Some Thoughts on Supporting our Athletes

I read a really interesting article in the New York Times the other day. It described the efforts of US skiers to raise money for training and travel expenses through crowdfunding sites.

Here is the link to that article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/24/sports/facing-uphill-struggle-for-sponsors-us-skiers-lead-a-crowdfunding-trend.html?ref=sports&_r=0

I know nothing about the sport of skiing other than the fact that Lindsey Vonn is dating Tiger Woods (thank you People Magazine), but the article made me wonder if American throwers were also using crowdfunding to help with expenses.

Turns out that at least one is, and I know her.

brit smith

She is Brittany Smith, the recent Illinois State University graduate and NCAA All-American in the shot put and hammer throw.

I met Brittany a few years ago when one of my former throwers was her teammate at Illinois State. She is a really nice person and a very talented young thrower.

Funny story. A couple of weeks ago I received an email from my brother-in-law Larry who lives in Germany and has made possible most of my sojourns across the pond to see world class track meets. Larry owns some rental property in Tuscon, Arizona, and he had received an inquiry from a young lady named Brittany Smith who wanted to rent one of his places next winter. Apparently, she was a thrower and wanted to train in Arizona as part of her effort to make the 2016 Olympic team.

I was happy to vouch for the fact that Brittany was indeed a thrower and that, aside from her rather odd taste in men (more on that in a moment) seemed like a completely trustworthy person.  Larry was happy to play a role in helping an aspiring Olympian, and so the deal was done.

Funny story. Larry ran distance for DIII powerhouse North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.  My friend Sean Denard was, from 2012 until a couple of months ago, the throws coach at North Central. Sean recently took over the throws position at Grand Valley State. He is also the boyfriend of…Brittany Smith.

Anyway, Larry had mentioned that Brittany was using a crowdfunding site to raise some cash, a fact that I was reminded of while reading the New York Times story. Here is the link to  her page on the gofundme site:

http://www.gofundme.com/ckgykk

Thinking about Brittany and her efforts to stay in the sport long enough to reach her prime (she is currently 23 years old) made me think about my conversation with the German coach Torsten Schmidt last month.

I am by no means an expert in the German system, but from what I can tell it works like this:

Typical schools in Germany do not field sports teams. Most communities, however, have sports clubs. These clubs are coached by volunteer and part-time trainers. If a young athlete shows significant potential, they might be invited to attend a special “sports school” starting (I think) at the age of 16.

There, they will receive expert coaching.

If an athlete continues to flourish in his or her sport, they may be offered the opportunity to remain in the government-sponsored sports system, often by joining a special arm of the police.  Christoph Harting, one of the discus throwers who trains with Torsten, talks about that in the following interview:

 

Christoph’s position with the police allows him, at the age of 24, to train full time from January through September at an excellent facility in Berlin (it has 8 discus rings) under the care of one of the best coaches in the world. He shares that coach with only two other athletes: his brother Robert, and Julia Fischer.  He does not have to worry about training or travel expenses.

Compare that with Brittany’s situation. At the age of 23, she currently works part time at Illinois State and is on her own in arranging and paying for coaching, travel, and other training expenses. If that situation becomes unmanageable, she will be forced to consider retiring from her sport.

Which of them do you think has the better chance of reaching their potential as a thrower?

You have to wonder if the German system of supporting their athletes is the key to their consistent excellence in the throws.

Interestingly, Robert Harting recently made some disparaging comments about athlete support in Germany in an interview with Throwholics:

http://throwholics.com/2014/12/2015-off-season-training-with-robert-harting/

As far as I can tell, Robert seems to be suggesting that getting a degree while training in the German system is a bigger challenge than it should be.

That’s one thing Brittany has going for her. She has her degree from ISU. Now, for her and for many other post-collegiate throwers, the challenge is to stay in the sport long enough to reach its highest level.

 

More on Franka

Dietzsch

Here is a nice look at the technique common among female German throwers.

