Category Archives: Rotational Shot

Coach Paolo Dal Soglio to Present at the 2022 European Shot Put Conference

I always remembered Paolo Dal Soglio as the guy who crashed the party in the men’s shot put at the 1996 Olympic Games. When I turned on my television that July evening, I was expecting to see an epic battle between European gliders and American spinners, but was greeted instead by the sight of Paolo (an Italian spinner!) having the time of his life. He held the lead until round five, and though he ended up missing the podium by a centimeter, he stole the show with his high-pitched screams and unabashed joy at performing on the big stage.

Paulo, in his athletic prime.

Fast forward to the summer of 2021, and I found myself greatly entertained by the sight of another Italian spinner having the time of his life at an Olympic Games. At first, I thought there’d been a mix up and the officials had accidentally put a decathlete in the men’s shot final there in Tokyo, but it turned out that this guy Zane Weir could really throw! He ended up launching a PB of 21.41m to take fifth, and has since raised that PB to 21.99m.

Zane Weir, an inspiration for skinny people everywhere.

It also turns out that Paolo is Zane’s coach, and they will present together at the upcoming 2022 European Shot Put Conference to be held October 28th-30th in Tallinn, Estonia.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Paolo recently as we taped an episode of the Throw Big Throw Far Podcast hosted by my friend Joe Frontier, and I was impressed with his thoughtful approach to coaching the rotational shot.

Like most putters from his era, Paolo started out as a glider. His coach for his entire career was a man named Aldo Pedron, and at some point Paolo and Aldo sought advice from the German coach Peter Tschiene, who suggested trying the rotational technique.

“We trained one month with the spin,” Paolo recalls, “and Peter said if I throw within 50 centimeters of my glide PB, we would change.”

He did, and they did.

This was 1991, in the Dark Ages before YouTube, and there was not a lot of information available on how to make the glide-to-spin conversion, so Aldo, Peter, and Paolo set about finding their own way.

Paolo says that they tried many options and experimented with different approaches to each phase of the throw, including his setup at the back. “We tried starting with a very deep bend in the knees,” he says, “and also standing straight up. The hardest thing was changing where I held the shot on my neck. That took a long time to get right.”

A big breakthrough came one day when Paolo was training in a cramped indoor space and launching many throws out of the sector. Those throws were “destroying things,” so Peter suggested that Paolo move to his right on his setup.

Immediately, that adjustment felt “amazing.”

“I felt like I had a bigger circle,” he recalls. “I could get my lower body ahead and build torsion.”

Along with Zane, Paolo also coaches Leonardo Fabbri (21.99m PB) and both those gents use the offset setup. That does not mean, however, that Paolo tries to make them copy his technique, as many people assumed he would when he began coaching.

“People were worried. They said, ‘Paolo has a big kick. Not good!'”

But Paolo believes that each athlete has to find their own way to make the shot go far. One key, he says, is creating torsion.

“You have two different engines,” he explains, “the upper body and the lower body. They work separately for most of the throw then at the end together.”

He also emphasized the need for trust between an athlete and coach, and the importance of determination, especially once an athlete reaches a level where improvement comes slowly.

“When you start out,” he says, “every day is like Christmas. But after that, are you willing to work keep working? Are you able mentally to train one year for a little bit of improvement?”

At the upcoming conference, Paolo and Zane will demonstrate the approach they used to help Zane improve from an anonymous skinny dude with a 19.09m PB into one of the world’s top putters.

World champion Chase Ealey and her coach, Paul Wilson will also present, as will Paulo Reis, coach of Auriol Dongmo.

It should be a fantastic weekend! You’ll find registration info here.

Coach Paul Wilson to present at the 2022 European Shot Put Conference

Paul Wilson, coach of 2022 World Champion Chase Ealey and eight-time British Champion Scott Lincoln will be one of the main presenters at the upcoming European Shot Put Conference to be held on 28-30 October in Tallinn, Estonia.

The conference has been put together by  Hans Üürike of Global Throwing, in cooperation with European Athletics.

The format will include lectures, practical demonstrations, discussions and, according to Hans, lots of socializing.

He expects that there will be at least 100 coaches in attendance, and says that when that many shot put coaches get together, “the throwing talk never stops. I know from our previous conferences, that these coaches love having dinner together and going to the bar together and asking advice from each other. This is one of the best things about attending a conference in person–the relationships that people develop make the community stronger.”

Paul is also a big believer in collaboration among coaches. He says he learned a lot from Don Babbitt earlier in his career, and still keeps in touch with him. He has also consulted with people like Dylan Armstrong, Dale Stevenson and René Sack.

“I listen to what people have to say, and sometimes I think ‘That might work for your athlete but it might not work for my athlete,’ but there’s often something you can borrow. And a lot of times, it comes from just having a chat with other coaches, just talking generally and then you come away with some things you can use.”

Paul has been coaching the throws in Great Britain for years, but came to international prominence after engineering the revival of Chase Ealey’s career this past season.

It is a remarkable story, which I wrote about in detail here, but the bottom line is that after meeting strictly by chance last January, Chase and Paul developed a coach/athlete partnership that led seven months later to her first World title.

Paul has a lot to share regarding rotational technique and his philosophy of coaching, and Chase–who is also extremely articulate when it comes to talking about technique–will be there as well, so attendees can look forward to hearing both sides of this amazing success story.

Stay tuned for more info regarding other presenters at this year’s European Shot Conference. In the meantime, check out their website for info regarding registration.

More from the Weltklasse Zurich

Kara WINGER of the United States competes in the womens Javelin Throw during the Iaaf Diamond League meeting (Weltklasse Zuerich) at the Letzigrund Stadium in Zurich, Thursday, September 8, 2022. (Weltklasse Zuerich/Urs Jaudas)

Domestic Bliss, Weaponized

In the documentary film The Last Waltz, Robbie Robertson, lead singer of the band “The Band,” describes touring as, “a goddamned impossible way of life.” The constant travel. The weird hours. The unfamiliar food. The ache of loneliness that wells up when the arena goes silent.

Professional track athletes know that scene. To make a living in the sport, they have to ply the European circuit for much of the summer while also managing trips to far-flung locales like Doha and Rabat.

And while traveling for a living might sound glamorous to those of us who make the same commute to the same office every day, think of this: When it goes badly at work, we still get to go home at the end of the day and sit on the couch with our spouse and share a glass of wine and watch a few episodes of “Friends” or “Shark Tank” and feel their warmth next to us all night before we have to get up and face the world again. But that’s not the way it works on the road. Not usually.

