Category Archives: Hammer

2022 USATF indoor Champs Preview: Janeah Stewart

If you happen to walk through the fieldhouse at the University of Mississippi one day and come across this scene…

…do not be alarmed. The Ole Miss football team has not begun recruiting infants. As far as I know. Although, one more loss to Alabama and…never mind.

Anyway, that child is unlikely to ever to set foot on the gridiron, so all you football recruiters…stand down. If you coach at a major track program, however, you might want to grab a letter of intent and a couple of crayons and head to Oxford, Mississippi, immediately because if genetics mean anything, that young lady has serious potential.

Her name is Ja’Myri, and her mother is 2018 NCAA hammer champion Janeah Stewart.

This weekend in Spokane, Janeah will be looking for her third USATF Indoor title in the weight, her first since giving birth to Ja’Myri last April.

It has been a long and difficult path from that NCAA hammer title, which she won with a throw of 72.92m, to these 2022 USATF Indoor Championships, where she is seeded third in the weight with a season’s best throw of 23.98m.

After graduating from Ole Miss, Janeah stuck around Oxford to train with her college throws coach John Smith, and in 2019 raised her hammer PB to 75.43m. That December, she launched the weight 25.08m, and was preparing to defend her national title when Covid put a halt to the season.

Smith’s entire throws crew, the college kids along with Janeah and shot putter Jessica Ramsey, were suddenly left with no place to train. But if you know Coach Smith, you will not be surprised to hear that he did not go home to sit on the couch and wait for better times.

“I spent three days driving all over the place, trying to find a place to train,” he recalled recently. “Then I found out that the people who sold us our house also owned a piece of land about ten miles outside of town.”

Smith describes the place as a “semi-abandoned” sportsplex, which the owners were happy to let him use. Exploring it, he found a large pavillion with a concrete floor that was “perfect for throwing.”

Covid regulations forbid him from working with the college athletes, but he installed throwing rings for Stewart and Ramsey and got to work.

They spent the next several months banging away at this ersatz facility that Smith refers to as “the Barn,” and he credits Ramsey’s 20.12m bomb at the 2021 Olympic Trials to the work they accomplished there in 2020.

Janeah appeared to be on her way to a similar breakthrough with the hammer. According to Smith, she hit thirty-two training PB’s at the Barn, including a seventy-seven meter toss with the competition implement.

Stewart remembers the excitement of throwing “really well” there, and it would be the memory of those throws and the feeling of being on the brink of a potentially great career that would carry her through when life got even more complicated.

First, she contracted the virus late in July of 2020. That cost her a month of training. Not long after, she realized she was pregnant. She did not lift or throw again for a year.

Smith says that in his experience very few throwers are able to return to the sport after giving birth. “I’d estimate the odds were about eighty-percent against Janeah coming back,” he says now.

It is not hard to understand why. Making a living as a hammer thrower is a dicey proposition even if you are only trying to support yourself. You have to be among the absolute best in the world to earn any prize money, and making it to that level requires an almost narcissistic level of focus on your training, recovery, and diet.

Anyone who has raised a child can tell you that selfish habits, things like sleeping eight consecutive hours or eating with both hands, go out the window as soon as you bring your baby home.

But Janeah was determined to make a go of it. She returned to lifting last summer and remembers being “in pain and out of breath.” Her first day back throwing, she told Smith she’d hit 200 feet, but could barely break 160.

But, according to Smith, Janeah can be stubborn, and whenever anyone suggested that she bag it, she’d get “pissed off” and train even harder.

It helped that Smith, his wife Connie (the head track coach at Ole Miss) and the rest of their throwing group rallied around Janeah and Ja’Myri.

Janeah says that Ja’Myri attends nearly every throwing and lifting session. She generally watches contentedly from her walker, but recently has gotten so active that Stewart has had to surround her with football dummies as shown in the photo, or she’d be “all over the place.”

Though encouraged by her 23.98m toss from earlier this month, Janeah says she is struggling to find her timing in the throw. She is also still fighting to regain her strength in the weight room. Her power clean PB in the Barn days was around 280 pounds, and she estimates that right now she could do 230.

She and Smith have been working on the hammer as well, and he is optimistic that she will be ready to get in the mix at what promises to be an epic Outdoor Championships with three spots on the Worlds team up for grabs.

“If we can get her over eight feet (24.38m) in the weight,” he says, that will set her up well for the outdoor season. Right now, she’s about ninety percent of where she needs to be in the hammer.”

A big throw this weekend would be a big step in the right direction.

The women’s weight competition is scheduled for 2:05pm Pacific time on Sunday.

2022 USATF Indoor Champs Preview: Israel Oloyede

Israel Oloyede grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, dreaming of playing football for Arizona State University. He dabbled with the shot and disc while in high school, but football was his main sport. After his senior year, the ASU coaches thought he needed a little seasoning before he was ready play major college football and told him that if he enrolled at Scottsdale Community College they’d give him another look in a year or two.

