Rachel Dincoff’s first experience in the sport of track and field was as a 200-meter runner. She recalls being “relatively” fast, not “crazy fast,” and since she was tall for her age someone suggested she try the discus.
That was in the seventh grade.
She liked the discus just fine, and after participating in a few meets, decided to make it her life’s work.
“I will,” she informed her teachers, “be doing this in the Olympics some day.”
For that to happen, though, Rachel had to get really good at the discus. Not relatively good. Crazy good.
But for a long time, that did not appear likely. She did not break one hundred feet in middle school, and her high school PB was 143’7”. Val Allman, by way of comparison, she threw 184’2″ in high school.
After a year at Indiana University Purdue University – Fort Wayne (IPFW), Rachel transferred to Auburn where she put together a relatively good collegiate career scoring a ton of points for the Tigers, and making Second-Team All-American in the shot and disc. She graduated in 2016 with a PB of 55.80m and a burning conviction that she could be a great thrower if she could just hang in there long enough.
Meanwhile, Sandra Perkovic won the Olympics that year with a throw of 69.21m.
Rachel persuaded former world class discus thrower Doug Reynolds to become her coach, and began making the two-and-a-half hour drive to Tuscaloosa (Reynolds coached at the University of Alabama at the time) four days a week.
After a year, Reynolds accepted the head job at the University of New Mexico and offered to help Rachel find another coach. But Rachel knew that Reynolds shared her belief in her potential, and she was not ready to part ways.
“What day would you like me to report to New Mexico?” she asked.
She broke the sixty-meter barrier for the first time in 2018–a major milestone for a discus thrower–but a year later, after tinkering with her technique to “make it look like other throwers,” she lost her feel and fouled out of the US Championships.
For someone trying to hang on in the sport and maybe qualify for a bit of funding to supplement her earnings as a bartender/waitress/retail salesperson, that was a disaster.
But she and Reynolds went back to the desert and used the Covid year to hone a technical approach that felt comfortable for her and would–they hoped–hold up under the stress of a big competition.
Their work paid off when she surpassed the Olympic qualifying distance with a throw of 64.41m in May, but the real test came during the finals at this year’s Trials, by far the most stressful moment of her career.
According to Reynolds, “Not a single one of her warm up throws was any good. She fouled her first competition throw, which was a duck, threw a pop-up fifty-seven meters, then fouled the third one.”
“Those were not,” Rachel said afterwards, “the throws I imagined myself having here.”
That second throw–it was actually 57.74m—bought her three more, but she entered round four in seventh place.
Reynolds says that adrenaline was causing her to rush her entry. “She was a little anxious into and off of the corner, and wasn’t setting up her drive phase really well. She has a tendency to let her left arm pop up when she gets excited, and that makes her technique too rotational. She has to stay down and drive into the ring.”
He reminded Rachel about the left arm, and that simple cue did the trick as she moved up to fourth place with a toss of 59.35m. A throw of 60.21m in round five vaulted her into third, but she fouled her final attempt then had to stand by and wait. Long story short, if Kelsey Card and Whitney Ashley both jumped ahead of her on their final throws, Rachel would be off the squad for Tokyo.
They did not, and now Rachel is one of only thirty-four women in the entire world who will get to throw the discus at the Tokyo Games. Now that’s crazy.
Festival of Javs
Tom Pukstys believes that under the right conditions, people will throw the javelin far.
Those conditions include summer weather, fervent fans, and an enthusiastic announcer. All of those elements were present at the American Jav Fest in beautiful East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, a couple of weeks ago, and the results were outstanding.
Thirty-three percent of the entire field, according to Pukstys, produced PRs.
One of them, Michael Shuey, ended up ripping his shirt off, an appropriate response to breaking the eighty-five-meter barrier in front of a couple of dozen family members.
The atmosphere. The relatives. The fact that Curtis Thompson had just jumped ahead of him into first place with a toss of of 81.04m. All this, according to Pukstys, factored into Shuey’s breakthrough.
“When he stepped up for his last throw, the table was set,” says Pukstys, “and he went to dinner. He ran faster, pushed himself to the limit, and just whaled on that throw.”
“Where did that come from?” he asked Shuey aftwards.
“I don’t know,” replied Shuey. “I just had it inside me.”
Pukstys is optimistic that Shuey’s breakthrough is just that and not a one-off.
‘I think Michael’s got a great chance of throwing that again in Tokyo,’ he opined. “And Curtis is in eighty-five meter shape as well. He’s going to get mad and show us what he’s made of.”
In an ordinary year, shirtless Shuey would have been the highlight of the weekend, but this is no ordinary year. For the first time in forever, an American woman is among the javelin favorites going into an Olympic Games.
That woman is Maggie Malone, and after lofting a few (in the words of Pukstys) “mediocre” warm up throws, she crushed her first attempt in the competition.
When it landed, she looked at Tom and said, “That’s really far.”
“Yes,” he replied. “We are going to have to get you drug tested.”
The throw was 67.40m, a new American record…if Pukstys could arrange a drug test within the required ninety minutes. With the help of a local doctor, the good folks at USADA, and the staff at a nearby hospital, they managed to pull it off.
If Malone can reproduce that throw in Tokyo, the next time she gets drug tested she may well have a gold medal hanging from her neck.
“No one is better than her mentally right now,” says Pukstys. “I think she’s capable of a world record.”
I was under the impression that athletes and coaches would be allowed very little freedom of movement in the Olympic village due to Covid restrictions, but apparently that is not the case.
A coach who is currently there in the village told me that other than the mask-wearing and daily testing requirements, life at this Olympic Games is not much different than others he has attended.
Folks are free to move about and mingle with competitors from other countries, including in a cafeteria large enough to hold hundreds of diners.
How this will affect the issue of contract tracing when an athlete tests positive, as the American pole vaulter Sam Kendricks did yesterday, remains to be seen.