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6/7/2024 Update from the European Championships

Women’s Shot Qualification

Ok, I missed it. My daughter flew in this morning, and I wasn’t going to ask her to figure out how to get from the airport to the hotel her first time in Rome. So the ladies threw the shot while I was on the train.

Sweden’s Fanny Roos was the leading qualifier, though, with a toss of 18.70m. Which was awesome to see. Fanny had a breakout year in 2021 when she took European Indoor silver and finished seventh at the Olympics. She made the Worlds final in 2022 and took another European Indoor medal in 2023, but has struggled since the retirement of her longtime coach, Vésteinn Hafsteinsson, seemed to set her adrift, though she landed with Staffan Jönsson, who had done a remarkable job rejuvenating the career of Daniel Ståhl.

It can be a funny thing switching coaches. Of Vésteinn’s old group, Fanny and Simon Pettersson have struggled—Simon did not advance in the men’s disc today—while Daniel has thrived and shot putter Marcus Thomsen is once again thriving after a difficult 2023 campaign.

Anyway, it would be awesome to see Fanny announce her return to form by snagging her first outdoor European Champs medal.

Look to Jessica Schilder and Yemisi Ogunleye, who both went one-and-done in qualification—a wise move since the final is tonight—to challenge for podium spots.

Men’s Disc Qualification

I missed the A group, but is anyone surprised that Mykolas Alekna went 67.50m on his first throw? It was 9:30 in the morning, hotter than hell in a mostly empty stadium, but…who cares? Look for him to go 70m tonight.

Kristjan did not reach the auto mark but felt comfortable enough with his 65.64m opener that he passed his second and third attempts.

At his size, Daniel is probably the last guy who wanted to be out there throwing in the heat with the final just a few hours away—that’s right, the men’s disc final is also tonight—and it showed, He went 69.01m, 63.79m, foul, then rolled through the mixed zone looking like an extremely grouchy bulldozer.

Vikings are tough you-know-whaters, though, so don’t be surprised to see him on the medal stand tonight.

The highlight for me this morning was seeing Mika Sosna make the final in his first ever senior Championships. I had to haul some ass to get there on my time—a sight which some innocent pedestrians I rumbled past might never be able to unsee. But it was worth it, as he sneaked in at twelfth. And Mika is no shrinking violet. He came up big at Throw Town in April when surrounded by some of the world’s best, so look for him to make the top 8 tonight.

Women’s Disc Qualification

Sandra is going for her 7th European title, and God help anyone who gets in her way. Full disclosure, she looked off balance during warmups and on her first attempt, and I was actually wondering if her reign might end not with a bang but with a really crappy performance in qualification. What a foolish man I am. She was still off balance in round two but hit 65.62m to lead all qualifiers.

When Marike Steinacker stepped in for her third throw, she was the only German discus thrower of either gender who had not secured a place in the final. No pressure there. She came through with a toss of 63.30m, and look for her to contend with Sandra, Shanice Craft—winner of three previous Euro bronzes—and Jorinde Van Klinken—the hardest working woman in show business (Instead of going home and resting between this morning’s shot qualification and tonight’s final, made time in her busy schedule to toss an SB of 65.12m in Group A) to join Sandra on the podium.

Dan McQuaid

The Monday Morning Meathead for the week of March 25

Shelby Frank and Coach Peter Miller showing off her new PB. Photo courtesy of Coach Miller.

Gophers got game

Fresh off a second-place finish in the weight at the NCAA Indoor Championships, Minnesota’s Shelby Frank opened her outdoor campaign with strong showings in the hammer and disc at the Clyde Hart Classic in Waco, Texas.

Gopher throws coach Peter Miller says the hammer is Shelby’s “least favorite” event in spite of the potential she displayed while producing a PB of 65.83m during a redshirt 2023 season. This winter, Frank used a wind and four turns in the weight to try to get more carryover into the hammer, and a 62.78m toss at the Clyde indicates she might be on the right track.