Russ Winger, formerly a world class shot and discus thrower and currently the coach and husband of Kara Winger, says that “when things are not going well in Europe, it’s the worst. You’re away from home, not competing well, not getting anything good out of the sport. That makes a lot of athletes decide they don’t want to continue.”

Kara experienced those feelings during the summer of 2021, when she struggled to find her rhythm while competing overseas. Looking ahead to 2022, which she had announced would be her final season, Kara realized that her last lap around the circuit would be much more enjoyable if Russ came with her. So, she asked him to be her coach.

It’s easy to imagine an arrangement like that going badly. Most of us do not like getting advice from our spouse on mundane matters such as driving directions or how best to fold a t-shirt, let alone having them remind us day after day to keep our javelin back.

But Russ and Kara made it work.

“I’ve loved being her coach,” he said recently. “It’s been fun because we know each other very well. I’ve seen her at her best and worst, and she has seen me at my best and worst, and that’s a perspective you can’t get from other folks.”

Bottom line, having Russ with her every day, especially on trips overseas, made Kara happy, and according to her longtime friend and strength coach Jamie Meyers, Kara “always does well when she’s happy.”

Her performance this summer would seem to support that assertion. In June, she won her ninth national title with a throw of 64.26m. A month later, she took her first-ever World Championships medal with a sixth-round toss of 64.05m. Two weeks after that, she won the Diamond League meeting in Brussels. The 68.11m she threw there was her first PB in twelve years. It was also the best throw in the world this year and is now the American record. She then finished her season by winning the Diamond League title for the first time.

As that meet in a sold-out Letzigrund Stadium concluded, the event winners were feted with a parade and fireworks and a mini-concert. After that, she made her way through the media gauntlet with her usual aplomb, providing thoughtful answers to mundane questions, making sure every reporter got what they needed. When there were no more queries, she looked around and smiled. “And now,” she announced, “I get to see Russ!”

A Long Time Coming

Had Joe Kovacs walked away from the sport during the winter of 2019, as it looked like he might, he’d have retired with the kind of resumé (a World Championship gold and silver, an Olympic silver, a 22.57m PB) that would have placed him among the top ten putters of all time. Not bad for a guy who finished fourth at the NCAA Championships in 2012, his senior year at Penn State, and wasn’t even sure he wanted to try competing as a professional. When I spoke with him after that NCAA final, his main goal in athletics seemed to be surpassing 500 pounds in the bench press. And they say shot putters are meatheads.

But later that summer, Joe hit a big PB–21.08m–at the Olympic Trials, which got him within twenty centimeters of making the team, which got him an invite to live and train in Chula Vista under the guidance of Art Venegas, which put him on the path to building a remarkable career.

Joe KOVACS of the United States competes in the Shot Put Men event during the Weltklasse Zuerich, Diamond League meeting at the Sechselaeutenplatz on Wednesday, September 7, 2022 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Weltklasse Zuerich/Urs Bucher)

He established himself as the best shot putter on the planet in 2015 by blasting a PB of 22.56m in July and then winning the World Championships later that summer in Beijing. And based on some titanic warmup throws (including a reputed 24-meter bomb at Triton in 2014) it looked like Joe might be on the way to taking down Randy Barnes’ world record of 23.12m and making a case for himself as the best putter of all time.

Then, Ryan Crouser happened.

Many people were surprised when Crouser, after flying under the radar all winter and spring, blasted 22.11m to win the Olympic Trials in 2016, but Joe and Art were not surprised. Ryan had been training in Chula Vista prior to the Trials, so they’d gotten a closeup view of his capabilities.

Joe threw 21.78m in Rio, a distance that would have won five of the previous six Games, but when Crouser bombed an Olympic record 22.52m for the gold, it was clear that a new era had dawned in the men’s shot.

Joe upped his PB to 22.57m the following year, and finished ahead of Crouser while taking silver at the London Worlds, but it still seemed likely that at some point Crouser would use his 6’7″ frame and silky smooth rhythm to dominate the event.

To counter that looming threat, Art and Joe began experimenting with technical modifications, which they hoped might turn Joe’s more compact build into an advantage. My understanding is that Joe began setting up in the ring much like the discus thrower you can see in this video. He and Art believed that this new starting position would give him a longer path of acceleration on the ball, which would ultimately translate to farther throws. It was also an approach that a larger thrower like Crouser probably could not employ within the confines of a shot put ring, so if Joe could make it work it would give him a leg up on his main rival.

Ideally, a thrower attempting a major technical change would take a year away from competition to perfect their new style, but that’s hard to do when you make your living as a shot putter, so Joe spent 2018 working on his new approach in practice while using his “old” technique in meets. Understandably, he struggled. He also got injured.

The following winter, newly married to the former Ashley Muffet and living in Columbus, Ohio, where Ashley worked as the throws coach at Ohio State, Joe found himself at a crossroads. He made occasional trips to California to train with Art, but the transition to the new technique did not seem to be working. Meanwhile, he had lost his feel for his “old” style of throwing and was struggling to hit 20 meters. At the same time, being married to Ashley made him realize that he could have a full and happy life outside of the ring, and he began to wonder if he should retire.

Luckily for the sport, Joe decided to stick with it for the 2019 season. Ashley took over as his coach and guided him to a World title in Doha in what will long be remembered as the greatest shot competition ever. It was a remarkable end to a remarkable season, which I wrote about in detail here.

It turns out that Joe and Art were correct in their assessment of Crouser’s potential. He broke the world record in 2021 with a toss of 23.37m, and has surpassed the 23-meter mark in six different comps. But with Ashley’s guidance, Joe has kept pace, taking silver at the Tokyo Games and at this summer’s Worlds with throws of 22.65m and 22.89m respectively.

After Worlds in July, Joe put together a sensational string of performances in Europe including 22.89m at the Gyulai István Memorial in Hungary, 22.65m at the Athletissima in Lausanne, and 22.61m at the Memorial Van Damme in Brussels.

And then, at the Diamond League final in Zurich, he finally breached the 23-meter line with a second-round blast of 23.23m, which put him ahead of Barnes on the all-time list. (You can view Joe’s post-meet comments here.)

Joe and Ashley moved to Nashville two years ago after she accepted a position at Vanderbilt, and they are expecting twins this fall. Will wrangling two babies prove more challenging than keeping up with Crouser? Likely.

But this golden Kovacs v. Crouser era is not going to end just yet. Joe believes that at 33, he is young enough to extend his new PB, and Crouser–who put 22.74m in Zurich despite having been sick for a month when a case of Covid morphed into a sinus infection–is not going anywhere.