Notice how Franka sets up to kick her way out of the back (photo 3), how she how she turns her right foot like crazy even before it lands in the middle (photos 4 and 5) and how far she gets her right knee ahead of  the disc as she drives into the throw (photo 8).

Here is Lars displaying those same technical points:

Riedel1

Lars and Franka: the finish

photo (62)

So there it is.

Both have cranked their right heel/knee/hip hard into the throw, which is great, but both have pulled away with their head, which is not so great.

I suspect that the pulling away of the head can be traced back to the beginning of the throw, when both seemed to lead into the middle of the ring with their upper body and then sort of chase their head through the rest of the throw.

As previously mentioned, Lars and Franka share eight World Championship golds between them, so I don’t mean to suggest that they have lousy form.

But, if Torsten Schmidt is correct, they both use a style of throwing that is most suitable to very strong women throwing a very light disc.

The fact that Lars was able to effectively use such a technique with the 2k shows what an amazing athlete he is.

Lars and Franka

In my last post, I suggested that Franz Kruger’s technique was an excellent example of the “German style” of discus throwing for men,

I also suggested that Lars Riedel did not adhere to the German template for men but instead used a style common among German women.

Allow me to elaborate.

Here are Lars and Franka Dietszch set up to run the ring:

photo 1 (4)

I put those blue marks on there to emphasize the position of their feet. Pretty similar, eh?

Torsten Schmidt told me that it is advisable for women throwers to use a kicking action out of the back, and you can see that Franka is set up to do just that. As is Lars.

A quick note of caution to those of you who coach athletes slightly less gifted than these two (between them they won 8 World Championship gold medals). The placement of the left shoulder out past the left hip can cause balance problems that the average athlete will not be able to overcome.  Franz provides a better model for getting out of the back on balance. (See my last post).

Here are Lars and Franka beginning to run the ring:

photo 2 (2)

Do you ever read People Magazine?  They have a feature in there every week where they print two versions of the same photograph, one of which has been slightly altered and you are supposed to find the alterations. I can never do it. Both photos always look the same to me.

As is the case above.

Both have turned their left foot really far. So far that by the time they

get off it…

photo 3 (2)

…it is just about perpendicular to the direction of the throw and the right foot has almost touched down in the middle of the ring.

 

They both clearly emphasize an aggressive turning of the right foot and knee, although Lars has maintained a taller posture.

Here they are at right foot touch down:

photo 4

Again, Lars stays taller, but check out the angle of the right foot. It is turning like crazy as it lands. According to Torsten, This extreme turning of the right foot and hip does not work for most men as it is too hard to keep the 2k discus back while doing so. Clearly, then, Lars is not like “most men.”

 

Now for the final phase of the throw:

photo 1 (5)

It seems to me that the emphasis here is getting as much distance as possible between the disc and the right heel/knee/hip.  It is as if the disc is an arrow and their bodies are bows and they are trying to create massive tension in the bow before launching the arrow. I know how important this phase of the throw was to Lars, as I had the pleasure of seeing him  compete in person a couple of times and  during warmups he practiced this right knee/hip action over and over.

Okay, due to technical difficulties, I can’t get the final photo that I wanted to use to load.

Stay tuned, for the final proof that Lars Riedel, uber mensch, did in fact throw like a girl.

 

 

Did Lars Riedel Throw Like a Girl?

Why, yes he did.

I had a great time in Berlin talking about throwing with Torsten Schmidt. My sister-in-law Gay and I joined him for lunch at what the Germans call a “doner” restaurant. On Torsten’s recommendation, I ordered something that looked like a gyro and came with “double meat.”

It was excellent, and I powered it down. It would take Torsten about three hours to get through his, though, because it is hard to eat while being interrogated by a crazy American.

I had my ipad, and he patiently went over a bunch of film clips with me while Gay helped translate any difficult terms. I believe “hard ass” and “thigh” gave us the most trouble.

One idea that came up was that there is a certain style of throwing that works for women and not men. Women, according to Torsten, can do things with the 1k disc that men cannot with the 2k.

Most men, that is.

Torsten said that Lars Riedel is the only man he has seen successfully employ the “women’s” technique.