Israel followed their advice, but it wasn’t long before he decided that Scottsdale CC was not the place for him. He wanted to transfer to another community college where he could continue his football career, but first he had to receive a release from the Scottsdale program. Perhaps intoxicated by the power he wielded as the coach of the SCC Artichokes football team, the head man at Scottsdale refused. Who could have predicted then that his decision would contribute to the current renaissance in the hammer and weight throws in the United States?

Israel ended up transferring to Paradise Valley Community College, located in Phoenix. Their mascot is a Puma. Since he was unable to play football, he decided to resume his career as a thrower.

Jim Lothrop, the Paradise Valley throws coach, recommended Israel try the javelin, and so he did.

Israel says that at first, the javelin seemed “pretty easy,” but before too long, he “got humbled” and could not manage to break fifty-five meters.

He had never really enjoyed throwing the shot and disc in high school, so he agreed to try the weight and hammer, even though he thought at the time that “the weight did not look fun, and the hammer did not look easy.”

Unfortunately, Coach Lothrop was more of a javelin guy, having twice finished in the top eight at the USATF Nationals. Luckily, a former weight/hammer thrower from Louisiana State University, Jeremy Tuttle, was in Phoenix coaching at Ottawa University Arizona and also at a club called the Phoenix Bobcats.

Under the guidance of Coach Tuttle, Israel went from throwing the weight 12.47m and the hammer 54.00m his freshman year to 20.89m in the weight and 63.13m in the hammer as a sophomore. The 20.89m was a national junior college record and got the attention of Coach TJ Crater, who recruited Israel to the University of Arizona.

Over the course of two years, Coach Crater helped Israel set school records of 23.79m in the weight and 73.22m in the hammer. Last summer, Israel made the final at the Olympic Trials, and started to think that maybe he had a future in this business.

With one year of eligibility remaining, Israel then decided to move back home to Phoenix and enroll at Grand Canyon University, which had just hired Nathan Ott as its throws coach.

Ott is best known as the coach of Olympian Brooke Anderson, and training alongside Brooke has been a nice side benefit of transfering to Grand Canyon.

“Being around someone like Brooke has really helped me,” Israel says. “It was the same thing having Jordan Geist to train with at Arizona. Being around great athletes pushes you to do better.”

Israel’s 24.45m throw from this January has him seeded second behind Daniel Haugh going into Sunday’s competition in Spokane.

He is excited to throw against the guys like Haugh and Rudy Winkler that he used to watch compete and would think “I want to be like them.”

Not that Israel will be cowed by the competition. “I threw against those guys in the hammer at Tucson Elite last year,” he recalled, “and I PR’d. Competing against them brought out the best in me, so I won’t be intimidated this this time, either.”

The men’s weight throw competition is scheduled for Sunday at 11:00am Pacific time.

Olympic trials Report: women’s Hammer

Photo credit: Adam Eberhardt for TrackTown USA

Growing up in Chicago, I learned to revere athletes who could stare daggers and talk smack, guys like Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, and Michael Jordan whose inner ferocity was on full outward display. 

What am I to make, then, of DeAnna Price, who is as passionately committed to winning as any of those gents, but generally prefers to crush her opponents with kindness? She actually looked  embarrassed each time she approached the cage during the women’s hammer final on Saturday, a little sheepish over the fuss she was causing by rewriting the history of the event. After every epic throw, she’d confer with her husband and coach JC Lambert, and I imagine their conversations going something like this:

JC: You’re in world record shape, so stay focused!

DeAnna: Got it. That official over there looks like he’s having a hard day. I’ll give him a hug!

JC: I said, stay focused!

DeAnna: Right. It’s really hot out.  I knew I should have brought lemonade for everyone!

Her closest rival on this day was Brooke Andersen whose second-round bomb of 77.72m pulled her to within ten centimeters of DeAnna’s opener. DeAnna’s response? Throws of 78.51m, 79.98m, and 80.31m, each of which she celebrated by engaging in a long, heartfelt hug with…Brooke Andersen.

And how does DeAnna feel about her next biggest American rival, former US champion and record-holder Gwen Berry? 

“Gwen is great!  We’re both Southern Illinois University alums, so she’s my sister and I’m proud of her!”

When asked about Anita Wlodarczyk, the woman she has been striving to unseat as the best hammer thrower in the world, and the only other woman to have surpassed the eighty-meter mark, DeAnna told an anecdote about competing against the Polish powerhouse at the 2015 Worlds and being totally honored when she sat next to her once between throws. 

“Anita is a genuinely nice person,” she assured us, which loosely translated means, “I plan to kick her butt in Tokyo and then give her an amazing hug.”

Perhaps the most amazing thing about DeAnna’s performance on Saturday was that she was able to compete at all. After breaking her own American record with a 78.60m toss in early April, she was felled by an illness–possibly celiac disease–that threatened her season. 

Feeling awful during her next competition, she managed to throw 76.15m but afterwards endured emergency room visits and endless tests including an MRI, none of which gave her a conclusive diagnosis.

After losing ten pounds in the space of a week, she and JC decided to cut bread and dairy products from her diet and to consume only home-cooked meals. Those changes did the trick, and she found her stride in training just in time for the Trials.

