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?
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.”
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.”
First time in history that five putters hit at least 21.84m.
Joe Kovacs showed that, as was the case in the weeks leading up to the 2019 Worlds, he is rounding into form at the perfect time.
Payton Otterdahl seized the mantle as the next potentially great American shot putter.
Oh, and Ryan Crouser broke the world record.
He foreshadowed that with a first-round toss of 22.92m in the morning qualification round, and I was very surprised to see him step in the ring for a second attempt after he had emphatically secured his place in the final. Turns out, he was thinking he might be able to get the record then and there.
“I used a static start on the first throw,” he explained after the final. “Not my usual windup and shift. A static start is safer–less can go wrong, and the point this morning was to qualify for the final. But, that 22.92m was a massive PR with the static start, so I thought I could put a little bit more on it…but then I tightened up on the second throw and only hit 22.64m. After that, I realized that World Athletics has a new rule that they take your shoes after a world record, so I wouldn’t have the right shoes for the final, so I decided to call it after that second throw.”
Yes, you read that correctly. He had to intentionally hold off on breaking the world record so that World Athletics did not take his shoes.
If you are asking yourself what in the hell is going on with the sport of shot putting, if maybe we’ve entered a very weird alternate universe where a guy can choose whether he wants to break a thirty-two-year-old record in the morning or the evening, imagine for a second how Joe Kovacs must feel. His best effort today of 22.34m was a monster toss, the kind of distance that only the best of the best have achieved, further evidence that Joe might in fact be the best putter that ever lived…if not for Crouser, who beat him by over a meter.
Joe, by the way, remains confident. “I’m slow playing this season,” he said after the final. “My job here was to punch the ticket to Tokyo. I love to go crazy, but I had to keep myself regulated. Now, I’m excited to go to Tokyo.”
The drama here turned out to be the battle for third. Darrell Hill, the favorite to take that spot and a man who might one day be recognized as an all time great himself, struggled just enough to let Otterdahl, who afterwards would call this the “best day of my life” snach it from him.
Not that Darrell made it easy. His 21.13m seemed like it might have been enough to disabuse the youngsters like Otterdahl, Jordan Geist, Josh Awotunde, and Andrew Liskowitz of any notion that they might contend for a spot on the podium, but the youngsters just kept coming.
Otterdahl answered with 21.30m to seize the third spot, Darrell came back with 21.24m, Otterdahl fouled a throw near the 22.00m line, Darrell knocked him out of third with a fifth-round 21.89m, and Otterdahl came right back with a 21.92m PB that held up as Darrell finished with a foul.
Meanwhile, the other young bucks did not sit idly by. Awotunde finished with a PB of 21.84m, Liskowitz a season’s best of 20.97m, and Geist a season’s best of 20.80m.
All, too, can say they were part of history, as can the sport’s own mountain man, the venerable Kurt Jensen who himself hit a season’s best of 20.62m before being given the unenviable task of taking the throw just after Crouser’s record. He responded with a toss of 19.99m, a world class distance and a mere eleven feet short of Crouser’s mark.
Back to Otterdahl, his achievement on this night was all the more remarkable considering that he’d struggled to find his form all season, and as recently as May 22nd turned in a 20.25m clunker that got him tenth at the USATF Throws Fest.
In the intervening weeks, he and his coach, Justin St.Clair, spent some quality time ironing out a few technical flaws, the fixing of which, in the words of Justin, “boosted the mental confidence.”
There is much else to report from this momentous Day One of the Trials, including a seventy-meter bombola from Val Allman, but that will have to wait for another day.
Right now, it is off to sleep for me, and likely a night filled with dreams of Joe Kovacs, Ryan Crouser, Payton Otterdahl, going crazy, godzilla style on the rest of the field in Tokyo.
Andy Bloom, one of history’s greatest shot/disc doublers, and his coach, Scott Bennett, will appear on a free Mcthrows.com webinar Saturday, June 20th at 12:00pm CST.
After winning the 1996 NCAA title in both events, Andy and Scott had trouble deciding which he should focus on as a pro, so they stuck with both. He ended up with PB’s of 21.82m and 67.46m in a marvelous career that took him all over the world, including to the Sydney Olympics where he finished fourth in the shot.
