Back on the horse: A 2022 USATF Indoor Championships Women’s Shot Recap

I showed up grouchy for day one of the 2022 USATF Indoor Championships last Saturday, and who could blame me? Even in this newfangled age of jet airliners and such, my trip from Chicago to Spokane on Friday was a solid ten-hour journey door-to-door, half of which saw me wedged into seats designed to punish a guy for being tall and old.

Then, on Saturday morning I got confused about the route I should take walking from my hotel to the Podium–the newly constructed site of these championships.

I could actually see the Podium sitting on a hill off in the distance as I exited the hotel, but the Google lady in my phone had me go in a different direction at the end of every block, Pac-Man style, instead of following a straight line from point A to point B.

I finally made my way across the Spokane River…

…and through a park to the Podium…

…which I have to admit, is a nice looking facility.

At that point, however, I was in no mood to swoon over aesthetics. What a grouchy man wants on a Saturday morning in late February is to see some top notch shot putting, and lucky for me, there was plenty on hand at this US Championships.

Maggie Ewen, who arrived in Spokane with a season’s best of 19.03m, made the money I spent on those twelve-dollar airport beers seem entirely worthwhile when she opened with a 19.50m toss and then followed it in round two with a 19.79m PB.

As you may recall, Maggie’s 2021 season began and ended quite well. She tossed an indoor PB of 19.54m that February, and won the Diamond League final with an outdoor season’s best of 19.41m in September.

The middle part, though, was rough. After just missing the podium at the 2019 Worlds, Maggie was considered a legit medal contender for the Tokyo Olympic Games, but a subpar day at the Trials cost her a spot on the team.

That’s a devastating experience for a track and field athlete. Members of a Super Bowl contender that gets upset in the playoffs can look forward to taking another crack at it the following year, but as we know, the Olympics doesn’t happen every year. For Maggie and anyone else who came up short at the Trials, the fact that the 2024 Games was “only” three years away must have been of little solace.

But Maggie and her coach, Kyle Long, vowed to make good use of the final weeks of the 2021 season. They set about adjusting her entry to achieve maximum smoothness, and those adjustments paid off with her Diamond League final win, which provides her with an automatic entry into the 2022 Worlds.

This winter, Maggie and Kyle picked up where they’d left off in terms of technical focus, and she felt good coming into this comp, although not necessarily 19.79m good. When I spoke to her a few days before Spokane, she said she felt like she was still in an “early” phase of her training and was pleased to see “sporadic” throws around nineteen meters in practice.

If her 19.50m opener was a pleasant surprise, the 19.79m follow-up was something more–maybe a dose of redemption. “Being frank,” she said before the competition, “with not making the Olympic team, it would be really, really good mentally to get back on that horse of feeling like I can make teams, feeling you are that caliber.”

Hopefully, there is room on that horse for Chase Ealey, who earned her own bit of vindication on Saturday with a 19.10m third round toss that put her on the team for Indoor Worlds.

Like Maggie, Chase fell short at the 2021 Trials, then spent the rest of the season trying to resuscitate her flagging confidence. They even travelled together while competing in Europe late last the summer.

Chase and Maggie ended up taking very different paths over the last few months (you can read about Chase’s journey here and Maggie’s here and here) but making the team for Indoor Worlds–which Chase did with a 19.10m toss in round three–must have felt something like this for both of them:

After all the chills and winter blues, 

The staying warm and staying in, 

Meetings indoors for outside is cold, 

Then comes the spring sunshine, 

The sun breaks in like a door open wide

With the burst of sunlight, 

That lasting and warm, 

Bringing smiles back on peoples faces

It is the time for new growth, 

It is the time for new beginnings, 

It is the time for buds to bloom, 

It is the time for nature to sound its sounds of nature again,

Okay, neither of them said that. Those lines are from a poem by Ellen Ni Bheachain called “Spring Sunshine.” You can listen to Chase’s actual comments here, and Maggie’s here. But suffice it to say, both were pretty darn happy.

Another competitor with reason to feel poetic about her performance in Spokane was Jessica Woodard, who smashed an indoor PB of 18.70m to firmly establish herself as a contender for the outdoor World’s team this summer.

That throw came after a break in the action to introduce the athletes after round three, even though they had already been introduced prior to round one. It seemed as if USATF was doing some kind of dementia check. “If the names of these athletes do not sound familiar, please make an appointment with your family physician.”

Whatever the case, Jess shook off the fifteen-minute pause to hit that PB shortly after the comp resumed.

“Thankfully,” she said afterwards, “I was able to stay pretty warm during the delay. I just had a good time talking to the other competitors and doing my best to stay focused.”

Her focus now will turn to fighting for a spot on the team for this summer’s Worlds, to be held in Eugene. That task got a little easier when Maggie received her World Championships bye, which will allow the US to send four women putters to Worlds.

“For the next couple of months,” she told me, “I’ll go back to the lab and get more strength work in. We tapered a little bit for this meet, but not much. I have some timing things I have to work out in terms of technique, and I’ll use the beginning of the outdoor season to get consistent reps. I know I’m close to some nineteen-meter throws.”

The “lab” that Jess referred to is the Desert High Performance group coached by Ryan Whiting in Mesa, Arizona, where she has been training since the summer of 2020,

Jess has a stable job working remotely for a company called Aspen Media, which is owned by a former track athlete. Her job with Aspen gives her enough money to get by and the flexibility she needs to balance work, travel, and training. She says that even though, “saving money is tough when you are working while also having to travel for competitions,” she makes “enough to pay my bills.”

Maggie and Chase will both attest to the importance of settling into a comfortable training environment, and with Jess making steady progress in Mesa, watch out for her this summer.

And keep an eye on Jessica Ramsey as well. Ramsey, who turned in a sensational performance at last summer’s Trials, finished fourth with a best of 18.66m on this day when she simply could not locate her timing. She told me a few days before the meet that her training was going well, but that her focus was on “putting it all together” during the outdoor campaign.

Odds are that she will, and with the addition of Tokyo silver medalist Raven Saunders and fellow 2020 Olympian Adelaide Aquilla–neither of whom competed in Spokane–to the field at the outdoor Championships, the women’s shot there should be a marquis event.

It was easy to look forward to pleasant days ahead as I left the Podium that afternoon feeling exhilarated. Outside the facility, a warm, late winter sun beamed down and the playground in the park below was alive with laughing children.

Spirits restored, I gave the Google lady a break and found my own way back to the hotel.

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