But though she hopes to contend for big Big Ten points in the ball and chain, the discus is, in Coach Miller’s words, “Shelby’s baby.”  And the little bundle of joy seems to be developing quite well! Shelby switched from a fixed feet to full-reverse thrower in 2023 and pushed her PB to 59.07m in the process. She also notched her second consecutive fifth-place finish at the USATF Championships and earned a silver medal at the U23 NACACs in Costa Rica, a pleasant surprise as it was the first time Shelby had visited a foreign country other than Canada (which doesn’t even seem like a foreign country except that everyone is polite there and a “loonie” is a dollar and not a parent raising their hand at a school board meeting).

After a solid off-season of training, Shelby launched a 59.10m bomb at an indoor discus comp on campus in February, then surpassed it last weekend in Waco as part of a very solid series: 56.16m, Foul, 59.69m, 58.17m, 58.98m, 58.13m.

Her goals for 2024? According to Coach Miller, Shelby would like to win her first Big Ten discus title and improve upon her best NCAA finish, which was 6th in 2022. As this is an Olympic year, she’d also like to improve on those fifth-place USATF finishes. Is a spot on the podium and the plane to Paris a possibility? “Shelby,” says Miller, “is physically stronger and faster than she was a year ago. As long as she shows up with a good attitude, she will be tough to beat.”

The same might be said of Gopher freshman Angleos Mantzouranis, whom Coach Miller describes as “an immensely powerful young man” who “looks like an NFL fullback in his lower body.”

Miller says that Mantzouranis’s strength sometimes interferes with his ability to make technical adjustments. “Luckily,” he explained, “I teach the hammer in a similar way to Angelos’s coach back in Greece, Alex Papadimitriou, so that helps.”

Angelos Mantzouranis and Coach Miller at the Clyde. Photo courtesy of Coach Miller.

It might be best that Miller and Papadimitriou share mentorship of Angelos, as his recent ups and downs might be too much for a single nervous system to withstand. Last summer, for example, he dropped a 77.16m one-and-done bomb with the 6-kilo implement during qualification at the European U20 Championships, then No-Marked in the final after pulling an 80-meter effort wide left, banging one off the cage on the right, and barely toe-fouling a 78-meter toss which would have put him on the podium.. 

In his collegiate debut on March 15th at the Hurricane Invitational, Angelos opened at 70.27m but followed up with five consecutive fouls. He fouled again in rounds one and two at the Clyde, which had Miller wondering if he might be “the worst hammer coach in the NCAA.”

But one thing Angelos does not do is back off when the chips are down, and he ended up putting together a nice series on Friday that included PB’s of 73.50m and 73.85m. Miller says they, “had a good conversation after the meet about the problem of him thinking one thing during a competition and me cueing him on another. We know we have to be on the same page going forward.”

Also sharing space on that page is 2023 NCAA hammer runner-up Kostas Zaltos, who like Angelos, hails from Greece. 

The Peloponnesian pipeline first opened for Miller shortly after he took over the men’s program at Minnesota. In the spring of 2019, he was going through some Facebook messages when he noticed one from Kostas saying he’d be throwing at the upcoming European U20 Championships in Sweden.

It just so happened that Miller was planning to attend that comp, and while there he got to meet Kostas and see him throw. “Personality-wise,” Miller recalls, “we connected right away. He fouled out of the competition, but that was probably for the best because it might have kept other schools from noticing him.”

Kostas arrived on campus in January of 2020 and showed off his pop by launching the weight 20.92m before the season was shut down by Covid. As a foreign student, Kostas was required to return to Greece, and while he was gone, the University of Minnesota terminated the men’s track program. 

He was set to transfer when the Board of Regents agreed to restore outdoor track only. “Kostas was actually happy about that,” says Miller. “He hated throwing the weight.”

With a European and Olympic Championships this summer, Kostas is taking a redshirt year to focus on making the Greek national squad. The PB 76.33m he hit at the 2023 NCAAs has him just under the 76.50m qualifying mark for Europeans, and within shouting distance of the 78.20m Olympic standard as well.

