Category Archives: Shot Put

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.

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.

“In The Ring with Coach V” by Vésteinn Hafsteinsson with D. McQuaid #13: An indoor recap.

After participating in four Olympic Games as a discus thrower, Vésteinn Hafsteinsson embarked upon a remarkably successful career as a coach, guiding shot putter Joachim Olsen to a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics, and discus great Gerd Kanter to Olympic and World Championship gold.

Vésteinn’s success has continued with his current training group, which consists of World and Olympic discus champion Daniel Ståhl, Olympic discus silver medalist Simon Pettersson, indoor European shot put silver-medalist and Olympic finalist Fanny Roos, former European U23 discus champion Sven Martin Skagestad, and Nordic Indoor shot put champion Marcus Thomsen.

“In the Ring with Coach V” features insights into how these athletes train and compete, stories from Vésteinn’s long career as an athlete and coach, and thoughts regarding the current state of the sport and how it can be improved.

In this edition, Coach V looks back on some highlights from the indoor season.

Earlier issues, including detailed accounts of Daniel, Simon, and Fanny’s experiences at the Tokyo Olympics may be found at macthrowvideo.com.

Daniel hard at work on the Pension Program

The Pension Program

When a regular person reaches the age of thirty, they are still quite young. For a professional athlete, it is a different story. The body begins to slow down a bit, and it becomes not so easy to recover from strenuous training sessions.

A nutritionist I worked with while I was coaching Gerd Kanter told me that it is probably impossible to break a world record once an athlete turns thirty. 

Daniel is twenty-nine now, and his birthday is August 27th, so if the nutritionist is correct, he has only a few more months during which he might be able to exceed Jürgen Schult’s world record of 74.08m. Jürgen set the record in 1986, then became World Champion in 1987 and Olympic Champion in 1988. This summer, Daniel will try to reverse that order. He is currently the World and Olympic Champion, and has a PB of 71.86m.

Can he reach Jürgen’s record at his advanced age? I believe he has a chance–if we manage his training correctly. That is why I have put him on the “Pension Program” in the weight room.as well as on the throwing field. 

In the Pension Program, Daniel does twenty-five or thirty percent less volume compared to previous years. The high volume phases of his training have typically featured five sets of five reps in his main lifts. There is always room for variation within those 5×5 workouts, but a typical high-volume session under his old plan would consist of twenty-five reps at between 70 and 87.5 percent. 

Most of his workouts this winter featured only three sets, and the reps were usually performed at between 55 and 75 percent. On some days we would do 5-4-3 or 5-3-1 at 70-90 percent, with the 90 percent coming on the single rep in the 5-3-1 workouts.

We have taken the same approach with throwing. For example, in previous years it was not unusual for Daniel to take fifty throws with the Denfi tool in some sessions. Now, the most he takes is thirty to thirty-five.

So far, the Pension Program seems to be good for Daniel. He actually gained strength this winter while training less. He got a PB in bench press of 210 kilograms, and did an easy single at 300k in back squat. 

The lower volume means that Daniel was always fresh enough to throw well during practice and was able to develop his technique, which at this point in his career is the key to him throwing far.

He was very happy on this program all winter, although he felt bad for Fanny  and Simon because they are at an earlier phase in their career where they still have to spend time killing themselves to build muscle.

We usually have an indoor discus competition here in Växjö in late February, which I use to evaluate how we did with our winter training. This year, the competition was on the 25th of February, and the results were good. Daniel got an official mark of 67.62m, but also two longer fouls, one of which we measured over seventy-one meters.

To me, the capacity he showed confirmed that the pension program was working. Now, we see how it goes outdoors.

The happy father with his baby girl Ronja.

A Proud Father

Congratulations to Sven Martin on the birth of his first child, a little girl named Ronja!

I coached Sven Martin mostly digitally twice a week this winter, as he was home in Norway most of the time and I was here in Växjö. He was able to come here twice for a week or two, but I did not see him in person between late January and the beginning of our California training camp on March 30th. 