In this presentation, Andy and Scott will break down Andy’s technique and talk about their journey together.
Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout the webinar. Register here.
American record holder Lance Deal recently appeared on a Mcthrows.com webinar to discuss the fine art of hammer throwing. Whether demonstrating concepts from the comfort of his home office or breaking down film of himself and other hammer greats, Lance did his best to help us understand the approach that won him the silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games. You may access that video here.
Also available, is a recent session in which Colorado State University coach Brian Bedard examined the process by which shot putter Tarynn Sieg went from throwing 14.19m as a high school glider, to 17.44m her sophomore year of college using the rotational technique. Brian shared that journey using lots of interesting vids taken along the way. You may access his presentation here.
Check back soon for information on upcoming webinars!
When I first started coaching, John Godina was the best shot putter in the world, so I assumed my job was to get my athletes to throw like him. Technically, I mean. The way he set up at the back. The timing of his right leg sweep. The narrow power position.
Then Adam Nelson came along with a technique that looked nothing like Godina’s.
Nelson was followed by Reese Hoffa, who turned out of the back on his left heel. Then came Christian Cantwell, who seemed unable to bend his knees.
Each of these gents threw twenty-two meters and won major championships with very different technique.
And remember the old saying “many roads lead to Rome”? The same could be said last summer of the medal stand in Doha which Joe Kovacs, Ryan Crouser and Tom Walsh each ascended by putting their own unique spin on the spin technique.
So, what is a coach to make of this? How, when watching all these throwers launch bombs in a variety of ways, do we decide which of their technical quirks are worth emulating?
On Thursday, April 23rd at 7:00pm CST, Joe Frontier, the outstanding throws coach at Madison (WI) Memorial High School and the Madison Throws Club, will help us sort this matter out when he appears on the next Mcthrows.com webinar.
Joe’s presentation will be titled “Choosing a Technical Model for Your Throwers.” In it, he will show us how to differentiate between the sound fundamentals exhibited by world class throwers–fundamentals that we should encourage our athletes to imitate–and the idiosyncrasies that only a human of truly freakish ability could get away with.
Joe is one of the most successful throws coaches in the country today, and I encourage you to take the opportunity to learn from him. Attendees may submit questions throughout his presentation. Register here.
In his spare time, Joe also hosts a throws podcast featuring interviews with some of the best throwers and throws coaches in the world. Check them out at Throw Big Throw Far.com.
The Odyssey, Homer’s epic poem, tells the story of Odysseus, a Greek noble who proves himself the greatest of all warriors during the conquest of Troy, but then for ten years is prevented from returning to his homeland, Ithaca, by the god Poseidon. It is a long, humbling journey, but in the end he finds salvation in the unbreakable fortitude of his wife, Penelope.
The Odyssey of Joe Kovacs began late in the summer of 2017, after a three-year run during which he’d established himself as one of the great shot putters of all time. He was twenty-eight years old, had tossed a PB of 22.57m earlier that season and appeared, outwardly at least, to be at the top of his game.
But there were gravitational forces at work behind the scenes in the sport and in Joe’s life, forces as powerful as the invisible hand of Poseidon. They would make the next two years the most challenging of Joe’s career.
Some of those forces were exerted by Joe’s planet-sized rival, Ryan Crouser, whose record-setting performance in Rio seemed to confirm suspicions that once a really big dude (Crouser is listed as 6’7”) figured out the rotational technique, the shot putting landscape would be irrevocably altered.
John Smith predicted such a moment in an article titled “Working the Earth” published in the old Long and Strong Thrower’s Journal in October of 2003. The article was inspired by Smith’s efforts to make the 6’6”, 330-pound Dan Taylor into a successful rotational putter. In it, he muses on the whole glide versus spin battle, details his training methods with Taylor, then concludes by writing…
Even though the rotational technique in the past has been a great equalizer for the smaller man to compete with the bigger man, I believe the evolution of the event is going to favor bigger men…if they can develop a move with good ground contact and leg action and learn to stay back and contained, I can envision the same throwing that we saw during the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s. The long throws will happen, there is no doubt in my mind.