He is currently training with Miller in Minneapolis, and will compete two or three times in the US before heading home to Greece for the summer. Miller will continue to write Kostas’s training programs and to coach him as best he can over Zoom. Next year, Kostas will be back competing for U of M where he will join Shelby, Angelos, and others on what promises to be a powerful Gophers throws squad. 

Book update

Make that “books.”

Training for Gold: The Plan that made Daniel Ståhl Olympic Champion is available on Amazon in paperback and as an eBook.

Cover photo courtesy of Arwid Koskinen

Training for Gold details the 2020-2021 training plan used by Daniel and his coach Vésteinn Hafsteinsson. Anyone interested in the art of training, of balancing lifting with technique work, balancing hard work with rest, avoiding injury, and peaking when it counts, will find valuable information here from one of the great throwing coaches of all time.

In addition, we are a week or two away from releasing our second book about Vésteinn and Daniel…

Gold: The Olympic Journey of Daniel Ståhl and Vésteinn Hafsteinsson is an inside look at their ten-year partnership which resulted in World Championship and Olympic gold.

As I said, this baby will be out soon. Stay tuned!

Throwdown at Throw Town

In a preview of big throws to come at the upcoming 2024 Oklahoma Throws Series World Invitational (April 12-14), the discs were flying this past weekend at Throw Town Ramona.

On Saturday, the 23rd, UCLA commit Julia Tunks bashed a PB 59.84m to extend her Canadian U20 and U23 records.

In the men’s comp, 2022 US champion Andrew Evans broke 67 meters for the first time to finish ahead of 2022 World Championships finalist Alex Rose.

Alex Rose opened his 2024 season at Throw Town. Photo courtesy of Caleb Seal.

The following day, Tunks went 58.92m, while 2023 Pan Am U20 bronze medalist and future Kansas Jayhawk Maddie Fey hit 53.52m. Fey’s future teammate at Kansas, Kat Meacham, went 49.89m, while outstanding high school junior Taylor Wiseman notched a 50.23m PB and future Clemson Tiger, Christina Barnett pushed her all time best to 47.35m.

Photo Courtesy of Caleb Seal.

Meanwhile, Evans once again took advantage of the propitious Oklahoma winds in extending his PB to 67.50m. He was again followed by Rose, who notched an early season’s best of 66.57m.

The lineup for the World Invitational promises to be veeeery interesting. More on that soon!

The Monthly Meathead for March, 2024

Jalani Davis won the NCAA weight toss and finished 3rd in the shot.
Photo courtesy of Ole Miss.

36 the hard way

The Ole’ Miss throws squad, led by the venerable John Smith and his protege Dempsey McGuigan, finished the indoor season with a flourish, sweeping the weight and shot at the SEC Championships, then adding two more individual NCAA titles to Smith’s voluminous resume. 

The fun began in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on February 23rd when Jalani Davis launched the weight a PB 25.09m to break the meeting record she set in 2023. Teammate Jasmine Mitchell came in second with a toss of 23.73m. 

In the men’s weight, sophomore Tarik Robinson-O’Hagan took the title by dropping three of his six attempts past the 23-meter line, including a best of 23.55m. Four of Tarik’s throws would have been good enough to put him ahead of second-placer Ruben Banks of Alabama, who finished with a top toss of 22.54m.

With Davis and Robinson-O’Hagan delivering early knockouts, the weight comps lacked drama. It was a different story in the shot.

At the 2023 SECs Florida’s Alida Van Daalen snatched the title from Davis with a sixth-round PB of 18.66m. Davis also PB’d in that comp, with a toss of 18.43m, which foreshadowed her stunning performance at the USATF Outdoor Champions where she would hit 18.62m to win a spot on the US team for Budapest.

This year, Van Daalen had the lead going into round five with a best of 18.25m. Davis, meanwhile, sat in eighth place with a scorecard that read: 15.56m, 16.08m, Foul, Foul.

That kind of series at a championship meet can make a coach regret his choice of career, but Smith never lost faith that Davis would hit the big one.

