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And the hits just keep on coming: day 3 at the Toyota Usatf championships

A storm that drifted by on the outskirts of Des Moines forced a ninety-minute evacuation of Drake Stadium at the start of day three of the 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships yesterday. But Mother Nature could not slow down the Force of Nature that is DeAnna Price.

DeAnna provided one of the highlights of the meet last year when she blasted a fifth-round toss of 78.12m to break the American record. The crowd had to wait a bit longer this time—round six—but you could tell from her first attempt that she was locked in. Her series went: 75.66m, 77.51m, 76.40m, 75.77m, 76.72…and then the big one, 78.24m for an American record, facility record, personal best, and world lead.

That last bit carries a more legitimacy right now than it might have in years past because Poland’s Anita Włodarczyk will not be defending her World title in Doha. She is on the mend from knee surgery and has shut it down for the year.

So a solid case can be made that DeAnna is the favorite going into Worlds where a seventy-seven or seventy-eight meter throw will likely win.

Talking to her after the competition (you can find that interview here) I was surprised to learn that her season was almost derailed by back and hip issues that have plagued her for weeks.

She credits former hammer thrower and current chiropractor Brian Murer with keeping her in one piece and is confident that with his help she can keep the train rolling through Doha.

Second-placer Gwen Berry took a very different route to the podium, opening with two long fouls out of bounds to the right. Thus she found herself in the nightmarish situation of having to dial down the intensity to get a mark in round three while still putting enough juice into the throw to make sure she advanced to the final.

Complicating matters was the way she set up at the back of the ring. From my perspective, looking down from directly behind the cage, Gwen stood way to the left, almost facing the landing area as she began her wind.

I’m not an expert on hammer technique, but it seemed like she would have to consider altering her stance and moving over a bit to make sure she placed her third attempt between the sector lines.

And while messing around with the start of your throw is no big deal during practice, it’s not something you want to do in the middle of a competition when you basically have one attempt to keep your dreams and maybe your career alive.

To her great credit, Gwen kept her composure and squeezed out a 68.62m toss that moved her into sixth place and guaranteed her three more attempts. Again, my knowledge of the hammer is superficial, but it looked like she moved over a bit at the start of that throw to avoid the disaster of a third foul.

Since the prelims consisted of one flight of fifteen, there was only a brief pause for reordering before the finals. And while making those finals was essential, Gwen still faced the task of climbing into the top three. She did that with a 76.46m toss that vaulted her into second and knocked Maggie Ewen to fourth.

Maggie, maybe the greatest thrower in NCAA history, has gone through some first-year-as-a-pro struggles this season, compounded no doubt by the challenge of competing in both the hammer and shot put.

So it was a nice surprise to see her launch a PB of 75.04m in the second round. Unfortunately for her, business is booming in the women’s hammer in this country (seven of the fifteen competitors came in having already achieved the Worlds standard) and that throw did not get her on the podium.

She was in great spirits afterwards though, and is looking forward to defending her title in the shot put today. You can view my interview with Maggie here.

Brooke Andersen arrived in Des Moines with a season and personal best of 76.75m but could not find her rhythm in warmups. That’s not a good feeling when a World Championship spot is on the line, but she kept her composure and her round three toss of 76.46m held up for third place. I think you’ll enjoy her rather delightful account of this rather terrifying experience. My chat with Brooke can be found here.

Alyssa Wilson of UCLA is determined to follow in Maggie’s footsteps as a triple threat. She is the only thrower competing in the hammer, discus and shot put here in Des Moines, a task that today’s predicted high of eighty-eight degrees will make all the more challenging. The disc starts at 3:00 today, with the shot following at 6:20, so she won’t have much time to recover between events.

I spoke with her after the hammer, in which she finished a very respectable eighth place, and something tells me we will be hearing a lot more from her in the future. Alyssa’s comments are here.

The second throwing event on Saturday was the men’s javelin, and unlike the women’s hammer, not one competitor in the jav came to Des Moines having achieved the Worlds standard, which is 83.00m.

Nor, after five rounds did it seem likely that anyone would.

As the sixth round began, the top three spots were occupied by Michael Shuey (77.32m), Riley Dolezal (76.82m), and Tim Glover (76.33m).

Not the kind of marks likely to cause a stir in a world where it often takes close to ninety meters to win a Diamond League meet.

Then strange things started happening.

In hindsight, it seems that Curtis Thompson may have been responsible. In round six, Curtis hit his best throw of the day, 76.56m, to jump Glover for third place.

Glover responded with a season’s best toss of 77.47m, which moved him into the lead.

Dolezal, throwing next in the order, then hit a season’s best of 82.84m.

Shuey, now sitting third and no doubt filled with vexation, responded with a PB of 82.85m.

It was crazy and wonderful to watch and very fun to talk over afterwards with the three medalists in this interview during which I once again demonstrate my ignorance regarding the process of qualifying for Worlds. Though none of these gents has attained the qualifying mark, it turns out that Michael and Riley have a decent chance of being added to the field in Doha based on current world rankings.

So, to sum up, here are the various paths to Doha for American athletes:

-Achieve the qualification standard by today and finish in the top three here in Des Moines.

-Finish in the top three here, and if you don’t have the qualifying mark hope that the IAAF will need dip into the list of world-ranked performers in order to fill out the field in your event.

-If you are Jon Jones, supply Ryan Crouser, Joe Kovacs, and Darrell Hill with all the protein shakes and foot rubs they need because if one of them wins the Diamond League final in August you are going to Worlds.

If anyone out there knows another path to qualifying, please keep it to yourself. My brain is full.

As always, full results for the 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships may be found here.

These are the Days: a report on Men’s hammer and shot at the 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Track and Field championships

If you are a fan of watching explosive humans launch inanimate objects, as I know you are if you are reading this post, this is a glorious time to be alive in the United States of America.

