Weltklasse Zurich 2022: Putting on the Platz

Joe KOVACS and Chase Ealey of the United States compete in the Shot Put Men event during the Weltklasse Zuerich, Diamond League meeting at the Sechselaeutenplatz on Wednesday, September 7, 2022 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Weltklasse Zuerich/Urs Bucher)

Sechselaeutenplatz

If you were strolling around downtown Zurich trying to work off the kilogram of chocolate you just consumed for lunch and you came across a wide, empty plaza with an unpronounceable name…

Sechselaeutenplatz on a wintry day.

…would you look out over that vast open space and say to yourself, “Hmmm…we could fit the shotput here, and the high jump over here…and everyone loves the pole vault, so we’ll put that there…and we don’t want to exclude the distance nerds, so we’ll need a temporary track for the 5,000…and we’ll have to build a couple of bridges over that track so spectators can get to the infield…and we’ll let everyone in for free and thousands will come, and we’ll build temporary stands for people who want to sit, and we’ll have concessions and give away green hats and a weird-looking furry mascot will wander around photo-bombing people’s selfies…and we’ll have maybe 48 hours to put the whole thing together and then 12 hours to take it apart afterwards. It will be fantastic!”

If the answer is yes, it is likely that you are Swiss.

Great Expectations

I taught English for many years, and on the rare occasion that I wanted to punch one of my students in the face it was usually because they’d made snide remarks about Charles Dickens. “There are too many words in this book! Can’t he just get to the point? You know he was paid by the word, right? That’s why this book is soooo long!”

What my young scholars did not perceive–and it may be that their youth precluded them from doing so–is that Dickens was a master at depicting the long, slow, grotesque, hopeful, magnificent, heart-breaking roller coaster ride that is life.

And I wish he were here to write about Chase Ealey. From high school multi-multi-sport phenom (volleyball, basketball, softball, soccer, sprints, javelin, shot) to DI All-American glide shot putter, to second-ranked putter in the world in 2019 as a spinner, to seemingly washed up in 2021, to World Champion and Diamond League Champion and World #1 in 2022, to…who knows? Maybe a world record in 2023?

Chase EALEY of the United States competes in the Shot Put Women event during the Weltklasse Zuerich, Diamond League meeting at the Sechselaeutenplatz on Wednesday, September 7, 2022 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Weltklasse Zuerich/ Urs Bucher)

Chase and her coach, Paul Wilson, are honest about their belief that she can erase Natalya Lisovskaya’s 22.63m (thrown in 1987) from the record books. She spoke about that and other matters in this interview after her win in Zurich, and starting around the 56:20 mark of this vid of the pre-meet press conference.

Chase’s current PB is 20.51m, and a two-meter improvement is rare for someone at her age (28) and with her level of experience in the sport. When Val Adams was the same age, I asked her if she thought she could break Lisovskaya’s mark, and Val just laughed at my naiveté. Her PB at the time was 21.24m.

And she was right. She was not able to extend her PB by the time she retired in 2021, though her five World Championship and four Olympic medals make Val–in my humble opinion–the greatest putter of all time.

Chase may never match Val’s medal haul, but I agree with her and Paul that she has a chance at the world record. I base this on two factors. One, Chase believes she can do it. Two, she is a rotational putter.

I’ve been a high school coach since 1992, and during that time I’ve heard (and often shared) the following opinions regarding the rotational technique:

-It only works for stubby people.

-It is good for the occasional home run ball, but will not hold up in a high-pressure comp.

-It helps your discus technique.

-It wrecks your discus technique.

-Because the rotational technique is harder to learn, everyone should start out as a glider.

-Because the rotational technique is harder to learn, everyone should start out as a spinner.

-It works for men and not women because the 4k ball is so light.

-It is responsible for the current golden age of men’s putting.

-It is responsible for the current golden age of women’s putting.

A fun thing about coaching is that there is likely some truth to each of those statements. But I’ve heard some very high-level coaches express belief in those last two, and it is hard to argue with them.

Could Ryan Crouser have developed into a consistent 22.50m guy as a glider? Maybe. But would Joe Kovacs have hit 23.23m or Tom Walsh 22.90m with the glide? I don’t think so.

Same for Chase. Her glide PB was 18.46m and she had gone two years without hitting 18 meters when she joined up with Ryan Whiting and converted. That season, she improved to 19.68m. Clearly, she was better suited to the rotational technique. Without it, she would not have unlocked her massive potential. The same can be said of Sara Mitton (4th at Worlds, second here with a toss of 19.56m, twice over 20 meters this year) and Jessica Schilder (3rd at Worlds, 1st at the European Championships with 20.24m).

As for Chase, a case of long Covid just about sank her career in 2020-2021, but this winter she found health and happiness by relocating to Great Britain (I’m no Dickens, but I did my best to depict that phase of Chase’s life here) and produced an astonishingly consistent season featuring eight comps over 20 meters.

She showed up in Zurich wearing a boot on her left foot, the result of maybe a stress fracture or turf toe–she had not yet gotten a full diagnosis–but vowed to continue her streak of 20-meter performances. Which she did, blasting 20.19m in round three much to the delight of the spectators packed around the shot circle.

If anyone needed further evidence of Chase’s toughness and determination, she provided there on the Platz.

And that toughness, combined with remarkable athleticism (she was state champ in the 100 meters in high school), new found contentment (she is engaged to be married) and a commitment to get the most out of the rotational technique indicates to me that we may well witness an assault on the women’s shot record in the next couple of years.

I’ll post more coverage of the action on the platz and also Day 2 of the Weltklasse soon.

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