Coach Eric Werskey breaks down the technique of NCAA discus champ Laulauga tausaga

It’s been a heck of a year for the University of Iowa’s Laulauga Tausaga. She opened her outdoor campaign with a second place finish in the discus at the Florida Relays and then went undefeated in that event for the months of April, May and June.

The highlight of that remarkable streak was the 63.26m bomb that won her the NCAA title in Austin. Iowa throws coach Eric Werskey was kind enough to give us a frame-by-frame breakdown of that throw.

Photo 1

 Here she is at the end of her wind up, just about to begin her shift left. What do you see here? Her wind is not as extensive as some—is that the result of experimentation?

Yes. Once I arrived on campus [Eric took over at Iowa for the 2017-2018 season] I noticed her balance seemed to be a bit inconsistent at the back on the ring, which created some inconsistencies at the front with her delivery. We spent a lot of time in the fall doing static start drills. She seemed to take a liking to it, so we carried it into her full throw because it became comfortable to her.

In her first movement, our goal is to be centered with the center of mass with a slight stretch through the right side. Now, you may not see it in the photograph, but she has a slight “rock” into her right side with her right heel planted in the ring. This creates a stretching feeling, and once she feels that she will start to sit into her left side.

These next three pics take us from the moment she starts to unwind to the moment her right foot leaves the concrete. What do you two emphasize in this portion of the throw? 

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Once Lagi comes out of her backswing we emphasize having a “long and wide” back of the ring. We want to shift the center of mass to the left side by thinking of an “out and around” approach. Her tendency is to cut the back of the ring “short” and fall into the middle a bit. We try to prevent that with the way we set up the throw out of the back. The “long” aspect refers to patience and loading the center of mass to the left side and the “wide” cue is to emphasize a wider sweep leg. Once she executes that part of her throw, she can then look to get across the ring efficiently and maximize her middle separation.

Here we have the portion of the throw from Lagi’s right leg sweep to right foot touchdown in the center. What do you focus on during this phase?

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In the first picture (photo 5), she has executed her “long and wide” out of the back cue, which made it really easy for her to complete her long sweep into the middle. As you can see, in single support she is balanced and her right foot is about as wide as the edge of the ring. As the sweep leg penetrates into the middle, we want the knee to bend slightly and we use the cue “let the ground come to you” versus reaching for the ground. The idea is if the right leg lands flexed or loaded she can pivot with balance and transition seamlessly into the power position.

Throughout the season, she would often execute the back of the ring well but had a minor habit of a delayed push from the left causing her left foot/leg to over-rotate and be open/”in the bucket” at the front. To correct this, we cued “bring the left with you.” As she felt the right leg sweep carry her into the middle with her upper body facing the direction of the throw, the idea was to have her left leg coming with to the front with a tight squeeze of the knees (photo 7). That way when she made ground contact in the middle, her left foot/knee/leg was in the same plane as the right side which helped her keep the discus back with tension/torque. Once she executed that cue, it was a matter of keeping the lower body moving to the front. She tends to “peek” over her left shoulder (as you can see a bit in photo 7), but we also try to face the back of the ring so the head and eyes stay back as she lands in double support at the front with the discus back and under tension.

Speaking of double support at the front, here she is hitting her power position then blasting through the finish.

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As she rotates to the front, she lands (photo 8) balanced with her chest slightly down, head/eyes back and the discus back. You can see that her right heel is a bit off the ground. Lagi is incredibly explosive and vertically jumps exceptionally well (she is 6’0”, 240lbs and can grab a 10’ basketball rim with ease) so we use the right leg slightly different than some might. When she is loaded with the right foot this way, it caters to her vertical, then rotational finish.

With the discus back, the idea is maintaining tension through its orbit. The way Lagi does this is by feeling her right heel lifting then rotating to the throwing sector (photo 9). We also cue “eyes up” or “head back” to help create some “reverse C” in her body. By doing this, it creates maximal tension on her discus. We want her left arm to stay level and reach for the sector. We don’t cue the left arm as much as we probably should, but it’s something that she naturally does. She predominately has her weight loaded on the right side, allowing her to lift and rotate the right knee and hip while keeping a long-levered reach with the left arm.

Lagi has had an innate ability to make the discus fly with some of the best that I have seen and trained with. I have only ever seen a few athletes with such feel that I witnessed daily, those people being, Aretha Thurmond and Whitney Ashley.

Once she feels the right side begin to penetrate and the left arm reach to the sector, she attempts to lift and rotate violently. I like to have the left foot come off the ground first (photo 10). As the left pops off the ground, this will trigger her right side to slam through the finish. I don’t like to use the term “jump”, but at times we do so she can feel her legs extend. Lagi has an ability to stay long through the point of delivery, so when she squares up to the finish I know there will be some serious heat on the release. As she releases the discus and recovers (photo 11), we cue her to finish her right hip and right leg to the left sector with the heel down. To me, when this cue is executed, the hips and body have put all tension through the discus and the landing/recovery is balanced. This also allows for a clean recovery and no debates about the heel brushing the top edge of the ring.

We spend a large part of the fall dedicated to stand throw drills and cueing how the legs work through the finish. In the fall, we spend roughly two to three weeks on each segment of the system/sequence of drills then by November we are beginning to work into full throws, but not many. Roughly two-thirds of the throws workouts in November and December are still dedicated to drill-type motions and partial movements. The idea is that we get a large base from these drills that allows the carryover into the full throw rhythm. Once positions are natural and locked in, we can just focus on rhythm then distance. During the season if we have a week off, we will get back to the drawing board and revisit some of the drills and cues from the fall for a quick touch up.  

Lagi is incredibly dedicated to her craft and trusts the processes that develop within the course of the year(s). It is not always easy for her physically and when she does not understand the cues or positions we are aiming towards, she will communicate that versus going with the flow of her own interpretation. To me, this is significant because it makes me have to break things down a bit simpler which caters to my coaching development.

Note: Lagi’s amazing season continued with a third-place finish at the 2019 USATF Championships in July. She and Eric are now preparing for the World Championships in Doha. The women’s discus prelims will take place on October 2nd, nearly ten months after Lagi’s collegiate season began. Hopefully, we will catch up with Eric afterwards and get him to reflect on the challenges of maintaining top form over such a remarkably long period of time. Stay tuned!