Art Venegas, arguably the best and most influential rotational shot coach the sport has produced, was also attuned at that time to the possibilities of a very large man mastering the spin. In a conversation I had with him this past October, Art recalled his impressions of the young and very large (6’10”) Carl Myerscough who he first came across in the late ‘90’s while coaching at UCLA and still describes as “the best young putter” he’s ever seen. “I never recruited foreigners,” Art remembered, “but I made an exception with Myerscough because I wanted the world to see what was possible.”
Myerscough did become a rotational putter, but he ended up throwing at Nebraska, where he won indoor and outdoor NCAA titles during a career marred by injuries and doping violations. He retired with a PB of 21.92m, but Art believes that Myerscough had possessed the raw potential to throw eighty feet clean.
Art left UCLA in 2009 without having the chance to unleash a giant spinner on the unsuspecting shot put world, but in 2013 he began what would turn out to be a remarkably successful partnership with the more conventionally-sized (6’0″, 295lbs) Joe Kovacs.
Joe took up residence at the Chula Vista training center and quickly flourished under Art’s tutelage. In 2014, he broke twenty-two meters and won his first national title. In 2015, he upped his PB to 22.56m at a Diamond League meet in Monaco and then won the World title in Beijing.
Joe remained the best thrower on the planet for most of the summer of 2016, winning Diamond League meets with twenty-two-meter-plus throws in May (the Prefontaine), June (Oslo) and July (London).
His 21.95m at the Olympic Trials easily put him on the team for Rio, but it was at those Trials that Crouser, who’d had an unremarkable season to that point, hit his stride throwing 22.11m for the win.
Then came Rio, where Crouser’s 22.52m took out the previous Olympic record of 22.47m set by Ulf Timmerman–a product of the East German state doping program–in 1988. Thus did Venegas and Smith’s premonitions about a giant-sized rotational putter finally come to fruition.
Crouser was only twenty-three years old at the time, and it seemed possible that he was about to take shot putting to a whole new level. Joe finished second behind Crouser at the Olympics with a put of 21.78m–a distance that would have won every Games from 1992-2008. In Rio, did not get him to within two feet of the gold.
Venegas, who had seen Crouser up close during practice sessions in Chula Vista, described him as “the most intelligent, coordinated, focused thrower I’ve ever seen.” Not that he was unbeatable. Crouser demonstrated in the 2017 Worlds (where he finished sixth) that he was capable of having a bad day. But watching him ease his way through the ring in Chula Vista and repeatedly drop practice throws on the twenty-two meter line, it was easy for Art to picture a not-so-distant future where it might take twenty-three meters to win a major championship.
That prospect gave Joe and Art a lot to think about in the summer of 2017. For the past two decades, the rotational technique had served as, to use Smith’s words, “the great equalizer,” allowing Joe and other throwers his size to successfully compete against 6’7” gliders. But now, here was a 6’7” dude who seemed to have mastered the spin.
How could Joe counter?
It turns out that the 2017 Worlds provided a clue. Joe defeated Crouser in London, taking silver with a toss of 21.66m. But the winner that night was Tom Walsh of New Zealand—another compactly-built spinner—who, in concert with his coach Dale Stevenson, may have shown a way forward for the stubby folk.
Tom joined the twenty-two meter club in 2016 when he was twenty-four years old. He finished third in Rio behind Crouser and Joe. In London, he threw a season’s best 22.14m in the prelims before taking the gold with a sixth-round 22.03m in the final.
Those fine performances in high pressure situations announced Tom as a force to be reckoned with, and his gregarious personality made him easy to root for. But what was most intriguing about Tom was his technique. He and Dale had modified what might be called “standard” rotational form by having Tom set up for the throw with his left foot at twelve o’clock and his right foot staggered back about half way between the edge and the center point of the circle. Tom began his throws by sweeping his left arm open aggressively then whipping his right leg around from that stepped-back position. The super long path of that right leg allowed Tom to generate tremendous speed as he yanked it back in to the center of circle. When successfully transferred to the shot, that speed created the potential for massive throws.
Tom’s victory in London raised the possibility that he and Dale had figured out a way to restore the rotational advantage to those compact and nimble enough to make a similar adjustment.
The question Joe and Art faced was whether to stay the course with Joe–he had, after all won a world title just two years earlier–or embark on an experimental path that might give him the means to defeat Crouser going forward.
