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: https://mcthrows.com/?p=2152
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 https://www.macthrowvideo.com/