to cause a stir in a world where it often takes close to ninety meters to win a Diamond League meet.
Then strange things started happening.
In hindsight, it seems that Curtis Thompson may have been responsible. In round six, Curtis hit his best throw of the day, 76.56m, to jump Glover for third place.
Glover responded with a season’s best toss of 77.47m, which moved him into the lead.
Dolezal, throwing next in the order, then hit a season’s best of 82.84m.
Shuey, now sitting third and no doubt filled with vexation, responded with a PB of 82.85m.
It was crazy and wonderful to watch and very fun to talk over afterwards with the three medalists in this interview during which I once again demonstrate my ignorance regarding the process of qualifying for Worlds. Though none of these gents has attained the qualifying mark, it turns out that Michael and Riley have a decent chance of being added to the field in Doha based on current world rankings.
So, to sum up, here are the various paths to Doha for American athletes:
-Achieve the qualification standard by today and finish in the top three here in Des Moines.
-Finish in the top three here, and if you don’t have the qualifying mark hope that the IAAF will need dip into the list of world-ranked performers in order to fill out the field in your event.
-If you are Jon Jones, supply Ryan Crouser, Joe Kovacs, and Darrell Hill with all the protein shakes and foot rubs they need because if one of them wins the Diamond League final in August you are going to Worlds.
If anyone out there knows another path to qualifying, please keep it to yourself. My brain is full.
As always, full results for the 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships may be found here.