For sure yesterday was, anyway.

It was the kind of day that those of us lucky enough to have witnessed will talk about for years to come. Should anyone have the temerity to bring up the topic of great throwing in our presence, we will set down our glass, pause dramatically, and say, “That sounds interesting, but let me tell you about the time I saw Jon Jones throw 21.40m and finish fourth…by seventy centimeters!

Our friends, having heard this story many times will roll their eyes. Some will excuse themselves to “take an important call.” Others will attempt to change the subject.

We will ignore those attempts, blithely convinced that no one could ever get sick of hearing about day two of the 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

It all started with the men’s hammer, and let me say that if you are old enough to remember the days when a World Championship standard was something that American men’s hammer throwers often chased and rarely achieved, those days are over.

Two athletes, Alex Young and Sean Donnelly, entered yesterday’s competition having already surpassed the mark (76.00m) necessary to qualify for the trip to Doha. Remarkably, both threw well on this sun kissed afternoon and neither reached the podium.

Donnelly, having thrown 77.00m or better on three occasions this year, stepped into the ring during round one and drilled a 76.38m toss that in years past would have assured him a spot on the team.

But he barely had time to take a seat before Rudy Winkler knocked him into second with a season’s best 76.51m, and Connor McCullough knocked them both down a spot by blasting a facility record toss of 76.92m.

Then in round two, Daniel Haugh, the recently-crowned NCAA champion, shoved Sean into the dreaded fourth slot by nailing a PB of 76.44m.

Sean still had four whacks at busting back into the top three, as did Alex whose second-round 73.20m got him into the final, but neither could jump past Haugh or Winkler.

Alex ended up sixth with a best of 74.80m—a damn good throw and likely to have put him in the top three in days gone by. Sean could not improve on his opener and fell six centimeters short of making the squad for Doha.

Meanwhile, Connor backed up his opener with a round-two 76.86m and then announced himself as a medal contender at Worlds with 78.14m bomb on his final attempt.

Sean showed a lot of class afterwards, patiently answering questions about what must have been a heart-breaking day. You can view his comments here.

Rudy and Daniel were both ebullient at having survived a wicked competition and each spoke insightfully about his performance. You’ll find Rudy’s interview here and Daniel’s here.

It what I have to say was a great bit of scheduling, men’s shot warmups began almost immediately following the conclusion of the hammer. This absolved throws fans from having to kill time by pretending to be interested in running events.

Instead, after a short walk back inside the stadium from the long throws area, shot put aficionados were greeted by a field of competitors featuring an Olympic champion, a World champion, a Diamond League champion, and eight other athletes who had achieved the Doha standard of 20.70m.

The battle for spots on the podium promised to be a bloodbath, and it did not disappoint.

I remember talking to Joe Kovacs here last year after he’d finished fifth with what for him was a pedestrian throw of 20.74m. He was in the middle of a fairly chaotic year that would include a wedding, a relocation from California to Ohio, and a minor knee surgery. Any one of those changes alone could muck up an athlete’s focus, but Joe assured me that all was good and that he had every intention of contending in Doha and Tokyo.

I got to speak with him again at last month’s Prefontaine Classic, at which he threw pretty well (21.39m) but still did not look like vintage Joe. Again, he assured me that all was going according to plan.

It turns out he was not lying.

For some reason, the putters were given an extra-long warmup period yesterday, and it was really interesting to watch Joe go to work. His approach to getting ready to take on Ryan Crouser, Darrell Hill and the rest of that ridiculously talented field was to take a bunch of precise and passionate throws. He took several stand throws, a couple of step-and-throws, and numerous fulls. All were full out “I’m going to knock the hell out of this one” jobs. He was clearly a man on a mission and not worried about leaving anything “in the tank” for the competition.

And it worked.

He opened at 21.99m, followed that with 22.00m, and followed that with a 22.31m blast. It was throwback Joe and super fun to watch, especially as Darrell Hill seemed determined to match him blow for blow, hitting 21.99m in round two and 22.11m in round three.

Darell showed a couple of weeks ago that he was rounding into form with a 21.85m toss at a meet in Chula Vista. It is tricky business being a top American putter because you’ve got to be at your best at the US Championships in order to make the team for a Worlds or Olympics, but you’ve also got to modulate your training in a way that allows you to be at your even better best once those Worlds or Olympics comes around.

I spoke with Darrell’s current coach Greg Garza the day before the competition and he was confident that Darrell was ready to throw big in Des Moines but was also on track to go even farther at the Diamond League final and then Doha.

Darrell fouled his final three attempts yesterday, but there was nothing tentative about those throws. He was going for it, and like Joe, he looked fast and powerful. If, as Coach Garza predicts, he is able to combine that power with a more refined rhythm later in the season, watch out.

That brings us to Crouser, who provided a fascinating contrast to Joe’s balls out approach during warmups.

Crouser often seems to be moving in slow motion when he takes warmup throws, but somehow many of those throws end up traveling nearly twenty-two meters. When that happens, it’s fun to watch the reaction of people in the crowd and hear comments like “Wow! How far will he throw when he speeds that up?”

The natural inclination on the part of us throws fans is to imagine Crouser blasting through the ring like Joe or Darrell and destroying the world record.

But Crouser does not swing that way.

Rather than notching up the speed, he appears to tinker during warmups, and often during competition throws as well. He’s like a safe cracker, patiently turning the dial over and over listening for the tumblers to fall into place.

Yesterday, he found the right combination in round five, and his 22.62m is now the facility record.

Each of these gentlemen was kind enough to share their thoughts about the competition, their season, and their career. Darrell’s interview is here. Joe’s here. And Ryan’s here.

Full results from yesterday’s events are here.

Time to head to the track for the women’s hammer throw, which will feature some of the best in the world. Like I said, it is a great time to be a throws fan!