Hearing DeAnna describe her ordeal this spring brought to mind similar troubles she endured in 2019 on her way to winning the Worlds. That year, she’d overcome career-threatening back troubles, which makes me wonder if, like Michael Jordan, she is at her most ferocious when responding to adversity. 

Photo credit: Adam Eberhardt for TrackTown USA

Speaking of adversity, Brook Andersen faced her own variety this year when a combination of circumstances left her with no facilities at which to train. The hammer final was, she said, “about the tenth time I’ve been in an actual ring this whole season.” Her main practice facility was a park where she drew a circle on a sidewalk with a sharpie. 

Then, at the April meet where DeAnna fell ill, Brooke fell literally and suffered a concussion and shoulder injury. 

Despite surpassing seventy-five meters in three of her five competitions before the Trials, including the season’s and personal best of 78.18m she launched in Wichita on April 10th, she struggled with nerves in the qualification round and ended up caging two of three attempts.

Fortunately, her one valid throw of 72.16m got her to the final where an opener of 74.38m paved the way for that second-round 77.72m, which turned the competition into a battle for third place. 

Photo credit: Adam Eberhardt for TrackTown USA

That contest was a mano a mano affair between Berry and Janee Kassanavoid, who joined the seventy-five-meter club at the USATF Throws Fest this May. 

Gwen opened with 73.50m, and Janee responded with throws of 72.73m and 73.45m. Gwen, who said afterwards that her body “was not working today,” was unable to better her opening mark, but the pressure of trying to vault her got to Janee. She caged her third attempt and then wiped out on her fourth. She shook that off and finished with throws of 72.41m and 72.32m, but could not quite reel in Gwen.

A kerfuffle ensued when the newly-minted Tokyo hammer squad was ushered to the podium and greeted there by a recording of the Star Spangled Banner. Gwen has been a controversial figure since her 2019 podium demonstration at the Pan American Games, which foreshadowed the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and has caused much wringing of hands on the part of USATF and the International Olympic Committee over whether or not to permit such actions in Tokyo.

Gwen responded to the playing of the anthem by turning her back to the flag and pulling her shirt over her head. She said afterwards that she felt like she’d been “set up,” as the anthem is generally not played during medal ceremonies at the Trials. USATF released a statement saying that the anthem had been scheduled to be played at 5:20, but offered no reason as to why it was delayed until 5:25 when the hammer medalists had already mounted the podium.  

It certainly was not in USATF’s interests to take the focus off the magnificent performances popping up everywhere you looked on Saturday. In addition to DeAnna’s hammer bomb, American athletes produced world leads in the women’s pole vault, men’s 400-meter hurdles, and women’s 200-meter dash.


Well, what network doesn’t love a good controversy? 

But, if NBC was genuinely concerned about maximizing the number of viewers for these Trials, I would think the person in charge of those blocks that keep registering phantom false starts would have been found strangled in his hotel room after Friday’s fiasco in the hurdle races. 

If it was a setup, it certainly did nothing to take the starch out of Gwen. who remains determined to be heard.

“I want to impact the world,” she explained. “There are things going on in the world that are bigger than sport. As athletes, we should use our voices to bring awareness to these issues.”

I asked her after the prelims on Thursday if her activism put more pressure on her in meets like the Trials.

“No,” she responded. “I feel like being black in America is enough pressure.The neighborhood I grew up in is enough pressure. The things I have to deal with and that I have to protect my son from is enough pressure.”

I checked the website of the International Olympic Committee to see if I could get some insight into how they might respond to Gwen in Tokyo. There, I found this statement:

The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

I read this, and I wonder if maybe the IOC has finally found someone willing to stand up for its highest ideals.

American Renaissance

Over the past two decades, American hammer throwers have struggled in the Olympics.

Since the 2000 Games, the only American hammer finalist among the men has been Kibwe Johnson, who finished ninth in 2012. The women have done better, producing four finalists in that time, including Amber Campbell and DeAnna Price in Rio, but no American woman has won an Olympic hammer medal. 

But, all that may be about to change. The three men who made the team on Sunday, Rudy Winkler, Daniel Haugh, and Alex Young are all potential finalists in Tokyo. Rudy, who set an American record of 82.71m, has a legit chance to be the first American Olympic hammer gold medalist since Hal Connelly in 1956.

Thursday’s women’s hammer prelims will feature the three top-ranked women in the world–defending World champion DeAnna Price, Brooke Andersen, and Gwen Berry–along with 8th-ranked Janee Kassanavoid. 

DeAnna, Brooke, and Gwen all have a ton of experience competing internationally, and each would be a threat to medal in Tokyo, with DeAnna–assuming she makes the squad–the favorite to win.

What is behind this surge of hammer excellence in the United States? Let’s examine some possibilities.

