2003 Zurich Weltklasse
The thing is, I’m no Euro-basher. I like my fries French, my chocolate Swiss, and my beer German. Or Austrian. Or British. Come to think of it, Swiss beer is pretty tasty as well. And Belgian? Holy cow. Nine percent alcohol by volume! Ever wonder why the Germans always swung through Belgium on their way to invading France? Fire down a couple of Belgian Trappist ales, and you will wonder no more. What’s remarkable is that the German soldiers were able to find France at all after sampling the Belgian brew.
That said, there is one thing about Europe that drives me crazy. Camera crews behind the throwing rings. I know. I know. In the grand scheme of things this is no big deal. But darn it, I don’t have x-ray vision and when I pay my thirty Euro to see some throws I want to actually see some throws and not a cameraman’s back. There I was though, having staked out a prime spot in the standing room section of Leitzigrund Stadium during this year’s Zurich Weltklasse meet, admittedly packed in like a sardine, but content with my sardine-like condition because I had an unobstructed view of the discus ring. At least while the ring was empty I did. Then, a couple of minutes before warm-ups began, some dufus wheeled over a humvee-sized television camera and parked it right in my line of sight. I understand the logic here. Televised track meets are a big deal in Europe, and (another reason to love these folks) the throws are a featured part of the telecasts. Hence the need for cameramen with a clear view of the throwing ring. But what about the people who pay to see the meets in person? I may be going out on a limb here, but I’d wager that most of us who purchased tickets in my section at the Zurich meet this August did so with the intention of watching the best throwers in the world launch the platter. I know I did, and so, much vexed and doing my best to cuss in Swiss, I elbowed my way through the packed crowd to a better view a couple of sections over. In doing so, however, I was forced to abandon a freshly purchased cup of very smooth Swiss pilsner. That, I do not forgive.
But what of the competition? Veeery good stuff. Unlike last year, when it looked like Robert Fazekas and Mario Pestano were the only ones who’d had their Wheaties, it became clear after a couple of warm-up rounds that Fazekas, Reidel, and Virgilius Alekna were all in fighting trim. Reidel, having sat out last year’s Weltklasse due to injury, looked buff (as a man of the New Millennium I can feel comfortable saying that about another guy) and determined. He dominated the Weltklasse for most of the 1990’s, and appeared quite anxious to resume his spot at the top of the awards stand. Unfortunately, even for a stallion like Lars anxiousness has a way of mutating into over-anxiousness and the big man (after opening with 65.33m and a foul) rifled throws number three and four into the cage. He regained his composure to finish with 66.52m and 66.53m, good enough for third place but certainly not the definitive “I’m baaaaaaack” he had hoped for.
Virgilius Alekna was on a similar mission in Zurich. After putting the hammer on Lars with multiple 70-meter throws in 2000 and 2001, he displayed a remarkable degree of sluggishness last year in coughing up his title to Fazekas. Not so this year. A couple of effortless 70-meter warm-up tosses showed that he remembered to pack his mojo. Brimming with confidence, he strode into the ring during round one and nailed a 68.95m, just to give everyone else something to ruminate on between throws. Here’s how good he was: After each of his next four throws (68.61m, 68.54m, 67.15m, 67.25m) he walked out of the ring head bowed in disappointment. And he wasn’t showing off. Clearly, he had the stuff to break 70 meters, but just couldn’t quite get hold of one. Fazekas must have put the Hungarian Stink Eye on him for round six though, because he launched one out of bounds to the left, a rarity for a right-handed thrower.
Aaaaah, Fazekas. The Sultan of Speed. The Hungarian Hurricane. The first time I saw him throw (at the Weltklasse in 2000) I dismissed him as a wildman who would never be able to control his quicks. Of course, I’m the same guy who used to make fun of Adam Nelson’s bullwhip left leg action until he started throwing 22-meters on a weekly basis. Even in 2002 when Fazekas seemed to win every big meet, I suspected him of being a flash-in-the-pan. Not any more. After watching him take down Alekna with a 69.14m in round two, I am a believer. In spite of his goofy “Don’t rush me I’m in a trance” windup ritual, and his warp-speed entry into the throw, I have become a big admirer. He’s tough. He’s consistent (four out of six throws over 67 meters with no fouls) and he’s going to pose one hell of a problem for anyone interested in winning the gold medal in Athens.
One happy note before closing. Carl Brown, in what I believe was his first competition of this magnitude, showed up great. He looked a little nervous warming up, but the locals really seemed to embrace him and gave him a nice ovation during introductions. That must have settled Carl down because he opened with a solid 64.25m, backed that up with 64.20m in round five, and ended up finishing sixth. The question remains as to whether or not Carl is the man to lead an American discus throwing Renaissance. He’s quick, smooth, and technically sound, but needs to find another two or three meters somewhere if he wants to bow-wow with the big dogs in Athens.
One sad note before closing. Franz Kruger, a true gentleman and a heck of a fine thrower, stunk it up. Though he looked to have added several pounds of solid muscle over the past year (remember, it’s okay for guys to say that about each other now) Franz barely made the finals in Zurich (his best throw was 63.00m) and staggered home in eighth place. A dismal result for a guy who two years ago seemed ready to challenge Reidel and Alekna for the title of Big Chief Discus. Since he did not seem injured in Zurich, I must conclude that his recent marriage has done him in. All I can say is, welcome to the club.
Just kidding. Thanks as always to my beautiful wife for somehow managing without me for a week. Thanks to my brother-in-law Larry and his lovely wife Suzie for putting me up.
by Dan McQuaid
this article originally appeared in the Long & Strong Throwers Journal in October 2003