They chose to experiment, and decided to have Joe start his throws from a position that Joe’s wife and current coach, Ashley, describes as “facing a full ninety degrees to the right” of a normal setup.
Art described their approach as “looking at what Walsh did but taking it a step further.”
He was convinced that if Joe could get comfortable with this adjustment and then “catch it just right” one day, he might well throw eighty feet. “It adds more distance to the movement,” Art explained. “Like the regular spin gives you more range than the glide.”
Even under the best of circumstances though, altering Joe’s technique (which had been ingrained by many thousands of throws over many years) was a risky gambit.
When we spoke this fall, I mentioned to Art that David Storl–who glided his way to two World titles and an Olympic silver medal–had in 2018 considered changing to the rotational technique. Art acknowledged the difficulty of a world class thrower making that change in the span of a single off-season. “You can’t just try it,” he cautioned. “A guy like that has to be taught for six to eight months, and he can’t even see a toeboard. He’s got to be given drills and do turns with a barbell and never even pick up a shot for a while.”
The challenge that Joe faced in altering his starting position may not have been as daunting as that faced by a veteran glider switching to the spin, but there was still no way of predicting how long it would take him to get to the point where he could regularly “catch it just right.”
And as a man who makes his living throwing the shot, Joe did not have the option of taking the 2018 season off to concentrate on perfecting his new technique.
But with no Worlds or Olympics in 2018, they felt like they had a window leading up to the 2019 Worlds in which to implement the changes. Joe would still compete in 2018, but his emphasis would be on mastering his new approach.
At that point, however, another gravitational force intervened, this time exerted by the planet Life.
Joe and Ashley (at the time Ashley Muffet) had for some time been involved in a serious relationship, and with Ashley settled in as the immensely successful throws coach at Ohio State University, it became clear that it was time for Joe to relocate to Columbus.
Joe made the move that winter, with the idea that Art would coach him remotely. Ashley says that “at the time when he came here, we never talked about me coaching him. I would watch his practices, but I didn’t have a whole lot to add to it because what they were doing with the new technique was truly an experiment. It was nothing I had ever seen before, so I didn’t feel comfortable weighing in.”
Joe did not compete during the 2018 indoor season. He lived and trained in Columbus with occasional trips to work with Art in person. As the outdoor campaign began, he wasn’t comfortable enough with his new technique to use it in competition, so he continued working on it in practice while occasionally switching back to his “normal” technique for meets.
He tore a groin muscle working on the new setup early in the outdoor season, then switched back to his old technique ten days prior to the 2018 Prefontaine Classic, where he finished eighth with a throw of 20.36m.
Joe and Ashley then traveled to Los Angeles the week before the 2018 US Championships so he and Art could resume work on the new technique. Joe finished fifth at those Championships, using his old technique to produce a best of 20.74m.
The experiment continued that winter until finally, in December of 2018, they all agreed that it would be best for Joe to return full time to his old style of throwing.
Art says that he realized that it was unfair to Ashley and Joe to ask them to continue with the experiment when it became apparent that “it couldn’t work fast enough.”
They all decided that Joe should go back to basics, to hitting the positions that had helped Joe become World champion in the first place. This was an approach in which Ashley felt much more comfortable taking an active roll. “Besides,” she said later, “the way he was throwing at that point, I didn’t think I could make things any worse.”
It turned out, though, that switching back to his old technique was not an easy thing for Joe to do. He struggled to find his rhythm, opening in January with a 20.77m toss at a meet in New York, followed by a 20.86m mark at the Millrose Games and then a humiliating 19.52m at a meet in Columbus on February 15th.
He rebounded to finish second at the Indoor Nationals with a throw of 21.40m, but Crouser’s winning toss of 22.22m was a stark reminder of how far Joe still had to go to get back into the upper echelon of the sport.
According to Ashley, the struggle to regain his form was at times so discouraging that Joe questioned if he should continue competing.
He now had a house, a wife, an “adult life he hadn’t had before.” Maybe it was time to move on.
Had Joe fallen in love with anyone else, his career may well have ended last winter. But, like Penelope, Ashley turned out to be a woman of great strength. It also helped that she was a world class throws coach.
Art had met Ashley when she did a coaching internship at Chula Vista, and what he saw convinced him that she was going to become one of the best in the business and “change the landscape for women coaches.”