However things play out, those gents now occupy the top two spots on the all-time performance list. As they should.

Weltklasse Zurich 2022: Putting on the Platz

Joe KOVACS and Chase Ealey of the United States compete in the Shot Put Men event during the Weltklasse Zuerich, Diamond League meeting at the Sechselaeutenplatz on Wednesday, September 7, 2022 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Weltklasse Zuerich/Urs Bucher)

Sechselaeutenplatz

If you were strolling around downtown Zurich trying to work off the kilogram of chocolate you just consumed for lunch and you came across a wide, empty plaza with an unpronounceable name…

Sechselaeutenplatz on a wintry day.

…would you look out over that vast open space and say to yourself, “Hmmm…we could fit the shotput here, and the high jump over here…and everyone loves the pole vault, so we’ll put that there…and we don’t want to exclude the distance nerds, so we’ll need a temporary track for the 5,000…and we’ll have to build a couple of bridges over that track so spectators can get to the infield…and we’ll let everyone in for free and thousands will come, and we’ll build temporary stands for people who want to sit, and we’ll have concessions and give away green hats and a weird-looking furry mascot will wander around photo-bombing people’s selfies…and we’ll have maybe 48 hours to put the whole thing together and then 12 hours to take it apart afterwards. It will be fantastic!”

If the answer is yes, it is likely that you are Swiss.

Great Expectations

I taught English for many years, and on the rare occasion that I wanted to punch one of my students in the face it was usually because they’d made snide remarks about Charles Dickens. “There are too many words in this book! Can’t he just get to the point? You know he was paid by the word, right? That’s why this book is soooo long!”

What my young scholars did not perceive–and it may be that their youth precluded them from doing so–is that Dickens was a master at depicting the long, slow, grotesque, hopeful, magnificent, heart-breaking roller coaster ride that is life.

And I wish he were here to write about Chase Ealey. From high school multi-multi-sport phenom (volleyball, basketball, softball, soccer, sprints, javelin, shot) to DI All-American glide shot putter, to second-ranked putter in the world in 2019 as a spinner, to seemingly washed up in 2021, to World Champion and Diamond League Champion and World #1 in 2022, to…who knows? Maybe a world record in 2023?

Chase EALEY of the United States competes in the Shot Put Women event during the Weltklasse Zuerich, Diamond League meeting at the Sechselaeutenplatz on Wednesday, September 7, 2022 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Weltklasse Zuerich/ Urs Bucher)

Chase and her coach, Paul Wilson, are honest about their belief that she can erase Natalya Lisovskaya’s 22.63m (thrown in 1987) from the record books. She spoke about that and other matters in this interview after her win in Zurich, and starting around the 56:20 mark of this vid of the pre-meet press conference.

Chase’s current PB is 20.51m, and a two-meter improvement is rare for someone at her age (28) and with her level of experience in the sport. When Val Adams was the same age, I asked her if she thought she could break Lisovskaya’s mark, and Val just laughed at my naiveté. Her PB at the time was 21.24m.

And she was right. She was not able to extend her PB by the time she retired in 2021, though her five World Championship and four Olympic medals make Val–in my humble opinion–the greatest putter of all time.

Chase may never match Val’s medal haul, but I agree with her and Paul that she has a chance at the world record. I base this on two factors. One, Chase believes she can do it. Two, she is a rotational putter.

I’ve been a high school coach since 1992, and during that time I’ve heard (and often shared) the following opinions regarding the rotational technique:

-It only works for stubby people.

-It is good for the occasional home run ball, but will not hold up in a high-pressure comp.

-It helps your discus technique.

-It wrecks your discus technique.

-Because the rotational technique is harder to learn, everyone should start out as a glider.

-Because the rotational technique is harder to learn, everyone should start out as a spinner.

-It works for men and not women because the 4k ball is so light.

-It is responsible for the current golden age of men’s putting.

-It is responsible for the current golden age of women’s putting.

A fun thing about coaching is that there is likely some truth to each of those statements. But I’ve heard some very high-level coaches express belief in those last two, and it is hard to argue with them.

Could Ryan Crouser have developed into a consistent 22.50m guy as a glider? Maybe. But would Joe Kovacs have hit 23.23m or Tom Walsh 22.90m with the glide? I don’t think so.

Same for Chase. Her glide PB was 18.46m and she had gone two years without hitting 18 meters when she joined up with Ryan Whiting and converted. That season, she improved to 19.68m. Clearly, she was better suited to the rotational technique. Without it, she would not have unlocked her massive potential. The same can be said of Sara Mitton (4th at Worlds, second here with a toss of 19.56m, twice over 20 meters this year) and Jessica Schilder (3rd at Worlds, 1st at the European Championships with 20.24m).

As for Chase, a case of long Covid just about sank her career in 2020-2021, but this winter she found health and happiness by relocating to Great Britain (I’m no Dickens, but I did my best to depict that phase of Chase’s life here) and produced an astonishingly consistent season featuring eight comps over 20 meters.

She showed up in Zurich wearing a boot on her left foot, the result of maybe a stress fracture or turf toe–she had not yet gotten a full diagnosis–but vowed to continue her streak of 20-meter performances. Which she did, blasting 20.19m in round three much to the delight of the spectators packed around the shot circle.

If anyone needed further evidence of Chase’s toughness and determination, she provided there on the Platz.

And that toughness, combined with remarkable athleticism (she was state champ in the 100 meters in high school), new found contentment (she is engaged to be married) and a commitment to get the most out of the rotational technique indicates to me that we may well witness an assault on the women’s shot record in the next couple of years.

I’ll post more coverage of the action on the platz and also Day 2 of the Weltklasse soon.

A Look Back at Indoor Worlds with Josh Awotunde

This past weekend, shot putter Josh Awotunde opened his outdoor season with a solid 21.63m toss to take second place behind Darrell Hill at the Mt. SAC relays. Seeing Josh back in action reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about a conversation I had with him following his stellar performance at the Indoor World Championships in March, so here goes.

Even for throwers who have thrived at high stakes comps like the NCAA Championships or Olympic Trials, a World Championships or Olympic Games presents a special set of challenges. This is especially true for an athlete competing at an international championships for the first time. That was the case with Josh at Indoor Worlds, but he somehow managed to finish fifth in a loaded field where it took 22.31m to get on the awards stand. A few days afterwards, he was kind enough to explain how he did it.

