2023 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships Preview: Chase Ealey

Chase Ealey prepares to drop the hammer at the 2022 Worlds in Eugene. Photo courtesy of TrackTown USA.

Chase Ealey kicked a lot of butt last year.

After blasting a 20.21m PB to take second at Indoor Worlds, she was literally unbeatable outside where she opened with 18.74m in Great Britain, 19.51m in Qatar, 19.76m in Germany, and 19.98m in the Netherlands–all wins. Those comps were just a prelude, though, to an historic summer during which she ripped off a run of seven consecutive 20-meter performances, including a 20.49m gold-medal-winning toss in Eugene to earn her first World title.

Her best mark from last summer, a PB of 20.51m at the 2022 USATF Championships, stands as the farthest throw ever by a female shot putter using the rotational technique. 

It was a stunning turnaround after a long bout with long Covid wrecked Chase’s 2021 season and had people doubting if she’d ever reach the potential she’d flashed while winning her first USATF title in 2019. The story of her climb back to the top of the sport is a good one (you can read about it here), and her success in 2022 got Chase and her coach Paul Wilson looking for larger hills to summit.

Defending her title at the 2023 Worlds and fighting for an Olympic gold medal in 2024 loomed as the next challenges on the horizon, but Chase and Coach Wilson also began speaking openly of conquering the Everest of women’s shot putting–Natalya Lisovskaya’s 22.63m World Record. 

That mark has stood since 1987, and modern anti-doping protocols seemed to have rendered it untouchable, but speaking last fall, Wilson said that advances in the rotational technique have put the record in play for athletes like Chase. “The rotational technique will finally give a clean athlete the chance to break the record” he opined. “It has already made twenty meters like nineteen meters used to be for the women. With an athlete as talented as Chase who has only been rotating for a few years, we don’t know what her boundaries will be, but I’d say the sky’s the limit.” 

So far in 2023, though, Chase’s path up the mountain has been neither straight nor easy.

Just before the start of the indoor season, she pinched some rib cartilage on the left side of her torso, which made throwing painful. That led to results of 18.61m and 17.90m in her first two meets, though she then popped off a 20.03m toss at the Millrose Games, a testament to her toughness and formidable physical gifts.

Paul says he wanted to pull Chase from those early indoor meets but she insisted on honoring her obligations. “She feels like she will be letting people down if she drops out of a comp,” he explained. “And she does not like letting people down.”

Over time, the injury healed, and Chase was throwing pain free by April. 

She has yet to find her groove outdoors, though, at least in part because of technical adjustments she and Paul have made with an eye on Budapest, Paris, and Lisovskaya.

Photo courtesy of TrackTown USA.

Paul says that after watching Ryan Crouser throw at the Millrose Games, Chase wanted to experiment with using her left arm the way Crouser does in order to create a more “wrapped” or coiled position at the front of the ring. This could potentially add power and distance to her throws, but technical changes require patience–it can take time before they translate to farther distances.

“A lot of it,” says Wilson, “is that she has to be confident with her technique during competitions. She has to commit to it. It’s still not second nature to her, so her timing is off and she’s been skying throws near twenty meters. But once she gets everything connected and gets the delivery going forwards, she’ll be untouchable again.”

(Note: Paul was not kidding about Chase “skying” throws near 20 meters. I was at the LA Grand Prix, and her 19.98m there was a moonshot.) 

Because of Chase’s hectic travel schedule, Wilson estimates they’ve only had half a dozen “proper technical sessions” together the entire summer. But after USAs, she’ll head back to their home base in Great Britain for five solid weeks of preparation in advance of Worlds. 

“The way her season has gone so far with only one throw over twenty meters outdoors,” he says, “has probably given her competitors a false sense of security.  But once she starts reaping the rewards of the things we’re working on now, she’ll be tough to beat.”

As defending champion, Chase has a bye into the 2023 Worlds, but you can bet she’ll be fired up to defend her US title this Saturday in Eugene.

Will that be the day when her technical adjustments click and she moves a little higher up the side of Mt. Lisovskaya?

Tune in at 6:15 pm Pacific and find out!

Will Chase create another happy Hayward Field moment on Saturday? I wouldn’t bet against her. Photo courtesy of TrackTown USA.

2023 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships Preview: 5 Questions about the Men’s Disc

Sam Mattis with his coach Dane Miller on a day when Sam definitely did not throw like poop. Photo courtesy of Sam’s Instagram page.

Can Sam Mattis stop throwing like doo-doo and win his second national title?

In 2022, Sam Mattis showed himself to be a legit world-class discus thrower by…

  1. Making the finals at Worlds
  2. Finishing fourth at the Diamond League final
  3. Throwing really far (67.19m) in a place that is not California, Arizona, or Oklahoma (he did it in Croatia)

Those three items make Sam’s resumé unique among the current crop of American male discus throwers, and would have denoted him as the clear favorite at the 2023 Toyota USATF Championships held this week in Eugene had he not fallen into a month-long slump.

“He’s been throwing like beep,” Sam’s coach Dane Miller told me recently. “Probably because of the travel.”

Sam’s success in 2022 got him invited to 2023 comps in places as far afield as Qatar, Morocco, Norway, and Finland and, according to Miller, “Sam is so dialed into his patterns of lifting, sleeping and whatever, that it always takes him a while to get back in a groove after he comes home from overseas.”

Luckily, Sam will have had three solid weeks of stateside training by the time the men’s discus comp kicks off at 3:30pm Pacific on Thursday. Dane says that Sam is once again “slamming it” and looks forward to competing for a spot on the US squad for Worlds. 

Prediction: Sam will, in fact, find his mojo and come out on top at the USATF Championships for the first time since 2019.

NCAA discus champ Turner Washington in a serene moment. Photo courtesy of the ASU track page.

Will Turner Washington lose his shirt?

The most memorable moment of the recent NCAA track championships came when Arizona State’s Turner Washington launched a 66.22m missile to win the men’s discus comp, ripped off his shirt, and sprinted over to the stands to celebrate in front of some Arkansas fans who had been razzing him throughout the evening. 

It was a remarkable comeback for Turner who, discouraged by injury and lack of progress, had retired from throwing a year earlier. Luckily, former shot put great Ryan Whiting took over the ASU throws squad and coaxed Turner back into the sport. Now, if he can reach anywhere close to his NCAA-winning mark, he will secure a spot in Budapest.

I have generously offered to travel to Eugene and trash talk Turner during Thursday’s comp to help fire him up, but I have not yet heard back from Whiting or his representatives. Nor have I received an airline ticket from them. 

But I’ll keep checking my inbox.

Prediction: With or without me there slinging insults, Turner will finish in the top three, make his first Worlds team, and celebrate shirtless.

Brian Williams after qualifying for the 2022 Worlds. Photo courtesy of Brian’s Instagram page.

Will throwing fixed-feet fix Brian Williams’ feet?

After hitting 66.14m in 2022, Brian Williams’ best mark so far this season is the 63.54m he threw at the Ironwood Classic last month. He and his coach Ryan Whiting have been working on technical adjustments, and so far they are having more success when Brian stays on the ground as he finishes his throws. This is something that all discus throwers do in training, but most throw farther when they “reverse” or jump on their follow through. 

In Brian’s case, he has occasionally reached 65 meters in practice without reversing, only to suffer a loss in distance when he jumps into his finish.

If Sam Mattis and Turner Washington are on their game, they will likely battle for the top two spots at USAs, but after that the field is wide open. Don’t be surprised if Brian goes fixed-feet for at least one or two rounds in an effort to get into the 64-meter range, which would likely secure him a spot on the team.

Prediction: Brian will eschew the reverse, hug the ground, and make the team.

Wow, and I thought the guys throwing at NCAA’s were old! Nik Arrhenius and child. Photo courtesy of Nik’s Instagram page.

Why is a former Swedish champion throwing in this meet?

That would be Niklas Arrhenhius, a fifteen-time former Swedish champion–five in the indoor shot, three in the outdoor shot, seven in the disc. 

But he was born and raised in the United States, and has long contemplated the idea of competing at a US championships.

“Throwing,” he explained recently, “was always a Swedish thing for me because my dad competed for Sweden. I’m proud of my heritage, and was always glad to represent Sweden at the World and European Championships.”

But there was something about the Olympic Games that got him thinking stars and stripes.

“At the 2008 Olympics,” Nik recalls, “I remember seeing the Dream Team in the cafeteria at the Olympic Village and I thought, ‘I’m not that Swedish. I was born in America. Maybe I should represent the US?’”

If it were only that simple. Nik began seriously pursuing a change of allegiance in 2016, but then the IAAF froze all applications. He filed again in 2019, hoping to qualify for the 2020 US Trials, but found out that competing for Sweden in a dual meet versus Finland that August put the kibosh on the process for three years. 