The 2019 Toyota USATF Championships begin: A report on the Men’s Discus and women’s Javelin

The discus is a fickle event. Timing is everything, and a strong headwind doesn’t hurt either.

Last year’s USATF men’s discus competition has attained legendary status (three competitors over sixty-six meters, including a monstrous 68.61m for Reggie Jagers) at least in part because of beneficent winds that presaged the arrival of a violent thunderstorm.

No storm swept into Drake Stadium last night, just an annoying bit of rain that made footing treacherous during the final round of the men’s disc, a competition that will be remembered as more odd than epic.

That may be fitting, as 2019 is an undeniably odd year for track and field athletes with the World Championships taking place in Doha in late September and early October—a full six weeks later than normal.

These US Championships were pushed back a month as well, leaving athletes with the challenge of staying sharp during a portion of the summer when there are few meets available here in the States.

That can mess with a person’s training plan and with their head, and may help to explain why neither of the two favorites in the men’s discus made the podium yesterday.

Reggie Jagers, after a fairly consistent summer that included two excellent Diamond League performances (64.89m for fourth in Doha and 64.59m for sixth in Rabat) did not even make it out of the prelims.

Mason Finley, the 2017 World Championship bronze medalist who finished second to Reggie here last year with a toss of 67.06m, earned the full six throws but ended up finishing seventh with a best of 61.05m.

As best I can tell, though, Mason will still represent the US at the Worlds as the man who finished third yesterday, Kord Ferguson, does not have the qualifying standard of 65.00m and Mason is the highest finisher other than the top two (Sam Mattis who took first with a season’s best 66.69m, and Brian Williams who came next with a PB of 65.76m) to have met that standard.

Back in the day, Kord would have had a few weeks to “chase the standard” and make the team for Doha, but this time around the USATF has designated these championships as the final chance for any athlete to achieve the needed mark.

If that seems confusing to you, don’t feel bad. As you can tell from this interview with Mason neither of us had a clear understanding of the current qualification system when we spoke after the competition.

Could that have anything to do with the fact that the IAAF is constantly tinkering with the process? That they made substantial changes to it last year then changed their minds and kind of changed it but not really? I’m going to let Mason and myself off the hook and say yes.

One thing that is clear is that Sam and Brian showed up ready to rumble. Each had his best throw in round one, and when Reggie failed to make the final it was clear that they were Doha-bound.

Kord’s route to the podium was, shall we say, a bit more circuitous. Competing in flight one, he sandwiched a pedestrian 60.13m between two fouls, then had to sit fingers and toes crossed while the flight two contestants did their best to send him packing.

He entered the final sitting eighth and last, but opened the proceedings with a PB of 63.25m and hung on for the bronze.

Just how in the hell did that happen?

I’m not sure that Kord himself knows, but you can hear his thoughts on the matter in this interview with him, Sam and Brian.

While on the subject of dramatic and perhaps inexplicable turnarounds, let us turn our attention to the women’s javelin.

A nice feature of the throws setup at Drake is that the discus or hammer can be run concurrently with the jav, so fans can enjoy two competitions simultaneously.

That’s a lot of enjoyment, especially when it means getting a chance to watch Kara Winger ply her craft.

Are you a fan of consistency? Of sustained excellence?

Kara won her first USATF title in 2008. Last year, right here in Des Moines, she won her eighth.

That’s a Tom Brady-like run, with the significant difference that Kara does not come across as a weird, kale-eating robot. Rather, she seems to take joy in every aspect of competing. She’s happy when she throws well. She’s happy for her competitors when they throw well. She is unfailingly polite to fans who want to say hello or take a selfie. She is remarkably gracious when folks like me shove a camera in her face and ask her to analyze her performance when she’s got fifteen relatives waiting to take her to dinner.

She is, as I refer to her in this interview, a national treasure. If you don’t like her, you probably don’t like ice cream.

Kara has competed a lot this year, and she has had some nice results, including 63.11m on June 6th in Rome, and 62.89m on July 9th in Lucerne.

So far, though, she has been unable to produce a big, sixty-five-metersish throw, and that was the case again yesterday.

Her 59.73m toss in round three gave her a four-meter cushion over Avione Allgood entering the final, but her inability to improve on that throw left the door open for the aforementioned dramatic turnaround, this time courtesy of Ariana Ince.

Ariana announced herself as a contender by nailing a two-meter PB of 63.54m in June, which made her performance in yesterday’s preliminary rounds difficult to characterize. Baffling? Maddening? Bizarre?

She opened with 46.80m and followed that up with 49.05m, so you tell me.

A round-three 52.95m bought Ariana three more attempts, but left her seven meters off the lead.

She remedied that situation in round five, drilling 61.06m and vaulting ahead of Kara. That throw would hold up for the win.

In a conversation afterwards, she made a valiant attempt to explain this rather astonishing turn of events.

Speaking of astonishing, third place went to Stanford’s Jenna Gray who hit a PB of 57.29m and who apparently competes in both track and volleyball for the Cardinal. Unless she has a twin sister who goes by the exact same name.

I will investigate this and other matters as the 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships continue today!

Full results, by the way, are available here.

coach Jerry Clayton on Andrew Liskowitz and the art of building a shot putter

I’m always looking for an excuse to talk to Jerry Clayton, and a couple of weeks ago his shot putter Andrew Liskowitz was nice enough to provide me with one.

Andrew just completed an outstanding redshirt junior year throwing for Jerry at the University of Michigan. He won the 2019 Big Ten indoor shot put title, broke the twenty-meter barrier twice during the outdoor season (including a 20.23m mark at the Virginia Challenge in April) and made First-Team All-American by finishing eighth at the outdoor NCAA Championships.

Then he really got rolling.

A near PB of 20.22m at the Ashland Summer Series on June 20 showed that he was still in great shape after the grueling collegiate season, and a 21.15m bomb a week later at the Michigan Throws Tune-Up vaulted him into the ranks of world class throwers.