“Jalani,” he explained, “generates a lot of power. But sometimes she has trouble getting left at the back and sometimes she forgets to get up out of the middle, so she plows everything forward and can’t keep it in. But if she gets out of the back early and gets up at the finish, it’s gone. I’ve seen her struggle then put it together and go ten feet farther.”

That’s essentially what happened on her fifth throw in Fayetteville, when Davis launched a new indoor PB of 18.61m to take the lead.

To her credit, Van Daalen produced her best throw of the day in round six, but still finished two centimeters shy of Davis.  

John Smith, Tarik Robinson-O’Hagan, Ole Miss head coach Connie Price-Smith, Jalani Davis, and Dempsey McGuigan. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss.

Going into the SECs, Smith thought Robinson-O’Hagan was in shape to throw 20 meters. It turned out he needed to do just that to hold off a strong field which included Roje Stona of Arkansas, John Meyer of LSU, and Dylan Targgart of South Carolina. 

Stona (19.80m) and Meyer (19.78m) held the top two spots after three rounds, with Robinson-O’Hagan (19.59m) and Targgart (19.33m) at their heels. 

The bombs dropped in round five. First, Florida’s Kai Chang busted a 19.36m PB which, back in the day, might have put him in contention. Just for fun, I looked up the 2014 SEC Indoor results, and the winner that year, Kentucky’s Brad Szypka, finished with a best of 19.47m. Alas, those days are long gone, and Chang’s chuck would lift him no higher than fifth. 

Robinson-O’Hagan stepped in two throws later and smashed 20.38m, an all time PB and his second career toss over the 20-meter line. 

“He got himself turned in the middle better on that one,” explained Smith. “And he really attacked through his right side at the front.”

Meyer answered with 19.84m to briefly jump Stona, but the big Jamaican–a remarkable athlete who holds a discus PB of 68.64m– replied with a 19.94m SB. (Note: A few days after SECs, Stona wowed the football world by ripping off a 4.69 40-yard dash at Arkansas’ pro day.)

Targgart found his form a round later and launched a PB of 19.99m to vault into second. But, in the end, Robinson-O’Hagan’s 20.38m held up for the win, giving Ole Miss the second throws sweep in SEC Indoor history.

The NCAA Championships were held in Boston two weeks later, at a facility called “The Track at New Balance,” whatever that means. Unfortunately for the throwers competing there, the ring at the Track at New Balance–try saying it slowly, in your best announcer’s voice–was notoriously slick.

Smith credits Dempsey–who is Irish and therefore extremely reliable–with gathering intel on the facility weeks in advance. Based on Dempsey’s findings, they decided to order Velaasa shoes for their crew as Velaasas tend to be grippier than the standard Nikes. That would turn out to be a wise decision if not quite a cure-all.

Shortly before the SECs, Robinson-O’Hagan had begun throwing the weight with a full windup and four turns, but they considered switching him back to three turns at NCAAs due to the treacherous ring. 

Tarik Robinson-O’Hagan took fifth in the NCAA weight. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss.

Tarik, though, adheres to the “Go big, or go home!” philosophy of throwing, and with Banks, Northern Arizona’s Garret Bernt, and Harvard’s Kenneth Ikeji heading a strong field in Boston, it would clearly take 24 meters to nab the win. 

Tarik felt like he was in 24-meter shape, but he’d need to employ four turns to reach that distance.  “He’s so competitive,” Dempsey explained. “To Tarik, there’s no difference between second and eighth place. He was gunning for the win, so we stayed with four turns.”

Unfortunately, Tarik fouled his first attempt, and could not quite find his rhythm the rest of the comp. Dempsey says the ring was not to blame, an assertion that would be supported by Tarik’s performance in the shot the next day.

“It was,” according to Dempsey, “just one of those days. Really, it was the only bad meet he’s had in the weight. It just happened to occur at NCAAs.”

Meanwhile, both Ikeji (24.32m) and CSUN’s Trey Knight (24.14m) went big. So did Bernt (23.09m) and Banks (23.05m) to round out the top four.

