Whenever I’m at a museum that has a collection of Ancient Greek vases, I like to play a version of Where’s Waldo where I look for images of people chucking the jav or discus. It validates me and makes me feel less weird to see that the folks who invented philosophy and theater and gyros loved the sport of throwing as much as I do.
One thing I’ve noticed about the athletes depicted on the vases, though, is that they are never wearing three layers of sweats or thick woolen gloves. Nor do they appear to be freezing their asses off.
That’s not how it goes for modern throwers, at least not those living and training in the American Midwest where typical spring weather makes frostbite a real possibility.
Luckily, the US has its own version of the Mediterranean climate in a place called California. There, throwers can compete in comfort and snack on avocado toast as did Coach Dave Astrauskas’ group from the University of Wisconsin earlier this month.
The result? Fourteen PBs and two school records. Here’s some deets.
Cal State LA Twilight Invitational April 12
Chloe Lindeman won the hammer at the LA Twilight Invitational with a PB toss of 64.52m. It was the beginning of a successful week made possible, according to Coach Astrauskas, by a conversation he had with Chloe a few months ago that went something like this:
Astrauskas: Chloe, I think you should stop throwing the shot put. Weight and hammer are the way to go for you.
Chloe: Coach, what are you talking about? I’m a shot putter!
Astrauskas: We all think we are a certain thing until we are not.
It’s hard to argue with logic like that, and Chloe’s performance since ditching the shot–a fourth-place finish in the weight at the NCAA Indoor Championships, a cavalcade of hammer PBs this spring–has been promising.
Olivia Roberts, also coming off a successful winter with the weight (13th at NCAA Indoors), took second in the hammer here with a best of 57.30m. Olivia is a reformed jumpaholic who came to Madison as a potential multi then briefly tried the javelin before taking up the ball and wire full time in 2021.
Her introduction to the hammer involved several months of throwing light implements into a net. As fun as that sounds, Astrauskas was impressed with Roberts’ stick-to-it-iveness.
“At times, she was like, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever be good at this,’” Astruaskas recalls. “But she was always fun to work with, always asked good questions. And she showed up every day with a smile on her face ready to try something that was completely foreign to her–throwing into a tarp and lifting a lot of weights.”
Roberts threw 54.84m that first season, then improved to 60.61m in 2022.
Coach A says that her performance in the weight (22.32m PB) shows that she has the “horsepower” to make the hammer go. After this year, she’ll have two indoor seasons and one outdoor season of eligibility remaining, and Astrauskas is excited to see how much more she can improve.
Sam Coil won the Twilight men’s hammer comp with a 67.00m PB. Sam, a grad student who transferred from South Dakota State in 2021, came to Madison as a three-turn hammer thrower and struggled as he transitioned to four turns. After throwing 61.35m during the 2021 season, he topped out at 61.20m last year.
Just before the California trip, however, Sam experienced what Coach Asttrauskas describes as a “lightbulb moment.”
That conversation went something like this:
Sam: Coach, I don’t need to try so hard on my throws. I can kind of let the ball pull me through my first three turns.
Sam’s practice attempts improved immediately, and a five-and-a-half meter PB at the Twilight followed.
Pacific Coast Intercollegiate Invitational April 13
Lindeman threw 62.88m at the Pacific Coach Intercollegiate to pick up another win. This was the third consecutive comp where she surpassed her PB from last season (62.66m), and Coach Astrauskas says bigger throws will come as Chloe stops relying so much on the “ballistic finish” that helped her launch the weight 23.77m this winter.
Josie Schaefer, entering the final leg of a magnificent Badger career, tossed her best-ever outdoor season opener (18.18m) to win the women’s shot. Astrauskas says that besides scoring tons of points, Josie–second at the 2021 NCAA Outdoor Championships and again at the 2023 Indoor Champs–serves as the “master motivator and leader of the team.”
Josie herself is highly motivated to improve her discus PB (57.22m) during her final season, but she came up a little short here, finishing sixth with a throw of 55.04m. The conditions, according to Astruaskas, were favorable, and Schaefer hit solid positions during her throws, but the discus gods are fickle and a slight glitch in her release cost her some distance.
Jason Swarens put the shot 19.11m to take the win. Swarens (6’4”, 300lbs) is a big man with a big future, according to Astrauskas. “He threw 64’ with a glide as a junior in high school,” says Coach A. “So, he has some pop. He also has two more years of eligibility, and with his passion for the event, he can be one of the best we’ve ever had here.”
Another contender for best-ever Badger is Andrew Stone, who finished third in the men’s shot with a throw of 18.36m, well below the PB of 19.97m he produced in May of 2022.
Andrew’s struggles this season can be traced back to a biceps tendon strain he suffered in his left arm indoors. Astrauskas says Stone was in a lot of pain at the Big Ten Indoor Championships, but with the Badgers in the hunt for the title, insisted on going for broke on his final attempt. Stone produced his best put of the day (18.63m) and picked up important team points by jumping from seventh to fourth place.