Let’s take a look.

We will start by comparing Lars with Franz Kruger, the great South African thrower who was trained to throw with a technique common to German male throwers.

This first photo shows them in pretty similar positions at the point where their left foot has turned 90 degrees as they unwind at the back of the ring:

photo 1 (3)

In this next photo, the left foot has continue to turn and the right foot has just left the ground:

photo 2 (1)

 

 

Now we start to see differences. Franz has been more patient with his head, which allows him to keep the disc back farther.

Differences are apparent in the following  photo as well. Lars has turned his left foot much father than Franz, and his aggressiveness with his head has caused his shoulders to tip towards the center of the ring:

photo 3 (1)

 

As the left foot leaves the back of the ring, you can see that Lars continues to lead with his head while his hips turn so aggressively that he appears to be backing into the power position:

 

 

 

 

 

photo 1 (2)

 

Franz seems to be using a focal point to slow down his head and shoulders as he sprints to the center. His hips have not turned as violently as those of Lars, but slowing the rotation of his upper body allows Franz to keep the disc way back.

Here they are as the right foot touches down in the center:

photo 2

 

The angle of the right foot is similar, but Franz is still focused on his focal point, so his disc stays waaaay back.

Next, the moment the left foot touches down at the front of the ring:

photo

 

Both throwers have done a great job of keeping their weight back over the right foot, but look at the difference in  the position of that foot. Lars has his heel up and turning like crazy.

Franz’s right foot points almost directly towards the back of the ring.

Here they are at the moment of release:

photo (1)

Lars has done an amazing job of cranking his right heel in an effort to get separation between his right hip and the disc, but I feel like his head betrays him once again as it pulls off to the left at the very moment when it should be tipped slightly to the right to help elongate the path of the discus.

Franz has not turned his heel nearly as much, but his hips reach a similar position to those of Lars and his head, tipped slightly to the right, allows him to maximize the path of the disc (as does the slight bend in the knee of his blocking leg).

So, if we accept that Franz’s style provides a sound example of German “male” discus technique, we can see that Lars did not adhere to that template.

Next up, we compare Lars to Franka Dietzsch.

Torsten Schmidt

When I was in high school during the 1970’s, Oak Lawn (in the south suburbs of Chicago) had a powerhouse throwing program under Coach George Dunn.

I’ve never forgotten my first look at the Oak Lawn throwers. It came during an indoor meet my freshman year. I was six feet tall and weighed 150 pounds. Approximately ten of that was hair.

My PR was in the neighborhood of twenty-four feet. I wanted desperately to hit thirty feet one day, but at the time that seemed like a long way to throw a twelve-pound shot put.

Imagine my astonishment, then, when one of the Oak Lawn varsity kids (I believe his name was John Marks) bombed one out past the sixty-foot line.

That was the beginning of a long run of great putters at Oak Lawn, and also the beginning of my fascination with the German approach to throwing.

You see, Coach Dunn had somehow struck up a friendship with an East German throwing coach whose name was…Peter Tscheine. I think.

Aided by his German friend, Coach Dunn taught his putters a German-style short/long glide. I remember that one of the Oak Lawn throwers, Mike Lehmann, looked in terms of throwing technique exactly like the East German Hartmut Briesenick. Mike, by the way, ended up competing internationally and throwing over twenty-one meters.

Anyway, this German connection intrigued me and when I became a throwing coach in the early 1990’s, I tried to learn as much as possible about the German style of throwing.

Unfortunately, my sources of information were quite limited.

My first year of coaching, I brought several of my guys to Oak Lawn to have Coach Dunn take a look at them, but shortly thereafter he retired to Florida, partly I suspect because he was tired of me bombarding him with questions.

In the mid-1990’s, I met current Southern Illinois University throws coach John Smith at a big coaches clinic put on by Marty Schnorf at Eastern Illinois University. Coach Smith helped me toward what I think is a pretty good understanding of the German short/long glide, and has been a helpful advisor ever since.