The first thing that Josh had to figure out after qualifying for the Indoor Worlds squad with a toss of 21.74m at the USATF Championships in Spokane in February, was how to manage the travel from his home in South Carolina to Belgrade,Serbia–site of the Indoor Worlds–with as little disruption to his normal training schedule as possible.

Josh trains at his alma mater, the University of South Carolina, with Mike Sergent, his college  coach, and he normally throws three sessions per week, two a little easier and one with high intensity. Mondays he focuses on technique, Wednesdays on rhythm, and Fridays on distance. 

As it turned out, that schedule matched up well with the demands of traveling to Belgrade for a Saturday competition. Josh was able to do his normal technique day at home that Monday, travel on Tuesday, do his rhythm session while recovering from the flight on Wednesday, then delay his Friday distance session to Saturday, where instead of throwing full out in a practice, he’d be doing so in the actual competition.

Josh’s ability to maintain a fairly normal routine made it a lot easier to feel comfortable that week in spite of the rigors of travel and the inevitable jet lag. 

The next challenge Josh had to navigate involved implements.

At the Indoor Worlds (and at all indoor meets in Europe), the putters actually use the outdoor shot. That would not generally pose a problem for someone who trains in South Carolina where the weather is conducive to throwing outdoors during the winter months. It’s not like Josh had to scramble to find somewhere to throw the outdoor implement during the three weeks between the US and World Championships. But at competitions like the Indoor Worlds there is a catch–the meet organizers provide the implements. 

A putter is allowed to throw his or her own shot only if it is of a brand that the organizers do not provide, and I’m told that this is rarely the case. 

No big deal, right? Shots are shots. But the implements provided to the athletes are typically brand new with their nice, slick coat of paint unblemished by wear. And having, in the middle of the biggest competition of your life, to figure out how to get comfortable gripping an implement with an odd feel to it is no easy task. Can you imagine someone handing Tiger Woods a brand new driver as he walked to the first tee at the Masters and telling him he was required to use that club? Me either. Luckily, Josh kept his cool and was able to manage with the shot they provided.

Another tricky aspect of competing at meets like Indoor Worlds is the pre-competition procedure, which tends to be quite different from that followed at other meets. At the USATF Indoor Championships, for example, the putters were taken to the competition ring about thirty minutes before the action started. I was there in the arena watching, and I made note of the number of  throws guys like Josh, Ryan Crouser, Payton Otterdahl, and Darrell Hill took prior to the comp. Most got in eight. Then, after a pause of maybe ten minutes for introductions, round one commenced. 

The situation at Indoor Worlds was very different. According to Josh, on the night of the men’s shot comp, the putters were given an hour to take throws at a ring away from the main venue. They were then deposited in a call room where they sat for thirty or forty minutes. After that,  they were taken into the oval where each thrower was allowed no more than three warmup throws in the competition ring. Then, there was a ten-minute delay for introductions. All this stopping and starting can make it difficult to find your rhythm. If you need eight throws to feel ready, you obviously have to take several during the early warmup period. But then you’d be sitting around for at least half an hour before completing your throws. And if you start burning energy two hours prior to the comp, you might run out of gas when the throws actually count. 

Luckily for Josh, Ryan Crouser was also throwing in Belgrade and he’d been through this drill many times. After talking to Ryan, Josh decided not to take any throws in the early warmup period, and to make due with the three he’d get in the competition ring.

“It was the fewest warmup throws I’ve ever had for a meet,” he says, “so I went straight to fulls.”

This is something I saw Val Allman experiment with at the US Outdoor Championships in Des Moines in 2019. Her flight of the women’s discus was given an extremely long warmup period, something like forty minutes, but Val just sat back and relaxed for most of it. Then, a few minutes before the competition began, she stepped in and took two full throws. Afterwards, she explained that this was a routine she’d developed to prepare for championship meets where you can’t count on more than a couple warmup attempts. 

The Indoor Worlds was Josh’s first experience with that approach to warming up, but he went in knowing what to expect and didn’t let the relative strangeness of it bother him.

Which was a good thing, since the odd rhythm of competing at Indoor Worlds did not end once the comp began. There were eighteen men’s putters in Belgrade, and they were all lumped into one flight. For Josh, who was twelfth in the order, that meant a thirty-minute delay between his final warmup throw and first competition throw, and an unusually long wait between attempts during the first three rounds due to the size of the field. Luckily, Josh was prepared for this as well.

He explained that, “During the competition I’d relax until there were six throws left before I was up, then I’d do some drills. When I was three throws away, I’d take off my warmups and tell myself, ‘Allright, it is time to go!’”

The plan allowed Josh to keep his chill, avoid the dreaded opening-round foul (he opened with 20.74m and followed that with 21.41m), and nearly equal his indoor PB with that 21.70m in round three.

That put him in fourth, well behind Darlan Romani (22.53m), Crouser (22.44m) and Tom Walsh (22.29m) but safely in the final. At that point, most observers–myself included–probably thought, “Okay, Josh, good job. Now you can relax, because there is no way you are breaking into that top three.”

But, that’s not what Josh was thinking, and his attitude may explain why–in addition to his considerable talent and the friendly advice from Crouser that helped him prepare–he was able to throw so well in his first Worlds. As the final three rounds began and the rest of the shot putting community was getting ready to enjoy a fight to the finish between Romani, Crouser, and Walsh, Josh was sitting there thinking, “I could win this.”

“I haven’t seen any throws over 22.50m in practice,” he recounted later, “but I watched Auriol Dongmo win on her last throw in the women’s comp, and my motto in practice has always been ‘last throw/best throw’, so I tried to get as pumped up as I could and just see what would happen.”

He fouled his fourth and fifth attempts, then entered the ring for his final throw “pissed off” and determined to unleash a big one.

“I tried to speed up out of the back a little bit. Of course, I have to be patient with my upper body at the start and the initial movement out to ninety degrees has to be easy, but once I move out wide around my left and get into position, it is time to go.”

The result was a throw that landed past the twenty-two meter line, but…was called a foul by an official who determined that Josh had just barely stepped on the ring to the right of the toeboard on his reverse.

Josh immediately protested, and the ever-helpful Crouser stepped up and reminded him to walk out the back of the ring, so they couldn’t nick him on that. 

Unfortunately, there was no video available from an angle that would have provided a clear view of the spot where Josh might have fouled, so his protest was disallowed.

Most would agree that fifth place at your first World Championships is a successful outing for an up-and-coming thrower, but Josh’s takeaway was that he should have thrown farther.