During our remote sessions, Sven Martin would place his device in different spots to give me the view I needed of his technique. I have tried this with different athletes over the years, and it usually works out pretty well, although I prefer coaching live so I can jump into the ring and put the athlete into different positions. Switching to virtual coaching would be hard on Fanny, Daniel, Marcus, and Simon because they are so used to me being there in person, but Sven Martin did not live in the same town as his former coach either, so he has pretty much always been coached virtually.

The challenge for Sven Martin is to reach a point where he can throw sixty-four or sixty-five meters in no wind against good people. Then, he will be back in the game and we can start thinking about making the final at meets like the European and even the World Championships. 

He is a super smart guy, and we work well together. I would love to see him come back. He threw 65.20m in 2016, but somehow lost his feel and has not thrown a PB since. But, he is physically very gifted. Compared to Simon, Sven Martin is stronger in everything–bench, squats, snatch, you name it. One session last summer, he and Simon were throwing the Denfi tool and Sven Martin beat him by five meters. He is better than Simon in everything, except throwing the discus. 

So, it will be a good challenge to see if we can get him back on track.

Fanny getting ready to launch a season’s best throw of 19.22m in Belgrade.

Indoor Worlds

During the 2021 season, Fanny made huge breakthroughs when she finished second at the European Indoor Championships and seventh at the Olympic Games. You can read the details on her 2021 indoor season here and her outdoor season here

She did extremely well in her training this winter, with many throws over nineteen meters. She struggled, though, to reach those same distances in competitions, and it is clear that the next step for Fanny is for her to get used to competing when the focus is on her. She is very shy by nature, and has always been more comfortable in meets like in the Diamond League where there are lots of good throwers and she can kind of blend in. 

The 2022 Swedish Indoor Championships was a good example of how Fanny struggles at times. The meet was held in our facility in Växjö, where it would seem like she would be super comfortable, but she was by far the best women’s shot putter there and lots of people from her home town came to watch her, and this made her nervous. During her first four throws, she was unable to control the tension she felt and her best throw was 17.36m. When practicing every day in that same ring, she rarely threw less than 18.80m, so we were both pretty frustrated.

Before her final throw, I told her I wanted to test something. I said, “Focus on one thing–have your backswing one meter further back.” I was exaggerating, but the idea was to make her backswing as long and slow as possible so she would stop rushing into the throw. 

Then she had her best throw, 18.95m, for a new Swedish Indoor Championships record. 

The World Indoor Championships was three weeks later, on March 18th, and I was pretty confident that Fanny would throw well because, as I said, she was doing great in training, but also because she would be more comfortable throwing against the top women instead of her being the focus of everyone’s attention.

She threw 18.66m on her first attempt, which made me happy because it would probably get her in the top eight. It ended up taking 18.20m to advance to the final three rounds.

I believe she was in fifth place going into her third throw, and then she moved into second with a season’s best of 19.22m. 

Fanny ended up finishing fourth behind Auriol Dongmo (20.43m), Chase Ealey (20.21m), and Jessica Schilder (19.48m), but I was very happy with how she performed. This was the third major championships in a row where she finished in the top eight, and she showed once again that she now throws her best on the biggest stage. 

She went back into heavy training shortly after the Indoor Worlds, and we are very excited about her prospects for the summer. 

Celebrating after a fine performance at Indoor Worlds.

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.

Keep Calm and Rock On! Chase Ealey finds her chill in the UK

That does not look like Arizona.

If I told you that three-time United States shot put champion Chase Ealey has ditched the sunny skies of Arizona and chosen instead to train in the dripping cold of jolly old England, you’d think I’d gone barmy, wouldn’t you?

You might even tell me to “Sod off!” and refer to me hereafter as a “cheeky wanker.”

Couldn’t blame you if you did, but facts are facts and not only has Chase decamped to the UK, but she’s feeling and throwing better than she has in years, which is brilliant news for throws fans even if it might be a load of tosh for her competitors.

Here’s how this all came about.

Chase, you may recall, was one of the great stories of the 2019 season. Working with two-time World Indoor champion Ryan Whiting, she transformed herself from a decent glider with an 18.46m PB into a rotational arse-beater. By year’s end, she was US indoor and outdoor champion and had raised her PB to 19.68m. She also made competing overseas against top competition seem easy peasy lemon squeezy by winning her first ever Diamond League meeting with a 19.58m bomb in Shanghai, and notching that 19.68m PB at the DL Final in Zurich.