Now, he’s finally eligible, and on Thursday will make his US Championships debut at the age of 40.

His goal in the comp?

“I’d like to get a season’s best and qualify for the full six throws. With my athletes (Nik coaches at Brigham Young University) we talk about having a ‘fearless goal.’ There’s no point in going into a competition with a goal that makes you anxious, so just pick one that you know you can reach and build from there. For me, that’s getting a season’s best and earning six throws.”

Right now, Nik’s SB stands at 61.72m, the twentieth year in a row he has hit the 60-meter mark.

Does that make him old? Maybe. Determined? Certainly. Worth watching on Thursday at 3:30pm Pacific time? Absolutely.

Prediction: Nik goes 62 meters and celebrates with a nap.

Dallin Shurts will try to make a second surprise podium appearance at USAs. Photo courtesy of the BYU track page.

Speaking of the Swedish guy, how is he at double-tasking?

As mentioned, Nik coaches at BYU. His best thrower is Dallin Shurts, who pulled off a shocker last year by taking second in this meet.  Dallin, an extremely large and affable young man, is in the field again, and Nik is hoping they end up in the same flight. 

“If they split up the field and he’s in the first flight and I’m in the second, I won’t be able to coach him because I’ll be in the holding area waiting to compete. If it’s the other way around, I’ll have to throw then run over to the coaches box. So, I’m hoping we end up together.”

Can Dallin, who has been hobbled by plantar fasciitis much of the season, make another run at the podium? 

“I think he can,” says Nik. “I just want him to hit his cues, and if he does he can go 63-plus, which might be enough.”

However the comp goes for them on Thursday, Nik and Dallin plan to be back in the mix in 2024. 

Nik’s first big senior-level meet was the 2006 European Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, the site of the 2024 World Masters Championships. 

“It might be fun for me to have my first and last championships be in the same city,” he says.

Prediction: The big blonde will throw well and just miss the podium. Nik will still be proud of him.

2023 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships Preview: Brooke Andersen

Brooke Andersen at the 2022 World Championships in Eugene. Photo courtesy of TrackTown USA

If you want to be the best hammer thrower in the world, you’ve got to start with some innate talent, and Brooke Andersen had plenty of that. 

Nathan Ott, her longtime coach, says that when he first began training Brooke at Northern Arizona University in 2014, he knew she was special. 

“I thought she could be the American record holder someday,” he recalled recently. “She was like the perfect block of granite or lump of clay to an artist. She was quick and dynamic and very coachable.”

Brooke threw 59.37m during that first season with Ott, and by 2018 had improved to 74.20m. At the same time, her event was becoming more and more competitive in the United States. In early June of that year,  Gwen Berry pushed the American record to 77.78m. Three weeks later, at the 2018 USATF Championships in Des Moines, DeAnna Price raised it to 78.12m.

As talented as Brooke was, she and Coach Ott quickly realized that in order to compete with the best in the US, she had to develop the mental strength necessary to throw well under pressure, something that, according to Ott, is harder than people think.

He says that many people mistake determination–the willingness to run through a brick wall–for mental toughness. But the kind of mental strength Brooke needed was more subtle.

“You can’t win in a high-pressure competition,” he explained, “by trying to crush your throws. You have to be able to stay within yourself and throw with some finesse. That’s not easy to do when there’s a lot on the line, and I was in many competitions with Brooke where she tightened up and underperformed.”

A big breakthrough came at the 2019 USATF Championships, also in Des Moines. Early on in that comp, Maggie Ewen, a rival of Brooke’s from their college days, hit a PB of 75.04m. With Price and Berry also in the field, it seemed likely that Brooke would have to find a way to beat Maggie if she wanted to finish in the top three and make the squad for the 2019 Worlds.

Earlier that season, Brooke had thrown 76.75m at the Ironwood Classic, but that was a comparatively low key comp. Could she answer Ewen’s PB with a spot at the World Championships on the line?

It turned out she could. Brooke reached 75.30m in round three, and that was enough to get her on the podium behind Price–who extended her American record to 78.24m–and Berry.

Looking back, Ott says the 2019 USAs represented an important moment in Brooke’s career. 

“She was always in Maggie’s shadow during college,” he explained. “Then when Brooke finally beat her, she was like, ‘I can beat Maggie now. I can do this!’ It was a turning point.”

The next pivotal moment would come at the 2022 Worlds in Eugene, but first Brooke had to endure some painful lessons about competing on the sport’s biggest stages. A tricky thing about professional athletics is that as you climb the ladder of success, the pressure to succeed can seem to grow and mutate like Ursula, the evil octopus lady in The Little Mermaid. In college, an athlete’s first NCAA Championships can feel nerve-wracking. Later, it’s their first USATF Championships, or at least the first one where they have a chance to make an international team. Then, when they get past that hurdle, as Brooke did in 2019, they show up for their first Worlds or Olympics and there’s Ursula sitting by the cage looking bigger and badder than ever. So it went for Brooke at the 2019 Worlds in Doha, where she finished twentieth with a best throw of 68.46m.

Two years later, at the 2021 US Olympic Trials, Brooke finished second to Price with an impressive 77.72m toss, a distance that would surely get her a medal in Tokyo if she could replicate it there. But she couldn’t. 

She made it through the qualification round with a throw of 74.00m–a big improvement over her Doha performance–but could do no better than 72.16m for a tenth-place finish in the final.

When the 2022 season began, Brooke quickly demonstrated that she’d become the best hammer thrower in the world by raising her PB to 79.02m and routinely surpassing the 77-meter line. 

In June she won her first US title with a 77.96m bomb, and in July she and Ott traveled to Eugene for the 2022 World Championships, which she had a great chance to win–if she could throw to her potential.

Brooke made it through the qualification round easily, but got a little jumpy during warmups for the final and blasted her only two practice attempts into the cage. 

“Hey,” Ott told her as the competition began in earnest, “you’re in great shape. Be patient, put one into the field, and you’ll be fine.”

Her first-round throw of 74.81m gave them both a chance to breathe, but she fouled in round two and reached only 72.74m in round three. Meanwhile, Canada’s Camryn Rogers took the lead with a toss of 75.52m. She was followed by Janee’ Kassanavoid, who put herself into the medal hunt with a second-round throw of 74.86m.

There is always a short break after three rounds in a major final, as the lineup is reordered to reflect the current standings. When the comp resumed, it could have gone either way for Brooke. If she gave into her anxiety and tried to smash her final three attempts, her odds of winning were not good. If she regained her composure and threw like she had all season, she’d be tough to beat.

In Des Moines in 2019, after she’d qualified for her first Worlds team, Brooke told me that when she needed to find her rhythm she would tell herself to just make the hammer go 62 meters. That helped her to relax and throw easy which, paradoxically, often resulted in bigger distances.

I’m not sure if she used that cue on her fourth attempt at the 2022 Worlds, but when the hammer landed, it looked to have gone somewhere between 75 and 80 meters.

Unfortunately, the ring official raised a red flag signaling a foul.

Brooke begged to differ, and calmly walked over to the scorer’s table to file a protest. They were already examining the video, and assured her that the call would be overturned. A few minutes later, she was credited with a distance of 77.42m.

Take that, Ursula.

“Ok, that looks far!” Brooke at the 2022 Worlds. Photo courtesy of TrackTown USA.

Now securely in relaxo mode, Brooke improved to 77.56m in round five and finished with an emphatic 78.96m to take the title over Rodgers and Kassanavoid, who did not improve upon their earlier marks.

Ott, understandably, was proud. “To have her be in that state of mind where she was pressing, but then break out of it…It would have been so easy to stay on that path, but she found a way to relax. And once she found that comfort zone, she wasn’t going to lose. You could see it in her eyes. If Camryn or Janee’ had made a big throw, Brooke was ready to respond.”

Brooke and Coach Ott at the 2022 Worlds. Photo courtesy of me!

Brooke has continued to improve this season, and after opening with marks of 79.80m and 78.69m at her first two meets in April, in May she became the third woman ever, after DeAnna Price and Poland’s Anita Włodarczyk, to throw 80 meters. 

Is the World Record–82.98m held by Wlodarczyk–a possibility? 

Brooke is, according to Coach Ott, still developing. “We don’t know her ceiling,” he says. “She keeps getting better, and has not plateaued. I know what she responds to in training, and her technique is getting sharper. She still moves quickly and is dynamic, and she’s got more there. The World Record has always been a crazy dream, so we’ll see.”

The women’s hammer at the 2023 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships will be contested on Sunday at 4:00pm Pacific time. 