Of the big foul, he says that “the finish was too short and quick. I did a lot of non-reverse throws in practice getting ready for the Worlds, and that usually helps me, but now I think I should have focused more on my reverse a couple of days before the comp. My reverse in the meet ended up being super quick and short, so I didn’t get everything out of the finish. When I’m at my best, I’m out over the toeboard, but in Belgrade it looked like I was doing a discus reverse. If I had really extended over the toeboard, that last throw would have been crazy.”

With guys like Romani, Walsh, Crouser, Hill, Joe Kovacs, and Zane Weir (who had a huge foul of his own in Belgrade–reportedly in the 22.70m range) lining up to do battle at this summer’s Outdoor Worlds, shot put fans can expect a lot of crazy in the near future.

And with the experience he gained in Serbia combined with his phenomenal physical talent, it will be no surprise to see Josh battling for a spot on the podium again in July.

Reflections on the Men’s Shot Put Comp at the 2022 USATF Indoor Championships

The Slow Squeeze

I’ve never wrestled an anaconda, but I imagine it’s similar to competing against Ryan Crouser–you go in with very little chance of winning and come out feeling thoroughly pulverized.

And like an anaconda, Crouser takes his time pulping you. With Ryan, it is a very deliberate process that begins during warmups. At the recent USATF Indoor Championships in Spokane, he started with an easy, walking stand throw, followed by a regular non-reverse stand and a half-speed, non-reverse full that plopped down on the twenty-meter line.

He began his next full with a static start, and dropped that one around twenty-one meters. Another full from a static start went 21.50m. He used a longer windup only on his final two warmups. One reached 21.75m, the other 22.00m.

Notice a pattern there? We’ve all seen throwers blast away during warmups, desperate to build confidence by launching bombs. As Olympic champion (twice) and current world record holder, Crouser is long past the confidence-building stage, so he uses warmups to…warm up. In Spokane, he slowly and precisely increased the amount of effort he put into each attempt, staying under control and refusing to be rushed. He seemed assured that the big throws would come if he just maintained his rhythm, and he was right.

Throwing last in the order, Crouser began applying the death squeeze with a toss of 22.03m from a static start. He missfired on his second attempt and walked out the front. Then, sticking with the static start in round three, he went 22.34m, to essentially put the top spot out of reach.

Those, by the way, were the164th and 165th throws over twenty-two meters in Ryan’s career. To put that in perspective, John Godina, a four-time World Champion and the best putter in the business from 1995 to 2005, threw twenty-two meters exactly three times. Ever.

Oh, and Crouser is not yet thirty years old.

One might think that the folks running the meet there in Spokane would have made it a priority to keep the momentum rolling considering they had the world record holder putting on a show center stage, but alas, other, inexplicable considerations took precedence and the shot comp was paused for fifteen minutes.

When festivities resumed, Crouser set about asphyxiating any remaining hopes of an upset.

He later said that after his first three attempts he decided to stop “dancing around” and so began using his full windup. The result was a 22.51m toss, the fifth time in his career that he surpassed seventy-three feet.

He followed that up with 23.39m and a foul.

When it was over, one question remained. Even in this current Golden Age of shot putting, with its proliferation of twenty-two-meter throwers, can Crouser, barring injury, be beaten?

What if, for example, a competitor dropped a monster throw early, and instead of leading by half-a-meter or more from the get go, Crouser had to play catch up? Would that knock him off his game?

Well, at the 2019 Worlds, you may recall that Tom Walsh opened with a meeting record 22.90m, which Joe Kovacs surpassed by a centimeter in round six. Minutes later, Crouser stepped in for his final attempt. The result? A 22.90m PB.

He didn’t win that night, but he showed that he can take a punch and not get rattled.

And he is a significantly better and more consistent shot putter now than he was three years ago in Doha.

Walsh and Kovacs will no doubt be in Eugene this summer for a Worlds rematch. Walsh has reportedly separated from his longtime coach, Dale Stevenson, and it remains to be seen how that will affect his season. Joe, has been holed up in Nashville (his wife and coach, Ashley, works at Vanderbilt), apparently plotting his title defense…

Maggie Ewen, certainly an astute judge of throwing potential, told me back in 2019 that Darrell Hill (more about him below) has as much talent as Crouser or Kovacs. After a difficult, injury-plagued 2021 season, can he get it together and challenge Crouser? Can any of these guys?

Time will tell, but one thing is for sure. There has never been a better moment to be a shot put fan.

Confidence Men

If you are looking for a doable challenge, I’d recommend trying something easy like becoming an astronaut or breaking the world hotdog eating record (seventy-six in ten minutes) before taking a whack at making a US Olympic or Worlds team in the men’s shot.

Right now, nine of the top twenty male putters in the World Athletics rankings throw for the United States, and that does not include defending World Champion and Olympic silver medalist Joe Kovacs, who has yet to compete this season.

Even with the United States likely to be granted four spots in the men’s shot at the 2022 Worlds, at least six of the planet’s best putters who happen to be American will be stuck watching from home when the new World shot put champion is crowned on July 17th.

A quick word on the number of entries for Worlds. In individual events, a nation is allowed to send three athletes who have met the World Athletics entry standards–four if an athlete from that country has received a bye. The defending World champion gets one. That’s Joe. The current Diamond League champion gets one. That’s Crouser. However, even with both of those guys receiving byes, no country can send more than four competitors in an individual event, so the US Championships will basically come down to a battle for the remaining two spots. If somehow Joe or Crouser were to finish out of the top four at those Championships, then…I don’t know what the hell happens because the USATF places a premium on order of finish at the National Championships in selecting the team. Stay tuned.

However you slice it, making the Worlds team for the US will be at least seventy-seven hotdogs hard, which is why few would blame Josh Awotunde for taking advantage of his dual citizenship (US/Nigeria) to avoid the process altogether–especially after a PB toss of 21.84m at last summer’s Olympic Trials left him in fifth place and off the squad for Tokyo.

But, speaking a few days prior to the US indoor Championships last month, Josh said he was determined to represent the US on the world stage.

He called the idea of making the team for Indoor Worlds a “dream come true” and added that he wanted nothing more than to compete in an Olympics or Worlds wearing the “red white and blue.”

He made that dream a reality in Spokane by dropping an indoor PB of 21.74m in round two. That throw held up for second place, and a similar toss in Belgrade might put him in line for his first World Championship medal.

Roger Steen finished four places behind Josh at the Trials, despite producing a PB of 20.41m. Considering that he was twenty-nine years old and finished the season ranked number fifty-two by World Athletics (with sixteen Americans rated ahead of him) the sensible move after last summer would probably have been to take a bow, call it a career, and walk away satisfied with the fact that it was a huge accomplishment for a former DIII athlete to place in the top ten at one of the greatest shot put competitions ever.