Tarik ended up fifth with a best of 22.97m. The good news though, according to Smith, was that Tarik’s performance in the weight got him angry going into the shot. More on that in a bit.  

Next up was the women’s weight where Jalani Davis, like Tarik, was determined to go for the win. The difference was that Davis would not need a PB to contend. She’d won in 2023 with a toss of 24.51m, and her 25.09m from the 2024 SECs denoted her as the clear favorite. 

Teammate Mitchell and 2023 NCAA second-placer Shelby Frank of Minnesota had both reached 24 meters this season, but neither were likely to threaten Davis–if she could control her considerable firepower on that slick surface. To make this more likely, Team Smith made the decision that in addition to wearing Velaasas, Jalani would begin the comp using two turns rather than her normal three.

After a tentative opener of 21.34m, Davis climbed to 23.14m then 24.80m. With Mitchell and Frank both struggling to find their footing, it appeared 24.80m would likely be enough for the win, so Jalani switched back to using three turns on her final three attempts. 

The meet and collegiate record of 25.56m had been held by Smith pupil Brittany Riley since 2007, and according to Smith, Jalani was in shape to take it down, but “her speed and power didn’t work on that ring.” She sandwiched a 22.88m toss between two fouls, but in the end had to be satisfied with her second consecutive title. As in 2023, Frank (22.69m) finished second and Mitchell (22.15m) third. Remarkably, it was Mitchell’s fourth consecutive NCAA Championships medal in the event.

Jasmine Mitchell medaled in her fourth consecutive NCAA Indoor Championships. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss.

The next day, Robinson-O’Hagan lined up against a men’s shot field loaded with heavy hitters including the aforementioned SEC studs, Georgia’s Alex Kolesnikoff, Ohio State’s Hayden Tobias, Notre Dame’s Michael Shoaf, Wisconsin’s Jason Swarens and Andrew Stone, and Nebraska’s Kevin Shubert. All those guys have 20-meter pop, so Smith decided to have Tarik swing for the fences in round one. 

“We knew Tarik was in good shape,” he explained. “In the last two weeks, he’d had training PRs with several different balls, and we figured if he could hit a big throw early he could shake up the competition.”

That he did, with a PB blast of 20.57m, which put him ahead of Swarens (19.87m) and Wake Forest’s Thomas Kitchell (19.73m).

The SEC crew got going in round two as Stona (19.96m) and Targgart (19.99m) jumped Swarens and Kitchell. Then Stona made matters veeeery interesting by blasting a 20.48m PB on his fourth attempt.

Meanwhile, Smith strongly encouraged Tarik not to rest on his laurels. After that sensational opener, he’d gone 19.58m, Foul, 20.20m, and 20.15m–an outstanding series, but one that left the door open for Stona and perhaps others. Targgart, for example, climbed to 19.95m in round five.

“After his opener,” Smith explained, “Tarik was sliding off to the left on his finish, so I told him to stop being a wuss and stand up at the front and nail it.”

Tarik Robinson-O’Hagan found firm footing in the NCAA shot. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss.

Round six turned out to be anticlimactic as Kitchell, Swarens, and Stona all fouled, and Targgart settled for 19.89m. So when Tarik stepped in for his final attempt, he had the competition sewn up. That did not, however, prevent Smith from giving him a quick “ass-chewing.”

According to Smith, Tarik is an old-school type putter who thrives on emotion and prefers to compete angry. “He actually loves to get chewed out during competitions. He gets pissed at me if I don’t do it.”

Whether it was the quality of the ass-chewing or residual disappointment from his performance in the weight, Robinson-O’Hagan found the fire he needed to close the comp with a new PB and facility record of 21.05m. 

The final throwing event was the women’s shot, with Colorado State’s Mya Lesnar coming in as the favorite. She was the only collegiate woman to crack the 19-meter barrier during the indoor campaign, but figured to be pushed by Oregon’s Jaida Ross who hit a PB of 18.84m at the Razorback Invitational in January, and by Jalani, who according to Smith was in 19-meter-plus shape.