With Joe fighting to salvage his career, Ashley proved Art correct.
Her first priority was to get Joe to forget about the past, forget about the future, forget about everything except the things he could do to get a little bit better every day. “It was hard to see Joe miserable,” she recalled later. “But, I tell my Ohio State kids that if they are upset about how they’re doing, they need to fix it. I ask them why they think they deserve to throw far if they hit terrible positions or their rhythm is terrible. Stop complaining and fix it. That’s not an easy thing to say to your husband, by the way.”
“But, I told Joe that he had to forget about what Ryan or Darrell Hill were throwing. He had to pretend like he wasn’t even in the mix. Everyone thought he was washed up, and he hated that because one of the things he likes the most about throwing is the competing aspect. He loves to put on a show and do things people don’t think he can do.”
“I told him, ‘Yes, you’ve thrown 22.50m, but right now you’re throwing twenty meters in practice. You have to accept that and build yourself up from there.’”
In spite of opening outdoors with four consecutive meets under twenty-one meters (including a 19.77m clunker in Stockholm) Joe listened and persevered.
And as the season wore on, there were hopeful signs. Ashley recalls “a lot of meets where there were twenty-two meter fouls or warm-ups, so we knew it was there.” One of those meets was the 2019 Prefontaine Classic where Joe finished fifth with a throw of 21.39m but said afterwards that seeing the ball travel twenty-two meters even in warm-ups gave him hope that a breakthrough was coming.
It came three weeks later at the US Championships in Des Moines where his first three throws traveled 21.99m, 22.00m, and 22.31m.
This, according to Ashley, was the “turning point.”
“We were happy,” she recalls. “But we knew he had at least another fifty centimeters in him.”
Joe finished second to Crouser’s 22.62m at USA’s, but a month later hit 22.11m in Paris.
His last meet before Worlds was the Diamond League Final in Brussels where he suffered a major setback, finishing eighth with a best of 20.60m. Ashley says that “he didn’t like that a bit, but I kept telling him ‘it doesn’t matter. Stay focused.’”
Before Joe left for Doha, Art reminded him that “he has a better history of winning medals in big meets than any of those guys.”
Still, Crouser had extended his PB to 22.74m earlier in the summer. Walsh had broken twenty-two meters on six different occasions. Darlan Romani had set a new Diamond League record of 22.61m at the Pre. And Hill, Joe’s old teammate at Chula Vista, had gone 22.35m in September at the Europe v. USA match in Belarus.
Ashley, who had “learned something about horses” while going to school at Kentucky, had been advising Joe all season to “put blinders on,” but one has to imagine that even a blind horse could sense his competitors thundering past as Joe’s rivals seemed poised to do in Doha.
With Ashley serving as throws coach for Team USA, she and Joe arrived at Worlds ten days before the prelims and were forced to train each night in heat and humidity so oppressive that it was sometimes difficult for Joe to keep the shot from falling out of his hand as he ran the ring. It was one more challenge in a season full of them.
When the men’s shot prelims finally rolled around, he looked solid, surpassing the automatic qualification mark with 20.92m on his first attempt.
He looked solid again while warming up for the final. Ashley says that people with a clear view told her that some of Joe’s warm-up throws were “really far,” but she couldn’t see exactly where they landed.
Crouser was up first in the final, and wasted no time in knocking another ’80’s glider out of the record books. Werner Gunthor’s Championship mark of 22.23m had stood since 1987. Crouser relieved him of it with a toss of 22.36m.
Joe opened with 20.90m and Ashley thought that his tempo was “really slow” and “a little too passive.”
Walsh ended the first round with a monstrous PB and new Championship record of 22.90m.
Venegas says that in any other throwing event, a toss like that in the first round would have effectively ended the competition because everyone would have tightened up and lost their timing. But the shot is an “emotional event” where competitors can feed off of each other’s excitement. Romani illustrated this by crushing a 22.53m with his second toss.
Joe guaranteed himself a full six throws with a second-round 21.63m and followed that up with 21.24m in the third. As the fourth round began, he sat in fifth place behind Walsh, Romani, Crouser, and Hill, who had hit 21.65m in round three.
Joe’s 21.95m in round four moved him into fourth place, but a spot on the medal stand was still a long way off as Crouser hit 22.71m to knock Romani into third.