But Roger chose to soldier on, and for five rounds in Spokane (19.55m, two fouls around 20.00m, 20.04m, 20.33m) it seemed not to have been such a good decision. He resembled a stubby Don Quixote tilting at windmill-sized competitors like Crouser, Payton Otterdahl, and Darrell Hill.

Then, on his final attempt, Roger Steen, former University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire “Blugold” (don’t ask), joined the world of bigtime shot putters with his first ever twenty-one meter toss.

That throw–21.07m to be exact–didn’t get him on the squad for Indoor Worlds (he finished third in Spokane, and only the top two make the team), and he’ll have to add nearly a meter to it at the Outdoor Championships to give himself a chance to make the podium there, but…Roger Steen believes. When asked after the comp how he plans to get in the mix outdoors, he replied that he just needs to “keep doing what we’re doing.”

Windmills, beware.

Fair is Foul

The rotational technique has revolutionized shot putting, and also made life more complicated for officials. When a glider reverses at the end of a throw, they generally land with their right foot flat on the ground against the toeboard. If they foul, it is usually because they lose their balance and have to step over the toeboard and out of the ring to regain it. Easy to see and easy to call. Rotational putters, on the other hand, typically land high on the ball of the right foot after reversing, then hop around a bit as they struggle to manage the rotational forces they’ve created. As they do, it is not uncommon for the bottom the their right foot to make contact with the toeboard. As long as their foot touches only the side and not the top of the toeboard, a foul should not be called.

Easy to explain, but difficult to discern in real time with the naked eye. And every once in a while, an official–perhaps struggling with the pressure to make an accurate call–will start assessing fouls that appear to exist only in their imagination.

Tom Walsh’s experience during the qualification round in Tokyo comes to mind. The official watching the toeboard flagged him on two of his three attempts, though he clearly had not fouled. Fortunately, throwers are allowed to protest questionable calls, and Tom’s third throw was declared legal after video review. That toss got him into the final, where he finished with the bronze medal.

Darrell Hill had a similar experience in Spokane, minus the happy ending. After finishing fourth at the Trials last summer, he came into Spokane on Sunday looking to re-establish himself as a top contender for Eugene 2022 as Maggie Ewen and Chase Ealey had done in the women’s shot the previous day.

And he looked strong during the first three rounds, approaching twenty-two meters on his second attempt.

Unfortunately, all three of Darrell’s efforts were deemed fouls, with the official apparently dinging him for touching the top of the toeboard with his heel.

Darrell protested after his third throw, but the officials had trouble getting the replay to function.

In the meantime, they granted him an additional attempt, which was measured as 20.93m. Had it counted, that throw would have allowed Darrell to continue in rounds four, five, and six, but a moment later an official informed him that they were finally able to examine the replay of his third attempt and that the foul call would stand.

That had to be extremely disappointing for Darrell, but one thing he can take away from the experience is that he is in twenty-two meter form with several months of training still ahead before the Outdoor Nationals.

I remember covering the Prefontaine Classic in June of 2019, and watching Joe Kovacs launch twenty-two meter throws in warmups (Joe takes a very different approach to warming up than does Crouser).His best toss in the competition was 21.39m, but he told me afterwards that he was encouraged by the capacity he showed in being able to move the ball far with the Doha Worlds still months away.

Things turned out pretty well for Joe that year, and they just might for Darrell this time around.

Back on the horse: A 2022 USATF Indoor Championships Women’s Shot Recap

I showed up grouchy for day one of the 2022 USATF Indoor Championships last Saturday, and who could blame me? Even in this newfangled age of jet airliners and such, my trip from Chicago to Spokane on Friday was a solid ten-hour journey door-to-door, half of which saw me wedged into seats designed to punish a guy for being tall and old.

Then, on Saturday morning I got confused about the route I should take walking from my hotel to the Podium–the newly constructed site of these championships.

I could actually see the Podium sitting on a hill off in the distance as I exited the hotel, but the Google lady in my phone had me go in a different direction at the end of every block, Pac-Man style, instead of following a straight line from point A to point B.

I finally made my way across the Spokane River…

…and through a park to the Podium…

…which I have to admit, is a nice looking facility.

At that point, however, I was in no mood to swoon over aesthetics. What a grouchy man wants on a Saturday morning in late February is to see some top notch shot putting, and lucky for me, there was plenty on hand at this US Championships.

Maggie Ewen, who arrived in Spokane with a season’s best of 19.03m, made the money I spent on those twelve-dollar airport beers seem entirely worthwhile when she opened with a 19.50m toss and then followed it in round two with a 19.79m PB.

As you may recall, Maggie’s 2021 season began and ended quite well. She tossed an indoor PB of 19.54m that February, and won the Diamond League final with an outdoor season’s best of 19.41m in September.

The middle part, though, was rough. After just missing the podium at the 2019 Worlds, Maggie was considered a legit medal contender for the Tokyo Olympic Games, but a subpar day at the Trials cost her a spot on the team.

That’s a devastating experience for a track and field athlete. Members of a Super Bowl contender that gets upset in the playoffs can look forward to taking another crack at it the following year, but as we know, the Olympics doesn’t happen every year. For Maggie and anyone else who came up short at the Trials, the fact that the 2024 Games was “only” three years away must have been of little solace.

But Maggie and her coach, Kyle Long, vowed to make good use of the final weeks of the 2021 season. They set about adjusting her entry to achieve maximum smoothness, and those adjustments paid off with her Diamond League final win, which provides her with an automatic entry into the 2022 Worlds.

This winter, Maggie and Kyle picked up where they’d left off in terms of technical focus, and she felt good coming into this comp, although not necessarily 19.79m good. When I spoke to her a few days before Spokane, she said she felt like she was still in an “early” phase of her training and was pleased to see “sporadic” throws around nineteen meters in practice.

If her 19.50m opener was a pleasant surprise, the 19.79m follow-up was something more–maybe a dose of redemption. “Being frank,” she said before the competition, “with not making the Olympic team, it would be really, really good mentally to get back on that horse of feeling like I can make teams, feeling you are that caliber.”

Hopefully, there is room on that horse for Chase Ealey, who earned her own bit of vindication on Saturday with a 19.10m third round toss that put her on the team for Indoor Worlds.

Like Maggie, Chase fell short at the 2021 Trials, then spent the rest of the season trying to resuscitate her flagging confidence. They even travelled together while competing in Europe late last the summer.