But it’s one thing to drill a PB in a no-pressure competition at your home facility and quite another to travel across the pond, survive a qualification round, and face the likes of Poland’s Konrad Bukowiecki in a final as Andrew did at the World University Games in Napoli, Italy on July 8th. 

But Andrew did more than survive in Napoli—he took the silver medal with a toss of 20.49m. (A video of the competition can be found here.)

After that, I was left with no choice but to give Jerry a call and find out how a young man with a high school PB of 59’10” had become one of the best young putters in the world.

First off, I asked Jerry what he saw in Andrew back in his prep days that indicated he could be a successful Division I thrower.

Apparently, Andrew possessed a “fast arm,” and a powerful right hip action, which Jerry attributed at least in part to Andrew having grown up playing hockey. “To me, anything like hockey, baseball or softball the way you swing a bat or a stick has a lot of carryover to throwing. If you look at baseball, what they do swinging a bat where their left foot is flat and the left knee has slight flexion, it’s the same as the discus or shot.”

Once Andrew arrived on campus and hung up the skates for good, Jerry began the process of figuring out the best way to train him, which he says usually takes about a year and a half. 

That might sound surprising, as you’d think a guy who has been coaching world class throwers like Mike Lehman, Edis Elkasević, Gábor Máté and Cory Martin for the last four decades would be pretty set in his ways when it comes to how to train a putter.

But Jerry does not use a one-size-fits-all template when he sits down on Sundays to write workouts for his athletes. He tries to create training plans that best fit each individual, and says that anyone watching the way Andrew trains and they way any of his other throwers train would “not think they have the same coach.”

For example, Jerry used to have Grant Cartwright, a 19.61m putter who graduated in 2018, take a lot of throws with light implements in practice because Grant had been a glider in high school and throwing the light shot helped to smooth his transition to the rotational technique.

During Andrew’s first year at Michigan, he spent a lot of time throwing light shots as well, primarily the 6k to help him get ready for the 2016 USA Junior meet at which he placed fourth with a toss of 19.58m.

But as Jerry got to know Andrew’s strengths and weaknesses better, he decided that training often with heavier shots would serve him best. As Jerry describes it, Andrew was “so fast that I had to keep him more on the heavy implements to make him work the ground better and emphasize force production. Sometimes with the light implement, he doesn’t create much separation and he loses connection with the ball. So, I kind of go back and forth with him.”

When Jerry says he has Andrew throw “heavy implements,” he is referring mainly to the twenty-pound shot, and yes, Andrew takes full throws with it.

Be advised, though, that Jerry does not recommend any coach putting a twenty-pound shot in an athlete’s hand without one, thinking long and hard about whether or not throwing heavy is best for a particular kid, and two, devoting the time necessary to help an athlete who trains with the heavy ball keep his or her hand and wrist healthy. 

Over the years, Jerry has developed “a whole protocol for protecting the hand.”

He learned a lot about the topic from Christian Cantwell, the 2009 World Champion, who recommended a series of stretching exercises that the Michigan putters now perform before and after throwing sessions.

Jerry has also come to rely on a specific method of taping the hand and wrist in training. 

These precautions have allowed Andrew to stay healthy while training with shots ranging from the twenty-pounder all the way down to the 5k. And that consistency in training has produced remarkably consistent improvement during Andrew’s time in Ann Arbor, as evinced by his seasonal bests:

2016: 18.52m

2017: 19.15m

2018: 20.28m

2019: 21.15m

His outstanding throws of the last month may have been set up during a training block Jerry put Andrew through in March. 

He knew that this would be an especially long season with Andrew scheduled to compete in the World University Games and the US Championships, so after the NCAA Indoor Championships he “took Andrew back into training for a pretty good block” with no competitions for four weeks. They needed that time, according to Jerry, “to do things in the weight room and with the heavy implements” that would prepare Andrew for the long outdoor season ahead. 

Speaking of the weight room, Jerry’s approach to lifting has evolved quite a bit over the years. 

He used to construct his training plan using a double periodization model, but now he peaks his athletes primarily by manipulating the weight of the implements they train with. “The weight room is part of it,” he says, “but I look at lifting as general strength. We don’t max out, and I don’t use percentages any more.”

Instead, he uses an app called GymAware to measure bar speed on squats, bench presses, and cleans.

“I have certain ranges I am looking at whether we are working on max strength, absolute strength, or speed strength, and I don’t let the bar speed go below a certain level. If it does, we stop or we do another set with less weight, but we can keep pushing the weight up as long as the bar speed is right.”

Jerry adopted this approach four or five years ago. Prior to that, he wrote workouts using percentages based on his athletes one-rep maxes, but he came to believe that those percentages were often inaccurate as the maxes were achieved when the athlete was in peak lifting form.

During the course of a long season, there are going to be many times when an athlete is lifting while fatigued from throwing or traveling or just being human, so their actual max on that day is significantly less than what they produced under ideal conditions.

This leads to what Jerry refers to as “grinding out reps” in the weight room. “And if the bar is moving slowly,” he asks, “how much carryover does that have for our sport?”

Jerry says that with his current approach his athletes rarely miss a rep and are less susceptible to injury or overtraining.

During the competitive season, he breaks his training cycles into two-week blocks, which he designs based on how things are going for each athlete. 

“I look at what they did the previous two years. I look at different workouts they’ve done. But the biggest thing is the feedback an athlete gives me and what I‘m seeing. If I’m not seeing what I like, if they need more of a speed component we’ll throw lighter stuff. If they are blowing through positions, we will emphasize the heavy implement.”

This ability to synthesize experience, observation and intuition is what Jerry refers to as “the art of coaching,” and it has served him well in his training of Andrew.

