Determined to become the focal point of the javelin universe, Mcthrows.com is set to follow up presentations by Mark Mirabelli and Mike Barber with a lecture by the German biomechanist Dr. Klaus Bartonietz and the world record holder Uwe Hohn.
Titled, “The Javelin Technique of Johannes Vetter, Thomas Röhler, and Neeraj Chora” this webinar will take place on Friday, May 29th at 11:00am CST.
Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout this presentation. It is free. Register here.
Outstanding Australian javelin coach Mike Barber will break down the technique of 2019 World Champion Kelsey-Lee Barber in a free webinar on Thursday, May 21, at 3:00pm CST. In advance of that appearance, Mike graciously provided some details about Kelsey-Lee’s career and their big night in Doha. You can register for Mike’s presentation here.
It was one of those moments that throws coaches long for and dread. In the fifth round of the women’s javelin final at the 2019 World Athletics Championships, Kelsey-Lee Barber sat in fourth place with a best throw of 62.95m. Occupying the top three spots were China’s Liu Shiying and Lyu Huihui, along with Germany’s Christin Hussong. Having set a PB of 67.70m two months before, Kelsey arrived in Doha as one of the favorites, and she still had an excellent chance to medal if she could find a groove on one of her two remaining attempts.
In the stands of Khalifa International Stadium, Mike Barber, Kelsey’s husband and coach, sat peering into the screen of an ipad. He normally did not watch video of Kelsey’s attempts during competitions but, as he said later, “Something wasn’t right,” and he needed to figure out what that was. After her solid opener, Kelsey had planted her next three throws just on either side of the sixty-meter line (61.40m, 58.34m, 60.90m) a full five meters below what she’d need to get on the podium. She seemed stuck, he needed to help her get unstuck, and they were running out of time.
To Mike, the video confirmed what he had suspected. Kelsey appeared a bit tentative. She seemed to be holding something back. As officials summoned her for her fifth attempt, Mike considered telling her to add half a meter to the length of her approach.“It looked like she needed more space to feel like she could run through the crossover,” he recalls. A longer run up might remove any worries she harbored about fouling and unleash her aggressiveness.
Or, it might not.
That’s what’s so great and so treacherous about these moments. The right adjustment at the right time can help an athlete unleash a big throw when they need it the most. The wrong advice, however–no matter how well intentioned–can cause them to overthink and lose their rhythm at the worst possible time.
We’ve all been there. Maybe not at a World Championships, but sometimes in the heat of a Conference or State championship we notice a flaw in our athlete’s technique and think “That’s it! Fix that, and we’re set!”
In our excitement, we begin shouting adjustments.
“Keep your eyes back!”
“Finish the throw!”
“Stay long! Be aggressive! But, relax!”
Sometimes it works, but sometimes advice delivered in the heat of battle can make an athlete self-conscious and muck up their rhythm.
One year at our State Meet, I had two shot putters competing simultaneously in separate flights in different spots within the oval. It took a lot of effort–I had to bolt back and forth from one side of the stadium to the other–but I managed to shout enough suggestions to make it impossible for either of them to get comfortable. Both threw poorly, and I realized afterwards that they’d have been much better off if I’d kept my mouth shut.
That night in Doha, Mike had to decide, as Kelsey stepped to the runway for her fifth throw, if the moment was right to suggest a change.
Luckily, he and Kelsey had survived plenty of high pressure moments during the five years they’d worked together. The entire 2016 season, for example. After taking bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and surpassing the sixty-three meter mark two years running, Kelsey hoped to make some noise at the Olympics, but instead spent the entire 2016 season trying to manage a stress fracture in her lower back. The focus of that year evolved into holding things together long enough to qualify for Rio and sample the Olympic experience–often an important step in a thrower’s development. Kelsey accomplished that goal–she finished 28th in Rio with a best of 55.25m–but the pain and uncertainty she faced made for a long and difficult summer.
She came back to set PBs in both 2017 (64.53m) and 2018 (64.57m) and picked up some additional big meet experience along the way. She made the final at the London World Championships in 2017, then won silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
The 2019 season began in promising fashion as Kelsy won the Australian Nationals with a toss of 63.33m in April, displaying in Mike’s words “a lot of horsepower.”
“She just couldn’t quite get it through the jav, but we walked away thinking ‘there’s a big throw in there, we just have to find it.’”
They found it in Lucerne in July, when Kelsey smashed a 67.70m PB that announced her as a major contender in Doha.
Unfortunately, ten days later at the London Diamond League Meeting, she suffered a flareup of a shoulder injury she’d originally sustained in 2014. I asked Mike if an injury history like Kelsey’s (she also ruptured an elbow tendon in 2012) was simply a byproduct of making a living tossing the spear.
“You want to believe that you can make your athletes resilient enough to stay healthy,” he said. “But the stress that throwing a javelin puts on your joints is immense. And going from being a sixty-four-meter thrower to a sixty-seven-meter thrower creates an exponential increase in the force on the shoulder.”
