I’m old enough to remember an era—the Pleistocene maybe—when it seemed perfectly right and natural for high jumpers to go over the bar stomach first. The straddle technique, I think they called it.
Then Dick Fosbury came along and flew over the bar backwards and the straddle went the way of the steam engine, the rotary phone, and politeness.
So thorough and abrupt was the transition that the term “Fosbury flop” was adopted then dropped seemingly over night. We now just call it “high jumping.”
Shot putting has been undergoing a similar if more gradual transition from the glide technique to the spin. If memory serves, the first Olympics to feature a rotational thrower was Montreal in 1976. Male spinners took Olympic gold in 1996, 2000, and 2004, but then Polish glider Tomasz Majewski led a counter revolution, winning in Beijing and London. Germany’s David Storl did his part to hold back the rotational tide by winning World Championship gold in 2011 and 2013.
But Storl is the last male glider who still gets invited to competitions like Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic. An injury prevented him from making the trip to Stanford’s Cobb Track and Angell Field, but had he come he’d have cut a lonely figure, a tall and relatively svelte glider surrounded by a pack of beefy, turbocharged spinners.
The transition has been slower among the women. No female spinner has ever won an Olympic or World Championship gold. Many fine throwers have adopted the rotational technique, with the American Jill Camarena-Williams first among them to medal at a major championships when she won silver at the Daegu Worlds. After that, Hungary’s Anita Marton nabbed Rio bronze and London 2017 silver, and just last year Jamaican Danielle Thomas-Dodd took second at World Indoors, but the likes of New Zealand’s Valeri Adams, Germany’s Christina Schwanitz, China’s Lijiao Gong and American great Michelle Carter have maintained the glider monopoly on gold medals.
It is possible, however, that women’s shot putting may have found its Fosbury.
The American Chase Ealey glided her way to a successful collegiate career, finishing second at the 2016 NCAA Championships. But after two lackluster seasons as a pro, she switched to the rotational technique last September and is now one of the top putters in the world.
After posting a 2018 season best of 17.78m, she has, in 2019 thrown at least nineteen meters in eight different competitions, including yesterday at the Pre when she hit 19.23m to take third behind Gong and Thomas-Dodd. (Full results for the women’s shot can be found here.)
So I ask you, if Ealey could add two meters to her average throw and vault herself into the elite level of the event merely by switching to the spin, shouldn’t every glider make the change?
Apparently, it’s a little more complicated than that. In this post-comp interview, Ealey discusses her glide-to-spin journey, her prosperous coach/athlete partnership with former World Indoor shot champion Ryan Whiting, and why taking long walks while wearing throwing shoes might be beneficial.
Watching Gong (here she is sharpening her technique on Saturday) also makes one realize that the glide is not going the way of the dodo bird any time soon. The simplicity of her technique, and her mastery of it, allowed her to put together this series yesterday: 19.00m, 19.46m, 19.55m, 19.52m, 19.79m, F.
That kind of consistency is going to make her very hard to beat in Doha, and is something that may never be available to rotational throwers like Ealey and Thomas-Dodd.
Ealey’s series featured four fouls. Thomas-Dodd was more consistent, producing three throws over nineteen meters (with a best of 19.26m). She seemed close to knocking out a big throw—in the words of her coach, Nathan Fanger, “had she stayed on the ball through the release” she could have reached the 19.60m range.
But to put it crudely, spinners throw far by hauling butt (take a look at this practice throw by Thomas-Dodd from Saturday) and hauling butt while maintaining precision is no easy task
So the glide/spin debate will likely rage on a while longer.
One matter that is not up for debate is the remarkable graciousness of Michelle Carter.
She is far from being in top form (she finished 6th yesterday with a best of 18.21m) but as always she took time after the competition to share some thoughts about her season.
In that interview, you’ll hear her refer to her “You Throw Girl” camp and an upcoming competition she is hosting. Check out her website for more info.
Next up for Carter and Ealey is a trip to Des Moines at the end of July where they will fight for a chance to lock horns with Gong in Doha.
If you happen to pass through Tucson and spot Ealey out for a walk in her throwing shoes, please know that it is all part of the plan to finally get a female spinner to the top of the podium.