“Putting that kind of effort out there might have set him back with the injury,” says Astrauskas. “But he told me recently that he felt like it was worth it to help the team. He is a tough son of a gun.”
In spite of some lingering discomfort, Stone produced a 55.04m PB in the disc at the PCI, which moved him to number ten all time for the Badgers.
Beach Invitational April 14 – April 15
Chloe Lindeman hammered a PB of 64.90m to take second at the Beach Invitational. Astrauskas described that throw as “the most fluid in her first three turns. There was no big gap between turns three and four, and she didn’t pause to load up before her delivery. We don’t want to take away her violent finish, but we don’t want that to be the sole focus.”
Chloie was, he added, “pretty excited” after that throw, and understandably so. With it, she broke the school record.
There was more excitement for Astrauskas’ crew in the women’s hammer as Olivia Roberts climbed to number four on the all time list with a 61.44m toss that has the Badgers looking solid in that event.
Sam Coil’s light bulb continued to burn bright at the Beach as he backed up his recent PB with another fine effort, this time 65.89m to finish tenth. After learning to stay more relaxed through his turns, Astrauskas says Sam now has to adapt as the implement moves faster.
“He had so much ball speed, it pulled him off the ground,” observed the coach. “When you make a change and it works, you then sometimes have to adjust to the fact that you are creating greater force. But that’s a good problem to have.”
Jason Swarens made a huge statement at the Beach with a 19.86m blast to take the win. Keep in mind, this young man’s outdoor SB in 2022 was 18.74m.
“His technique is just starting to get better,” Astrauskas explained. “Covid wiped out his senior season in high school, then when he got to Madison I redshirted him, so he had two years of not competing. Now, he’s finally starting to see the results of all the hard work he put in.”
Swarens is now number two all time at Wisconsin behind Stone, who was a DNS at the Beach in both the shot and disc as, unfortunately, his biceps issue resurfaced.
“Andrew has one more outdoor and two indoor seasons after this,” says Astrauskas, “and I hope we can keep him healthy because he has the ability to do special things. Every year he’s been here, he’s had some kind of nagging injury, probably because of the way he’s built. He’s wound kind of tightly, which is fine for shot putting but he needs to learn to listen to his body more and to do the stuff outside of the ring that will make him more durable. If he can stay healthy, he has a great future.”
Mt. SAC Relays April 15
Chloe Lindeman launched another fine throw, 64.67m, to finish ninth in the Elite Invitational division at Mt. SAC. Her performance came in spite of some miscommunication that had her and Astrauskas thinking she would be throwing early in the day in the Collegiate division.
“At first,” according to Astrauskas, “she was put in the Collegiate competition, then she got moved to the Elite section. Then, they moved her back to Collegiate, so we showed up at 9 a.m. on Saturday but found out she was moved again, and wouldn’t throw until 2 p.m.”
Lindeman remained untroubled by the fuss, and her consistency in the 64-meter range has Astrauskas excited about her future. As with Stone and Swarens, she’ll have one outdoor and two indoor seasons remaining after this year.
Josie Schaefer finished tenth in the Mt SAC Elite Women’s Disc, launching an SB of 56.70m in what Astrauskas describes as a “nice wind.” She fell short of her season’s goal of 200 feet (60.96m), but was likely tired after smashing the school record in the shot put that morning.
Josie’s shot PB had been stuck at 18.29m since the 2021 NCAA Outdoor Championships, but on this day Astrauskas could tell right away that something was brewing.
“The first time she got in the ring during warmups,” he says, “the ball was going. I don’t think she was under 18 meters on any throw.”
Once the comp began, she went 18.12m, 18.98m, 18.54m.
Never wanting to pass up an opportunity to ice a thrower on the best day of their career, the officials took their time reordering the flight before the final three rounds, and once things finally got rolling again Schaeffer was understandably low on gas. Adding 69 centimeters to your PB can be quite a jolt to the system. Her final throws went 17.74m, foul, 17.11m.
What caused the breakthrough?
Astruaskas attributes it to the work they’ve put in smoothing out Josie’s entry. “Our focus has been on out of the back, ” he explained. “Making sure to make a good job of coming around the left, staying out over the left, and keeping the right shoulder down. Today, she did that very well.”
The 18.98m throw vaulted Schaefer to fifth on the World Athletics performance list for 2023, and has inquiring minds wondering if she’ll turn pro after this season.
“Josie,” says Astrauskas,” is not one to hang on without good reason. She has certain distances in her mind, and if she hits them she’ll probably continue throwing. Otherwise she’ll call it a career.”
Whatever that number is, shot put fans can only hope she achieves it. Yes, the United States is currently flush with top female putters, but there’s room for a competitor who is, according to Astrauskas, “Fierce, focused and always ready to go at the big meets.”
The next “big meet” for Josie and the Badgers will be this weekend’s Penn Relays where temperatures will be in the low ’60’s with lots of rain and no palm trees. Just like home.