The United States is stacked in the women’s hammer. How stacked? A top-30 ranking is enough to qualify an athlete for the World Championships in Budapest, and 11 of the women on the start list for today’s 2023 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships are in the top 30.
Because Brooke Andersen was nice enough to win the event at last year’s Worlds in Eugene, the United States gets to send four women’s hammer throwers–Brooke and three others–to Budapest. The competition for those three spots begins at 4:00pm Pacific time today, and it will be fierce. Let’s take a quick look at the contenders.
Several of the athletes in today’s comp have made senior international teams in recent years, and three have gotten on the podium. Among them is defending World champ Andersen, whose Budapest bye allowed her the freedom to spend two weeks competing in Europe in June rather than staying home to prep a mini-peak for USAs.
While across the pond, Brooke competed in four meets in four different countries, and won them all. The prize money from meets like those along with support from USATF and Nike have allowed Brooke to quit her job at Chipotle and finally devote herself full time to training. While she probably misses the employee discount, Brooke has performed at an extremely high level all season and on May 20th became the third woman ever to crack the 80-meter barrier, something which she may well do again today in Eugene.
Janee’ Kassanavoid took the bronze at last year’s Worlds, and is a favorite to grab one of the three open spots on this year’s squad for Budapest. After smashing a 78.00m PB in 2022, Janee’ has shown consistency in 2023–three comps over 75.00m–but has yet to hit the Big One. The USATF Championships has been known to bring out the best in the women hammer throwers, though, so this might be the day.
Speaking of hitting the Big One, two years ago at the Olympic Trials, 2019 World Champion DeAnna Price set the current American record of 80.31m before falling afoul of the hip and foot injuries which derailed her hopes of medaling in Tokyo and made 2022 all about rehabbing. The good news for hammer fans is that she’s baaaaack, and in spite of a small issue with a benign growth on her foot earlier this spring, looks a lot like her old self. She, too, has been over 75.00m three times this season, with a best of 77.25m at the Ironwood Classic. As to her ability to make the team and contend for the podium in Budapest, DeAnna’s husband/coach JC Lambert says that “it will ultimately come down to staying healthy. She had a couple of training PBs this year for the first time since 2021, so if she can get enough high quality reps in training this summer, I won’t rule out another 80-meter throw.”
Another veteran looking for a return to PB Land is Annette Echikunwoke, who was twelfth in last year’s Worlds. Annette posted her all-time best of 75.49m in 2021, and came close to equaling it in Tucson this May, hitting an even 75.00m at the USATF Throws Festival. That was her only comp of 75.00m or more this season, and she’ll need to throw at least that far to make the Budapest squad. But if you know her story, you know that the challenge of popping off a season’s best at the USATF Championships will not intimidate Annette. She is tough, determined, and battle-tested, and unlikely to wilt under the pressure of today’s comp.
Maggie Ewen, who dominated in the shot put last night, made the US team for the 2017 Worlds as a hammer thrower, but largely set that implement aside after finishing 4th in the shot at the 2019 Worlds.
In the fall of 2021, just after Maggie won the shot at the Diamond League final, I asked her coach, Kyle Long, if they’d ever go back to trying to compete in both events. He described a shot/hammer double as possible, but expressed concern that trying to compete at a world class level in both would be tricky. “It would take a lot of experimental training,” he cautioned, “and the result might be mental exhaustion. The women have pushed the event so far, it might be disrespectful to think ‘Oh yeah, we can do both.’”
But he and Maggie agreed that she had a lot of untapped potential in the hammer, and focusing only on the shot made Maggie miss her days at Arizona State where she won NCAA titles in both (and the disc as well).
They started training hammer again in 2021, but competed only three times. This year, Maggie has thrown the hammer in five comps, and launched a 75.10m PB in Tucson. And, funny thing, splitting her time between the two events has made her a better shot putter.
For one thing, Kyle says, “the hammer is a good specific strength exercise. It trains the dynamic aspect of throwing and is a heck of a workout for Maggie, so even if she doesn’t make the team for Budapest, we’ll keep throwing it in practice.”
Then, there’s the mental aspect. It turns out that training the same implement every day might have caused Maggie to overthink, and certainly made it harder to shake off a bad performance.