Unfortunately, the slick ring caused trouble from the get go. Mya opened with 15.36m, Alida Van Daalen with 15.14m.  Jalani hit 18.15m in round one, which would have been fine had she been able to build from there, but her living-on-the-edge approach to shot putting was not a good match for the facility and she fouled her five remaining throws. 

She even earned a rare “yellow card” after one failed attempt when she expressed her frustration with a certain four-letter word. This, according to Dempsey, was quite a surprise. “Tarik cusses all the time,” he marveled, “and gets nothing.”

Jalani Davis finished third in the NCAA shot. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss.

Sitting in eighth place after three rounds, Lesnar finally found her balance in the fourth and banged out an 18.53m winner. Ross responded with 18.47m to lock up second place, while Jalani’s 18.15m held up for third. 

What with the competition and the unpredictable nature of a ring that seemed manageable at times and impossible at others, the points did not come easy in Boston. But in the end, the Ole Miss throws squad hauled in 36, a mark they’ll be looking to beat at the outdoor championships in June.

The memory keeper

It would be hard to contest the discus or javelin in most indoor venues without sending paying customers sprinting for the exits, so meets like the recent Indoor World Championships trend to skip the decathlon in favor of a heptathlon featuring the 60-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 60-meter hurdles, pole vault, and 1000-meter run. In Glasgow, Switzerland’s Simon Ehammer took gold in the event, finishing with 6418 points, 11 more than Norway’s Sander Skotheim.

The bronze medal went to an Estonian named Johannes Erm who, since last November, has been trained by a team of coaches and support personnel put together by Raul Rebane, a journalist and communications consultant.  A quarter century ago, Raul assembled a similar team around Gerd Kanter

Raul first became aware of Gerd in May of 2000 when he stopped by a local competition in Tallinn to watch the decathlete Erki Nool try to sharpen his discus technique.

“I had never heard the name ‘Gerd Kanter,’” Raul recalled later. “I had never seen him. He was very fast in the ring, but he had terrible technique. In this competition, he threw a personal record of around 53.50m, which was nothing special for a guy who was already twenty-one years old.”

But there was something about young Gerd that set him apart from most of the other competitors. 

“His eyes,” Raul says, “were burning.”

Thirty years spent covering sports had taught Raul an important lesson about identifying talent. Great athletes, he observed, are not like you and me.

“They cannot be normal,” he explained. “They must be people for whom achievement is more important than life. Every training to them is a possibility to get better, to take a short step towards their dream. They are always hungry to do more. There is no question about going to training. They just go.” 

Raul invented a name for this type of ferocious determination. He calls it “achievement brains,” and his formula for evaluating athletic potential is simple: “First brains, then muscles. When they are together, jackpot!”

Something Raul saw in Gerd’s eyes at that meet in Tallinn suggested to him that this tall kid with lousy technique might have what it takes to be a champion. A couple of weeks later, he spotted Gerd walking along the street and decided to check his “brains.” 

 “Your name is Gerd Kanter?” 


“You are a sportsman?” 


“Who are you?”

“I am a discus thrower.”

“Are you kidding? Fifty-three meters, what kind of discus thrower are you?”

“I am a discus thrower!”

“Okay, let’s go have some coffee.” 

“I don’t drink coffee!”

“Then we’ll have water.”

It was the start of a beautiful relationship. 

Long story short, Raul set about helping Gerd pursue his discus dreams. First, he convinced Vésteinn Hafsteinsson to take Gerd into his training group. Over time, he rounded up sponsors, and put together a support team that included a physiotherapist, massage therapist, and sports psychologist. One day, Raul noticed that a teenager named Hans Üürike had created a Gerd Kanter fan page online, and Hans was drafted into the cause as well. (After contributing his talents to Team Kanter, Hans went on to manage the careers of Daniel Ståhl, Sarah Mitton, Fanny Roos, Simon Pettersson, and Fedrick Dacres.) 

Eight years after Raul and Gerd sat down for that first glass of water, Gerd stood atop the medal stand at the Beijing Olympics. It was the second most impactful day of Raul’s life. 