Around that same time, a colleague of mine in the English department at Wheaton North High School hosted a visitor from Germany–a sixteen-year-old girl who competed in the shot and disc for her local track club.

She practiced with us for the couple of weeks that she was in town, and it was really interesting to study her glide technique–a superfast fixed feet short/long.

I didn’t learn much about the discus from her though, as she was struggling with her technique to the point where she caged most of her throws. I did, however, pick up a few German cuss words.

Also around this time, I did the smartest thing I’ve ever done and married my wife.

Before I met her, I had no one to make me laugh all the time or to rub my hair while I fell asleep on the couch at 7:30 each night.

Nor had I ever been to Europe.

But that changed quickly, as Alice (my wife) had and has a brother who lives in southern Germany and a sister who lives in Berlin. The brother, Larry, lives very close to the site of a throwers only meet called Weltklasse am Rhein that used to be held each summer near the Swiss/German border.

The final edition of this meet was held in 2001, and I attended it along with my friends and fellow throws coaches Shawn Schleizer and Jim Aikens.

At that meet, we enjoyed a nice conversation with the fine South African discus thrower Franz Kruger and his coach. The coach (his name escapes me) told us that he used a German technical model when training Franz, and gave us his email address in case we wanted to ask him more questions.

I sure as heck did, but for whatever reason we could not get in touch with him after we had returned home, so my search for a German discus mentor continued.

Meanwhile, the Germans dominated international competition.

Jurgen Schult…

jurgen photo

…gave way to Lars Riedel…

lars photo

…who gave way to Robert Harting.

harting photo

By my count, the German men and women discus throwers have won 27 medals at Olympic Games and World Championships since 1987.

Americans have won 3.

I know, I know. There are a lot of reasons for this. For one, there is no NFL in Germany, so 6’6″ guys who run like deer are more likely to take up discus throwing as a career.

But there is no NFL for women, and…27-3?  Doesn’t that make you wonder?

It sure made me wonder.

Finally, two years ago my sister-in-law Gay (the one who lives in Berlin) found Jurgen Schult’s email address for me. I had met him briefly at the Weltklasse am Rhein, and he seemed like a friendly guy so I figured I’d see if I could strike up an acquaintance with him and maybe get some insight into German throwing.

It turns out he is a very nice guy, and he replied right away to my email. Unfortunately, he said that he didn’t think there was such a thing as a “German” discus technique. Every thrower has to find their own style.

(It is hard to argue with that, but…27-3?)

Even more unfortunately, Jurgen said that it was not possible to have an intelligent conversation about technique via email, especially with the language barrier. He grew up in the East, and before the wall came down they did not hear much English.

So, that was that.

Until…

My lovely wife and I hopped across the pond last August to visit Larry, and I got a chance to attend the European Championships in Zurich.

In a previous post I described my stalking of Harting’s coach at the German hotel in Zurich. Due to my panther-like quickness, he could not avoid me.

His name is Torsten Schmidt…

torsten photo

…and he competed for Germany in the Athens Olympics.

He is 39 years old and grew up in the DDR.

At the age of twelve, Torsten and his schoolmates were tested for athletic potential and because he was tall and explosive he was sent to a sports school in Rostock.

His career lasted until 2007, and in 2009 he became a coach in the German national system.

He has worked with young German standouts such as 2013 World Youth shot put champion Patrick Muller, and the Prufer brothers, Henning and Clemens.

Currently, Torsten trains Robert Harting, Cristoph Harting, and Julia Fischer in Berlin.

And that is where I sat down with him last Wednesday for a chat about German discus throwing.

On to Berlin, Part 2

So they hand over my passport just in time for me to catch the subway to O’Hare, and I make it to the gate of the Frankfort flight just as they are about to start boarding. It is the same gate that my wife and I flew out of in August when we got bumped up to first class, so my memories of it are, to say the least, fond. This time they call me up and hand me a ticket for a seat in economy, which was fine by me–I just wanted to get to Germany.

Turns out I got a seat in a row all by myself with plenty  of leg room. Just as I was settling in, a voice comes over the intercom.

