2023 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships Preview: Erin Reese

Erin Reese hopes to show up big under pressure this Sunday in Eugene.

Every summer, legions of coaches, trainers, and sports psychologists do their best to help throwers hit PBs at major championships, and every summer they largely fail. At the 2022 Worlds in Eugene for example, 235 athletes spread across the four throwing events produced a total of seven PBs, proof that it is not easy to execute smooth, rhythmic throws when your dreams hang in the balance.

And yet…

Going into the 2019 NCAA Championships, hammer thrower Erin Reese–a senior representing Indiana State University–had a PB of 65.33m, which ranked her twelfth in a field of twenty-four. In order to realize her dream of reaching the podium, she first had to secure a spot in the final, which would likely take a throw in the 67-meter range–in other words, a substantial PB.

Unfortunately, when the competition began, Erin fouled her first attempt. Her second measured just 59.64m.  After three rounds, the field would be reduced to nine throwers, so the challenge going into her third attempt was clear: hit 67 meters or hit the road.

She was not exactly brimming with confidence. “I went up to my coach, Brandan Bettenhausen,” she recalled recently, “with tears in my eyes and said, ‘I can’t believe this is how my college career is going to end!’ Then I started really crying.”

Bettenhausen was having none of it. 

“He looked at me and said, ‘Are you kidding? You’ve put in too much work to go out like this. You are going to get in there, you are going to throw far, and you are going to make the final!’”

And she did. With one last do-or-die attempt remaining, Erin smashed a three-meter PB–68.36m, to be exact–which lifted her into fourth place.

“After that,” she says, “I was like, ‘Okay! Great way to end my career! Let’s pack it in!'”

Once more, Bettenhausen begged to differ.

“Get in there,” he told her. “And do that again.”

In round four, Erin improved to 69.55m. In round five, she broke the coveted 70-meter barrier by 46 centimeters. She finished with a fourth consecutive PB, 71.06m, to take second behind Cal’s Camryn Rogers, who also produced a lifetime best–71.50m–that day.

“All year,” according to Erin, “Coach had been telling me that I was capable of throwing 70 meters, but I didn’t believe him. Finally, in the finals at the NCAA Championships I decided to trust him and trust myself, and it happened.”

Prior to that comp, Erin had considered the possibility of embarking on a pro career in the hammer, and her performance at NCAAs gave her the “clarification” she needed to take that step. 

Erin chose to stick around at Indiana State as a volunteer assistant in order to continue training with Bettenhausen. She also began working full time as a mental health case manager for middle and high school students, which meant holding training sessions before and after work. 

Then 2020 happened. During the lockdown, the only place Erin and Bettenhausen could find to throw was a junkyard. One day Erin broke her foot on a piece of junk.

A less determined person might have reconsidered their life choices at that point, but Erin persisted and came out smoking in 2021, surpassing 70 meters in three of her first four comps. 

At the Olympic Trials that year, the prelims and finals in the throwing events were held on different days as they would be in Tokyo, and Erin blasted a PB of 72.53m on her second attempt in qualification. That got her into the final two days later, but qualification marks did not carry over and the best she could muster there was 67.88m for a seventh-place finish.

Up to that point, Erin had been a three-turn hammer thrower, but she and Bettenhausen decided that if she was going to be able to keep up in what was becoming one of the most competitive events for US women, she needed to make the switch to four turns.

Throwers who have tried will tell you that making a major technical change as a pro can be tough. It is extremely difficult to throw well under pressure if your technique feels unstable, and when you are fighting to make teams and qualify for funding, every competition comes with pressure. So it was not surprising when Erin struggled to reach 70 meters in 2022 after hitting it repeatedly in 2021.

Not surprising, but also not easy.

“I came back from every meet,” Erin says of that season, “and cried and asked Brandan, ‘What am I doing?’”

It turns out what they were doing was laying the groundwork for a solid 2023 campaign. 

Comfortable now using four turns, Erin has been over 70 meters at six of nine competitions this season, including a PB 73.47m at her opener in April and a solid 72.48m at the Ironwood Classic in June. 

Erin says she “dreams all the time” about making the team for the 2023 World Championships, but knows it will not be easy even with 2022 gold-medalist Brooke Andersen receiving a bye into Budapest.

That leaves three spots up for grabs at the 2023 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships, but among those competing for them will be Worlds bronze medalist Janee’ Kassanavoid, 2019 World Champion DeAnna Price, 2022 Worlds finalist Annette Echikunwoke, and former NCAA hammer champ Maggie Ewen, who also happens to be the current world leader in the shot put.

Erin is one of a half-dozen young throwers who, in addition to the ladies mentioned above, could conceivably challenge for a spot on the team in what may be the most competitive event of the entire US Championships.

But making the squad will likely require another PB at the most pressure-packed moment of her career.

Erin welcomes the challenge and says she expects this to be the “funnest” competition ever.

Prelims and finals will not be separated this year as they were in 2021, so you can see the whole comp in one chunk on Sunday. The fun will begin at 4:00pm Pacific time.

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