Tune in. You never know when something crazy might happen.

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.

The Monday Morning Meathead: June 26th Edition

Photo by me!

Two walks

“Everyone you meet here is someone.”

That’s what my friend Sean Denard, the throws coach at UCLA, told me one morning recently as we sipped iced tea in a hotel lobby in Austin, Texas.

We were in town for the 2023 NCAA meet, Sean to coach, me to spectate, and we’d found a pleasant place to relax during the heat of the day.

I’d been telling Sean about my walk home from the track the night before. Mike Myers stadium was a straight shot from our hotel, maybe a twenty-minute stroll along one of the avenues that connect the University of Texas campus with downtown Austin. 

But I have a terrible sense of direction, and after getting up at 4:30am for my flight, then scrambling around in the sweltering heat all evening covering the men’s hammer, javelin and shot comps, I found myself at 10:30pm wobbling along a nearly deserted street unsure of whether or not it would lead me back to the Westin. 

Luckily, I was not completely alone. There was one man walking in the same direction about twenty meters ahead, and a traffic light delayed him long enough for me to catch up. 

“Hello!” I said  “Is this the way to the downtown area?”

“Yes,” he replied, “I think so.”

That was invitation enough for me, and I fell into step alongside him.

I assumed he too had come from the meet, and he had. It turns out he coached at Maryland, so we spoke about their shot putter Jeff Kline who had finished 19th in that night’s comp. We spoke about the ways that joining the Big 10 Conference had changed Maryland athletics, and how the addition of USC and UCLA might cause further changes. We spoke of the difficulty universities face in balancing athletic opportunities for men and women. We spoke of the problem of homelessness that plagues Austin and so many other American cities. Before long, I’d forgotten about feeling tired and lost.

Then a car passed us and stopped at a light. 

“Hey,” my new acquaintance exclaimed. “That car has no driver!”

My first thought was, “Well, I’m not the only one delirious from the heat.” But I looked and saw he was right. It was a medium-sized car, white with cameras attached to the roof and nobody behind the wheel. The light changed and off it went, as did my new friend when he spotted his hotel one avenue over.

“He was a really nice guy,” I told Denard the next day. 

“That was Andrew Valmon,” he informed me. “You were walking with an Olympian.”

Denard was right. Andrew Valmon was not only an Olympian but, according to my Google machine, a two time gold-medalist in the 4×400 relay. He also helped set a World Record in that event at the 1993 World Championships.

Which got me thinking. Coach Valmon is a World Record holder, and I was able to catch up to him on our walk from the stadium. And not many people know this, but a couple of years ago I defeated 2016 Olympic discus champ Chris Harting in a spirited game of air hockey. Was this a trend? Could it be that I am just now entering my athletic prime?  Something to contemplate.

The second walk took place two days later. My wife Alice accompanied me on the trip to Austin but stayed back at the hotel on the first two nights of competition as she is averse to watching strangers run, jump and throw in 95-degree heat. The night of the discus final, though, was also the night of the men’s 5,000 meters, whose field included Parker Wolfe, the grandson of my wife’s beloved cousin. 

Parker ran a great race, so Alice was in fine spirits on our walk back to the Westin after the meet. The only thing that could make the night even better for her was making new friends and telling them about Parker. 

That’s how we ended up talking with Andrew Ferris, a distance coach at Iona. He happened to be walking in the same direction. He happened to pause at the same intersection. He happened to look like a distance guy. He stood no chance of avoiding us.

Before the light changed, Coach Ferris knew all about Parker, and we knew that Coach Ferris was originally from Australia. And you know how Australians are often stereotyped as good, friendly people? Coach Ferris fit that mold. When he found out I was a throws guy, he told me about his home club and how it served as sort of a throwing hub in Australia. 

“Lots of throwers stop by to train,” he said. “Koji Murofushi did a camp there once.”

Speaking of Australian stereotypes, I couldn’t resist asking him about another.

“I have to know,” I interjected as we resumed our stroll. “How in the hell do Australians survive when just about every creature there wants to kill you?’

“Ah, we’re used to it,” he replied, with a laugh. “But, you know which animal kills the most tourists?”

My wife never passes up a chance to disparage snakes, so that was her guess. I went with crocodiles.

“Nope. Conch shells.”

We were shocked.

“Yep. Tourists see a conch, they reach down to pick it up, but they don’t realize the creature inside of it is poisonous. Touch one, and you’re dead in fifteen minutes. Can’t get to a hospital in fifteen minutes, can you? Here’s my hotel.”

We wished Coach Ferris good night and good luck for the rest of the meet and on any future visits home as well. He shared one more quick story before we parted.

“When I was a little kid,” he told us, “maybe seven or eight years old, I was riding my bike and saw what I thought was a stick poking up from the ground. I smacked the stick with my hand, but it turned out to be a snake, an eastern brown snake, the most poisonous in Australia. I smacked it right in its head, but for some reason it didn’t bite me. I’d have been a goner if he had, so I’m lucky to even be here. Nice meeting you!”

With that, Coach Ferris disappeared into his hotel. But he wasn’t the only one feeling fortunate. Sometimes it takes a close encounter with a poisonous snake or killer conch to make a guy appreciate his luck, but for me walking hand in hand with my favorite person towards a cold beer on a sweltering night was reminder enough.

All in due time

This was Cal shot putter Jeff Duensing’s meet progression during the 2023 outdoor season:

18 March: 18.75m

1 April: 18.91m

15 April: 18.06m

29 April: 18.81m

13 May: 18.94M

24 May: 19.80m

7 June: 19.98m 

The 19.98m was more than a meter farther than his 2022 outdoor PB, and he hit that big throw when it counted the most: at the recent NCAA Championships.

Jeff Duensing competes in the Men’s Shot Put during the 2023 NCAA Track & Field Championships in Austin, TX. (Photo credit: Brendan Maloney / KLC fotos)

Every thrower dreams of having a huge breakthrough at the most important time of the year, so when I saw Jeff’s coach, Mo Saatara, the next day I asked him how they’d managed it.

“He finally believed me that he could throw far with rhythm,” Mo replied, and we shared a nice laugh but I needed more detail. Inquiring minds and all that. So I called Mo a few days later and he filled me in. 

“Every year,” he told me, “I sit down with my throwers and say ‘Okay, what is the next thing we need to improve?’ For sure, everyone can keep getting stronger each year, but it may be that a thrower needs to change their approach in certain ways. We try to target areas where they have the most room to develop and focus on one main thing. This year with Jeff, we decided to work on rhythm and timing.”

The effort Mo and Jeff put in during the fall and winter seemed to pay dividends right away as Jeff opened his indoor campaign with a 19.39m PB. At his next comp, though, he fell back to 18.09m, an indication that more work was required before the changes they’d made would hold up in competition.

At that point, they agreed to “sacrifice the beginning and middle of the outdoor season” and go back to working meticulously on Jeff’s rhythm. 

Mo says they “had to keep the training volume higher than normal” as the outdoor season began, “and this kept his performances low. We looked at what parts of his throw were off, and the main factor was the timing of his delivery. Working on that required a high volume of throwing, so we knew Jeff would not be in his best competition shape early in the season. But, one thing I’ve learned over the years is that in a technique event like the shot put, which takes a long time to master, you have to be willing to spend a longer time in certain training phases. A lot of people think you have to change the training stimuli every three-to-four weeks or even every two weeks, but to achieve results that last you have to give the athlete a chance to adapt. Sometimes, that means spending ten or twelve weeks in a phase of training.”

As you can see from the numbers cited above, Jeff’s competition results were not outwardly promising during March and April. 

But, Mo says Jeff showed definite signs of improvement at the Pac 12 meet in May, and his training numbers indicated he was rounding into form as regionals approached.

“We keep records of training results,” he explained, “and one thing we look at is performance trends in training because they indicate what you can do in competition. It’s not necessarily a direct correlation because in a competition you have a lot more adrenaline, so you don’t have to throw seventy feet in practice to throw it in a meet. But Jeff’s training results were getting better, and going into regionals I thought he could do somewhere between 19.60m and 20 meters. The 19.80m gave him confidence that he could compete with the best guys, and that really helped him in Austin.”

Going forward, Mo believes that Jeff will continue to improve.

“He gets overlooked sometimes because he’s only six feet tall, and he’s not flexible, so he doesn’t necessarily hit beautiful positions. But he’s explosive and coordinated, and he works really hard on technical mastery. And now, he understands the value of rhythm.” 

Victories, large and small

Annette Echikunwoke at the 2023 USATF NYC Grand Prix. Photo courtesy of USATF.