“Passenger Dan McQuaid, please come forward.”

I was none too happy to hear that, but come forward I did, only to be met by a guy from the ticket counter who was now standing just inside the entrance to the plane.

“You’re Dan McQuaid?”

“Yes.”

“Grab your stuff. We just had an opening in first class.”

He didn’t have to tell me twice.

I spent the next three hours stuffing my face, then watched a little TV, took a nice snooze, watched a little more TV and next thing I know, we are in Germany!

So, suck it Air Berlin. It’s going to be a short trip because they still won’t give me credit for the flight I missed or let me switch to a Saturday return flight, but at least I got here!

And apropos of nothing, I’d have to say that having gone through security twice at O’Hare, twice at the Federal Building, and once in  Frankfort (I ended up taking Luftansa from there to Berlin) Frankfort has by far the friendliest and most thorough security. They even gave me a little extra feel because I accidentally left a pen in my shirt pocket.

 

 

 

 

 

In Berlin

It seemed like the perfect plan. My wife’s sister who lives in Berlin recently had a hip replacement. My wife wanted someone to go and stay with her for a few days to make sure she’s doing okay.

Chivalrous bastard that I am, I volunteered.

My school has the entire week off. I got a great fare on Air Berlin. I made a lunch date with Torsten Schmidt, the coach of Robert Harting, so that I could continue to badger him into helping me understand why the Germans consistently produce great discus throwers.

My wife and mother-in-law dropped me at the airport on Saturday and then headed to the outlet mall while I breezed through security.

Got a couple of magazines. A nice iced tea. A rather excellent gyro.

They begin to call out group numbers. I heard mine, stepped up and handed over my boarding pass and passport, the guy takes a look at it, then looks at me and says “Please step over to the counter.”

As I do, he yells to the counter person “Check his passport!”

At this point, I imagine everyone in the vicinity figured they had just nabbed a terrorist trying to board with a fake passport. I could not imagine what was the deal. Then they told me.

“Sir, your passport expires in two months. You cannot travel to Germany within three months of your passport expiring.”

Imagine my vexation.

I stood there probably looking a bit stunned and watched the plane fly away without me.

After a while, the gate supervisor explained to me that this was a fairly new regulation and that I might be able to get an expedited passport on Monday and they would put me on their next flight, which would not be until Tuesday.

My immensely patient wife came back to the airport to get me and immediately upon our arrival home started working the phone to make sure Air Berlin was going to honor the supervisor’s promise that I would get on the Tuesday flight.

Long story short, they were less than keen about doing that in spite of my wife’s pointing out that that they ought to let a guy know  there might be a problem with his passport before he is ten feet from boarding the plane.

The last person she spoke to in Berlin finally told her that I should show up for the Tuesday flight and basically throw myself on the mercy of the ticket agent.

At that point we had no idea if they’d let me on the flight or if they’d say “tough luck” and make us eat the cost of the ticket.

Luckily, we had one other option. If I could get a new passport on Monday and get to O’Hare by 4:00ish I might be able to use a buddy pass on United (another of my wife’s sisters is a stew) that would at least get me to Frankfort. From there I could figure out how to get to Berlin and then come home on the return portion of my Air Berlin ticket.

If you can’t tell by now that my wife is a saint, just know that she spent about seven hours at the passport bureau with me on Monday and if you think that was a barrel of laughs…try it some time.

Got to go. I’ll finish the story later!

 

How Could They?

Is anyone else astonished that the IAAF chose Qatar to host the 2019 World Championships?

Let’s see…Qatar has been strongly suspected of bribing their way into hosting the soccer world cup in 2022, they have been accused of badly mistreating the foreign workers that they import for construction projects, and the competition will have to be delayed until late September/early October to avoid the insane summer temperatures in that region.

Great call IAAF!

