Kovacs with the Assist
Is it me, or does Joe Kovacs seem to be everywhere at the Trials?
After punching his own Tokyo ticket with a monster toss of 22.34m last Friday, he had a busy day this Thursday helping his wife Ashley coach Adelaide Aquilla through the women’s shot prelims and finals and onto the Tokyo squad.
As if that were not enough, he stepped up when discus thrower Reggie Jagers needed help in Thursday’s qualification round.
Jagers, the 2018 US champion, was struggling to get comfortable with the (in his words) “super fast” surface of the discus ring at Hayward.
After he “blew out” his current pair of Nike Zoom Rotationals while practicing early in the week, Reggie was faced with the prospect of having to use a fresh pair in the qualification round. But, the soles on Zoom Rotationals are notoriously slick themselves when brand new, and using slick shoes on a slick surface might have resulted in disaster.
Fortunately for Reggie, Joe Kovacs was ready to lend a hand–in the form of shoes.
“Joe’s Velaasa shoes are a lot slower than my normal pair of Nikes,” he explained. “So, he gave me a pair, and they let me feel the ground a little bit better.”
One complicating factor, according to Reggie, was that Kovacs is “about 330 pounds, and I’m 260, so his feet are a lot wider than mine and it wasn’t easy to get the shoes to form to my foot.”
In the end, it all worked out. Reggie easily advanced to Friday’s final with his opening toss of 62.55m, then secured his spot on the Olympic team with a clutch sixth-round toss of 62.61m in Saturday’s final.
“Whatever the shoes,” he continued, “I’m always going to go all out, groove my technique, keep good posture.”
“But, the changeup with Joe sure worked out for me.”
Tom Pukstys, former US javelin champ and current coach/chauffeur/mentor/shepherd of the USA Javelin Project, says that the highlight of any Trials is “the euphoria of welcoming people to the Olympic team.”
Maggie Malone, who set a new American record of 66.82m this season, felt the euphoria of making the 2016 Olympic squad, but a year or so later found herself injured, discouraged, and badly in need of a reset if she was going to make a run at Tokyo.
One day, she came across Pukstys at a meet and made a proposal. “Let’s start a javelin group,” she suggested. “And you’ll run it.”
Maggie liked the idea of a team of javelinists training together and providing the kind of supportive environment that can be hard to come by for track and field athletes. Pukstys like the idea as well.
“It had always been my dream,” he says.
One potential problem was the fact that running a javelin group does not pay the bills.
Luckily for Maggie, Curtis Thompson, and the rest of the throwers who make up what has become known as the USA Javelin Project, Tom married the right person.
His wife Anne, whom he describes as “a wicked collaborator and team player, nonstop,” and who has a job directing the three largest accounts for Alabama Blue Cross Blue Shield, gave Tom her blessing to embark upon this endeavor.
“Anne will do anything to make me happy,” Tom explained, “and she knows that I am happiest when I’m coaching.”
Now, post-collegiate javers willing to relocate to Birmingham can avail themselves to top-notch coaching and a group dynamic that, according to Pukstys, “lifts everyone.”
“No college coach can be as available to their post-collegiate athletes as I can,” Tom says. “They just don’t have time. But, I’m there on a daily basis for these kids.”
The results have been promising, as Curtis won Monday’s jav final and Maggie is not only the favorite in Eugene, but also a genuine threat to make the final in Tokyo.
With Kara Winger announcing that these will be her final Trials and Olympic Games, Maggie seems ready to accept the passing of the javelin torch, something which the event desperately needed.
And for that, we can thank Anne.
As discussed in a previous post, Micaela Hazlewood, who took second in the discus final here with a PB toss of 62.53m, is not yet eligible to compete in the Olympic Games. In order to cement a spot on the Tokyo team, she has until June 29th to record a throw of at least 63.50m in a competition sanctioned by the USATF and World Athletics, or to move into the top thirty-two in the World Athletics rankings.
It might (and there are a lot of “mays” and “mights” in this story) take participating in several sanctioned meets to move her up in the rankings, so it looks like her best chance to make the team is to throw the qualifier.
In order to do that, though, Micaela and her coach, Keith McBride had to figure out how to get her into at least one more meet before the deadline.
So far, they’ve come up with two. Micaela competed today in the Bahamas Olympic Trials (She’s not Bahamian–they allowed open competitors) but managed a best throw of only 57.47m.
Next up, a Monday comp at the University of Michigan. Jerry Clayton, Michigan’s head coach, put together a sanctioned meet in order to give UMich decathlete Ayden Owens one more crack at reaching the Olympic standard. If he gets it, he will represent Puerto Rico in the Tokyo Games.
At the request of Coach McBride, Jerry has added the women’s discus to the meet.
“We’ve had a big wind here the last three days,” Clayton–also one of the best throws coaches in the world–informed me on Friday. “And there is supposed to be a 10-15 mph wind on Monday. So, we’ll see.”
McBride describes Hazelwood as “a fighter” who “will do anything she can to make the team.” He also believes she is in “64.00m shape.”
Meanwhile, Kelsey Card, who finished fourth at the Trials and who is ranked in the top thirty-two by World Athletics, awaits her fate.