They had to adjust Kelsey’s training, and between the London meeting and Doha she never threw with anything longer than a seven-step run up, aside from at the Diamond League Final in late August where she tossed 64.74m and finished second to China’s Lyu Huihui. After that competition, Kelsey informed Brian that in spite of her shoulder issues, “I can beat Lyu. I can win the World Championships.”
Kelsey’s confidence was encouraging, but the shoulder remained touchy right up to their final throwing session before the qualification round in Doha when Kelsey took a few tosses using a seven-step run up and experienced “a hell of a lot of pain.”
Kelsey was assigned to the first flight during qualification, and the best she could manage was 61.08m in round one. That was well short of the 63.50m automatic mark, and afterwards she and Mike retired to the indoor warmup facility to watch the live feed of the second flight and await their fate. In order to advance to the next night’s final, Kelsey would have to finish in the top twelve.
“That was the worst!” recalled Mike. “She was sitting fifth in her pool, and looking at the list of throwers in the second flight and their PBs and what we knew of them, there were definitely eight girls that could knock her out, and there was nothing we could do except prepare as if Kelsey was in the final. She started to go through her routine, and when we eventually saw that she had made it, she said, ‘I know what I did wrong. Let’s go out there and win tomorrow!’”
So, they’d been through a lot together by the time Kelsey stepped to the runway to line up for fifth attempt in the Doha final, and that gave Mike the confidence that she could handle a last-minute adjustment.
“Kelsey!” he called out. “Move back!”
She did, and it almost worked.
Kelsey’s throw measured 63.65m, to that point her best effort of the night, but when the fifth round ended she was still well behind Hussong (65.05m), Huihui (65.49m), and Shiying (65.88m).
Mike says that Kelsey “carried her momentum better” on that fifth attempt but “fell off it” a bit at the end. That did not, however, diminish her confidence. “I can do this,” she assured him as they conferred before her final attempt.
She used the lengthened run up again on her sixth throw, and this time there was no falling off at the finish. She smashed a 66.56m and vaulted into first.
She was now in for another wait, shorter than the qualification vigil but just as agonizing. Throwing behind Kelsey in the order, Hussong, Lyu each had another shot to overtake her.
Hussong’s 65.21m, Lyu’s 62.61m, and Liu’s 65.75m must have seemed to hang in the air forever, but they did not change the final order and Kelsey became the first Australian to win a World Championship gold in the throws since Dani Samuels took discus gold in Berlin in 2009.
If you’d like to learn more about Kelsey’s career and the technique that made her World Champion, join us this Thursday. Mike will break down Kelsey’s form using videos of some of her best throws. Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout. If you’d like to be part of this very special event, register here.
On Thursday, May 14 at 12:00pm CST, Mcthrows.com will present a free webinar with Mark Mirabelli, one of the country’s finest javelin coaches.
Mark was selected by the USA Olympic Committee as one of ten coaches to participate in the “Elite Javelin Coaches Camp” in San Diego. He is a nationally renowned speaker, and the owner of the “Mark Mirabelli Throwing School,” where he trains hundreds of HS and college throwers each year.
Under Mark’s tutelage, both of his sons have become outstanding javelin throwers. Christopher Mirabelli was a three-time Big Ten champion and All-American during his career at Rutgers, and Nickolas finished third at the 2019 USATF U20 Championships as a freshman at Texas A&M.
Mark, who has produced a series of “Mark Mirabelli Throwing” DVDs and has several courses on Coachtube, will detail the process he uses to help his athletes develop outstanding jav technique.
Attendees may submit questions throughout Mark’s presentation. Register here.
It all started in October of 2018 when she stabbed herself in the hand while carving a Halloween pumpkin for the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. It was her right hand, of course, her javelin hand, and she suffered nerve damage that had her “extremely worried” that her career might be over.
Which would have been a shame, since she’d thrown great at the Diamond League final in Zurich a few weeks earlier (64.75m to take third), and loved working with her current coaches, Dana Pounds Lyon and Jamie Myers.
So she had no interest in retiring, and immediately vowed “not to let this weird, accidental self-sabotage get in the way of what I had started to build with Jamie and Dana.” Luckily, the pain from the injury subsided after a few weeks, though it occasionally resurfaced at odd times (while closing the trunk of her car, for example) to remind her of how close she’d come to having her long and remarkably productive career (Kara has won eight national titles) come to a premature and embarrassing end.
One upshot of the injury was that it caused Kara to change the way she held the javelin. She dropped the “European grip” that she’d used her entire career, and adopted the “American” grip. “I worried about hand strength,” she explained. “With the European grip, you basically use three fingers. In the American grip you have all four fingers in contact with the chord, so I figured that if I had lost any strength this could help me compensate.”
It turned out that she was good at compensating. In May, Kara traveled to Chula Vista for a three-week training camp to try out the new grip. It worked just fine and, in spite of a “small, weird” calf strain that she sustained in practice, her first European trip of the 2019 season began in promising fashion with wins in Norway and Germany. She then took fourth at the Diamond League meeting in Rome with a toss of 63.11m. But the trip concluded on a sour note when she could manage a best of only 56.25m in Jena.
