I always remembered Paolo Dal Soglio as the guy who crashed the party in the men’s shot put at the 1996 Olympic Games. When I turned on my television that July evening, I was expecting to see an epic battle between European gliders and American spinners, but was greeted instead by the sight of Paolo (an Italian spinner!) having the time of his life. He held the lead until round five, and though he ended up missing the podium by a centimeter, he stole the show with his high-pitched screams and unabashed joy at performing on the big stage.
Fast forward to the summer of 2021, and I found myself greatly entertained by the sight of another Italian spinner having the time of his life at an Olympic Games. At first, I thought there’d been a mix up and the officials had accidentally put a decathlete in the men’s shot final there in Tokyo, but it turned out that this guy Zane Weir could really throw! He ended up launching a PB of 21.41m to take fifth, and has since raised that PB to 21.99m.
It also turns out that Paolo is Zane’s coach, and they will present together at the upcoming 2022 European Shot Put Conference to be held October 28th-30th in Tallinn, Estonia.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Paolo recently as we taped an episode of the Throw Big Throw Far Podcast hosted by my friend Joe Frontier, and I was impressed with his thoughtful approach to coaching the rotational shot.
Like most putters from his era, Paolo started out as a glider. His coach for his entire career was a man named Aldo Pedron, and at some point Paolo and Aldo sought advice from the German coach Peter Tschiene, who suggested trying the rotational technique.
“We trained one month with the spin,” Paolo recalls, “and Peter said if I throw within 50 centimeters of my glide PB, we would change.”
He did, and they did.
This was 1991, in the Dark Ages before YouTube, and there was not a lot of information available on how to make the glide-to-spin conversion, so Aldo, Peter, and Paolo set about finding their own way.
Paolo says that they tried many options and experimented with different approaches to each phase of the throw, including his setup at the back. “We tried starting with a very deep bend in the knees,” he says, “and also standing straight up. The hardest thing was changing where I held the shot on my neck. That took a long time to get right.”
A big breakthrough came one day when Paolo was training in a cramped indoor space and launching many throws out of the sector. Those throws were “destroying things,” so Peter suggested that Paolo move to his right on his setup.
Immediately, that adjustment felt “amazing.”
“I felt like I had a bigger circle,” he recalls. “I could get my lower body ahead and build torsion.”
Along with Zane, Paolo also coaches Leonardo Fabbri (21.99m PB) and both those gents use the offset setup. That does not mean, however, that Paolo tries to make them copy his technique, as many people assumed he would when he began coaching.
“People were worried. They said, ‘Paolo has a big kick. Not good!'”
But Paolo believes that each athlete has to find their own way to make the shot go far. One key, he says, is creating torsion.
“You have two different engines,” he explains, “the upper body and the lower body. They work separately for most of the throw then at the end together.”
He also emphasized the need for trust between an athlete and coach, and the importance of determination, especially once an athlete reaches a level where improvement comes slowly.
“When you start out,” he says, “every day is like Christmas. But after that, are you willing to work keep working? Are you able mentally to train one year for a little bit of improvement?”
At the upcoming conference, Paolo and Zane will demonstrate the approach they used to help Zane improve from an anonymous skinny dude with a 19.09m PB into one of the world’s top putters.
World champion Chase Ealey and her coach, Paul Wilson will also present, as will Paulo Reis, coach of Auriol Dongmo.
It should be a fantastic weekend! You’ll find registration info here.