“The most important event in my life,” he says, “was 20th August 1991, when Estonia got independence. The funny thing is that I was in Japan covering the World Championships and all the journalists there wanted to interview me about what was happening in Estonia. Russian tanks were 80 kilometers from Tallinn. Fortunately, they finally agreed to withdraw, so I went to Tokyo as a citizen of one state–the Soviet Union–and came back citizen of another state, a free Estonia.”

Estonians had suffered terribly under Soviet occupation. Russian troops first arrived in 1940 after Stalin and Hitler signed a pact dividing up eastern Europe. The arrests and deportations began immediately. Police officers. Public officials. Intellectuals. Military personnel. Anyone around whom resistance might coalesce. In just twelve months, an estimated 60,000 Estonians were murdered outright or deported to Soviet gulags. That number included Raul’s grandfather and his grandfather’s three brothers. 

When Estonia finally regained its independence, Raul helped establish the Institute of Historical Memory to remind future generations not to take freedom for granted. The wisdom of that sentiment became evident when Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022. 

Estonians like Raul harbor no illusions about what Vladimir Putin intends for the rest of the former Soviet Bloc if he succeeds in Ukraine. Over the last two years, they have committed to providing aid to the Ukrainians valued at more than two percent of the Estonian gross domestic product.  

My wife, Alice Wood, with Raul Rebane at the Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Tallinn, Estonia.

Recently, Putin expressed his displeasure by placing Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas on a “wanted list” for “desecrating historical memory” after her government ordered the removal of old Soviet monuments left behind from the fifty-year occupation. This was alarmingly similar to accusations Putin directed towards the Ukrainian government on the eve of the Russian invasion two years ago. 

As the Paris Olympics approach, Raul hopes to provide Estonians with a welcome bit of distraction by helping Johannes Erm contend for a medal. But the war in Ukraine and the tragic past of his own country will never be far from his mind. “This is our history” he once explained. ”Invasions and a flattened country. It’s in our collective memory. We won’t forget, and never will.”

The wind keeper

In The Odyssey, a gent named Aeolus is in charge of the four winds. In the world of American discus throwing, that would be Caleb Seal, who runs Throw Town Ramona, a facility near Tulsa, Oklahoma, which Caleb describes as ‘the windiest part of the United States in April.”

The Throw Town facility was constructed with those winds in mind. It features three cages facing different directions so throwers can best take advantage of whatever Mother Nature has to offer on a particular day. Coach Seal believes the spring weather at Throw Town can provide a high-level thrower with a five-meter bump–which can come in handy in an Olympic year when the qualifying marks are 64.50m for women and 67.20m for men.

Josh Syrotchen, Alex Rose, and Coach Seal celebrating big throws last April at Throw Town. Photo courtesy of Coach Seal.

On April 12-14, Throw Town will host a World Athletics bronze-level comp where athletes can take a crack at those qualifiers while picking up ranking points and possibly a chunk of the $30,000 in prize money available that weekend.

One thrower sure to appear is two-time Olympian Alex Rose, who broke the 70-meter barrier at Throw Town last April. 

Alex works full time as a sales engineer, and he’d been especially busy in the days leading up to the 2023 Throw Town comp. A training seminar allowed him time for exactly one hour of lifting and zero hours of throwing the week of the meet. But one aspect of his throwing style might have made Alex the perfect guy to take advantage of the Oklahoma winds.

“I throw very low compared to most guys,” he explained recently. “And my disc travels very fast. At the Worlds in Doha, I was clocked at one of the fastest speeds ever on a 61-meter throw that stayed twelve feet off the ground. But at Ramona, the winds lifted my throws up to what for most people is the normal height. I took a warmup on the first day that weekend, and said, ‘Oh my god, that looks like how I’ve always wanted to throw!’”

In the first of two competitions that weekend, Alex raised his PB from 67.48m to 69.41m. 

The next day was sunny and maybe ten degrees warmer, which allowed Alex to wear his spandex kit. Properly attired, he hit 70.39m.

That throw, he said later, meant “everything.”