Iron Sharpens Iron

The United States has sent strong groups of men’s shot putters to the Games since forever. The men have won seven shot put medals since 2000, including two golds, and it could be that our depth in that event is self-perpetuating. Guys like John Godina raised the standard of performance for Adam Nelson and Andy Bloom, who raised the bar for Reese Hoffa and Christian Cantwell, who showed the way for Ryan Whiting and Joe Kovacs, who inspired Darrell Hill and Ryan Crouser to feats of greatness, and so on…

This theory says that if Payton Otterdahl only needed to throw 21.00m to make the squad last Friday, that’s probably what he’d have thrown rather than the 21.92m bomb that got him on the podium. 

“Competition brings out the best in people,” Lance Deal observed after Sunday’s men’s hammer final, and the US hammer scene is now fiercely competitive. 

Rudy won decisively on Sunday, but if he falters even a little going forward, Alex and Daniel are right there to overtake him, as is Sean Donnelly, who did not make the team but is currently ranked seventh in the world. DeAnna is arguably the best in the world right now, but Brooke and Gwen, as mentioned, are ranked right behind her with Janee also in the top ten. 

Amin Nikfar, who coaches Alex Young, told me that with all the great throwers in the United States today, everyone knows they can’t afford to have a letdown, which forces everyone to constantly raise their game. “After all,” he opined, “iron sharpens iron.”

We Are Family

After Sunday’s hammer final, I asked Alex Young how he felt each time Conor McCullough entered the ring and tried to break his heart by knocking him out of third place. His reply?  

“I love my man Conor!”

When asked how it felt to watch Rudy break the American record, he became even more effusive.

“Rudy? He’s my best friend!”

Faced with the same question, Daniel Haugh described Rudy as “a beast” and “an absolute stud!” 

For his part, Rudy said he “couldn’t be happier” to have Alex and Daniel joining him in Tokyo. “Alex is one of my best friends,” he effused. “And Daniel was my roommate in Doha. We’re going to feed off each other and do something incredible in Tokyo.”

According to Lance Deal, this type of camaraderie among combatants is a positive development. “When I started throwing,” he recalls, “most of us were ‘civil competitors,’ but we didn’t really like each other. Or, maybe everyone just hated me. But, the way these guys are now, this is a much healthier way to compete. It feels like everyone–the men and the women–are part of the same family, and that’s a good thing.”

Tom Pukstys, formerly a six-time US javelin champion and currently the head of the USA Javelin Project, agrees with Lance that things were not so friendly among competitors back in the day, and points out that the current supportive atmosphere lends itself to the sharing of information. “Nobody helped each other out in the ‘80’s,” he told me. “But, the current athletes and their coaches trade ideas, which helps them all improve.”

The King is Dead

When Hal Connelly won his gold in Melbourne, he was joined on the podium by two Russians, This turned out to be foreshadowing, as the Soviet Union basically took over the event for several decades. Soviet throwers swept the men’s hammer at the 1976 Olympic Games. They did it again in 1980, 1988, and (technically representing the “Unified Team”) 1992. Between 1960 and 1992, Soviet hammer throwers took the gold in every Olympics they competed in with the exception of 1968 when they were beaten by a Hungarian who was, no doubt, trained in the “Soviet system.” 

That’s a long era of dominance, and it gave Russian and other Eastern European throwers an aura of invincibility. Kibwé Johnson believes that before the sport could thrive in the US, the Soviet myth had to be punctured. 

A first step toward demythologizing the Soviets came when Russin hammer guru and 1972 gold medalist Anatoliy Bondarchuk relocated to Canada around 2005 and American athletes including Kibwé went to train with him. 

“Up to that point,” he remembers, “we in America had only ever heard stories of the Soviets. I remembered those stories and I’d ask Dr. B., ‘Is this true?’ and he always said ‘No.’ I’d heard, for example, that Yuriy Sedykh could wind-and-release sixty meters. I asked Dr. B and he was like, ‘Nope. No way.’”

Bondarchuk disabused American hammer throwers and coaches of the notion that the Soviets had found the way to develop hammer throwers, and that the key to success was to learn and copy their system. Kibwé believes that this attitude had made athletes trained in the Russian system appear unbeatable and inhibited hammer development in this country.

A more recent step towards removing the veil of invincibility from the Eastern European throwers is the USATF Hammer Initiative, that Tom Pukstys remembers being conceived at a 2014 meeting he attended. Some folks at USATF had a small amount of money they could invest in hammer development, and on the advice of people like Tom, Lance, and Kibwé, they began using that money to give up-and-coming hammer throwers the chance to compete in Europe.

“It is tough,” Kibwé explained, “when you  show up at a major international competition and the only thing you know about these guys is that they have PRs that are a lot better than yours. It really helps when you train over there alongside someone you think is really good and you see them make a bad throw or miss a lift. It shows you that they are just like you and takes away your fear of them.”

“And,” he continued, “that is one thing about our current group of hammer throwers. There is no fear there.”

Ladies First

The women throwers were actually the first to puncture the myth of Soviet/Eastern European invincibility, and Jeneva Stevens struck the first blow a year before the Hammer Initiative was conceived. 

Her breakthrough came when she won the gold medal at the 2013 World University Games, held, appropriately enough, in Russia. 