Ashley was still concerned about Joe’s tempo. “He didn’t have any fouls,” she recalled, “which is unusual.” After the 21.95m, she told him, “It doesn’t matter. Anything less than 22.50-22.60m might as well be a foul. It’s either a PR or a foul. We’ve got nothing to lose, so keep swinging.”
He reached 21.94m in round five, still in fourth behind Romani’s 22.53m.
At the end of Homer’s epic, Odysseus returns to Ithaca only to find his house occupied by murderous rivals bent on dividing his estate and erasing his legacy. He disguises himself as a beggar and approaches his palace just in time to see his favorite dog, who has loyally pined for him for twenty years, expire on a pile of dung. His enemies do not recognize him, but just for grins one of them picks up a foot stool and smacks him with it. It was an immensely frustrating situation for an immensely proud man. This close to redemption, but still likely to lose everything he had strived for.
And so it must have felt for Joe. Over the past two years he had been supplanted in the shot put rankings by Crouser, Walsh, Romani, Hill and–truth be told–many lesser throwers as well. He wasn’t exactly forgotten, but many assumed that his days of contending for gold medals were behind him.
Then, he fights his way back to the twenty-two-meter level only to find that it now took more than 22.50m to contend for a medal.
When Joe stepped into the ring for his final throw, I was at a park playing with my grandson. A few minutes later, I received a text that read, “Three guys over 75 feet!! Unbelievable!!”
I assumed the three had been Crouser, Walsh, and either Romani or Hill. Imagine my surprise when, later that afternoon, I sat down and watched a replay of the webcast.
Joe’s throw of 22.91m was one of the great performances in the history of the sport, made greater still when Crouser answered with his own PB of 22.90m, which knocked Walsh into third on the countback.
All three over seventy-five feet. Unbelievable, indeed.
Ashley says that speed made the difference on Joe’s winning toss. “I think he was more aggressive from the beginning of that throw,” she explained. “Technically, all day he looked pretty good, but because he brought more velocity into that throw I think he caught the ball back a little farther. He stayed connected to it, and the ball stayed on his hand for a long time, all from the speed he brought to it.”
Like Joe, Odysseus conquered his rivals. Only he used a sword, which is how manly men settled things in those days. His odyssey over, he and his wife settled in to enjoy the leisurely life of the landed nobility. Homer did not write a sequel, so we’ll never know if Odysseus ever sallied forth on further adventures.
In Joe’s case, the sequel is about to begin. He will open his Olympic campaign against Crouser at the Millrose Games in February. A summer of rematches with Hill, Romani, Walsh and the rest is not far off.
Call it what you want, but if you are a fan of the shot put, what took place in the shadow of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the heart of Berlin today was pretty close to perfect.
Especially when you consider that this spot, known as Breitscheidplatz, was the site of a terrorist attack in the winter of 2016. Typical of such incidents, the attack was meant to destroy Breitscheidplatz as a thriving public place (the attacker struck during a popular Christmas market).
Part of the German response to that effort was to wedge a world class shot put competition into the narrow confines of the Platz.
They built a wooden platform approximately four feet high, covered it with turf, erected some temporary bleachers, and invited people to come and watch for free.
And come they did. The atmosphere (and I mean this as a compliment) reminded me of a high school football game on a warm September evening in a small town in the United States. People cheered and chanted and dressed in semi-ridiculous outfits. An entire section wore matching red hats and lime green t-shirts.
There was an endearingly lame pep band. There was recorded music (everything from Michael Jacksons’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” which elicited a 19.54m toss from Luxembourg’s Bob Bertemes, to Billy Squier’s “Slowly Stroke Me” which greeted Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Kemal Mesic as he walked into the ring for his third throw sitting on two fouls. He went 18.70m and missed the final).
There were large video screens. The one that I was facing showed a slo-mo replay of every…single…throw.
There was drama. In round three, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Mesud Pezer dropped one right at the automatic qualifying line of 20.40m only to have his effort nullified as a foul. He protested, and as the officials discussed the matter, the crowd was treated to several slo-motion replays of the throw, which caused them to boo lustily when it appeared that Pezer had commited no obvious infraction. It seems that he was called for the phantom right heel on the toeboard on his reverse, similar to what happened to Joe Kovacs in last year’s World Championships. This time, however, reason prevailed and the call was overturned. Pezer’s throw turned out to be 20.16m, enough to secure him a spot in the final.