“It was a huge goal of mine to break 70 meters. It’s one of those bucket list throws that you never think you’re going to get. But it was the best wind I’ve ever seen, and I hit it well and it just kept going and going. It was a career moment for me, especially with everything I’d been through the past year.”

That would include the birth of his son and managing the stress of driving approximately 750 miles per week for work. Alex says his efforts to find throwing and lifting facilities while on the road have made him a “master at Google Maps,” but he considers himself lucky when he’s able to squeeze two lifting and three throwing sessions into a week. That’s a clear disadvantage when competing against athletes who train full time, but he’s never regretted his decision to start a family and career during his prime athletic years. 

“There was a moment when I had to make the choice,” he recalled. “Do I focus on throwing and risk a late start to my family, and maybe struggle to help support my family, or do I try to do my best given the circumstances?”

He chose the latter option, and has somehow managed to balance family, work, and throwing well enough to make the final at the last two World Championships. 

This summer, he hopes to make his first Olympic final, and will begin his season back at Throw Town where he is likely to be joined by other world class throwers looking to smash PBs while picking up valuable world-ranking points.  

Will Mother Nature cooperate? 

“Heck yes,” says Coach Seal. “They don’t call it ‘tornado alley’ for nothing.”

Book Update

Training for Gold, the Plan that made Daniel Ståhl Olympic Champion is available in both print and eBook editions!

Recently, Coach Garry Power of Ireland kindly posted the following review:

This maybe a niche book in terms of being about a discus thrower and the plan to achieve the ultimate in sport – an Olympic Gold – but it is so much more. The book provides a philosophical insight into meeting the needs of an individual athlete. It is open and honest. Both authors have excelled in achieving a balance of theory and philosophy or art and science. I loved it.

With fifteen-hundred years of literary tradition behind them, the Irish know what they’re talking about when it comes to books, so I’m not going to argue with the man. Nor should you!

In Local News

My dear friend Jim Aikens built a hugely successful throwing program at Fremd High School in the suburbs of Chicago before retiring to Dallas, Texas, to hug his grandchildren and dodge fire ants. He left behind a legacy of excellence and kindness, which I am happy to report has been continued by one of his finest throwers from back in the day, Ken Kemeny, who is currently coaching at St. Charles North High.

Ken and I are fortunate to also be friends with Joe Frontier, founder of the Madison Throws Club and the Throw Big Throw Far Podcast, and like Jim a great coach and better human.

In fact, we like Joe so much, we have decided to steal his idea and form a summer throwing club, this one to be called the Throw Big Throw Far Chicago Club.

Expert instruction will be available in the shot, disc and hammer beginning in June, along with ample opportunities to compete. It’s a great chance to spend the summer months sharpening your throwing technique while hanging out with fellow throws nerds.

Check out the TBTF Chicago Instagram page for more info!

Me on the left. Coach Kemeny–a man with great taste in literature–on the right.

2023 National Throws Conference presents a powerhouse lineup!

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 to register!

Suzy Powell-Roos to present at the 2021 ITCCCA Virtual Clinic

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!

Andy Bloom and Scott Bennett to Present at the 2021 ITCCCA Virtual Clinic

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.

Register now!

Illinois State University throws coach Jeff Rebholz to present at the 2021 ITCCCA virtual clinic

Jeff Rebholz, the outstanding throws coach at Illinois State University, will present at the 2021 ITCCCA Virtual Throws Clinic. Jeff’s session will take place on Friday, March 19th at 6:00pm CST.

Jeff will speak on rotational shot putting technique. His primary focus will be explaining the methods he uses to to transition a putter from the glide to rotational technique.

Jeff’s session will provide valuable insight for coaches at any level who want to teach sound technique to an athlete new to the rotational style.

Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout this live presentation, and will be given access–for a limited time–to a video replay on Coachtube.

Register now!

Maggie Ewen to present at the 2021 ITCCCA Virtual Clinic

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.

Register now!

René Sack to present on Glide Shot put Technique at the 2021 ITCCCA Virtual Clinic

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.

Ewen, Tausaga take divergent paths to doha

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.