Later that summer, she and Amanda Bingson made the final at the World Championships in Moscow, and though the Chinese had now joined the Eastern Europeans at the top of the hammer rankings, the US had the proverbial foot in the door.

Finally, in 2019, DeAnna kicked in that door when she took the gold in Doha.

According to Rudy Winkler, DeAnna’s success has had a big impact on the men as well. 

“DeAnna,” he reflected, “and the other American women showed that it doesn’t really take anything special to throw far other than staying true to yourself and working as hard as you can. DeAnna has been a huge source of inspiration to all of us, and I don’t think we would be doing so well without her doing well.”

Syncretism. (I’ll Explain)

If we are going to call this moment a “renaissance” in American hammer throwing, a revival of a time before the Soviets took over the sport, then maybe we should use a Renaissance term to explain it. One way to look at the real Renaissance is as an intellectual unsticking. Roman Catholic orthodoxy had dominated the life of the mind in Europe during the Middle Ages, and for progress to be made, for forward thinking to occur, the Catholic monopoly on intellectual endeavors had to be broken.

Enter syncretism, which was (according to the Google machine) “the amalgamation of different religions, cultures, and schools of thought.”

Current American coaches do not worry about mimicking a mythical Soviet system. Instead, as with the shot put, a variety of them have developed their own highly successful approaches to hammer throwing. 

According to Kibwé  “All these hammer throwers that are having success today, they and their coaches are following their own thing, making their own way. If you were to sit down and ask Dr. B about it, he would say that this is the way it should be.”

If the actual Renaissance was fostered by forward-thinking scholars like Petrarch, Erasmus, Montaigne, and Thomas More, it may be that the American hammer renaissance has come about because of forward-thinking coaches like John Smith, Greg Watson, and Paddy McGrath.  

While coaching at Ohio State and Southern Illinois, Smith created a system of hammer training that produced Jeneva Stevens, Gwen Berry, and De Anna Price, who stayed on at Southern when Smith took the job at Mississippi and has continued to train under Smith disciple JC Lambert. Smith has continued to refine his approach while coaching at Ole Miss, and believes that one of his current throwers–Shey Taiwo–might someday be an international medal contender as well. While Smith was developing his methods, Greg Watson was turning Amanda Bingson into a world class thrower and is now using his own concepts to train Janee Kassanavoid. Meanwhile, Paddy McGrath set up a hammer club in New York state, and has used his own Irish-influenced methods to train Rudy Winkler. 

Bottom line, the United States now has a plethora of high level hammer coaches who compete, collaborate, and influence each other for the ultimate betterment of the event.

All these factors have converged to foster a culture of hammer excellence in the US, and today at the Trials, we’ll get to see a bunch of that excellence on display in the women’s hammer qualification round. Fasten your seatbelt. 

Lance Deal and Brian Bedard webinars now on Youtube!

American record holder Lance Deal recently appeared on a webinar to discuss the fine art of hammer throwing. Whether demonstrating concepts from the comfort of his home office or breaking down film of himself and other hammer greats, Lance did his best to help us understand the approach that won him the silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games. You may access that video here.

Also available, is a recent session in which Colorado State University coach Brian Bedard examined the process by which shot putter Tarynn Sieg went from throwing 14.19m as a high school glider, to 17.44m her sophomore year of college using the rotational technique. Brian shared that journey using lots of interesting vids taken along the way. You may access his presentation here.

Check back soon for information on upcoming webinars!

Free webinar Thursday, May 28 12:00pm CST “Lance Deal Talks Hammer Technique”

On Thursday, May 28th at 12:00pm CST, American hammer great Lance Deal will discuss his concepts of hammer technique. Lance, the silver medalist at the 1996 Olympics, will use film of himself, Koji Murofushi, and 2019 World Champion DeAnna Price to illustrate his concepts.

Attendees may submit questions throughout Lance’s presention.

This is a free webinar. Register here.

Free Hammer Throw Webinar with JC Lambert, Coach of DeAnna Price, Thursday May 7 12:00pm CST

DeAnna Price, American record holder, two-time national champion, and 2019 World Champion is coached by her husband, Southern Illinios University throws coach JC Lambert.

In a free webinar to be held on Thursday, May 7 at 12:00pm CST, JC will break down DeAnna’s technique using two videos: one of her 2018 American record throw of 78.12m (note: she upped that record to 78.24m in 2019) and one from her series at the 2019 World Championships.

This is a chance to gain insight into what has made DeAnna not only one of the farthest hammer throwers of all time, but also one of the greatest competitors.

Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout JC’s presentation. Register here.

JC Lambert talks about DeAnna Price’s big day at Nationals

The women’s hammer throw at the recent USATF Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, shaped up as a battle between two Southern Illinois University alums. Gwen Berry entered the 2018 outdoor season as the American record holder with a 2017 toss of 76.77m. DeAnna Price took over the record in early June of this year, hitting 77.65m at the Iron Wood Classic. Gwen took it back six days later, dropping a 77.78m bomb at a meet in Chorzow, Poland.

So the hammer fans who gathered on the grass berm overlooking the cage outside of Drake Stadium had reason to expect a titanic battle between the two Salukis on a sun-kissed day three of the championships.