Chase in 2019 winning her first ever Diamond League meet.

That’s a gobsmacker of a season, and no one could blame Chase for thinking her momentum might continue through the World Championships in Doha.

“I don’t even want to set my goal at simply making it onto the podium,” she told a reporter that summer when asked about her outlook regarding the Worlds. “I want to win.”

It’s rare for a thrower to approach his or her best marks at their first World Championships or Olympics. Similar to getting married or having an MRI, one’s initial experience at a meet of that magnitude can be disorienting. Subsequent attempts usually go better.

It didn’t help that the environment in Doha was so strange. The intense heat made venturing out during daylight hours a dodgy proposition. Most athletes trained in the evening, but even then the humidity was such that putters had a hard time just keeping the shot against their neck while spinning. Then, the competition took place in an air-conditioned open-air stadium. Try saying that three times fast. Perhaps most disorienting was the fact that the Worlds were held in October, making the 2019 season a good five or six weeks longer than normal. When Chase stepped into the ring for the qualification round, eight months had passed since she’d won Indoor Nationals.

That’s a long road to travel, and under the circumstances making the final and finishing seventh was an accomplishment. But Chase felt disappointed at “only” throwing 18.82m after routinely surpassing nineteen meters all season, and she was still brooding about it when Covid showed up and turned the world inside out.

She still managed to throw 19.41m during the weird, truncated 2020 season, but a case of long Covid in the winter of 2020/2021 caused her bodyweight to drop by twenty-five kilograms in two months and robbed her of the vitality and explosiveness that had carried her through that magnificent 2019 campaign.

She entered the 2021 Olympic Trials as the defending US champion, a title she’d captured in 2019 by throwing 19.56m in the pouring rain in Des Moines, but she no longer had, in her words, “the same oomph” that had enabled her to easily blast throws over nineteen meters.

Much of her confidence was gone as well after all those months of feeling wretched, and Chase finished fifth at the Trials with a best of 18.39m. It was a pretty good throw considering her physical and mental state, but she felt gutted. Keep in mind that had Covid not intervened and she’d gone into a 2020 Olympic Games healthy, Chase might well have contended for a gold medal. Now, with the delayed Games finally happening a year later, she would not even be on the team.

The next month, she threw a 19.45m season’s best and also competed a few times in Europe, but nothing could assuage her disappointment. To make matters worse, her best friend and training partner Nick Ponzio left Whiting’s Desert High Performance group.

Long story short, she rolled into the winter of 2021/2022 feeling lousy.

One bright spot of the past two years was a growing friendship with the British putter Sophie McKinna. The two met at the 2019 Worlds and crossed paths regularly when Chase competed overseas.

This past January, Chase decided to join Sophie in England for a three week training camp. Initially, she had no intentions of staying there long term, but says that “after a week we were like ‘Holy shit, we train together really well!'”

One day, Chase and Sophie were throwing at the Loughborough High Performance Center when the British men’s shot put champion Scott Lincoln showed up accompanied by his long time coach, Paul Wilson.

Coach Wilson saw that Chase was struggling with her technique and “throwing it all over the place,” so he asked if she’d mind a suggestion or two.

She did not mind, and they quickly developed a nice rapport. Chase describes Paul as “very chill,” and says that she works well with “chillaxed people.”

Before long, Chase visited Paul at his home base in York, and they drew up plans. Paul would take over her coaching in the ring and in the weight room. They’d train together in person whenever possible, and virtually in between the live sessions.

“The video sessions actually work well,” she says. “We have Paul on a tripod, and we move him around whenever he needs a different view.”

One aspect of Paul’s coaching that Chase especially appreciates is that he expects collaboration on the part of the athlete.

Paul describes the coach/athlete relationship as a “partnership” and says that “you have to talk and communicate. You can’t dictate what they need to do and how to do it. They are adults. I say to Scott and Chase all the time, ‘You tell me what you think we should work on.'” 

