Trials Tidbits: Friday Edition

The Dana Pounds Rule

There will be an automatic qualifying mark for each of the throwing events at the Trials, but what exactly that mark will be for each event seems to be a mystery. I have spoken with several coaches and athletes and have yet to find anyone who knows for sure. Several have speculated that it will be the Olympic qualifying distance, which seems kind of harsh as those distances are extremely beefy this year. 

In the men’s hammer, the Olympic standard is 77.50m, a mark that will likely get someone into the top five in Tokyo. In the women’s disc, it is 66.00m–again, a distance that will get anyone who throws it at the Games pretty darn close to a medal. 

One reason to have an auto qualifier at the Trials should be to allow the best throwers a chance to go “one-and-done” and save energy for the final. Why then, use such tough marks?

Sean Donnelly pointed me in the right direction. “I think,” he explained, “that it has something to do with Kara Winger and the 2008 Trials.”

I went to the source, and it turns out that Kara was tangentially involved, but not the reason for USATF using such high auto qualifiers.

The person in question turns out to have been Dana Pounds Lyon, currently a coach at the Air Force Academy and of Kara Winger. 

According to Kara, at the 2008 Trials, Dana “threw 58 meters on her first attempt in qualifying with the auto mark set at around 54 meters. So, they made her stop.”

Why would the officials have had to “make” Dana stop throwing when it is most people’s goal to go one-and-done in the prelims? 

Because she had not yet achieved the Olympic A standard, which Kara estimates was in the 60.50m to 61.00m range. And, according to Kara, Dana was feeling “awesome” in the prelims and wanted very much to take two more whacks at that standard.

And, there is a sad coda to this tale.

“Dana threw at one more meet after the Trials, and as the heartbreaking story goes, hugged the foul line to get every last inch of distance, but couldn’t stay behind it on a giant throw.”

She did not end up qualifying for Beijing, and the memory of that has made Kara all the more determined to make the Tokyo squad and finally give Dana an Olympic experience.

This Just In

Well, I just watched the live stream of the men’s shot prelims, and Ryan Crouser opened at 22.92m, well past the Olympic standard of 21.10m. He then stepped in and took another throw (which went 22.64m) before passing his final attempt. So, they apparently are giving one-and-done folks the option of continuing.

Stability, Part 1

When I asked Rudy Winkler to explain the factors that have allowed him to blossom into an eighty-meter thrower, he emphasized stability. It is no easy task for a post-collegiate thrower in this country to find a way to stay in the sport long enough to reach their prime. USATF does not provide much funding, and endorsements are hard to come by, even for the top performers. World champions Tom Walsh and Daniel Stahl, for example, currently have no shoe contract.

So, it is up to the athlete to figure out a way to eat and train and get coached and pay the rent. Rudy has recently taken a job with a cyber security firm whose CEO is a former Rutgers University hammer thrower. They have, he says, been very understanding about his need to take time off for competitions. 

“And the money has been very helpful,” he explained. “I don’t have to go into competitions worrying about prize money or anything like that. I can just compete.”

Rudy has also settled in with his longtime coach Paddy McGrath, with whom he has worked since high school. 

North Carolina throws coach Amin Nikfar also coaches hammer contender Alex Young, and he told me that stability has been a big factor for all the participants in the recent American hammer surge.

“Rudy has been with Paddy forever,” he pointed out. “Daniel Haugh has a great thing going with Mike Judge. And Alex has managed to follow me around the country, to Stanford and now North Carolina. Maintaining our relationship as coach and athlete has given him the stability he needed to develop.”

Discus thrower Kelsey Card has been able to remain in Madison, Wisconsin training with her college coach, Dave Astrauskas since graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 2016. Kelsy works as a marriage and family therapist which, according to Coach Astrauskas, gives her the flexibility to train. 

Speaking of stability, my marriage is going great, but if my wife and I ever hit a tough patch, I’m calling Kelsey. Here’s how I imagine it going:

My Wife: “All he ever does is watch throwing videos!”

Kelsey: “That is a perfectly normal activity.”

The Rings

The word out of the NCAA meet was that the two shot put rings have very different surfaces. One is super fast. As I am writing this, the shot qualification just finished and all the expected contenders advanced, so I do not know if the quality of the surface had any effect on the competition.

I’m told that the discus ring is fast as well. Luckily, the competition rings were open all week for athletes to try out, and these folks are the best at what they do, so they should be ready even on an unusually quick surface.

One Last Thing

NCAA shot and disc champ Turner Washington did not compete in the shot today due, I am told, to a sore groin muscle that he has been dealing with for several weeks. Turner will, however, compete in the discus.

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