Unfortunately, Gwen opened with a foul and could never quite find her rhythm. She finished with a best of 72.99m, good enough for second place. You can find a post-competition interview I did with Gwen here:

DeAnna also took some time to find a groove, but her opener of 73.81m guaranteed a spot in the final where she went 76.35m in round four, 78.12m for a new American record in round five, and 77.01m in round six.

Recently, DeAnna’s coach and fiancé JC Lambert was kind enough to give me some insight into DeAnna’s performance at USAs and her plans for the future.

So in Des Moines, DeAnna opened up with 73.81m, which as it turned out would have been enough to win, but it seemed to take her a while to really find her rhythm.

One of the big things we’ve been working on is making sure that your opening throw can make the final no matter where you’re at, a small meet, the US Championships or even the World Championships or Olympics. So I was very happy about her first throw. Her next throw was actually building up to be a nice throw, it just got by her and she wasn’t ready for it. It ended up being a very nice throw outside the left sector.

I couldn’t see where it landed from where I was sitting.

I checked afterwards, and I found the mark at the top of the hill. I’m not going to go into specifics, but it was considerably farther than her best throw.

It must be exciting to know she’s got a throw like that in her.

Absolutely. After that, on her third round throw, because the last one blew by her, she was a little timid, got a little messed up, so she went ahead and fouled it. Between prelims and finals she did a couple of warm-ups to get back on track and then opened back up with a 76-meter throw that looked nice and easy. From there, she was tuned up and ready to go.

Was there anything technique-wise that stood out about her American Record throw?

She just finally got locked into the entry. Got down a lot better on one. She stayed grounded and worked through three. She didn’t work all the way through four, and she kind of locked up the release. If she’d have gotten through the release a little more, it would have been interesting where it would have went.

And then she followed that up with a 77-meter throw where she completely missed four and locked up her release again, so to throw that far and not get the whole pie, if you will, was pretty exciting.

She clearly knew when she released her 78.12m that it was a big throw.

Yeah, she was kind of punching the air, which she doesn’t usually do. She told me after that it was because she was pissed that it took her so long to get going.

I’m interested in the idea you mentioned of developing the skill of getting a good enough first throw so that no matter where you are you make the final. How did you go about working on that?

Practice. We do mock competitions. Plus when you go to smaller meets, that’s practice too. During her senior year at SIU, her first meet of the year was at Alabama. She was in good shape to throw far, but her first two attempts went right into the cage. And then she had to just get a decent throw out there in the third round to just make the finals, so it took her forever to get comfortable.

And then the next meet, she fouled her opener again, and after that we decided we had to change things. We can’t be having that. From there, just practicing it at meets. I tell all my athletes, the first one’s for me and the rest are for you.  

So we kept working on it, and back then, three years ago, she got to be consistent with throwing 66-69 meters on her first throw. Now that she’s a better thrower and athlete, her openers have been getting better and better. Now that she can open with an easy throw of 73 meters and change, she can be pretty confident in a World Championship qualifying round. She won’t have to stress too much, just do what you do and call it a day.

Is the art of it to throw easy but not too easy?

For each person you have to figure out what is their easy throw. It’s like a passive aggressive throw. You have to relax but still be aggressive with it. If you warm up normal, but then your first throw of the meet you take too much off, it’s not going to be a good throw. Your timing is going to be off, then all of a sudden you’re completely off.

So, there’s definitely an art to it. The athlete has to develop a feel for what an “easy” throw is for them.

I was at the European Championships in 2014, and Betty Heidler did not throw well. Her coach told me afterwards that she finished her warm-ups in good shape, so he told her to do on her opener exactly what she’d done on her final warm-up throw, but that she didn’t. She took too much off of that first throw and then she never found her rhythm during the competition.

That’s what happens.

Going back to last winter, did you see signs that she might throw 78 meters this year?

I’ve seen signs the past few years of something big coming down the road. It takes time to get to this level, though. Sometimes you think you see something developing but it takes a few more reps before it comes out in a meet.

Earlier this season the big thing we were working on was trying to connect, trying to push. The simple stuff, just trying to make it second nature. And just chipping away at her entry. And it started looking better.

And with the weight throw indoors, we took maybe nine total practices and we didn’t even throw much during those practices, maybe eighteen throws. And she competed in three meets. I didn’t really care how far she threw in the first two meets, then she went to USAs and we didn’t even peak for it. And she ended up going over 80 feet (24.51m) for the first time and got the win.

Was it surprising that she threw so far?

Yes, in the sense that we didn’t train it that much, but no in that she had a pretty good practice the week before and the week of. It would have been interesting to see what she could have done if we had peaked, but our goals this year all focused on the hammer.

The last two years leading up to the Olympics and London she was throwing really well, but there is a lot of pressure there and the results we got weren’t an indication of what we’d seen in practice.

This year I wanted to see if we could get her best throws in the biggest meets, and so far things have worked out just as we’d hoped.