Chase and Maggie ended up taking very different paths over the last few months (you can read about Chase’s journey here and Maggie’s here and here) but making the team for Indoor Worlds–which Chase did with a 19.10m toss in round three–must have felt something like this for both of them:

After all the chills and winter blues, 

The staying warm and staying in, 

Meetings indoors for outside is cold, 

Then comes the spring sunshine, 

The sun breaks in like a door open wide

With the burst of sunlight, 

That lasting and warm, 

Bringing smiles back on peoples faces

It is the time for new growth, 

It is the time for new beginnings, 

It is the time for buds to bloom, 

It is the time for nature to sound its sounds of nature again,

Okay, neither of them said that. Those lines are from a poem by Ellen Ni Bheachain called “Spring Sunshine.” You can listen to Chase’s actual comments here, and Maggie’s here. But suffice it to say, both were pretty darn happy.

Another competitor with reason to feel poetic about her performance in Spokane was Jessica Woodard, who smashed an indoor PB of 18.70m to firmly establish herself as a contender for the outdoor World’s team this summer.

That throw came after a break in the action to introduce the athletes after round three, even though they had already been introduced prior to round one. It seemed as if USATF was doing some kind of dementia check. “If the names of these athletes do not sound familiar, please make an appointment with your family physician.”

Whatever the case, Jess shook off the fifteen-minute pause to hit that PB shortly after the comp resumed.

“Thankfully,” she said afterwards, “I was able to stay pretty warm during the delay. I just had a good time talking to the other competitors and doing my best to stay focused.”

Her focus now will turn to fighting for a spot on the team for this summer’s Worlds, to be held in Eugene. That task got a little easier when Maggie received her World Championships bye, which will allow the US to send four women putters to Worlds.

“For the next couple of months,” she told me, “I’ll go back to the lab and get more strength work in. We tapered a little bit for this meet, but not much. I have some timing things I have to work out in terms of technique, and I’ll use the beginning of the outdoor season to get consistent reps. I know I’m close to some nineteen-meter throws.”

The “lab” that Jess referred to is the Desert High Performance group coached by Ryan Whiting in Mesa, Arizona, where she has been training since the summer of 2020,

Jess has a stable job working remotely for a company called Aspen Media, which is owned by a former track athlete. Her job with Aspen gives her enough money to get by and the flexibility she needs to balance work, travel, and training. She says that even though, “saving money is tough when you are working while also having to travel for competitions,” she makes “enough to pay my bills.”

Maggie and Chase will both attest to the importance of settling into a comfortable training environment, and with Jess making steady progress in Mesa, watch out for her this summer.

And keep an eye on Jessica Ramsey as well. Ramsey, who turned in a sensational performance at last summer’s Trials, finished fourth with a best of 18.66m on this day when she simply could not locate her timing. She told me a few days before the meet that her training was going well, but that her focus was on “putting it all together” during the outdoor campaign.

Odds are that she will, and with the addition of Tokyo silver medalist Raven Saunders and fellow 2020 Olympian Adelaide Aquilla–neither of whom competed in Spokane–to the field at the outdoor Championships, the women’s shot there should be a marquis event.

It was easy to look forward to pleasant days ahead as I left the Podium that afternoon feeling exhilarated. Outside the facility, a warm, late winter sun beamed down and the playground in the park below was alive with laughing children.

Spirits restored, I gave the Google lady a break and found my own way back to the hotel.

2022 USATF Indoor Champs Preview: jessica Ramsey

Take my advice and do not look away when Jessica Ramsey steps into the shot put ring. I speak from from personal experience regarding this matter.

I showed up to cover the 2018 USATF Outdoor Championships in Des Moines four years ago, certain that the women’s shot competition would come down to a battle between Maggie Ewen, Raven Saunders, and Michelle Carter, so when Ramsey stepped in to take her first toss, I was paying absolutely no attention. I can’t recall now if I was playing on my phone or looking around and trying to determine my odds of making it to the bratwurst stand and back before the comp really got rolling, but next thing I knew, “19.23m” appeared on the scoreboard and I had absolutely no idea who had thrown it.

Turns out it was Ramsey.

She ended up finishing second to Ewen that day, which was pretty remarkable considering Ramsey’s season’s best in 2017 had been all of 17.76m.

After the meet, I found out what the deal was. Following a very successful career at Western Kentucky during which she won Sun Belt Conference titles in the shot, disc, and hammer, Ramsey had found her way to John Smith’s throwing group, which is based at the University of Mississippi. She continued to throw the hammer and shot under Smith’s guidance–in fact, the day before her 19.23m toss in Des Moines she finished fifth in the hammer with a mark of 70.41m–but Smith could see that her future lay in the shot…provided she would agree to switch from the glide to rotational technique.

It took a while for Jessica to get completely on board with that plan, and for a couple of years she switched back and forth between the two styles of throwing. Sometime in 2018, she decided to fully embrace her rotational potential, and the result was that lightning strike in Des Moines.

She regressed slightly in 2019, producing a season’s best of 19.01m, and then came Covid.

Prevented from training at the university due to the lockdown, Smith improvised by setting up a facility outside of town that he named “the Barn.” He and Ramsey and the hammer thrower Janeah Stewart spent the next few months training at the Barn, determined to be ready when the season resumed.

It turned out there were not a lot of opportunities to compete that summer, but a 19.50m toss indoors in February of 2021 showed that the time at the Barn had been well spent.

Still, was anybody–aside from Smith–expecting the 20.12m Olympic Trials record she unleashed in Eugene last summer?

Anyhow, I’d recommend paying attention when the women’s shot gets going at 2:35 Pacific time this Saturday.

Jessica’s best toss so far this year came two weeks ago in Nashville where she hit 18.83m, but Smith says she’s close to making bigger throws. When I spoke to him last week, he reported that Jessica had recently achieved four or five training PR’s, and estimated that she’d have the “ability” to throw well over nineteen meters in Spokane.

And though it is early in the season, and her best throws will certainly come this summer, Smith says, “We take every opportunity for a national title seriously.”

Ramsey says that it would “mean a lot” to make her first Indoor Worlds team. She has been maintaining her normal hectic schedule since last summer, training, working at Insomnia Cookies, volunteering at Court Appointed Special Advocates–an organization devoted to helping abused or neglected children–and even doing a bit of coaching at a local high school where she sometimes trains.

She says she’d like to compete for another ten years, and then maybe go into social work full time.

This weekend, she’s likely in for a tough battle with Ewen and Chase Ealey for a spot in the top two and a trip to the Indoor Worlds. But she feels ready.