In the two-week block leading up to Andrew’s 21.15m bomb for example, Jerry had him back off the heavy implements so he could “get the feel of throwing far.” He soon produced a practice PB of 21.20m with the fifteen-pound shot and surpassed twenty-three meters with the 6k, which showed Jerry that he was ready for a big throw with the sixteen.

Next up is the US Championships in Des Moines. Andrew finished sixteenth there last year, so making the final would be another nice step forward.

This fall he will be back at UMich for another year of training under Jerry’s guidance. With Ryan Crouser, Joe Kovacs and Darrell Hill still in their prime it would be asking a lot for Andrew to get in the mix for a spot on the 2020 Olympic team, but in the meantime he and Jerry will be tucked away in Ann Arbor constructing his future one two-week block at a time.

The Diamond League Men’s shot record falls at the 2019 pre Classic. To Darlan Romani. No, You shut up.

It’s not easy being a shot putter these days.

Think of Joe Kovacs.

He fought his way to a World Championships gold in 2015 and established himself as one of history’s great putters with a massive PR of 22.57m.

But a year later, Ryan Crouser comes along, blasts out an Olympic record of 22.52m in Rio, knocks Joe down to second, and gets us all talking about a world record with his unprecedented combination of size and agility.

Of course, Crouser maintained his domination in 2017, right?

Nope. Sorry, mate, but New Zealand’s Tom Walsh, who finished third behind Crouser and Kovacs in Rio, stepped up to defeat them both that year at the London Worlds.

Which left Tom alone atop the shot put world for about three weeks, or until Darrell Hill bested him, Crouser, and Kovacs with a 22.44m PB at the Diamond League final in Brussels.

Crouser seized the spotlight again this season by surpassing twenty-two meters twice indoors then putting together a monumental series in Long Beach in April that culminated in a new PB of 22.74m.

So, heading into yesterday’s Pre Classic, Joe, still in his prime and still quite capable of mounting his own assault on the world record, was not part of the hype surrounding this meet.

As it turns out, he threw quite well—21.39m, a distance which not too long ago would put a guy on the medal stand at a major championship.

Yesterday at the Pre, it got him fifth place.

When I spoke with him after the meet, he had to remind me that throwing 21.39m in June with a couple of fouls in the 22.00m range is a pretty positive development when the World Championships is still three months away.

As always Joe, like Michelle Carter a great ambassador for the sport, provided a thoughtful take on his career and his season so far.

As for Crouser…

…he opened with a nice, smooth 22.17m and struggled from there. He never improved on his opener, and ended up finishing second.

It cannot be easy when folks expect you to threaten the world record every time you compete and are disappointed with a measly 72’9” effort, but that is the world in which Crouser now exists.

I have to say that based on his post-meet comments he’s handling the pressure quite well. It was fun talking technique with him, and he shared some interesting insights about how gliding during his formative years influenced his approach to spinning.

As with Kovacs, Tom Walsh seemed to be this close to smashing one yesterday.

Tom is a classic example of the downhill racer nature of the rotational technique. Once you tip out of that starting gate and start zooming down the mountainside, a little shift in balance one way or the other can make the difference between triumph and disappointment.

As evidenced by this practice toss taken the day before the meet, Tom relies on speed to make the shot go. In yesterday’s competition, the speed was there but he couldn’t quite get everything lined up.

Like Crouser, Tom is at a point in his career where a 21.76m toss (his best yesterday) seems pedestrian. The day before the meet we spoke about his season and his prep for Doha, and based on that conversation and on his natural buoyancy I expect that he will shake off his third-place finish at the Pre and come out ready to rumble at the Worlds.

As it turns out, he better be.

As if Kovacs, Crouser, Hill and Walsh weren’t enough to give each other and any other putter with pretensions of medaling at Doha vivid nightmares, along comes Brazil’s Darlan Romani.

It’s not that Darlan was invisible prior to yesterday’s meet (he finished fifth in Rio and fourth in the 2018 Indoor Worlds) but you tell me, were you looking for him to break the Diamond League shot record, put together one of the great series in the history of the event (full results here), and move up to tenth place on the all time list?

As you can imagine, his performance raised quite a stir among us folks in the grandstands overlooking the shot ring, so I was really anxious to talk to him after the competition.

Unfortunately, Darlan does not speak English, and I do not speak Portuguese.

Fortunately, he had a friend with him who stepped in to translate. I think you’ll find the resulting interview quite charming. Being surrounded by a pack of suddenly curious reporters firing questions at him in a language he does not understand was clearly not Darlan’s idea of a great way to celebrate a life-changing performance, but he showed a lot of class in humoring us as long as he did, and in the process won himself at least one new fan in the US of A.

The question of whether or not he can recapture in Doha the magic he found in Palo Alto will be one of the more intriguing subplots at the Worlds.

But for his American competitors, it’s on to Des Moines first. There they must pass through the crucible of the US qualification system in order to earn another whack at Walsh, Romani and their like.

Like I said, it’s not easy being a shot putter these days.

The glide is dead! The glide is…Hang on…China’s Gong dominates the 2019 Pre Classic Women’s Shot

I’m old enough to remember an era—the Pleistocene maybe—when it seemed perfectly right and natural for high jumpers to go over the bar stomach first. The straddle technique, I think they called it.

Then Dick Fosbury came along and flew over the bar backwards and the straddle went the way of the steam engine, the rotary phone, and politeness.

So thorough and abrupt was the transition that the term “Fosbury flop” was adopted then dropped seemingly over night. We now just call it “high jumping.”

Shot putting has been undergoing a similar if more gradual transition from the glide technique to the spin. If memory serves, the first Olympics to feature a rotational thrower was Montreal in 1976. Male spinners took Olympic gold in 1996, 2000, and 2004, but then Polish glider Tomasz Majewski led a counter revolution, winning in Beijing and London. Germany’s David Storl did his part to hold back the rotational tide by winning World Championship gold in 2011 and 2013.

