It could have been any number of things.
He’d blasted a PB of 85.67m less than three weeks earlier, so there was no reason to doubt his fitness.
But sleeping on an uncomfortable bed and walking everywhere in the Olympic village made him feel a little tight in the hips. Having to wake up at 4:00am the day of the qualification round was not ideal, nor was the 90-degree temperature and 96 percent humidity that morning.
There is also a lot of sitting and waiting involved at a major championships. He felt good at the warmup track, but then had to chill out for nearly an hour in call room number one, and again in call room number two before being taken into the stadium.
Also, the runway was falling apart. The Tokyo organizers had installed a super special Mondo track surface designed to propel runners to Olympic and World records, which it did. But when subjected to the one-ton of pressure exerted each time a javelin thrower slammed his blocking foot into the ground, the spongy top layer of that surface shredded, creating a very dicey situation for the athletes.
It could have been any of those things, or none of them. The fact is that sprinting twenty meters then hitting the breaks while whipping a light spear as far as you can is none too good for the joints.
Whatever the case may be, Michael Shuey was not thinking about the hazards of his chosen profession last August when he stepped up to take his first throw as an Olympian. He was thinking about his technique.
“My cue on round one,” he recalled recently, “was to run down there easy, then drop my right knee into the throw as hard as I could.”
That’s a common cue for javeliners, a simple way to make sure they get the most out of their right hip as they blast into the throw. But on this attempt Mike’s right heel got stuck, and his knee paid the price.
“I felt like I dislocated my kneecap,” he says. “All I could think about was that everyone back home just watched me blow out my knee.”
The kindness of strangers
“I went back to my seat and wrapped it. The Romanian guy, Novac, was like ‘Hey Mike, you need my tape?’ He lent me some, and one of the Finnish guys said, ‘Hey, I’m not using my knee brace. Do you want to use it?’ I really appreciated that. It was a cool experience. I just hope I never have to have it again.”
Kindness, part two
“Getting injured at Olympics is a whole different realm. They scheduled me for an MRI, and I thought ‘Oh good, I’ll get to see some of Tokyo on the way to the hospital.’ But the hospital was right there in the village, next to the cafeteria. They had orthopedic doctors. Physical therapists. Even a dentist. I was talking to them, and they told me that since some countries don’t have access to health care, they let athletes get stuff taken care of at the Olympics. For example, a guy from Africa had a decayed tooth in back of his mouth that was completely hollowed out. They pulled it, and I asked him how long he’d been dealing with that tooth. He said two years!”
The road back
It turned out to be a posterolateral corner injury, which is Latin for “a really messed up knee.” Torn meniscus. Torn cartilage. Sprained lateral ligaments.
Once he arrived back home, Mike underwent microfracture surgery, which involves drilling small holes into the ends of the bones near the damaged cartilage. The holes are meant to stimulate the production of fresh cartilage cells.
After the surgery, Mike was told that he would need to rest his knee for six months. That meant rehab and walking throws only.
The knee swelled up a lot. He had PRP (platelet-rich plasma injection) therapy and did his best not to lose his feel for making a javelin go far.
“It was a lot of trial and error,” he says. ” I will definitely try to get my rehab plan published after this.”
Mike has competed once this season, producing a toss of 75.25m at the USATF Throws Fest in Tucson in May. Before that meet, he’d had a total of two practices during which he’d gone beyond walking throws and threw using a short approach.
His training continues to be a mix of rehab and throwing drills, with the knee a constant consideration. He uses a variety of javs when he throws, everything from a 1-kilo down to a 600-gram implement.
Mike says his knee feels “moderately okay” right now, and that he is working to find the feel on his throws.
“I have my footwork down now, I just need to get connected with the jav and hit solid, line drive throws.”
In terms of qualifying for the World Championships, Mike’s big toss from last July has put him in a great spot. He is currently the only American man to have hit the World Athletics qualifying mark, which makes him a virtual lock to make the squad. Tim Glover and Curtis Thompson are likely to join him on the Worlds team, based on their current WA ranking.
What’s the meaning of this?
Assuming he makes the team, Mike says that qualifying for Worlds “will give me self validation that regardless of what hardships happen to me, I can come back better. It might not bring me fame and riches, but emotionally it will do a lot for me. My big goal is to make finals at Worlds, and I think I can do it.”
Ready to take a chance again
Mike is cognizant of the risk he will be taking when he once again unleashes his full technique at full speed. He says that a javelin thrower’s body has to be comfortable enough with that range of motion you need to make a big throw. “When you put yourself in that elongated, somewhat treacherous position, your body can be like ‘Noooo!’ and bail out of it. That’s why you always throw farther in a meet than in practice. You need that adrenaline to help you push your limits.”
Limit pushing time in the men’s javelin will take place on Sunday at 11:35am Pacific.