Many throwers have a rough time during their first year as a professional, but in 2022 Laulauga Tausaga made the transition from amateur to pro look easy peasy lemon squeezy by breaking 60 meters in fourteen of her nineteen comps and smashing a PB of 64.49m at the USATF Championships. She also qualified for her second World Championships and first Diamond League final.
Still, she was not satisfied.
“That’s how it is,” explained John Dagata, Lagi’s coach for the past two seasons. “With high-level athletes, nothing is good enough. When we looked back at her accomplishments in 2022, her reaction was, ‘Why didn’t I medal at Worlds?’”
With another World Championships coming up in 2023, Lagi pushed hard during fall sessions at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Center, where she and Dagata train. By January, according to Dagata, Lagi was “throwing farther than ever,” on a daily basis.
“Some of the Chinese athletes I coach, who didn’t really know her, saw Lagi throw and were like, ‘How is her PB only 64.49m?’ That’s how good she looked.”
Then, Lagi’s progress was interrupted by, of all things, a bout of gout, the cause of which, according to the Mayo Clinic website, can be hard to pin down.
Coach Dagata says that Lagi had experienced some mild gout-like symptoms in 2022, but never missed a day of practice because of it. Then, one morning in February of this year, she called to say that her ankle was swollen and so “locked up” that she could not walk.
That forced them to shut down her training for several days, and to limit the number of throws she took for the next several weeks. Essentially, Dagata says, they “lost the month of February.”
A 63.92m toss in her season opener at Triton in April was encouraging, but Dagata says that all the lost practice time made Lagi’s technique unstable. Instead of throwing consistently well as she had in January, they started having “one good practice, then one bad practice.”
After Triton, Lagi went 60.43m at the Pacific Coast Invitational, followed by 62.74m at Mt. SAC, and 60.37m at Tucson.
Matters came to a head when she threw 60.34m at the USATF LA Grand Prix in late May.
“We had a serious meeting afterwards,” recalls Dagata. “I told her I was not happy with the way the season was going, that we had to find a way to get consistency back in our training, and that with only a month before USAs, we had to do it immediately.”
Lagi agreed, and they decided to “go backwards to go forward,” which in Lagi’s case meant switching to a “static start” where she would pause for a moment after winding up at the back of the ring. The pause would limit the amount of speed she could create at the start of her throws, but it would also make it easier to keep her balance and hit sound positions as she moved through the ring.
As is often the case with technical adjustments, this one did not pay immediate dividends. Lagi dropped to 59.84m at a comp in Chula Vista before departing for Europe where she dropped even further to 55.34m in Italy before rebounding to throw 62.62m at the Paris Diamond League meeting.
Back in the States, she went 58.65m at another Chula Vista comp on June 18th, then 56.61m a week later in New York.
It was about that time, though, that the static start throws began to feel more comfortable.
“Practices started getting better,” says Dagata. “Then, during the five or six days we were in Oregon leading up to USAs, we were locked in.”
Lagi and Dagata knew that she could throw farther using her regular, more active start, but they decided to stick to the static at USAs.
Dagata explained that “with the disc, you have to be consistent. If Lagi loses control and starts to rip it out of the back, she might end up with a great throw or it might go 50 meters, and then she starts to doubt herself. Consistency gives her confidence, and the static start gave us the best chance for consistency.”
With Val Allman receiving a Budapest bye as Diamond League champion, the US had four spots to fill in the women’s disc and Lagi used her modified start to stake her claim to one of them. During the first five rounds she went 62.13m, Foul, 62.67m, 60.96m, Foul. That was good enough to ensconce her securely in second place, and when she walked into the ring for her sixth and final attempt, Lagi was guaranteed a spot on the team for Worlds.
That being the case, she and Dagata decided to have another go at using a full windup.
“Her confidence on that last throw was so good,” Dagata says. “She had made the team, and while she was waiting she did a couple of dry throws off to the side and looked really good. Then, she got in and rushed her entry and only used three quarters of the ring. I have no idea how she kept that throw from going into the cage. It was unreal.”
A 65.46m PB to be exact.
Which windup will she use in Budapest?
At the 2022 Worlds, it took 61.21m to get through qualification, a distance that Lagi surpassed twice using the static start at USAs.
Dagata says they will wait and see how the next couple of weeks of training play out before deciding on their plan of attack for Worlds, but as at USAs, the most important factor will be Lagi’s confidence.
“One thing a lot of people don’t understand,” Dagata explained, “is that athletes like Lagi live their lives by every competition. Most throwers don’t get great funding, and they feel like they are one bad meet from losing what they do get, and that puts them under a lot of pressure. I try to balance that out by keeping a positive outlook and reminding her all the time of the great things she’s done.”
Can’t you hear me knocking?
Speaking of maintaining a positive outlook, did anyone else notice that Tom Walsh went 22.58m at the recent London Diamond League meeting?
That was Tom’s best mark since his 22.90m bomb at the 2019 Worlds, and a sure sign that the man cannot take a hint.
If he could, he’d have accepted by now that Fate has no intention of letting him be the World’s Greatest Shot Putter. To many, that would have been clear after he shattered the World Championships record by 67 centimeters that night in Doha and ended up finishing third.
Tom got another reminder at the 2021 Games when he hit 22.47m–tied for the best ever pre-Crouser throw at an Olympics–and once again finished third.
He was faced with even more discouragement at the 2022 Worlds when an American sweep kept him off the podium at an Olympics or outdoor Worlds for the first time since he finished fourth in Beijing in 2015.
What keeps him going? In an interview conducted last year, Tom told me that he takes a lot of motivation from proving people wrong. “Plenty of people over my career have told me I’m not the guy,” he explained. “I love showing them I am the guy.”
Tom also credited his support team, two members of which–strength coach Angus Ross and sports psychologist John Quinn–have been with him for years. “They challenge me,” Tom said. “Whether it’s by changing up my training programs or getting me to think outside the box.”
His ultimate goal?
“Being the best thrower of all time.”
Tom says that seeing Kovacs–his elder by three years–hit a big PB, only inspired him more.
“I love it,” he said. “I still want to throw a long way and I still believe I can. I just have to keep knocking at the door.”
A man in full
For the book about Daniel Ståhl I’ve been working on with Vésteinn Hafsteinsson and Roger Einbecker, we asked some of Daniel’s friends and colleagues to share anecdotes about the Big Fella. Many were kind enough to do so, and I think fans of the sport will enjoy reading these little glimpses into his life and career.
One especially lovely piece came from 2016 Olympic discus champ Chris Harting, who wrote about a night before a meet in Finland when he, Daniel, Simon Pettersson, and Kristjan Čeh waded out into a shallow lake and talked about life in the fading light of a late summer sun.
I thought about Chris and about that piece recently when my wife’s sister who lives in Berlin sent me a link to a newspaper interview he gave last month.
In it, Chris discusses some difficult personal issues he’s dealt with over the past couple of years, and opens up about his battle with depression.
In a world where young men are told by their favorite Youtubers or podcasters or whatever those idiots are called that the way to become popular is to embrace a version of masculinity that Neanderthals would have found regressive, it was refreshing to see Chris speak in such an honest and vulnerable way. And I know that someone, somewhere is going to read that article and realize that if it is okay for a 6’10” inch Olympic champion to seek help, it’s okay for them too.