“When she was throwing three events in college,” Kyle explained, “it was easy to move on from a bad day or a bad session because there was always another event to focus on.”
Maggie has described the hammer as a “stress reliever” and after winning the shot title last night with a remarkably consistent series (4 of 6 throws at 19.76m or better) should be in great spirits as she tries to earn a second slot in Budapest.
So far this season, Rachel Tanczos has been an exception to the rule that throwers always struggle during their first year as pros. Rachel has done the opposite of struggling, instead surpassing her 2022 PB in seven of eight meets as a pro. In her most recent outing, at the Ironwood Classic, she blasted a 73.87m toss that stands as the ninth farthest throw in the world this year.
How did this happen?
According to Rachel, “it’s a combo of things. When I was in college at Notre Dame, I competed in shot, disc, and hammer, so I just did not get a ton of reps as a hammer thrower. Now, I don’t have to worry about training three events or going to classes. And I’m really happy to be working with AG Kruger at Ashland University.”
Rachel recently made another change that should help her effort to make the podium today.
“Until a couple of weeks ago,” she says, “I was waitressing at a local brewery, so some days I’d throw, lift, then work five hours on my feet. And I also had to decline a couple of opportunities to compete because I couldn’t get out of my weekend shifts. Finally, I decided that I didn’t move to Ashland to be a waitress.”
Will the additional rest allow Rachel to get near her 73.87m PB and get in the hunt for Budapest?
“Me being a first-year pro, I don’t feel like I have too much pressure, “she explained. “I’m not sure if I’m on too many people’s radars, but hopefully I can be someone to apply some pressure and maybe come out and make some noise.”
Another rookie on the pro tour hoping to get in the mix today is Jillian Shippee, whose coach, Amin Nikfar, describes her as a “talented athlete, who has developed a lot as a hammer thrower lately.” Jillian demonstrated that development when she PB’d by nearly three meters this season, hitting 73.01m in April.
The secret to her success? Time on task, according to Coach Nikfar. “We just throw a lot,” he told me recently. “Jillian is really good with consistency, and also with being bold on throws. If you can be bold in competition, a lot will come your way. I always tell my athletes, the meek might inherit the earth, but they ain’t gonna get six throws.”
Look for Jillian to get the full six tonight, and if any of the Big Guns falter, to make a play for the podium.
Erin Reese showed boldness at the 2021 Trials where she blasted a PB of 72.53m. A lousy 2022 season ensued, but she is back in form this year and has gone over 70 meters six times, including a 73.47m bomb in April and a 72.48m toss at Ironwood. She’s tough under pressure (you can read more about her exploits here) and like Jillian, looks ready to barge her way into the conversation at USAs.
Another up-and-comer, Maddie Malone, smashed a 72.37m PB to take second at the recent NCAA meet in Austin. That was her first time over 70 meters, and though she may not be quite ready to compete for a Worlds spot, the experience she gets tonight will serve her well as she embarks on her own career as a pro.
Janeah Stewart, the 2018 NCAA champion, hit 75.43m in 2019 but took time away from the sport to become mother to a little girl named Ja’Myri, who can of late be found running around at practice harassing coach John Smith. “She’s a pickpocket,” he said recently. “She’ll grab your keys or phone if you’re not looking. Great kid, by the way.”
Smith says that it has taken two-and-a-half years for Janeah to finally get back to her old strength and performance levels, but that just in the last thirty days they are again seeing training PBs.
Stewart has been remarkably consistent this year, throwing between 70.00m and 71.63m in six of seven comps. And Smith is a legendary master of the art of peaking, as evinced when Jalani Davis came up big last night in the shot and made the squad for Budapest.
With Smith in her corner, Stewart cannot be counted out.
Another exciting young hammer thrower, Alyssa Wilson, will sadly not be competing tonight. Wilson caused a sensation at the 2021 Trials when she launched a 73.75m PB in qualification, and followed that with a remarkable 2022 campaign during which she went 74.78m to take second at the NCAAs and 71.73m for sixth at USAs. Unfortunately, a back injury has put a premature end to her first year as a pro.
Time to get this posted before the comp starts!