“I don’t try to put pressure on myself,” she explained. “I try to have fun and always give one thousand percent.”

That approach has led to some pretty amazing performances in the past, and if she produces another one this weekend, I for one, will be paying attention.

 

2022 USATF Indoor Championships Preview: Joshua Awotunde

Joshua Awotunde competing at the Millrose Games earlier this season.

Fresh off of his first indoor PB since 2018–a 21.53m toss at an American Track League meet on February 12th–Joshua Awotunde feels ready to contend for a spot at the 2022 World Indoor Championships to be held in Belgrade from March 18th to 20th.

In order to make the Worlds squad, he will have to finish in the top two at the upcoming USATF Indoor Championships against a loaded field that includes world record holder Ryan Crouser, two-time World Championship finalist Darrell Hill, 2021 Olympian Payton Otterdahl, and University of Arizona stalwart Jordan Geist, who finished seventh in last year’s epic Olympic Trials final.

As far as Joshua is concerned, he is ready. A proponent of throwing the eighteen-pound ball in training, Joshua last week produced a practice PB of 20.04m with that implement–a good sign when you consider that last summer he threw the eighteen-pounder 19.95m not long before blasting a 21.84m bomb to take fifth at the Olympic Trials.

He followed that up by reaching twenty-two meters–the distance that separates medal contenders from pretenders in this golden era of putting–in Italy later in the summer. That breakthrough came at a meet in Padua that matched Joshua against a solid field including Tokyo finalist Zane Weir, former Italian champion Leonardo Fabbri, and 2015 World Championships bronze medalist O’Dayne Richards.

Before that meet, Richards gave Joshua a little pep talk. “Man,” he said, “I’ve seen you throw all year, and I know you’re a twenty-two meter guy. Just stay loose, be smooth and go fast!”

Joshua remembered those words after Weir took over the lead that night with a late-round toss of 21.63m. He says that he “does not like to lose,” and with one final attempt to answer, reminded himself to “put a little extra speed on it.”

The result was an even 22.00m for a meeting record and PB.

The next step will be making throws like that routine, a necessity for any American putter who wants to qualify for Olympic and World teams.

Joshua currently lives and trains in South Carolina with his college coach, Mike Sergent, who guided him through an outstanding collegiate career. After graduating in 2018, Joshua initially spent a year-and-a-half at the training center in Chula Vista, where he got to see how athletes like Ryan Crouser and Darrell Hill conduct themselves. Looking back, he says it was a great learning experience.

“I saw how steady Ryan was every day in practice, the way he hit the same positions every time. That’s why he’s the most consistent thrower ever. From Darrell, I learned tenacity in the ring. The way he develops speed while still maintaining positions is amazing.”

But Joshua had flourished under Sergent’s system while throwing for the Gamecocks, and in mid-2020 he decided to return to Columbia and reunite with his college mentor.

That decision has paid off, as he surpassed twenty-one meters in ten of twelve competitions in 2021.

He says that finishing in the top two in Spokane would allow him to realize a dream he’s had since high school. His parents immigrated from Nigeria in 1980, and Joshua holds dual citizenship, but his goal is to “represent this country and earn a world medal while wearing the red, white, and blue. Being a shot putter in the USA is not easy, but all these guys push me to reach new levels.”

There will be plenty of pushing going on this weekend, as a magnificent field of throwers vies for a spot in the top two.

The men’s shot is set to take place on Sunday at 2:00pm Pacific time.

2022 USATF Indoor Champs Preview: Maggie Ewen

Maggie Ewen of the U.S. reacts after winning the Shot Put Women events during the Weltklasse Zurich, Diamond League meeting at the Sechselaeuten Platz on Wednesday, September 8, 2021 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Weltklasse Zurich/Urs Jaudas)

This year, Maggie Ewen will be one of the few American athletes for whom making the Indoor World team  will be significantly more challenging than qualifying for the Outdoor Worlds this summer.

That’s because Maggie, after a rough Olympic Trials where she finished in the dreaded number four spot, concluded the 2021 season by winning the Diamond League final in Zurich. Her reward–aside from a sweet-looking trophy and a bit of prize money–was an automatic bye into the 2022 Outdoor Worlds.

So, Maggie will be one of the few athletes chillin’ like a villain at the USATF Outdoor Championships this June. She will compete without pressure while what promises to be a ferociously strong field of putters does battle over the right to join her on the US squad at Worlds.

But that exemption does not apply to Indoor Worlds (to be held March 18th thru 20th in Belgrade) so Maggie will have to finish in the top two this coming weekend at the USATF Indoor Championships in Spokane if she wants to make the team.

Which she does. “Being frank,” she said recently, “with not making the Olympic team, it would be really good mentally to get back on that horse of feeling like I can make teams again, that I am that caliber of thrower.” 

Maggie (whose indoor PB is 19.54m) hit 19.03m at a meet in Fargo on February 5th, and feels like she is rounding into shape. 

The automatic bid to Worlds gave her the luxury of starting her training a bit later this fall as she won’t have to worry about peaking for the US Outdoor Championships, but she has begun seeing nineteen-meter throws “sporadically” in practice, which she says is a good sign.

Maggie believes her strong finish to the 2021 season carried over to 2022. 

“We figured things out technically at the end of last season, and now those things have shown up right away in training. I’m very happy that we don’t need to make any major technical changes.”

The main thing that Maggie and her coach, Kyle Long, figured out late last season, was a way to smooth out her entry coming from the back of the ring. The progress they made allowed her to produce an outdoor season’s best toss of 19.41m in winning that DL title last September.

Much of Maggie’s training this winter has centered around rehearsing the modifications they made last summer so that the movements become automatic. 

“I’m pretty good,” she says, “on the middle and on the finish. It all comes down to whether or not I can have a clean entry.”

Maggie feels like she is in a good place right now in her life and in her career. In 2019, she navigated a coaching change, transitioning from her college mentor Brian Blutreich to Kyle. Then, she and Kyle moved from Arizona to North Dakota. There was also the small matter of dealing with a pandemic. But now, Maggie says, all is calm. 

“Halfway through last year, we found the rhythm of what life and training up here looks like. Things are settling down and lining up, so there is not much to worry about other than training well and throwing far. The more comfortable you are in your own life, in what is going on in your home and with your family, the easier it is to focus on what happens in the ring.”

Maggie will put that focus to use this Saturday at 2:35pm Pacific time. Her main competitors for the top two spots should be Olympic Trials champion Jessica Ramsey, and three time US champion Chase Ealey.

It promises to be a rollicking start to a potentially epic year for the women’s shot put in this country.