Paul is also careful to explain the rationale behind any suggestions he makes.

According to Chase, “He will tell me why I am doing stuff, which makes me feel more comfortable. It makes it easier to trust the process. He really cares about my input in the ring and in the weight room, which is nice.”

He also does his best to maintain a stress free environment. “We’re just here to train and encourage each other,” he says. “That’s the main mentality in my group, and I think that’s helping Chase. She’s also getting pushed every day by Sophie, which has been good for her, too.”

Scott Lincoln with coach Paul Wilson.

It didn’t take Chase long to realize that the situation she’d found in England was just what she needed.

When we spoke recently, she made it clear that she wasn’t looking to get away from Ryan Whiting and Desert High Performance. There was just something about training with Sophie and Paul in an entirely new environment that made her feel refreshed. And Whiting was supportive of the move.

According to Chase, Ryan told her that “as an athlete, you know when you need to make a change.” He recommended that she make the move now rather than wasting valuable time dithering over the decision. “Your career is short,” he advised her. “If something needs to happen, it has to happen now. Don’t wait.”

With Whiting’s blessing, she and Paul got to work on shoring up her technique, mainly by establishing a more balanced entry position.

According to Paul, the goal is for Chase to “rotate around the spine” as she moves left at the back of the ring. “I stand behind her and hold up my hand, and she has to go out and around me. She used to pull her left shoulder down on her entry, which threw her off balance. That’s the main thing, getting more consistent out of the back.”

Chase agreed that this was a weakness in her technique. “Remember,” she says, “I was a sprinter before I was a thrower, so my instinct out of the back was to sort of drop down and charge like a sprinter.”

She and Whiting made a conscious decision to leave her entry as it was when she started throwing far in 2019. They planned to set about fixing it after that season, but with the disappointment of her seventh-place finish at the World Championships and the difficulties brought on by the pandemic, her head was never in the right place to endure a painstaking technique renovation.

This January though, the time seemed right. “I’m much more open to working on things now,” she says. “And when you are open mentally to making changes, they actually work.”

Proof came when Chase hit marks of 19.21m and 19.20m on consecutive weekends earlier this month.

Chase with a nice toss in Sweden on February 12th.

The plan now is to qualify for the Indoor Worlds by finishing in the top two at the USATF Indoor Nationals this coming weekend. After that, she’ll focus on getting ready for the Outdoor Nationals and hopefully another crack at a World Championships medal.

Paul, for one, thinks she can do it. He says that “During the last two or three weeks, her technique has been more consistent, and she’s been smiling. When she smiles during training, it shows she has confidence in what we are doing, which gives me the confidence to say she is going to throw far.”

If nothing else, Chase has endured some rough times physically and mentally and made it through. Now she’s ready to show that 2019 was just the first act of what promises to be a cracking good career.

That’s kind of a fun story, init mate?

Chase and Sophie McKinna have seven national titles between them.

  

.

Sometimes, the best Laid Plans…work.

At the 2018 US Championships in Des Moines, the women’s shot shaped up as a battle between Maggie Ewen and Raven Saunders over who would represent the future of the event in this country. Raven came in as the defending US champion with a PB of 19.76m. Maggie, a phenomenally successful NCAA thrower in the shot, disc, and hammer, had stretched her PB out to 19.46m earlier in the season. 

I had barely sat down to enjoy the show when a thrower I did not recognize spun her first attempt out past the nineteen-meter line. “Who was that?” I asked the folks sitting around me. “Jessica Ramsey,” came the reply, which did not help. Some frantic Googling revealed that her season’s best the year before had been a whopping 17.76m. The year before that she’d gone 17.74m. Now, suddenly, she was the early leader and a likely medalist at the US Championships with a toss of 19.23m. How in the world, I sat there wondering, did that happen?

Here’s how.

Ramsey, it turns out, was a former glider who threw for Ashley Muffet (now Ashley Kovacs–yes, that Ashley Kovacs) at Western Kentucky, then joined John Smith’s group of post-collegiate throwers first in Carbondale, Illinois, and then Oxford, Mississippi where he still resides as the throws coach at Ole Miss.