But Storl is the last male glider who still gets invited to competitions like Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic. An injury prevented him from making the trip to Stanford’s Cobb Track and Angell Field, but had he come he’d have cut a lonely figure, a tall and relatively svelte glider surrounded by a pack of beefy, turbocharged spinners.

The transition has been slower among the women. No female spinner has ever won an Olympic or World Championship gold. Many fine throwers have adopted the rotational technique, with the American Jill Camarena-Williams first among them to medal at a major championships when she won silver at the Daegu Worlds. After that, Hungary’s Anita Marton nabbed Rio bronze and London 2017 silver, and just last year Jamaican Danielle Thomas-Dodd took second at World Indoors, but the likes of New Zealand’s Valeri Adams, Germany’s Christina Schwanitz, China’s Lijiao Gong and American great Michelle Carter have maintained the glider monopoly on gold medals.

It is possible, however, that women’s shot putting may have found its Fosbury.

The American Chase Ealey glided her way to a successful collegiate career, finishing second at the 2016 NCAA Championships. But after two lackluster seasons as a pro, she switched to the rotational technique last September and is now one of the top putters in the world.

After posting a 2018 season best of 17.78m, she has, in 2019 thrown at least nineteen meters in eight different competitions, including yesterday at the Pre when she hit 19.23m to take third behind Gong and Thomas-Dodd. (Full results for the women’s shot can be found here.)

So I ask you, if Ealey could add two meters to her average throw and vault herself into the elite level of the event merely by switching to the spin, shouldn’t every glider make the change?

Apparently, it’s a little more complicated than that. In this post-comp interview, Ealey discusses her glide-to-spin journey, her prosperous coach/athlete partnership with former World Indoor shot champion Ryan Whiting, and why taking long walks while wearing throwing shoes might be beneficial.

Watching Gong (here she is sharpening her technique on Saturday) also makes one realize that the glide is not going the way of the dodo bird any time soon. The simplicity of her technique, and her mastery of it, allowed her to put together this series yesterday: 19.00m, 19.46m, 19.55m, 19.52m, 19.79m, F.

That kind of consistency is going to make her very hard to beat in Doha, and is something that may never be available to rotational throwers like Ealey and Thomas-Dodd.

Ealey’s series featured four fouls. Thomas-Dodd was more consistent, producing three throws over nineteen meters (with a best of 19.26m). She seemed close to knocking out a big throw—in the words of her coach, Nathan Fanger, “had she stayed on the ball through the release” she could have reached the 19.60m range.

But to put it crudely, spinners throw far by hauling butt (take a look at this practice throw by Thomas-Dodd from Saturday) and hauling butt while maintaining precision is no easy task

So the glide/spin debate will likely rage on a while longer.

One matter that is not up for debate is the remarkable graciousness of Michelle Carter.

She is far from being in top form (she finished 6th yesterday with a best of 18.21m) but as always she took time after the competition to share some thoughts about her season.

In that interview, you’ll hear her refer to her “You Throw Girl” camp and an upcoming competition she is hosting. Check out her website for more info.

Next up for Carter and Ealey is a trip to Des Moines at the end of July where they will fight for a chance to lock horns with Gong in Doha.

If you happen to pass through Tucson and spot Ealey out for a walk in her throwing shoes, please know that it is all part of the plan to finally get a female spinner to the top of the podium.

Pre-Competition Video Interviews at the 2019 Prefontaine Classic

Danniel Thomas-Dodd has had an outstanding career already, placing second at the 2018 World Indoor Championships. In a conversation after her pre-Prefontaine Classic workout at the track today, she talked about what it will take to get to the top of the podium in Doha.

Poland’s Konrad Bukowiecki is another fine young putter competing in Sunday’s Pre Classic. He got the silver medal at last summer’s European Championships, and at twenty-two years old is hungry for more. In this video, he discusses his career and the great Polish throwing tradition. At some point, a large creature resembling a grizzly bear pops up behind him. As this is Northern California, I assume this qualifies as a Big Foot sighting.

I’ve never met an American thrower who did not struggle in their first year as a pro. Finding your bearings while trying to make it on your own is treacherous business. In a conversation at Stanford’s Cobb Track and Angell Field, former Arizona State great Maggie Ewen discusses the trials and tribulations of life after college and trying to make it as a pro in both the shot put and hammer.

New Zealand’s Tom Walsh is one the world’s great putters and a very nice guy to boot. In this chat, he talks about his early season struggles and his preparations for Doha where he hopes to defend his 2017 World title.

These are just a handful of the magnificent putters who will be battling at the Pre on Sunday. It promises to be an epic day of chucking!

For Big Dogs Only: A Prefontaine 2019 Men’s Shot Preview

The 2019 New York Yankees have put together the type of lineup that could give a guy a bladder infection. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Edwin Encarnacion, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, and Gleyber Torres can all hit the long ball, so you have to sip your beer slowly at a Yankees game. Head to the bathroom, and you risk missing something spectacular.

Same thing this Sunday during the 2019 Prefontaine Classic men’s shot.

Olympic champion Ryan Crouser (22.74m PB) leads a stellar field of putters including 2017 World champion Tom Walsh (22.67m PB) 2015 World champion Joe Kovacs (22.57m PB), 2017 Diamond League champion Darrell Hill (22.44m PB), and 2018 European champion Michal Haratyk (22.08m PB).

Add in 2019 NCAA Indoor champion Payton Otterdahl (21.81m PB), former World Junior champion Konrad Bukowieki (21.97 PB), five time Brazilian national champion Darlan Romani (22.00m PB), and World Indoor bronze medalist Tomáš Staněk (22.01m PB) and you have one outstanding group of shot putters.

Any one of these gents could mash a huge throw on any attempt and all of them enter Sunday’s competition with something to prove.

