Strange Days Across the Pond
Maggie Ewen is a veteran of the Diamond League circuit, as is Chase Ealey, and both were invited to compete in Gateshead, England, in late May.
It was, in Maggie’s words, “refreshing to be back into the pattern we were used to of traveling to meets,” but there were a couple of aspects of the experience that were downright weird. Maggie says that the athletes were quarantined to the hotel and the dining area. “They had people watching the doors to make sure we didn’t leave, and the English athletes were kept in a separate hotel to try to prevent cross contamination.”
Such precautions are understandable in a pandemic, but there was another aspect to Maggie’s Gateshead adventure that defies explanation.
This year, in an effort to make the throwing events more “exciting” for a television audience, the folks at the Diamond League came up with a new competition format. All throwers in the field receive five attempts, and then the top three up to that point are each given a “bonus” throw that determines their final placing.
In Gateshead, Maggie tossed 18.54m in round three, which turned out to be the second-best throw of the day. But, because she had a lousy throw in the “bonus round” and was beaten by the other two finalists, she was credited with a third-place finish and awarded third-place prize money.
Val Allman had a similar experience at the Doha Diamond League meeting. She produced the day’s best throw (65.57m) in round four, but is listed as finishing second because Yaime Pérez threw 61.35m on her “bonus” throw, while Val could manage only 58.58m.
If the women’s discus final at the Trials had been run the same way, Val, in spite of posting a monster 69.92m toss in round two and five consecutive throws over 66.99m, would have lost to Micaela Hazelwood, who threw 59.72m in round six while Val fouled.
According to Maggie, the athletes in Gateshead were not even informed until just before the competition that only three of them would receive a sixth throw. Then, as the “bonus round” was about to commence, “They were like, ‘by the way, your throws don’t matter up to this point.’”
I assume the idea here is to make it easier for the TV people to decide which throws to include in the broadcast. Rather than having to monitor the flow of the competition–as television networks do quite easily and effectively when broadcasting professional golf tournaments–TV producers only have to worry about capturing those three final attempts.
To someone who has no regard for the sport, it probably sounds like a great idea.
Nostalgic No More
UCLA’s Alyssa Wilson is one of the most versatile and talented throwers in the world, and in 2019 she put together an epic season, launching the shot 18.02m, the hammer 70.63m, and the disc 60.76m.
Then came the pandemic.
With 2020 a washout, Alyssa was gearing up for big things this season when she contracted the virus over the winter and was quarantined in her dorm room for three weeks. “I lost twenty pounds,” she recalled, “and it took me a long time to build up my strength. Then, I still had nauseous feelings, especially on meet days.”
She qualified for the NCAA meet in two events, but had a terrible time in both, finishing nineteenth in the disc and tenth in the hammer.
A week later, though, she found her footing. Her comeback began with a 58.80m season’s best in discus qualifying at the Trials, a full six-meters better than what she’d managed at NCAAs.
She followed that up with a 57.63m toss to take eighth in the final.
Then came the hammer qualification round. Alyssa opened with a 70.97m PB, then crushed a 73.75m bomb. At the NCAA meet, she had thrown 66.52m.
She fell back a bit in the final, finishing sixth with a best of 69.04m, but what a week.
Alyssa said afterwards that a bad day in the hammer at NCAAs carried over into the disc, but in the days before the Trials she “got her mindset back on track.”
“Then, having that great season-best in the disc…I wasn’t expecting to take eighth in the final, and I took more self-confidence from that, and I carried it over to the hammer.”
Throwing a PB in front of someone like DeAnna Price, who Alyssa describes as ‘one of my idols,” made the day even more special.
“And it was my first hammer PR since 2019,” she said afterwards. ”As soon as I saw the mark, I started to tear up. This whole year, I was always thinking, ‘Alyssa, your sophomore self is better than you!”
You may have noticed that women’s shot winner Jessica Ramsey set up for her throws by placing her left foot on the center line and right foot back about twelve inches from the edge of the ring.
A similar starting position has been used to great effect by 2017 men’s shot World Champion Tom Walsh of New Zealand, but according to Jessica’s coach, John Smith, that’s not where he got the idea.
“I set up that way when I threw the disc in high school,” he explained. “We called it the ‘cyclone spin.’” (Just to be clear, Walsh was not yet born when Smith was in high school. You’re welcome, Coach.)
Smith had Ramsey go cyclone as a way of making sure she loaded her left leg on entry.
“Dropping the right foot back forces you to keep your weight on your left,” he explained. “And keeps you from falling back into the ring.”
At times, Ramsey has struggled with the all-important “get left” phase of the entry because of a balky left knee.
She clearly had that figured out in Eugene and will spend the next few weeks with Smith back in Oxford, Mississippi, preparing the cyclone for its Olympic debut.