Here are a couple of excellent articles on this matter:

http://www.insidethegames.biz/sports/summer/athletics/1023933-exclusive-iaaf-claim-doha-s-37-million-offer-in-2019-world-championships-bid-was-legal-and-within-guidelines

http://www.insidethegames.biz/blogs/1023916-mike-rowbottom-why-the-iaaf-disregarded-a-herd-of-elephants-in-the-room-to-give-doha-the-2019-world-athletics-championships

Any thoughts? I just don’t know what to think other than to wonder if the IAAF  is as corrupt as FIFA.

–McQ

3 Things I Know – Part 3

More details at:
The Wilkins Review
                                   

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Mac Wilkins Throws Channel

Part 3   Rotational Continuity into the Block    

The Right Leg drives around into the throw, rotating the Right Hip WITH LITTLE OR NO PAUSE (even before the left foot is grounded) into the left side block.

This is the key difference between 67m+ and NOT.

These three high level concepts will work well as a tune up before the big meets in May and June.  You won’t get bogged down with complex details and “forget how to throw”.   They are also foundation concepts that can and should be mastered from the beginning of your throwing career.

Each of these three concepts have many sub parts or details that can be explored and I will list a few of them.  Primarily, though, I am looking at them as “Big Picture” movements, positions and rhythm that can be approached with the end result in mind.  They are “End Result” concepts.  Don’t worry about the details of how to get there, as much as just making the end result happen.  There is room for personal style in the throw but these concepts are universally applied by top throwers.

1.    See the Horizon to the Target (throw direction)
Slow Down, see the horizon to the target.  Let the left side: eyes, arm, knee and foot lead the body to the target.

2.    Work a Wide Right Leg from the Back of the circle to the Middle
The Right Leg is your engine for the throw.  The wide right leg shortens and accelerates/works ahead of the paused or slowed left side to create torque.

3.     Rotational Continuity into the Block with little or no pause.  The Right Leg drives forward rotating the right hip into the left side block.

The goal is to minimize or eliminate any pause or delay in turning the right hip into the block or even around past the block!  At first, you may have to exaggerate the turn in the air to get the right foot around and into the throw.  The right foot should touch down pointing to the back of the circle (12 o’clock).  However, where it is pointing on touch down is not as important as making sure that you are getting the right hip to turn ALL THE WAY into the block without a pause or delay.  Don’t let the right foot impede the hip rotation by grounding the heel.

The Right Leg is the initiator, not the right foot.  You don’t want to “pre-turn” the right foot ahead of the knee. 

You can’t make this rotation happen starting from a dead stop, with all your weight on the right foot as the “Wheel Drill” practitioners seem to believe.  Logon to The Wilkins Review and click on Training Resources; Drills and watch The False Wheel Drill October 2009 in for a more complete explanation of why the Wheel Drill teaches  incorrect technique.

Work the right thigh forward and bring the foot under the knee to shorten the leg/lever for acceleration.  Your skill at doing this will determine how fast you can spin your hips (how far you can throw).

If your right foot is not “back under” the right knee you are probably not shortening enough thus not creating enough rotary momentum.

Although it feels like a linear right leg drive into the throw, it’s the rotary momentum created during the left leg pivot that creates the power.

If you land heavily on the right foot this rotation won’t happen.  You must be on balance from left to right and back to front for a quick and timely right foot rotation.  Don’t let the right heel touch down and impede the hip rotation.

Check the Bend in the Right Leg on these throws.

Aleekna Sprint

 

Dietszche bent right leg

 

Greek

 

LJ BRL cropped

 

Lo 14 BRL

 

Malichowski BRL cropped

 

Robert H BRL Cropped

Right Leg Continuity into the Block

In this video look for the long to short right leg creating torque and then the immediate transfer from right to left in the power position with upper body being dragged into block.  The “walking torque” drill at the start seems simple but must be done like a martial arts movement for maximal rotational speed.

 

If you can feel the Right Leg Engine work twice, once at the back and again leading the upper body into the delivery, you are making progress.  The next step is to feel the right leg work to the middle and without pause, turn into the block.  The goal is to “be surprised” at how soon the right hip delivers into the block, not unlike a good javelin throw.

 
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by Dan McQuaid & friends