A two-year tug of war ensued, with Smith trying to convince the 5’6” Ramsey that her future lay in converting to the rotational technique and Ramsey sometimes acquiescing, sometimes pushing back. (I describe those days in more detail in a piece you can find here.)  

The huge toss in Des Moines finally settled matters, but afterwards, Ramsey slipped back into a state of semi-anonymity, posting season’s bests of 19.01m in 2019 and 18.64m last season.

She sometimes had trouble with a balky left knee, she struggled to balance a full time job delivering for Insomnia Cookies with the full time training necessary to reach her potential, and looking back Ramsey admits that during the long months of the pandemic she “sometimes lost focus a little.”

But Smith is not one to lose focus, and he was able to secure access to an abandoned sportsplex outside of Oxford where his post-collegiates could continue throwing. There, Ramsey worked endlessly to improve her technique.

Smith also used what was essentially twelve months of off-season training to experiment with set/rep schemes in the weight room in an effort to discern what type of program might bring out the best in each of his throwers when they would need it the most.

In the days leading up to the Trials, I checked results for possible podium contenders, and it was hard to tell based on Ramsey’s season so far, whether or not she was ready to battle for a spot on the team. She produced a huge 19.50m toss indoors in February, but then slipped back into the mid-to-upper eighteen-meter range in all of her outdoor meets. 

Was she injured? Struggling with motivation?

“No,” explained Smith. “All spring we were doing hard training, and she still threw over sixty-one feet in every meet, so I was very happy.”

“Hard training” in Smith’s world means–in addition to lifting–lots of non-reverse throws into a net using a variety of implements. 

“She lived in the net,” Smith recalls. “We did non-reverse throws with light and heavy shots practice after practice.”

Those were tough workouts, especially on mornings after Ramsey had worked until 1:00 or 2:00am. But, she persevered.

In March, Smith shared with Ramsey the plan he had drawn up to get her on the podium at the Trials. It reflected his years of experience guiding his wife Connie (now head coach at Ole Miss) and Raven Saunders, whom he mentored to a fifth-place finish in Rio but no longer trains.

“It was a good plan,” Smith said recently. “But, in order for it to work you have to have an athlete that buys in, and she did one hundred percent.”

A vital component of the plan was preparing Ramsey to compete in qualification and final rounds on the same day. Several weeks before the Trials, Smith arranged her workouts so that she threw twice on certain days–once in the morning and again in the evening, as would be the case at the Trials.

At first, Ramsey struggled with that practice pattern. Smith says that for a while, “her numbers were all over the place. Sometimes she’d throw well in the morning, and sometimes at night.”

Eventually, she adapted and was able to consistently produce far throws in both sessions.

She looked great warming up for the qualification round in Eugene, producing a non-reverse throw in the 18.50m range.

“After seeing that,” Smith says, “ I asked ‘Are you sure you don’t want to just non-reverse this and make the final?’ but she said no.”

Instead, Ramsey used her full technique to power her first throw out to 18.82m and then packed it in to prepare for the final.

Smith described her as looking a bit “shaky” warming up that evening, but at some point she launched another 18.50m non-reverse, after which Connie advised her husband to “leave her alone. She knows what she’s doing.”

Truer words.

Ramsey opened with a 19.45m that was very likely to put her on the team, but Smith knew she had more in her. He reminded her that there were several women in the field capable of throwing that far, and admonished her to “keep pushing.”

If Ramsey was feeling any kind of letdown, her friend and former training partner Saunders snapped her out of it by blasting a 19.96m PB in round three.

Once she threw that,” Ramsey recalled afterwards, “I was like ‘That’s what I’m talking about!’  Then I had to zone in.”

She responded to Raven’s challenge by blasting a new Trials record of 20.12m.

“I did not know it was that big a throw,” Ramsey recalled afterwards. “But, they always say the best throws are the ones that don’t feel like they are going far.”

Smith remembers telling Ramsey in March that “we are going to stick to our plan no matter what, and at the end you should have the stuff to make the team.”

They did and she did. 

Now it’s time for a new plan. Maybe they’ll call this one “Operation Olympic Gold.”