Two years ago, Annette Echikunwoke was napping in her room at a training center in Kisarazu, Japan, when she was awakened by a knock at her door. The visitor turned out to be a coach from the Nigerian national team there to inform her that because the Nigerian Federation had failed to administer the required number of drug tests in the weeks leading up to the Olympic Games, Annette and several of her teammates were no longer eligible to compete in Tokyo. It was her twenty-fifth birthday. She had been scheduled to make her Olympic debut three days later. 

One year ago, as the 2022 USATF Championships approached, Annette once again found herself in a precarious situation. After the Olympic debacle, she’d applied with World Athletics to switch her allegiance back to the United States. A week before the USATF Champs, she had still not received a definitive answer. 

“I would come out of practice,” she said recently when asked to reflect on those days, “and cry in my car because I felt so overwhelmed by all the uncertainty.” 

The Sunday before the hammer comp, Annette sat in church praying with one of her religious mentors. “She reminded me that it is up to God to open some doors and shut other doors, and if competing at USAs was meant to happen, it would happen. That prayer touched me and helped me handle the stress of not knowing.”

That Wednesday, Annette woke up at her place in Cincinnati where she lives and trains and saw a message on her phone informing her that she was cleared to compete. The hammer comp was on Thursday. In Eugene.

Somehow, she arranged a flight, made it through processing, tossed an SB of 73.76m and earned a spot on the US squad for Worlds.

The challenges Annette has faced this summer, so far anyway, have been much less dramatic. 

Last weekend’s USATF NYC Grand Prix meeting for example, was scheduled at 9am, and Annette says “it rained all day on Friday, then into the competition on Saturday morning until ten minutes after we were finished. Then it stopped and the sun came out. But it was no problem. I’m used to throwing in the rain in Cincinnati.”

And she’d heard in the days before the meet that the ring at Icahn Stadium was “not the most even surface, so the rain probably balanced it out in our favor.”

Annette ended up being the only hammer thrower among the men and women who made it through six rounds without fouling, and she won with a series (69.70m, 68.36m, 69.15m, 68.72m, 70.69m, 71.11m) that showed remarkable consistency. 

But, as in most of her comps this year, Annette was frustrated by her inability to hit a big throw. 

Her season’s best remains the 75.00m she tossed at the USATF Throws Festival in May, and in June she knocked out her best throw ever in Europe–73.66m at the Irena Szewinska Memorial meeting in Poland. “But,” says Annette, “I’m stronger this year, so there is more to come out in terms of distance. My goal is still to distinguish myself as one of the world’s best hammer throwers.”

She might have taken an important step in that direction in New York. It was the first time this season that Annette’s longtime coach, Susan Seaton, was able to see her throw in person, and afterwards she told Annette that she knew “exactly what we have to do going forward.”

According to Annette, one key to unlocking some big throws might be to give herself more grace when struggling at practice.

She says a “tiny part of the reason I haven’t thrown as far as I could this season is because I’m so self-critical. In just about every throw, I’m very aware of what’s going on with my technique, and I’m always telling myself I’ve got to do better.”

To encourage Annette to be a little more patient with herself, Coach Seaton shared an interview Ryan Crouser gave after breaking his own World Record at the recent LA Grand Prix. In it, Ryan reflects on a difficult period he went through in 2018, and explains how he climbed out of a technical rut by focusing not on the many things he thought he was doing wrong but on one simple thing each session that he was doing right.

Annette says that since watching the video, she has done her best to “believe in practice and not be so self-critical in practice, and to encourage myself in practice rather than just trying to be positive in meets.”

Bottom line, “we have to remember to applaud ourselves when we do something right.”

Her next competition will be on July 9th at the 2023 USATF Championships when she will take on a stellar field that will include 2022 World champion Brooke Andersen, 2022 World bronze medalist Janee’ Kassanavoid, 2019 World champion DeAnna Price, former NCAA champ Maggie Ewen who set a new PB of 75.10m in May, and first-year pro Alyssa Wilson who has a PB of 74.78m. 

As defending champ, Brooke has a bye for Budapest so Annette’s job will be to finish ahead of at least one of the other contenders from the above group, although she reminded me that someone unexpected might make a run for the podium as well. 

“Anything can happen,” she cautioned. “There are the marks on paper, and then there is what is actually going to happen in the competition. Look at me last year. I don’t think a lot of people even knew I was trying to switch my allegiance, so when I showed up at USAs, people were probably like, ‘What the heck is happening?’”

However things turn out in Eugene, Annette will stay positive going forward.

“I know my future is bright” she says. “I’m here for a reason, and I’ll keep working hard until God says ‘Do something else!’”

The Monday Morning Meathead: June 19th Edition.

I’ve been traveling a lot and also contemplating how to make progress on a ten-year plan to paint our house, which is now entering it’s thirteenth year. The plan, I mean. But, I’m ready to commit to a weekly piece on the throws which, as is the case with this inaugural edition, may not appear until Monday evening each week. But “Monday Evening Meathead” doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

This photo of, from left to right, a person unknown, Kristjan Čeh, the great Estonian raconteur Raul Rebane, Robert Urbanek, and Daniel Ståhl at the recent Heino Lipp Memorial meeting is courtesy of Robert’s Instagram page from which I stole it.

The Big Man is Back

IN 2019, a year during which Daniel Ståhl was nearly unbeatable, he averaged a best throw of 70.15m in his first six competitions, if we forgive him a No Mark at the Paavo Nurmi Games, which we will. At the end of that season, he was World champion.

In 2021, on the way to Olympic gold, he averaged 68.23m in his first six comps.

Last year, as Daniel turned thirty years old and had to deal with the emergence of Kristjan Čeh (expected) and Mykolas Alekna (not so much) as full-fledged phenoms, that number fell to 67.45m. Unfortunately, those first six meets were a harbinger of things to come as Daniel finished fourth at the 2022 Worlds and fifth at the European Championships.

Will his first six comps of 2023 be a harbinger as well? If so, it might be tough to keep Daniel off the podium in Budapest as his average so far this year is 69.68m.

What accounts for this revival? “He’s having fun again,” says his former coach Vésteinn Hafsteinsson. “Last year, it was hard for him getting beat by Kristjan. Now, he’s over it, and he just wants to do his best to irritate the young guys.”

Also, like real estate, throwing well can sometimes be a matter of location.  Four of Daniel’s first six comps were held in places where he is very comfortable. Two were in Sweden. One took place in Finland, where his mother was born and, according to Vésteinn, “Fourteen thousand people show up to cheer for him.” His most recent outing was the Heino Lipp Memorial in Estonia where Daniel also loves to throw at least in part because, according to his manager  Hans Üürike, Estonians appreciate his sense of humor.

They also appreciate fine discus throwing, and there was plenty to go around at the Heino Lipp. Daniel tossed an SB of 71.45m, the fifth year in a row he’s breached 71 meters…and he finished second.

Kristjan won with a new PB of 71.86m, making Daniel’s 71.45m the farthest second-place throw in history. Finishing third was Fedrick Dacres, who has been on his own revival tour in 2023. He tossed 66.12m and did not come within five meters of the top two spots.

It’s been an exciting season so far for discus fans, with five guys (Daniel, Kristjan, Mykolas, Alex Rose, and Lukas Weißerhaiding) already over 70 meters, and having Daniel back to his old laughing, dancing, bomb-throwing self bodes well for the summer ahead.

And don’t get me wrong when I refer to “location” as having contributed to Daniel’s hot start. As far as Vésteinn knows, none of Daniel’s comps this year have featured especially favorable wind conditions. In fact, on June 11th, he hit 70.93m in a pronounced tailwind in Sollentuna.

Vésteinn, now the Head of Elite Sports in his native Iceland, has always marveled at the Big Guy’s propensity to throw well in any conditions. “When I was competing,” he said recently, “I hated throwing in a tailwind. But guys like Daniel, and Virgilius Alekna when he was at his best, throw the same no matter what. I used to wonder why Daniel didn’t throw 75 meters when I got him into meets in California, but the wind never seemed to help him much. I guess that’s why he doesn’t have the world record and Virgilius doesn’t have the World Record. But they have Olympic gold, and that’s something, isn’t it?”

And Daniel, now training with Staffan Jönsson in Malmö, Sweden, seems determined to have a say in who wins the next one.

Photo courtesy of me.

Stand by Me

I’ve been a high school throws coach for thirty years, and I’m still trying to figure out the ideal way to interact with my athletes during competitions. 

There have been rare occasions when one of my kids has made a lousy throw and come to me for advice and I’ve said exactly the right thing.

 “Get off your left!” or “Run away from the disc!” 

They’ve followed my suggestion and crushed their next attempt and I’ve walked away wondering if I am in fact the Greatest Coach Ever.