Now we have two confirmed teams we are part of, the Athletics Cup in London and then the NACAC in Toronto, and then we have to see if she gets selected for the Continental Cup.

Deanna and I have been talking about what to do for meets and training right now, and it’s kind of damned if you do/damned if you don’t. There’s a World Challenge meet coming up in Budapest, but we’d have to hurry to get ready for it, so I think we’ll focus on preparing for the Athletics Cup. There are going to be some great throwers there, so we want to be ready for it.

The ultimate goal is to win a medal at the World Championships and the Olympics, so we need to practice being at our best against the best rather than running around trying to collect money.

This is a new realm that I’m a little green at. I’m lucky to have John Smith as a mentor, so if I have any questions about international travel and competitions, he can definitely help me out. But I look forward to figuring out the puzzle of international travel, how the body works, dealing with jet lag and so on.

Speaking of complicated, have you thought about dealing with the odd schedule next year with the World Championships in October?

I try not to think too far into the future, but we will definitely have to adjust for that. For any athlete, I look at what their ultimate goal is, when they will need to peak, and then I start to work backwards. That determines how we start. As far as indoors goes next year, if we do throw the weight it might be one or two meets like this year and maybe the US Championships, Then we’ll have to figure out how to push back the season. The thing that sucks is that we have to rely on college meets for competition, but those meets are over in May, so what do you do from there? One thing I’m thinking about is putting on a summer meet or two so post-collegiates have some place to compete.

We’ll see. That might get us through to the US Championships in late July, then you have three months until Worlds. First you have to make the team, obviously, but I would hope that maybe the IAAF could help out the athletes by pushing some of their higher-end meets back a little bit. I don’t know if that will happen or not, but no matter what, we’ll find a way.

To see video of the USATF women’s hammer competition check out



The Mental Toughness of DeAnna Price


By any measure, DeAnna Price of Southern Illinois University had a great collegiate career. After winning the 2015 NCAA hammer title as a junior, she opened her senior season on March 19th with a 72.19m toss at the Alabama Relays and finished with an NCAA meet record 71.53m on June 9th in Eugene. In between, she broke the 70-meter barrier in nine of the ten meets in which she competed.

It was this ability to be consistently excellent under a variety of conditions that interested me most about DeAnna’s season, and her coach, J.C. Lambert was kind enough to answer my questions about her mental approach to competition.

First question. DeAnna was remarkably consistent this year. It seemed like she threw 70 meters every week. What was it about her personality and her preparation that allowed her to do that?

She’s a tiger when she competes, she will go after throws no matter the situation. The one thing we’ve been working on a lot this year is making sure her first throw makes finals and she gets a 70m+ throw within her first three throws.

Have you two worked at all on any sort of pre-meet ritual? Are there a certain number or types of warm-up throws that she likes to take?

As far as a pre-meet ritual, she does a light lift, she likes to eat either Olive Garden pasta or half a chicken with a baked potato the night before. Breakfast the morning of, she likes to have one pancake with syrup, no butter, some eggs and meat along with coffee.

For warm up throws, she likes to start with turns with a two ball system. That’s one thing we’ve used this year to help her turns and with pushing the hammer. After that, she usually goes to a left arm throw and 1-2 80% throws and then is ready to go.

What do you mean by a “left arm” throw?

With a left arm throw, it’s a drill we use a times to warm up. You just take the hammer with your left arm, wind it like a regular throw, turn and throw.

Here is something that gives me endless amounts of trouble as a high school coach. Over the course of a season, my guys will, like DeAnna, develop their own routine for warming up. But, there are times when that routine gets disrupted. Rain delays. Officials who for some reason decide to limit the warm-up period. This year, at our state meet, the guy in charge decided to move the shot competition indoors due to predictions of dire weather. So, after eight weeks of competing outside with an iron shot, the competitors were moved into the field house and made to share four indoor shots, three of which were egg-shaped. There went their routine. That’s an extreme example, but I’ve heard stories about having flights of 25 at the World Championships, or of Reese Hoffa getting a single warm-up throw at the Athens Olympics. Have you worked with DeAnna on staying focused even when her routine is disrupted?

Deanna does pretty good in tough situations. When it gets down to the bigger meets, your athlete should be ready to go no matter the situation as long as long as the preparation leading up to the meet is done right. I learned as a athlete a long time ago that there will never be a perfect meet, something(s) will always try to get in your way. You must learn to adapt and adjust. You have to go with the flow. Deanna understands this and has done a great job so far with her mental preparation.

If you have a lump of coal you think has the potential to be a diamond, you must put that lump of coal under extreme and intense pressure. If it survives, you have a diamond. If it breaks apart and crumbles, then you just have coal. Not all lumps of coal are meant to be diamonds just like all athletes aren’t meant to be world class competitors. During practice, you must put your athletes under various situations that may pop up at a meet. Some athletes can learn and adapt quick, some have to be guided and talked through, others can just never seems to get past the little things that get in their way.

Can you give me an example of something you might do in practice to help get your throwers ready to handle a pressure situation?

