If I told you that three-time United States shot put champion Chase Ealey has ditched the sunny skies of Arizona and chosen instead to train in the dripping cold of jolly old England, you’d think I’d gone barmy, wouldn’t you?
You might even tell me to “Sod off!” and refer to me hereafter as a “cheeky wanker.”
Couldn’t blame you if you did, but facts are facts and not only has Chase decamped to the UK, but she’s feeling and throwing better than she has in years, which is brilliant news for throws fans even if it might be a load of tosh for her competitors.
Here’s how this all came about.
Chase, you may recall, was one of the great stories of the 2019 season. Working with two-time World Indoor champion Ryan Whiting, she transformed herself from a decent glider with an 18.46m PB into a rotational arse-beater. By year’s end, she was US indoor and outdoor champion and had raised her PB to 19.68m. She also made competing overseas against top competition seem easy peasy lemon squeezy by winning her first ever Diamond League meeting with a 19.58m bomb in Shanghai, and notching that 19.68m PB at the DL Final in Zurich.
That’s a gobsmacker of a season, and no one could blame Chase for thinking her momentum might continue through the World Championships in Doha.
“I don’t even want to set my goal at simply making it onto the podium,” she told a reporter that summer when asked about her outlook regarding the Worlds. “I want to win.”
It’s rare for a thrower to approach his or her best marks at their first World Championships or Olympics. Similar to getting married or having an MRI, one’s initial experience at a meet of that magnitude can be disorienting. Subsequent attempts usually go better.
It didn’t help that the environment in Doha was so strange. The intense heat made venturing out during daylight hours a dodgy proposition. Most athletes trained in the evening, but even then the humidity was such that putters had a hard time just keeping the shot against their neck while spinning. Then, the competition took place in an air-conditioned open-air stadium. Try saying that three times fast. Perhaps most disorienting was the fact that the Worlds were held in October, making the 2019 season a good five or six weeks longer than normal. When Chase stepped into the ring for the qualification round, eight months had passed since she’d won Indoor Nationals.
That’s a long road to travel, and under the circumstances making the final and finishing seventh was an accomplishment. But Chase felt disappointed at “only” throwing 18.82m after routinely surpassing nineteen meters all season, and she was still brooding about it when Covid showed up and turned the world inside out.
She still managed to throw 19.41m during the weird, truncated 2020 season, but a case of long Covid in the winter of 2020/2021 caused her bodyweight to drop by twenty-five kilograms in two months and robbed her of the vitality and explosiveness that had carried her through that magnificent 2019 campaign.
She entered the 2021 Olympic Trials as the defending US champion, a title she’d captured in 2019 by throwing 19.56m in the pouring rain in Des Moines, but she no longer had, in her words, “the same oomph” that had enabled her to easily blast throws over nineteen meters.
Much of her confidence was gone as well after all those months of feeling wretched, and Chase finished fifth at the Trials with a best of 18.39m. It was a pretty good throw considering her physical and mental state, but she felt gutted. Keep in mind that had Covid not intervened and she’d gone into a 2020 Olympic Games healthy, Chase might well have contended for a gold medal. Now, with the delayed Games finally happening a year later, she would not even be on the team.
The next month, she threw a 19.45m season’s best and also competed a few times in Europe, but nothing could assuage her disappointment. To make matters worse, her best friend and training partner Nick Ponzio left Whiting’s Desert High Performance group.
Long story short, she rolled into the winter of 2021/2022 feeling lousy.
One bright spot of the past two years was a growing friendship with the British putter Sophie McKinna. The two met at the 2019 Worlds and crossed paths regularly when Chase competed overseas.
This past January, Chase decided to join Sophie in England for a three week training camp. Initially, she had no intentions of staying there long term, but says that “after a week we were like ‘Holy shit, we train together really well!'”
One day, Chase and Sophie were throwing at the Loughborough High Performance Center when the British men’s shot put champion Scott Lincoln showed up accompanied by his long time coach, Paul Wilson.
Coach Wilson saw that Chase was struggling with her technique and “throwing it all over the place,” so he asked if she’d mind a suggestion or two.
She did not mind, and they quickly developed a nice rapport. Chase describes Paul as “very chill,” and says that she works well with “chillaxed people.”
Before long, Chase visited Paul at his home base in York, and they drew up plans. Paul would take over her coaching in the ring and in the weight room. They’d train together in person whenever possible, and virtually in between the live sessions.
“The video sessions actually work well,” she says. “We have Paul on a tripod, and we move him around whenever he needs a different view.”
One aspect of Paul’s coaching that Chase especially appreciates is that he expects collaboration on the part of the athlete.
Paul describes the coach/athlete relationship as a “partnership” and says that “you have to talk and communicate. You can’t dictate what they need to do and how to do it. They are adults. I say to Scott and Chase all the time, ‘You tell me what you think we should work on.'”
Paul is also careful to explain the rationale behind any suggestions he makes.
According to Chase, “He will tell me why I am doing stuff, which makes me feel more comfortable. It makes it easier to trust the process. He really cares about my input in the ring and in the weight room, which is nice.”
He also does his best to maintain a stress free environment. “We’re just here to train and encourage each other,” he says. “That’s the main mentality in my group, and I think that’s helping Chase. She’s also getting pushed every day by Sophie, which has been good for her, too.”
It didn’t take Chase long to realize that the situation she’d found in England was just what she needed.
When we spoke recently, she made it clear that she wasn’t looking to get away from Ryan Whiting and Desert High Performance. There was just something about training with Sophie and Paul in an entirely new environment that made her feel refreshed. And Whiting was supportive of the move.
According to Chase, Ryan told her that “as an athlete, you know when you need to make a change.” He recommended that she make the move now rather than wasting valuable time dithering over the decision. “Your career is short,” he advised her. “If something needs to happen, it has to happen now. Don’t wait.”
With Whiting’s blessing, she and Paul got to work on shoring up her technique, mainly by establishing a more balanced entry position.
According to Paul, the goal is for Chase to “rotate around the spine” as she moves left at the back of the ring. “I stand behind her and hold up my hand, and she has to go out and around me. She used to pull her left shoulder down on her entry, which threw her off balance. That’s the main thing, getting more consistent out of the back.”
Chase agreed that this was a weakness in her technique. “Remember,” she says, “I was a sprinter before I was a thrower, so my instinct out of the back was to sort of drop down and charge like a sprinter.”
She and Whiting made a conscious decision to leave her entry as it was when she started throwing far in 2019. They planned to set about fixing it after that season, but with the disappointment of her seventh-place finish at the World Championships and the difficulties brought on by the pandemic, her head was never in the right place to endure a painstaking technique renovation.
This January though, the time seemed right. “I’m much more open to working on things now,” she says. “And when you are open mentally to making changes, they actually work.”
Proof came when Chase hit marks of 19.21m and 19.20m on consecutive weekends earlier this month.
The plan now is to qualify for the Indoor Worlds by finishing in the top two at the USATF Indoor Nationals this coming weekend. After that, she’ll focus on getting ready for the Outdoor Nationals and hopefully another crack at a World Championships medal.
Paul, for one, thinks she can do it. He says that “During the last two or three weeks, her technique has been more consistent, and she’s been smiling. When she smiles during training, it shows she has confidence in what we are doing, which gives me the confidence to say she is going to throw far.”
If nothing else, Chase has endured some rough times physically and mentally and made it through. Now she’s ready to show that 2019 was just the first act of what promises to be a cracking good career.
That’s kind of a fun story, init mate?