Usually, though, my mid-comp suggestions seem to do more harm than good and I walk away wondering why I didn’t just keep my mouth shut.

A decade ago, I came across a book by Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist and currently the president of Dartmouth College, titled Choke: What The Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. In it, she explains the impediments that keep us humans from performing at our best when we want to the most. After reading Choke, I decided that the best thing I could do for my throwers during meets was–as I’d suspected–to leave them alone. Any spontaneous bits of advice I might throw at them, no matter how well-intentioned, were likely to get them thinking rather than flowing and thus make it more difficult to produce an optimal throw.

But, around the time Choke came out–again, we’re talking maybe ten years ago–I had the opportunity to attend the NCAA Championships, and I noticed that most throwers there spoke with their coaches between every attempt. I saw this again when I traveled to New York for the 2013 Adidas Grand Prix meet and watched Sandra Perković interact with her coach, Edis Elkasević. As with the NCAA throwers, Sandra checked in with Edis after every throw. Once, she had to just about steamroll an official who tried to prevent her from crossing the track to reach Edis. The official wisely backed down, and Sandra ended up throwing 68.48m that day. Later in the season, she won a World title to go with the Olympic gold she’d captured in 2012, so it seemed like she had a pretty good idea of how to “get it right” when it counted most.

This confused me.

On the one hand, Sian Beilock presented a compelling case against giving an athlete technical advice during a comp. On the other hand, Sandra Perković was ready to truck an official if she had to in order to confer with her coach between attempts. So, was there an ideal way to interact with athletes as they competed? Should I leave mine alone? Or should I talk to them between every attempt? And if I do, is there a certain kind of advice or way of delivering advice that works best?

I thought about these questions again last month at the 2023 USATF LA Grand Prix. As you may have heard, that Ryan Crouser fella had a pretty good day in LA. He came in wanting to break Randy Barnes’ Ducky Drake Stadium record of 23.12m, set in 1990, which had also been the World Record until Ryan went 23.37m at the 2021 Olympic Trials, and he ended up doing much more.

Ryan had been experimenting with his technique a bit over the past few months, and he was certainly not attempting to peak in May with the World Championships three months away, but remarkably, he’s at a level where knocking off Barnes’ stadium record seemed like a reasonable early-season goal in spite of the fact that only three humans–Ryan, Barnes, and Joe Kovacs–had ever thrown that far.

As warmups for the shot played out on a beautiful LA afternoon at the Ducky, I noticed that Mitch Crouser, Ryan’s father and coach, was present, and that Ryan ambled over to speak with him regularly.

I really wanted to eavesdrop on their conversation to get some insight into how Mitch interacted with Ryan during the comp, but politeness dictated that I keep my distance.

Mitch and Ryan discuss. Photo courtesy of an unidentified stalker.

The one comment I heard clearly was by Ryan after he took out Barnes’ record on his first attempt with a 23.23m bomb from a static start.

“Well,” he said as he approached his father near the stands along the right foul line. “I just did everything wrong that I’ve been working on in practice.”

Whatever corrections he and Mitch made seemed to work, as Ryan improved to 23.31m on his next attempt, which got folks wondering if he might just bang one off the wall at the back of the landing pit–a distance of 24 meters.

He fell off a bit in round three with a pedestrian 22.94m, after which he and Mitch again conferred.

Then Ryan got back in the ring and launched a new World Record of 23.56m. Funny thing, the laser had it at 23.58m, but apparently World Records still have to be measured Amish-style with a steel tape, and that knocked off two centimeters.

A photo showing the distance between Ryan’s new World Record toss and the wall at the back of the shot put landing pit courtesy of UCLA throws coach Sean Denard.

Either way, it was an historic performance, and I was dying to get Mitch’s take on it, particularly regarding his interactions with Ryan during the comp.

He graciously agreed to a phone call a few days later, and one thing he emphasized right away was that he and Ryan do not have a typical coach/athlete relationship. 

“I started coaching Ryan when he was in grade school,” Mitch explained. “Then all the way through junior high and high school. And when he was looking at where to go to college, that was part of the equation. Wherever Ryan ended up, they had to be comfortable with me being involved.”

Believe it or not, that was a dealbreaker for some programs, but the Texas staff agreed, and during his time in Austin, Ryan would regularly send Mitch videos of his practice throws.

“Then, when Ryan moved to the Training Center at Chula Vista, he worked with Mac Wilkins, and I know Mac really well, so I’d go there and work with Ryan for maybe a week at a time.”

Bottom line, being Ryan’s father and coaching him for something like two decades has given Mitch what he terms a “deeper understanding” of Ryan than most coaches have of their athletes.

Another unique aspect of coaching Ryan is that, in addition to his remarkable talent, he has developed his own thorough understanding of the event and what he needs to do to make the shot go far. Actually, “understanding” is probably not the right word. For sure, Ryan is a dedicated student of the sport, but it’s his feel of what works and what doesn’t that sets him apart.

“The great throwers,” says Mitch, “each have their super power. For Joe, it’s his strength. With Tom Walsh, it’s his incredible speed. But for Ryan, it’s his instant recall of the feel of every throw. Because of his ability to feel what went right and what went wrong with each attempt, and because we’ve worked together for so long, at meets I’m more of a sounding board for him than anything else.”

There was a time earlier in Ryan’s career when Mitch found himself offering Ryan different bits of advice during competitions, but that is no longer the case. 

“With so many distractions at big meets, it’s not a good idea to say too much. Sometimes, I’ll suggest one simple cue, which can be valuable because it can help focus you and, if it’s the right cue, it can fix so many other things. But Ryan is to the point now where there aren’t usually a lot of things to fix.”

According to Mitch, Ryan’s comment after the 23.23m opener was indicative of this. “Five years ago, if he felt like a throw was way off, it probably was. But now, his technique is so stable that if one little thing is off it might feel like a lot to him, but it can still be a pretty good throw.”

One change they made after the 23.23m was for Ryan to switch immediately to full “Crouser slide” mode, or as Mitch calls it his “step across” technique.

“Our plan going in was to take two or three throws with a static start, but after his opener we jumped right to using the step across. He’d never fully clicked with it in a meet, but after he went 23.31m he told me it felt good and there was more there.”

On the 23.56m, Ryan knew he was in business as soon as he shifted left. It was the same feeling he’d had on his first World Record in Eugene in 2021.

The aspect of Ryan’s development that Mitch seems most proud of is his ability to produce big throws during competitions. “In college,” he says, “Ryan couldn’t do that. He’d have big practice throws, then throw poorly in a meet. It’s taken him a long time to develop the skill of throwing his best in competition.”

One key has been endless hours spent building stability in his technique. Now, according to Mitch, Ryan will sometimes put a cone at 20 meters and “drop a dozen throws on it.” 

As to the future, Mitch refers to the current situation in the men’s shot as a “perfect storm.” 

“Joe, Tom, or Ryan by themselves probably wouldn’t have pushed the event to the level they have. But together, they’ve made 23 meters like 22 meters used to be. I wonder if ten years from now, people will look back on this time and be amazed.”

That seems likely. In the meantime, it seems the key to knowing what to say to an athlete during a competition is to build a relationship with them that allows you to give them what they need, whether that be a simple cue or just a sympathetic ear.

A Shameless Plug

Full disclosure, I have a selfish reason for rooting for Daniel Ståhl. My friend Roger Einbecker and I have collaborated with Vésteinn on a book about the Big Man’s career from the time they started working together through the Olympic triumph in 2021.

A possible cover for our upcoming book.

Daniel is a remarkable dude, and I think throws fans and sports fans in general will enjoy this inside look at one athlete’s path to the top of his sport. We hope to make it available soon as both an ebook and book book.

Stay tuned!

Badgers have fun in the California sun

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.

A pack of Badgers is called a “clan” or a “cete.”

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.

Astrauskas: Yep.

Sam’s practice attempts improved immediately, and a five-and-a-half meter PB at the Twilight followed.

Chloe Lindeman, Coach Astrauskas, and Josie Schaefer celebrating big throws with big smiles.

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.

They say fish is brainfood, so look for this group to do well on their final exams.

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.

There are no brats here, and we’re okay with that. Olivia Roberts and Chikere Oduocha enjoying Cali.

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.”

We can’t help it, palm trees make us happy! Abby Peeler and Danni Langseth hugging it out.

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.

Chloe Lindeman, Coach Astrauskas, and Olivia Roberts showing no signs of sun stroke.

Bears Golden at Mt. SAC

Looks like Mo Saatara’s Cal Berkeley throws squad–aka Mo’s Maulers, aka the Berkeley Bangers, aka…sorry, I’ll stop–is the real deal. After showing up huge at the Brutus Hamilton Invite on April 8th,  Mo’s group–the Cal Crushers?–performed prodigiously once again at last weekend’s Mt. SAC relays. Could this be a developing trend? Let’s examine.