For handling competition- At any time of the practice, I will bring up a meet time situation that they may be faced with. For example, Deanna might be at the middle or near the end of her practice and I will bring up a situation to where I will have her imagine that she is currently 4th place at the Olympic Trials, just been jumped by someone. I will say she has 1 or 2 more rounds to beat her best mark to make the Olympic team.

What is your role during competitions? At the NCAA meet, were you in a position where you could talk with DeAnna between throws? If so, can you characterize your interactions? Dave Dumble once told me that between attempts he tried to give his throwers a compliment on something they were doing well, then give them a suggestion on what to improve, then finish with some encouraging words. Can you tell me about your approach?

During competitions, most times I am at a place where I am able to talk to her. Leading up to big meets, I try to keep my coaching towards her simple in practice. That way if she messes up, I can use a simple cue that she’s very familiar with and it clicks in her head fast. That means less thinking and more competing. I also will let her know what she’s doing great during her throw and then will follow it up with something simple to fix. I try to be confident, aggressive, and excited when I say explain something to her. She really feeds off attitude and excitement.

Which competition this year presented the biggest challenge mentally, and how did you two deal with it?  Will the challenge at the Olympic Trials be to treat it like it is any other big meet and not get overwhelmed by its significance? If so, how will you manage that?

The biggest meet of the year for Deanna will be Olympic Trials. At a lot of the meets this year, Deanna has been trying to throw for a mark (college record). When she tried to throw for a certain mark, she actually tries way too hard and thinks too much about it, compared to when she competes against someone.

If you watched her compete at NCAAs, you could see what I am talking about. Even though she had a big throw in her and had a big sector foul over the fence, she was “going for broke” for a big mark. So far this year, she’s only had one meet with some competition in it. During that meet, her opening throw was over 70m, she had 2 other 71m throws and her final toss at 72.49m. At that meet she was more focused on the competition and it helped produce a little PR at the time in heavy training.

We will treat the Olympic trials like any other big meet she’s gotten ready for in the past. She’s going to have other high class hammer throwers that she can chase down and they will push her as well. One challenge will be to keep her excitement and eagerness contained. Coach John Smith and Coach Connie Price-Smith refer to her as a tiger when she competes, so I came up with the term “keep the tiger caged and hungry”. But she’s learned over the past couple years how to relax and keep her self slightly distracted Leading up the competition. She has a very good “on and off switch”. During practice and the day of competition, the switch is on. Most other times it’s off. If it’s not, I will help by changing the subject of conversation.

Chicagoland Throws – Elite Hammer

This video shows the entire women’s elite hammer competition.


Event 3  Women Hammer Throw Elite
 NSAF Girls Hammer: 4 kg
    Name                    Year Team                    Finals           
  1 Berry, Gwen                  Nyac-Nike               69.60m     228-04 
      67.37m  69.60m  69.45m  68.98m  68.97m  FOUL
  2 Smith, Kristin               USATF                   68.90m     226-00 
      67.11m  63.93m  FOUL  68.90m  63.73m  66.75m
  3 Pleger, Brooke               USATF                   68.66m     225-03 
      64.68m  65.65m  63.05m  FOUL  68.66m  FOUL
  4 Henry, Brittany              USATF                   67.05m     220-00 
      63.15m  67.01m  FOUL  66.11m  FOUL  67.05m
  5 Bush, Taylor                 USATF                   65.10m     213-07 
      64.01m  63.22m  64.20m  FOUL  65.10m  64.26m
  6 Showalter, Haley             NSAF                    59.17m     194-01 
      58.46m  FOUL  FOUL  57.47m  59.17m  56.45m
  7 Jacobsen, Courtney           NSAF                    52.96m     173-09 
      51.90m  50.51m  50.83m  50.22m  FOUL  52.96m
  8 Wilson, Alyssa               NSAF                    51.89m     170-03 
      FOUL  FOUL  49.25m  47.35m  48.52m  51.89m
  9 Antill, Kaylee               NSAF                    51.47m     168-10 
      48.30m  50.09m  FOUL  51.47m  FOUL  FOUL
 10 Thomas, Makena               NSAF                    48.01m     157-06 
      FOUL  45.39m  46.56m  48.01m  FOUL  FOUL


This video shows the entire men’s elite hammer competition.



Event 4  Men Hammer Throw Elite
 NSAF Boys Hammer: 12 lb.
    Name                    Year Team                    Finals           
  1 Kelly, Adam                  NSAF                    74.10m     243-01 
      70.82m  74.10m  71.27m  73.65m  73.96m  73.92m
  2 Morse, Tim                   USATF                   66.70m     218-10 
      65.62m  65.46m  FOUL  65.49m  66.70m  FOUL
  3 Whitener, Seth               NSAF                    64.18m     210-07 
      FOUL  62.28m  FOUL  64.18m  FOUL  63.81m
  4 Thornton, Darian             USATF                   62.13m     203-10 
      FOUL  62.13m  FOUL  FOUL  FOUL  FOUL
  5 Alvernaz, Michael            NSAF                    60.78m     199-05 
      59.15m  FOUL  FOUL  FOUL  60.78m  FOUL