In his short career as a pro, Crouser has accomplished a lot. He’s got an Olympic gold and the Olympic record. He doesn’t have the American record yet, though, which also happens to be…I’m not going to to say it…I refuse to say it…if I say it, I’ll jinx it…the WORLD RECORD. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. No pressure, Ryan, but I did fly all the way from Chicago to see this meet, so if you could maybe toss one out there around 23.13m I would appreciate it.

One person who seems to have had enough of this world record talk is Crouser’s rival, the courtly kiwi Tom Walsh who, in a recent interview, took pains to remind the mammoth American that he is not the only big dog in the kennel.

Walsh took a while to get rolling this season. His inability to hit the 22-meter mark early on prompted his coach, Dale Stevenson, to describe his results during the winter months (summer in the Southern Hemisphere) as “disappointing.”

They spent, according to Stevenson, “about six months in a holding pattern before making the necessary changes.”

Those changes paid off starting in May when Tom hit 22.06m at the Doha DL meeting. He has maintained a nice groove since, going 22.18m and 22.27m in two competitions leading up to the Pre, and there is nothing he’d like more than to interrupt Crouser’s march to the…you know what.

Back in 2015, talk of the “you know what” revolved around Joe Kovacs as he won his World title and gained notoriety for a massive warmup throw (at an earlier competition) well beyond the “you know what” line. He took the silver behind Crouser in Rio and the silver at the 2017 Worlds behind Walsh. Joe told me yesterday that he is “slow playing” things this year with the Worlds in Doha still three months away. But he is a fantastic thrower in the middle of his prime and a highly competitive young man. If people start dropping bombs Sunday, he will not sit idly by.

Nor will defending USA champion Darrell Hill.

His season so far as been fairly quiet. Like Kovacs, he appears to be “slow playing” in preparation for what promises to be a hellacious battle at the US Championships in late July. But he has gone 21.72m this year and is a big man with a big personality who loves a big stage. As he did at the Diamond League final in 2017 when he knocked out a huge 22.44m, he’d be quite happy to preempt the Walsh v. Crouser show.

The athlete in Sunday’s field with the most to prove is one with the least experience competing at this level.

A few months ago, Payton Otterdahl, a senior at North Dakota State University barged his way to the top of the world shot put rankings when he posted indoor marks of 21.64m, 21.81m, and an Indoor NCAA winner of 21.71m.

He maintained his form as the outdoor season got rolling, hitting 21.37m and 20.75m in the month of April.

Unfortunately, a lower back injury sustained while lifting weights just prior to the Drake Relays in late April forced him to curtail his training.

A couple of weeks later, just as he started feeling better, Payton aggravated the injury while warming up to throw the hammer at NDSU’s conference meet

After that, according to his coach Justin St. Clair, Payton had to drop serious weight lifting from his training. Even worse, he could barely throw in practice. During the two weeks between the conference and regional meets, Payton had “maybe two” throwing sessions.

In order to maintain his feel for the throw, St. Clair said that Payton needs to do a lot of full non-reverse throws, “to make sure that his balance and direction are all in line.” Payton also normally took a lot of throws that St. Clair calls “up and overs,” basically non-reverse attempts that he would finish by stepping over the toe board.

He could do neither of those once his back flared up.

The lack of training made it difficult for Payton to maintain his mojo as the outdoor NCAA meet approached.

St. Clair says that physically Payton felt pretty good when they arrived in Austin, “but his confidence wasn’t where it needed to be.” The day before the shot put competition he threw twenty-two meters in training, but the fact that Payton wanted to throw the day before he competed told St. Clair that “he wasn’t confident. Traditionally, we will never throw the day before a meet, but he felt the need to go throw, and that tells me he was doubting himself.”

The next day Payton managed a best of 19.89m, a fine throw but good for only fourth in the hyper-competitive men’s shot competition.

To his credit, he followed that up with an outstanding discus performance two days later, his third-round toss of 62.48m snagging him second place, just five centimeters behind the winner.

After that, he and St. Clair returned immediately to hard training, as the US Championships and a chance to qualify for Doha loom.

He received an invite to the Pre, his first competition as a professional, after two-time World champion David Storl of Germany had to bow out with a back injury of his own, sustained, according to Storl’s coach Wilko Schaa, just before the Doha DL meeting. Storl went five weeks without being able to take serious throws, so he is now focused solely on preparing for Doha.

For Payton, throwing at the Pre offers a huge opportunity. A solid performance might get him invited to more DL meetings, which would give him a chance to prove that he belongs among the world’s best, which would bolster his case when applying for a USATF grant, which could make or break his ability to focus on training during the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.

Bottom line, as Payton said recently to Coach St. Clair, “If I want to be a big dog, I’ve got to show I can beat the big dogs.”

The kennel will be filled to bursting on Sunday. Tune in.

The ladies who Launch: A Prefontaine 2019 Women’s shot Preview

This Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic—to be held at Stanford University due to the ongoing overhaul of the Temple of Track in Eugene—will feature a rollicking women’s shot put competition. Some of the best putters in the history of the sport will be there, along with a corps of youngsters vying to make their mark. Here are three questions for throws obsessives to ponder as the meet approaches.

Can Michelle Carter Recapture the Magic?

It’s not easy to stay on top in this business.

For Michelle Carter, it was a long climb just to get there. She was U20 World Champion in 2004. In 2008 she won the first of her seven outdoor national titles. In 2009, she competed in her first World Championship, taking fifth in Berlin. In 2012, she took silver at the Indoor Worlds and fourth at the London Olympics. Finally, in 2016 she broke through with a dramatic final-round 20.21m bomb to take gold at the Indoor Worlds.

She repeated that feat a few months later in Rio, launching an American record of 20.63m on her sixth attempt. It was one of the great moments in the history of American shot putting and definitively established her as the best thrower in the world and possibly in the Carter family as well.