Men’s Hammer–Collegiate Division

Kegan Schroeter won the Men's Hammer--College Division at Mt. SAC. Photo credit: Ron Sellers
Kegan Schroeter won the Collegiate Men’s Hammer at Mt. SAC. (Photo Credit: Ron Sellers)

Kegan Schroeter broke the 70-meter barrier for the first time to take the win. His series (66.71m, 69.20m, 69.03m, 70.21m, foul, foul) showed that Coach Saatara’s emphasis on developing consistent technique is paying off. 

Mo is not an advocate of the haul ass and hope for the best style of throwing. “It all comes down to stability,” he explained. “If you are steady and consistent, then one of your throws is eventually going to go.”

It’s a good sign when your old PB (in Kegan’s case 69.33m) becomes a routine throw. It’s also a good sign when you break a school record that has stood for thirty-seven years.

Keegan is going to have to work to keep his spot on top of the board though, as Mo’s hammer group includes another potential 70-meter man in  Ivar Moisander (69.05m PB), who finished fourth at Mt. SAC with a toss of 66.33m. 

Ivar Moisander took 4th in the Men’s Collegiate Hammer at Mt. SAC (Photo credit: Al Sermeno/KLC fotos)

Mo says that Ivar showed solid technique at Mt. SAC, but lacked some of his usual explosiveness due to a recent illness. He predicts though, that Ivar will be ready for the championship season (PAC-12s, regionals, NCAAs). According to Mo, Ivar “loves the big meets” and is a solid bet to hit 70 meters when it counts the most.

Michael Gupta is part of a solid men’s hammer trio at Cal. (Photo Credit: Catharyn Hayne)

A third Golden Bear hammer thrower, Michael Gupta (63.69m PB) also competed at Mt. SAC, finishing fifteenth. Mo credits Michael with contributing to the healthy chemistry that exists among the hammer folk at Cal. A computer science major, Michael “sets a great example of how to balance academics and athletics” and possesses a “deep understanding” of the event. Anyone looking for a solid theoretical conversation about hammer technique should, according to Mo, give Michael a call. 

Tempting!

Men’s Discus–Elite Invitational

Young Mykolas Alekna, is on track to become one of the best ever in his event. Mykolas, the 2022 World silver medalist and European champion, shook the Brutus with a 68.39m bomb, and then followed that up with a 68.35m toss at Mt. SAC to take the win.. 

Wunderkind alert! Mykolas Alekna won the Elite Men’s Discus at Mt. SAC. (Photo Credit: Shawn David Price)

The lanky Lithuanian looked solid in warmups but, according to Mo, began pressing a bit once the comp began. Hitting the cage on his “best technical throw” did not help matters, and Mykolas was never quite able to find his rhythm.

Lord knows what will happen once he does, but one NCAA opponent who will try to provide some competition is Arkansas’s Rojé Stona, a transfer from Clemson who broke the Razorback school record at Mt. SAC with a toss of 66.64m. 

Great Britain’s Lawrence Okoye finished third here, as he did the last time he faced Alekna–at the 2022 European Championships. 

Okoye–large, strong, explosive, large–is legendary for his physical gifts and inconsistency. During warmups, Mo told his kids to keep an eye on the bulging Brit as he is always capable of hitting a big throw. His series–foul, 66.15m, foul, 62.58m, foul, 59.00m–was a typical all-or-nothing outing for Okoye. Alekna, by way of comparison, backed up his 68.35m with three additional throws over 65 meters, and all of Stona’s five measured throws were between 64.41m and 66.64m.

Iffy Joyner finished 7th in the Elite Men’s Discus as Mt. SAC. (Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne /KLC Fotos )

Cal’s Iffy Joyner finished seventh with a best of 59.23m. As described in an earlier piece on the Brutus, Iffy has been plagued by a knuckle injury on his throwing hand, but Mo believes they have finally found a way to tape and pad the swollen joint that will allow him to throw normally. During the week leading up to Mt. SAC, Iffy was able to resume training with heavy discs (2.5-3.0 kilos), which was an integral part of his routine in the past. Mo says that Iffy “feels like he is getting back to where he needs to be,” which is perfect timing with PAC-12s less than a month away.

Women’s Hammer–Elite Invitational

Cal grad Camryn Rogers, now representing Canada as one of “Mo’s pros,” began her professional career at the Brutus by launching 77.30m to take the world lead. She extended that mark at Mt. SAC with a 77.84m opener.

Camryn Rogers showing there is more to Canadians than maple syrup and politeness. ((Photo Credit: Ron Sellers)

Mo appreciated the bomb, but was even happier with Rogers’ series (77.84m, 75.61m, 76.79m, 76.03m, 75.37m, 77.14m), which displayed the level of consistency he deems critical to anyone wanting to climb the podium at an international championships.

“If you look at the great champions,” he says, “they had stable technique that they could repeat. That allowed them to produce big throws multiple times in a competition. And with the level  they are at right now in the women’s hammer, you’ll very likely need to throw  79.00-80.00m to contend for a medal.”

Speaking of major championships, Camryn approached Mt. SAC as if it were the final at a Worlds or Olympics. 

After performing a general warmup away from the track, she sat down and chilled for an hour as athletes are forced to do when confined to a call room at the big comps. She then took only two warmup throws in the cage prior to her flight.

Mo says that the “environment at a championships is very different than at a normal comp. You have the call room and very limited warmups in the ring, and athletes need practice in dealing with that. If you get used to taking a bunch of warmup throws at all your other competitions, it can be a shock when you only get two at Worlds. You have to use each competition to develop the skills you’ll need to throw well at the big ones.”

Anna Purchase made a huge breakthrough at the Brutus, launching a 73.02m missile to take the NCAA lead by nearly three meters. You can probably guess Mo’s advice going into Mt. SAC. 

Anna Purchase sits atop the NCAA leader board in the women’s hammer. (Photo Credit: Don Gosney)

“Let’s pepper the 70-meter line this week,” he told her. “Keep building stability. There will be more peak throws coming if you can keep raising the level of your average throws.”

Mission accomplished. Anna took second at Mt. SAC with a series–69.25m, foul, 69.97m, foul, 69.29m, foul–which represented an improvement over her marks at the Brutus–66.57m, 73.02m, 68.15m, 68.80m, pass, pass–with the exception of the big blast. 

Mo and Anna will work to elevate her “average” even more with the hope that she can unleash another corker at the NCAA Championships in June.

Men’s Shot–Elite Invitational

Cal’s Jeff Duensing (19.39m PB, 18.91m SB) came to Mt. SAC looking to get some experience at a high-caliber meet. He threw 18.06m and finished twelfth, but Mo believes the trip was fully worthwhile. “This was his first big invite,” he explained. “Jeff has only done college meets before this, and he needed to get a taste of how you have to step up if you want to compete against the best.”

Jeff Duensing placed 12th in the Elite Men’s Shot Put at Mt. SAC. (Photo Credit: Al Sermeno)

The “best” in the men’s shot turned out to be Arizona’s Jordan Geist, who seems to be following the advice I would give to all college students–Don’t leave! 

Geist was the 2018 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, has scored several jillion points for his Wildcats during the intervening years, and hopes to end his NCAA career with an outdoor shot put (and possibly hammer) title to match the indoor crown he won this March.

He grabbed the top spot here with an NCAA-leading toss of 21.25m, and Mo says Geist is in excellent form.

 “Jordan,” he surmised, “is learning to manage his speed across the circle. Camryn had to go through the same process in the hammer. She can turn really fast, but at one point I said to her ‘That’s nice, but nobody cares how fast you can move. They care how far the hammer goes.’ Jordan creates a tremendous amount of rotational power, and sometimes maybe he struggled to use it properly, but he’s figuring that out, which will make him very hard to beat.”

Women’s Discus–Elite Invitational

Cal volunteer assistant coach Elena Bruckner broke the 60-meter barrier for the first time at the Brutus, then surpassed it twice more at Mt. SAC, producing a series–57.29m, 60.79m, 57.24m, 61.51m, 59.87m, foul–that suggests bigger throws might be coming soon.

Elena Bruckner,, Camryn Rogers and Anna Purchase showing off their Mt. SAC hardware. (Photo courtesy of Elena Bruckner)

This is Bruckner’s second year as one of Mo’s pros, and the 60.26m she threw at the Brutus was her first discus PB since 2019. 

That’s a long time to persevere, and Mo gives Elena credit for enduring a painstaking technique renovation last year when she first began training in Berkeley. 