There was big time homerism. Homegrown favorite David Storl received an ovation for warming up (two fixed-feet glides, one around 19.00m and another around 20.60m), for being introduced, and for hitting an automatic qualifier of 20.63m on his first attempt (he reversed on that one).
As round two ended for Storl’s group, the competition was briefly halted while the MC for the night interviewed David.
I ‘m not sure that was totally fair to those in the field who were still hoping to hit a qualifying mark, but the crowd loved it.
And that’s the thing. The crowd was active and happy and alive throughout the entire competition. How often can you say that about any track and field preliminary?
One thrower who thrived on the atmosphere was Nick Scarvelis, representing Greece.
”Qualifying situations are almost always in an empty stadium at nine in the morning on the opposite side of the track from some empty stands,” he told me after making it through to Wednesday’s final with a season best of 20.20m. “So I ‘d like to see more of this type of thing.”
I was curious as to where the throwers took most of their warmup attempts, as they seemed to be allowed only two on site. Had they warmed up at the Olympic Stadium practice facility before traveling to the Platz?
“No,” Nick explained. “We warmed up at another practice track. They actually put a ring in the middle of a park inside of a university. There was like a three-hundred-year-old column next to the shot put ring. But it was still a twenty-minute drive away, so it wasn’t exactly ideal. A lot of guys were complaining, but I didn’t mind. The music. The atmosphere. Throwing in the shadow of the church. I loved It.”
Two others who prospered were Craoatia’s Stipe Zürich, the bronze medalist in last year’s World Championships, and Poland’s Michael Haratyk, the silver medalist from the 2016 European Championships in Amersterdam. Each surpassed the automatic qualifying mark on his first attempt, and they are the two most likely to give Storl some trouble as he strives to notch his fourth European Championships title.
The final will take place inside the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday night, and though there might well be 50,000 fans going nuts for Storl, I don’t know if the atmosphere there or anywhere else can match what the Germans created tonight.
At one point during the competition, the bells of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church rang out.
I won’t say they were heralding a German shot put renaissance, a return of David Storl to his top form. There was something more to that sound. A little defiance maybe, and a lot of joy over thousands of people coming together on a warm Berlin night to…well…to have fun.
Coach Nathan Fanger of Kent State University spent an hour with us this past Thursday breaking down the rotational shot put technique of Danniel Thomas-Dodd, the 2017 NCAA champion and 2018 Indoor World silver-medalist.
It was a fantastic presentation.
I have spent twenty-seven years obsessively tinkering with how best to coach the rotational shot, and I learned a bunch from Coach Fanger’s analysis of Danniel’s form.
His approach with Danniel is very different from anything I’ve tried over the years, and I can’t wait to work on some of his concepts with my athletes.
Those attending the webinar live were able to get their questions answered directly by Coach Fanger. You won’t be able to do that, but if you are at all interested in the rotational shot, I think you’ll love the video of his talk. Here it is:
McThrows.com is extremely jacked to present a free webinar on rotational shot put technique with Nathan Fanger, the long time throws coach at Kent State University.
This webinar will take place on Thursday, July 26 at 7:00pm Central Standard time. You can register here.
During his time at Kent State, Coach Fanger’s throwers have won fifty Mid American Conference titles. Thirty-three of Nathan’s throwers have qualified for the NCAA Championships, with fourteen finishing as All-Americans including Reggie Jagers (who last month won the USATF title in the discus) and Danniel Thomas-Dodd, 2017 NCAA shot put champion, 2018 Indoor World Championships silver medalist, and 2018 Commonwealth Games champion.
In this webinar, Coach Fanger will break down Thomas-Dodd’s rotational shot put technique, which is quite a bit different than the standard American approach to rotational throwing.
A year ago, I interviewed Nathan on this topic, and his explanation of Danniel’s technique was really interesting. You can find that interview here.
This webinar will be a unique opportunity to get an inside look at the technique of a world class thrower. Participants may submit questions to Nathan throughout the presentation. Whether you coach beginning or advanced throwers, I think you’ll find this to be fascinating discussion.