Unfortunately, she has struggled since, slipping to third at the 2017 World Championships with a 19.14m effort. Last year she posted her lowest season’s best (18.16m) since 2007, and in her only competition so far this season put 18.28m.

I had a pleasantly rambling chat recently with Nathan Fanger (coach of Danniel Thomas-Dodd who will also be competing at the Pre) and he pointed out how difficult it is to compete at the highest level of this sport over a long period of time.

He made the point that a professional athlete has to be selfish. “You wake up in the morning and your breakfast has to be just right…you train hard all day and you might come home exhausted and edgy. Then you have to go to bed at a certain time. Day in and day out, everything has to revolve around you, which is fine when you’re young and single, but when you get married and have a family that gets tough.”

Michelle got married last year. And had knee surgery. And turned thirty-three.

Not many throwers compete for World or Olympic medals at that age, but count me among those who hope that she returns to her butt-beating ways. Round six in Doha might be kind of dull without her.

Is it Possible to Throw Twenty Meters on No Sleep?

Germany’s Christina Schwanitz had a heck of a 2015 season, winning the World Championships and setting a massive PR of 20.77m. She followed that up with a lackluster sixth-place finish at the 2016 Olympics. She followed that up by giving birth to twins.

A guy I teach with became the father of twins two years ago, and it transformed him from a fit, happy-go-lucky sort of man into an exhausted, haunted-looking creature who no longer gets asked to play on the faculty dodgeball team.

Schwanitz, obviously made of sterner stuff, was able to come back last year after sitting out the 2017 campaign and post a remarkable 19.78m season’s best.

She is the same age as Michelle Carter, and likely shares the same goal: to close her career with medals in Doha and Tokyo.

Sunday’s Pre, Schwanitz’s first outdoor meet ever on American soil, should provide some indication of how likely she is to achieve that.

How is Chase Ealey Doing What She’s Doing?

Here’s what I know about Chase.

She was a fine college shot putter, finishing second at the 2016 NCAA meet while representing Oklahoma State University. She also finished seventh at the Olympic Trials that year with a toss of 18.46m.

As a glider.

In 2017 and 2018 videos of her throws would pop up on social media occasionally as she tried to build a post-collegiate career. She notched season bests those years of 17.79m and 17.78m respectively.

As a glider.

This past winter, videos of Chase throwing began appearing on Ryan Whiting’s Desert High Performance Instagram page.

But now, she was spinning.

I happened to run into Whiting at a clinic this winter, and I asked him how Chase’s glide-to-spin transition was going. He said she was doing just fine, thanks.

I interpreted this to mean that she was struggling mightily as putters commonly do when switching techniques, but that she was staying positive. I also felt admiration for her courage in adopting the rotational style when it was clearly going to take her a few years to get comfortable with it.

Then, on February 9th, she threw a PR of 18.84m. “Good for her!” I remember thinking. “A PB during her first year as a spinner? Outstanding!”

Then, on February 24th, she won the US Indoor Championships with a toss of 18.62m.

Then, the outdoor season began and things got really strange.

She raised her PB to 18.95m on a trip to New Zealand in March, before returning home and blasting a 19.37m toss in Arizona, her home base when training with Whiting.

That earned her a May appearance at the Diamond League meeting in Shanghai. It generally takes throwers a couple of seasons to get acclimated to the rigors of traveling to compete overseas, even those who have not completely changed their technique over the past six moths. It would have been perfectly understandable for Ealey to wilt under the pressure of traveling halfway across the globe to take on the likes of Lijiao Gong, Anita Marton, and Danniel Thomas-Dodd (all World Championships medalists and all, by the way, appearing Sunday at the Pre) but instead she put 19.58m for the win.

She followed that up over the next few weeks by tossing 19.21m in Nanjing, 19.38m in Finland, and 19.20m in Norway, making it clear that it had not taken her long to adapt to the rigors of travel.

I asked Coach Fanger how in the world Ealey could be so consistent so quickly after switching to a technique whose best and most experienced practitioners experience bouts of maddening inconsistency.

He said that the secret may lie in Ealey’s particular version of the rotational technique.

“She is very slow out of the back, “ he told me, “and has a heck of a strike. She’s long and really drives the ball like a glider.”

“She starts slow enough,” he continued, “that she doesn’t lose control and then she’s still able to smack the finish. She’s similar to Ryan Crouser in that sense.”

As Coach Fanger sees it, rotational throwers are often erratic “because they are a little spastic out of the back, but if you can control the back it doesn’t have to be that way,”

He pointed out that some throwers, Joe Kovacs for example, have to be fast out of the back because of their stature.

“The shorter throwers like Joe or Adam Nelson back in the day have to use speed to throw far because they don’t have long levers. It’s a trade off, though. They are sometimes inconsistent because they have to be as fast and dynamic as possible even at the start of the throw.”

So what happens a couple of years from now when Ealey gets more comfortable with her technique and becomes more dynamic out of the back?

Tune in to the Pre this Sunday, and you might just get a glimpse of America’s next great putter.

Here is the start list for what should be a fantastic competition.

Rotational Shot Put webinar now on youtube

Cody Foerch and Kip Gasper of Deerfield (IL) High School have built an outstanding throws program, and yesterday they delved into their approach to rotational putting on a Mcthrows webinar.

It was a super informative session. These guys have an in-depth understanding of rotational technique and an ability to plainly explain their approach.

Much of the session was spent breaking down film of a 63-foot toss by current Deerfield senior Sam Liokumovich, who is the best skinny putter I’ve ever seen.

If you are a new coach wanting to get started teaching the rotational style, this webinar is for you.

If you have been coaching for a long time and have your own approach to teaching the spin, you’ll still love this presentation.

Take a look, and stay tuned for more webinars from Mcthrows.