Mo says that even with an accomplished thrower, a coach must always start with the basics. “You don’t want to get complicated or get weird right away. If you try to change too much at once, none of it will happen. The first stage is to develop balance. The next stage is learning to carry the disc through the ring without losing your connection to it.”

Once they made progress on those fronts, Bruckner also needed to shore up her mechanics during the release phase. 

“She was,” Mo recalls, “just pivoting her knee into the throw, which doesn’t create force. You need to anchor your block and then move the hip (in Bruckner’s case her left hip–she’s a southpaw) around it. Then you generate force.”

 The methodical approach was not easy for Bruckner, who came out of high school in 2016 with a 55.67m PB and some big expectations. 

“She had a lot of pressure when she was younger,” Mo explained. “And that is not necessarily a good thing. If a kid is talented, they don’t need people hitting them on the head with it. They need guidance, someone to say, ‘If you want to accomplish these things, here is how you do it.’”

Bruckner improved to 57.40m during her time at the University of Texas, and after exhausting her NCAA eligibility sought a fresh start in Berkeley.

She showed a lot of moxie as she and Mo went through the often tedious process of drilling fundamentals in 2022. “It was not easy,” recalls Mo. “There was a lot of trial and error, a lot of work, and a lot of not knowing if we were on the correct path until we got it right.”

Bruckner’s best mark in 2022 was 55.79m, but she found a nice rhythm during fall practices and has been able to build on that this spring.

Her 61.51m at Mt. SAC was good enough for third behind two highly accomplished throwers, Oregon’s Jorinde Van Klinken and former Iowa Hawkeye Laulauga Tausaga-Collins

Those two will likely be competing at the Worlds in Belgrade this summer, and if Bruckner continues to climb, she just might join them.

In the meantime, don’t sleep on Mo’s Monsters! The Clubbers of Cal? The Berkeley Bashers? I’ll work on it.

A Super Day for Cal Throwers

I’m old enough to remember a time when really smart kids spent their weekends building robots or arguing about which is the coolest prime number. These days, they seem focused on establishing total dominance over the world of NCAA throwing. Last week, I detailed the exploits of Harvard’s huckers at the Florida Relays. Now, we turn our attentions to the brawny brainiacs of Cal Berkeley who dominated the recent Brutus Hamilton Invite held at their home stadium.

Men’s Hammer

Kegan Schroeter takes the win at the 2023 Brutus Hamilton Invite. Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

Cal throws coach Mo Saatara described the Brutus Hamilton as “kind of a test meet,” and hammer thrower Kegan Schroeter set the curve early with a 67.86m toss for the win. Schroeter, a transfer from Brown whom Coach Saatara describes as a “big talent and a great guy,” came close to his 69.33m PB in spite of the fact that the hammer guys were still in “heavy training” in the weeks leading up to the meet.

Cal’s other 69-meter hammer dude, Ivar Moisander, sat this one out due to a bout with the flu. 

 Max McKhann of Stanford, took second behind Schroeter with a toss of 65.39m.

Women’s Hammer

Camryn Rogers, who won three NCAA titles for Cal, began her pro career at the Brutus with a world-leading throw of 77.30m. 

2022 World Championships silver medalist Camryn Rogers in her professional debut. Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

After an incredibly successful 2022 season–NCAA title, NCAA record, World Championships silver–Camryn and Mo sat down to figure out what they could do to make 2023 even better. “We decided,” Mo says, “that she needed to make her technique more stable so she could easily replicate it. She also needed to start performing better in early rounds to take some of the pressure off during qualification at the major championships like Worlds.”  

Camryn’s series–77.00m, 76.04m, 77.30m, Pass, Pass, Pass–suggests that they are already making progress.

The three passes look odd on the stat sheet, but Mo explained that they were part of the plan going in. “We wanted to treat this like a qualification round, where you know you only have three throws to hit the standard or at least put yourself in the top twelve. Qualification rounds have caused her a lot of stress in the past, so If we can make her more confident in her ability to produce big throws early, it will be easier for her to feel comfortable going into a final.”

And as Mo sees it, Camryn will need all the comfort she can muster at the Worlds this summer in Belgrade, which he predicts will be “amazingly competitive,” in part because  Anita Wlodarczyk (3x Olympic, 4x European, and 4x World champ) and DeAnna Price (2019 World champ, second to Anita on the all time list) should be healthy after suffering derailment-by-injury last season.

The field will also include 2022 World Championship gold medalist  Brooke Andersen, who will receive a bye into the 2023 Worlds, and likely Janee’ Kassanavoid, the 2022 bronze medalist, provided she makes it through what promises to be an extremely competitive USA Trials in July.

With a lineup like that, Mo says he would not be surprised to see “multiple” throws over 80 meters in Belgrade.     

Cal’s Anna Purchase took second on Saturday with a huge 73.02m PB that might set her up to join Rogers in Belgrade. Purchase represents Great Britain internationally, and is already close to the 73.60m automatic qualifying mark for Worlds.

Anna Purchase takes the NCAA lead. Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

Mo attributes Anna’s breakthrough to the hard work they’ve put in strengthening and standardizing her throwing form the past two years. “It’s critical to be stable in your technique,” he explained. “Then you can go into a big competition and just throw as you normally do and not try to make a superhuman effort.” 

Purchase’s series–66.57m, 73.02m, 68.15m, 68.80m, Pass, Pass–showed that she still has work to do regarding her consistency, but a PB of nearly two-and-a-half meters is an encouraging sign. 

Mo intended to limit Anna to three throws as he did with Rogers, but promised her she could take a fourth attempt if she “did great” early on. 

“I actually thought her fourth throw was her best technically,” he says. “But she was completely gassed from jumping around and celebrating the 73.02m.”

And who could blame her? That toss put her atop the NCAA leaderboard for 2023 and moved her to fifth place all-time in her event.

Men’s Shot

Jake Porter winning the shot. Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

Cal’s Jake Porter rolled his ankle earlier this spring, but relied on what Mo describes as his “blue collar” work ethic to get back into fighting trim. His best of 17.64m got him first at the Brutus over the “two Niks,” or possibly the “two Nicks.” That would be Nik Iwankiw, and Nick Godbehere, two talented redshirt freshmen for whom Mo has high hopes. 

His best putter, Jeff Duensing (19.39m PB) did not compete due to a case of food poisoning he picked up the previous weekend after finishing seventh at the Texas Relays.

Men’s Discus

However lousy Duensing felt after dining at the Austin Airport, the top men’s discus throwers in the world had to feel worse upon hearing that Mykolas Alekna opened his season with 68.39m– the second best throw in NCAA history. 

2022 European Champion and World Championships silver medalist Mykolas Alekna picking up right where he left off. Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

Alekna, the World silver medalist and European Champion, started with a foul and told Mo that throwing in the ring where he practices every day made him forget for a minute that he was supposed to save these throws. His series also included a 67.89m effort and two more fouls, one of which landed beyond 70 meters. 

What’s the deal with this kid? 

Mykolas is, according to Mo, very engaged in the process. “People don’t realize how much of his technique is his technique,” he explained. “Mykolas is the driver there. He understands what he is trying to do and why. People think that because the dad (two-time World and Olympic champ Virgilijus Alekna) threw far, of course the son throws far, but if you want to be as good as Mykolas has been, you have to be committed, and he is.”

When the two sat down to decide how they might build on last season, one thing they decided to focus on was improving Mykolas’s finish–specifically, the double support phase of his delivery. 

Mo acknowledges that one of Mykolas’s strengths is the way he “catches the disc very early,” but believes they can find “more meters” if Mykolas can accelerate the disc better through the finish rather than just “slapping at it.”

In terms of physical qualities, Mo describes Mykolas as “extremely flexible” with a power output that is “crazy.” 

“I would compare him to Koji Murofushi. He is just very explosive, very good at throwing things. Because of his dad, people think Mykolas must be 6’9” or something, but he is more like 6’5”. He has long levers, but all the top discus throwers have long levers. What makes Mykolas special is that he feels and understands the movement very well, and can move things explosively.”   

When Mykolas asked Mo to recommend someone he might benefit from watching on video, Mo suggested Ryan Crouser, “because he is always under control, always balanced, always disciplined, never jumping out the front to throw far.” 

With another World Championships coming up in August, one challenge for Mo, Mykolas, and Mykolas’s Lithuanian coach Mantas Jusis, is to keep him healthy through both the collegiate and international seasons.  

Mo says that with an athlete as explosive as Mykolas, a coach has to be careful not to get “too crazy” during training. “You can’t go to the well too much,” he explained. “It’s better to be more conservative with volume and load so the athlete can keep training and getting better instead of missing time with an injury. Discus throwing is a highly skilled task, and the more time you can spend on it the better you’ll be.”