Kara had about three weeks at home after that, part of which she was able to spend with her husband, Russ, himself a former world class thrower who was in Wyoming for the summer guiding fishing trips. But she missed him badly when she returned to Colorado to train, and Dana, who coaches at the Air Force Academy, was busy with her collegiate throwers, so Kara was often left to practice alone and she found herself brooding over that performance in Jena.
Her confidence took another shot when her second European trip began as badly as the first had ended–a toss of 56.99m for ninth place (and no Diamond League points) in Lausanne.
She then rallied to break sixty meters in three consecutive meets, including a 62.89m toss in Luzern, but fell ill after that, struggled to maintain any rhythm in training, and ended up finishing ninth in the London Diamond League meeting on July 20th. That wrecked her chances of qualifying for the Diamond League Final.
Which was awfully disappointing after her third-place DL finish in 2018.
Kara had faced adversity before, including having to work her way back from a torn ACL suffered during the 2012 Olympic Trials. She threw in the London Olympics on that bad knee, had it surgically repaired, then fought her way back to the elite level of the sport, tossing a near PB of 66.47m in 2015.
So, she’s no wimp.
But there was something about the summer of 2019 that got her down. Maybe the shock of the Halloween injury had taken an emotional toll. Maybe all the travel was getting harder and lonelier after a decade of summers spent on the road. Maybe, with her career nearing its end, she was putting too much pressure on herself not to waste opportunities. Her determination to “carpe” all her remaining “diems” as a javelin thrower may have made it more difficult to shake off the occasional sucky diem–something that professional athletes have to be able to do.
Whatever the cause, she left Europe feeling low and desperate to–in her words–“freaking relax.”
Luckily, her next stop was Des Moines, Iowa, site of the 2019 US Championships. Des Moines has had an endorphin-inducing effect on Kara ever since she set the American record of 66.67m there in 2010. Also, Dana would be there to train with her and Russ would be there for moral support. And, it turns out that they have sensory deprivation tanks in Des Moines to help tense Iowans relax.
Sensory deprivation tanks (also known as “isolation tanks” or “flotation tanks”) come in a variety of sizes and shapes, but are basically containers of salt water large enough for a person to climb into, stretch out, and float. Some have lids that shut out all light. They were featured in a 1980 film called Altered States in which William Hurt starred as a scientist who used a deprivation tank not to relax but to devolve into a more primitive state. At one point, his colleagues open the tank and he pops out as a small caveman.
Kara’s experience was markedly different. A friend recommended that she try floating as a way to relieve stress, so she made an appointment as soon as she arrived in Des Moines. Her first ninety-minute session helped relieve some of the chronic neck pain and tightness that are the inevitable result of throwing a javelin for a living and, more importantly, allowed her to clear her head for the first time in months.
She had lunch with Dana and Jamie the next day, and the three conspired to salvage Kara’s season.
One thing they agreed on was that Kara should return to her old grip. Though the American grip allowed her to “control the angle of the javelin better,” she never quite got comfortable with it, and she and Dana decided that using her old grip might give her a better chance to “rediscover how to move through the finish.”
With only a couple of days before the women’s jav competition in Des Moines, they agreed that Kara would use the American grip one last time. With it, Kara threw 59.73m and finished second to her good friend Ariana Ince.
After that, it was off to Lima, Peru for the Pan American Games. Upon arriving in Lima, Kara had time to practice her old grip only once before blasting a season’s best 64.92m for the win.
She then returned home for a month of quality training and floating before traveling to Minsk for the US v. Europe match, which she won with a sixth-round toss of 64.63m.
Next came the World Championships. Previously, Kara’s best finish at a Worlds was eighth place in 2015. But, newly confident, newly relaxed, newly comfortable with her old grip she snagged fifth in Doha with a toss of 63.23m. No American woman had ever finished higher in the jav at Worlds.
Looking back, Kara views her week in Des Moines as the turning point to her season.
“I had a fantastic time at USA’s,” she recalled recently. “I got to hang out with my family and many of my closest friends. Ari and I hosted our first (hopefully annual) thrower party. And to have been surrounded by people I adore for an entire weekend after being disappointed in Europe for weeks was exactly what I needed.”
“I truly entered the second half of the season just wanting to have a great time with my friends at the three team meets I had left, and see what would happen if I went back to my old grip and just relaxed. I was just very done being worried and too serious all the time. I just wanted to bust out of whatever rut I was in this year, in a healthy and communicative way.”
After some time off to recover from a long and challenging season, Kara began throwing again a couple of weeks ago. She survived Halloween unscathed, and says that she is excited to be back in training. She floats regularly, and has been pleased to discover that “the warmth of the sensory deprivation tank is really nice during a Colorado winter.”
Doing her best to “remember the technical and mental things that made the end of 2019 so fun,” Kara is looking forward to taking her talents to Tokyo.
Which gives me an idea for a movie. It’s just like Altered States, except that when the scientists open the hatch on the tank, out pops a women’s javelin thrower with an Olympic medal around her neck. I know just the person to play that part.