Iffy Joyner (62.17m PB) can attest to the truth of that statement. Since last season, Iffy has been struggling with arthritis in the middle finger of his throwing hand, which hurts, according to Mo, “in just the wrong spot.” 

Iffy finished seventh at the Texas Relays with a toss of 58.48m, and took second at the Brutus with 58.69m. The finger has forced him to give up shot putting, but Mo is optimistic that it won’t be too much of a detriment in the disc. They have a doctor’s note which allows Iffy to pad and tape the knuckle during competitions, and things are going well enough that Mo has encouraged Iffy to continue competing when his eligibility expires this spring. 

Women’s Discus

That is exactly what Elena Bruckner, currently a volunteer assistant at Cal, did when she graduated from Texas two years ago. Elena was not ready to give up throwing, so she moved back to her native California and began training at Cal. This weekend, she surpassed the coveted sixty-meter barrier, tossing 60.26m to take the win. 

Mo actually recruited Elena out of high school, and describes her talent level as “insane.” 

She is also, in Mo’s words, a “genuinely nice” person whose superpower is her rare combination of elasticity and explosiveness. 

Mine is knowing when to end a post. More to come after the busy weekend ahead!

Big throws at the 2023 Texas Relays!

As another weekend of NCAA competition heats up, here’s a quick look back at last week’s Texas Relays.

Hammer time

Pat Ebel’s Auburn throws squad had a great weekend.

Maddie Malone got the Tigers rolling on Thursday with a win in the women’s hammer. Her best of 68.45m topped Canadian Kaila Butler of the Kamloops Track and Field Club, whose top effort of 67.75m came on her final attempt.

Ebel says that Maddie’s training is going “really well. She competed in the weight at indoor nationals in early March, so we held her out of a couple of outdoor meets earlier this season just so she could get her rhythm back in the hammer. But she’s starting to find her feel.”

Malone opened her outdoor campaign with a toss of 68.79m at the FSU Relays on March 23. She set her PB of 69.66m in April of 2022, a mark that Ebel believes she will soon surpass. “We have been training hard in the weight room,” he explained. ”And we are also working on a couple of technical points, but I can see her going seventy meters soon.”

The women’s hammer comp was contested in a steady rain, which Ebel says did not hinder Maddie’s performance. “She’s thrown in that weather before. And I always tell my throwers, that as long as you are technically sound coming out of the back on your entry, rain shouldn’t bother you at all.”

Maddie’s 68.79m has her ranked second in the NCAA at this point, and when she returns to Austin for the NCAA Championships in June, she will try to improve on her eighth-place finish from 2022 

That will be it for her college eligibility, but she plans to stick around Auburn to train with Ebel while pursuing a pro career, a bold choice considering the current American dominance in the event.  Brooke Andersen and Janee’ Kassanavoid are currently ranked first and second in the world, with Annette Echikunwoke eleventh and Alyssa Wilson twentieth–and that list does not include Maggie Ewen (75.04m PB), who has focused on the shot put of late but plans to contest the hammer seriously again starting this season. And don’t forget about DeAnna Price, the 2019 World Champion who demonstrated she is once again in top form by breaking the World Record in the weight in February.

But Ebel looks forward to the challenge. “I’ve got a couple of post-collegiate javelin throwers training here as well,” he explained. “So it will be a nice environment for Maggie. And she’s got a lot left in the tank!”

The men’s hammer comp in Austin was won by Ethan Katzburg, teammate of Kaila Butler on the Kamloops squad. Ethan broke the meet record with a 77.12m bomb, and according to UCLA throws coach Sean Denard, “hasn’t even touched his potential.” Interestingly, Katzburg and the other Canadian hammer throwers are coached by Dylan Armstrong, a World and Olympic medalist in the shot who Denard says was a fine hammer thrower himself in his youth.

Ebel was proud of the performance turned in by his son, Erik, who wound up eleventh in a field loaded with post-collegiates. Besides Katzburg, the men’s hammer comp featured Diego Del Real, the fourth-place finisher at the 2016 Olympics, Erich Sullins (72.10m PB), Jose Padilla (73.36m PB), and Kieran McKeag (71.50m PB).

Erik’s teammates  Kyle Brown and Kyle Moison finished twelfth and fifteenth respectively,  and the elder Ebel believes all of his guys can get over seventy meters this year, in part because of the way they “push each other in practice.”

What is it like for Pat Ebel to coach his son?  

“It’s fun! We get to travel together, and he keeps me on my toes. When he was throwing in high school, I’d usually see him in only one or two meets a month, so we’re making up for some lost time now.”

Soak it all in

A compelling reason to make the trip to meets like the Texas Relays is that it gives college throwers a chance to be around some of the world’s best. The women’s disc, for example, featured Olympic champion Valarie Allman, who won with a meet record of 67.90m.

Ebel’s thrower Maura Huwalt threw 54.24m, which did not get her into the top nine, but Ebel encouraged her to stick around for the entire comp to observe Val. “I told Maura to just sit and watch and notice Val’s habits, her ability to focus and refocus. Learn from her, then use it when it’s your turn.”

Ebel believes Maura’s turn will come soon enough. 

She is nearly six feet tall, with “long arms” and a serious competitive streak. “Maura has taken full advantage of her time here at Auburn,” he says. “She’s one of those athletes where I have to tell her, “That’s enough for today. It’s time to go home!’”

Though there were no Olympic champions in the men’s discus, the field was fierce. ASU’s Turner Washington, the 2021 NCAA shot and disc champ won with a best of 64.01m. Behind him were BYU’s Dallin Shurts (second in the 2022 USATF Championships), LSU’s Claudio Romero (last year’s NCAA champ), Northwestern State’s Djimon Gumbs (who threw a PB of 61.21m in Austin), then Sam Welsh of Rice (a 63.26m thrower last year for Harvard), and Coach Denard’s guy Aidan Elbettar, who threw a meter-and-a-half PB of 59.91m to take fifth.

That was a big breakthrough for Aidan, who had struggled in the past against top competition. “Last year,” says Denard, “he caged all three of his attempts throwing against Mykolas Alekna at the conference meet and again at the regionals, so for him to throw well against Turner and Claudio and Dallin is a big deal.”

The difference this time?  “He was attacking. Aidan only had one fair throw, but it wasn’t because he was throwing scared. His fouls were good fouls. He was being aggressive.”

The conditions in Austin were championship level as well, according to Denard. “They can move the discus cage,” he explained, “so they were able to face it into an eight-to-twelve mile an hour wind. Plus it was 85 degrees, and there were lots of people there, so the energy level in the stadium was high.”

While in Austin, Denard’s athletes also got the chance to practice a bit with shot put world record holder Ryan Crouser, who was in town to serve as Honorary Referee. That session, Aidan’s breakthrough, and the presence of a chicken-shaped disco ball at a local restaurant made for a memorable weekend.

An auspicious start

The performance of the weekend came in the men’s jav when Auburn freshman Keyshawn Strachan went 84.27m on the second throw of his college career. It was a PB, a school record, a world lead, and the fourth best throw in NCAA history.

“That,” in the words of Pat Ebel, “was unexpected. Based on his training numbers and his practice PR of around 79.80m, I was hoping to see him open around 78-80 meters. Then he fouled his first attempt, which went about 82 meters, so I told him to move his runup back around half a jav length, and…”

Denard was not surprised. “I’ve seen Keyshawn throw before,” he said, “and he’s incredibly talented. To me, he’s the Michael Jordan of javelin throwing. When he hits the point, it goes.”

Ebel says that Keyshawn is “capable of throwing over 80 meters any time he steps on the runway,” and that he benefited from the atmosphere in Austin. “He was excited to throw in front of this crowd and to compete against guys like Curtis Thompson (87.70m PB). And, his mom, grandmother, and coach from the Bahamas all made it in to see him throw, so it was a special moment.”

The next step for Strachan?  Consistency. 

“His throw after the 84.27m went about 74 meters,” according to Ebel. “He blew through every position and fouled it by about ten feet. So our goal will be to get him regularly in the 80-meter range.”

Keyshawn’s bomb overshadowed a great performance by Chinecherem Nnamdi of Baylor, the bronze medalist at the 2021 World U20 Championships, and a nice 79.29m opener for Thompson. With two more collegiate throwers–LSU’s Tzuriel Pedigo and BYU’s Cameron Bates–over the 75-meter mark, and Virginia’s  Ethan Dabbs (the 2022 USATF champion) just under it, expect some fireworks this June when these fellows tee it up again on the same runway.

Like Coach Denard, I’m a lifelong Chicago Bulls fan, so I know who I’m picking.

by Dan McQuaid & friends