Lust and the Lithuanian

2005 Zurich Weltklasse

An international airport is not a place normally associated with solitude, but there I was sitting in the darkened expanse of the waiting room in Zurich terminal number one at 5:30 on a Saturday morning feeling like I was the only person on the planet. Which I didn’t mind. Just a few hours earlier, my brother Mike, our friend Anna Swisher, Anna’s mother, and I were wedged into the standing room section along the north curve at Zurich’s Stadion Letzigrund joining the raucous crowd in urging the world’s best track and field athletes to run fast, jump high, and throw far in spite of a drenching rain occasionally punctuated by the flash of lightning. A soggy journey back to our hotel, followed by a late night of packing and a 4:00AM wake-up call (necessitated by a 7:00 AM flight to Manchester), left me feeling somewhat less than chipper as I slouched into a plastic seat in the waiting area and buried my nose in a Napoleon biography. Reading about the Grand Army of the Republic slogging west from Moscow with swarms of Cossacks nipping at their heels helped me to forget about my own fatigue and rendered me oblivious to the fact that the terminal was slowly coming to life. By the time I looked up from my book, there were dozens of passengers milling about and the shops lining the terminal were beginning to open their doors. A few feet in front of me, a very tall, broad-shouldered man dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt braced himself against a railing while casually stretching his legs. I couldn’t see his face, but his unusual size (my throwers would call someone with his build “gi-normous”) made me wonder whether he was a thrower from last night’s meet.

Speaking of last night’s meet, it appeared beforehand to possess all the necessary ingredients for a classic discus competition. The field was loaded with top throwers still in peak form after competing two weeks earlier at the World Championships in Helsinki. Foremost among them was the victor in Helsinki (and two-time Olympic champion) Virgilius Alekna, who entered the competition with a chiseled six-foot-eight­ inch frame and a habit of launching 70 meter throws. The big Lithuanian had pretty much owned his event since the summer of 2000 when I had the pleasure of watching him deposit four of six throws past the 70 meter line in that year’s edition of the Zurich Weltklasse. In the intervening years, the only man to defeat him in a major competition and not run afoul of the folks in the white lab coats was Lars Reidel at Edmonton in 2001. Fit, confident, and very comfortable with the ring at Letzigrund, Alekna seemed primed on this night to extend his seasonal best beyond the 70.67m he’d posted a month earlier in Madrid.

This is not to imply that the rest of the competitors were content to duke it out for second place. Indeed, Gerd Kanter, the fine Estonian thrower who broke the 70-meter barrier once himself earlier this year, had Alekna on the ropes until the final round at Helsinki. Would this be the night he’d finish the job? Also in the field was Franz Kruger, a crowd favorite in Zurich who’d handed Alekna his only defeat of the year at a meet in Talinnjust after the World Championships. Aside from these two, the field was loaded with former World and Olympic medalists including the aforementioned Lars Reidel, Athens second-placer Zoltan Kovago, Athens third-placer Alex Tammert, and the shaggy-haired Michael Mollenbeck, third in Helsinki and a man who seemingly never met a hair style that he would not try. These, then, were the challengers who hoped to make Alekna sweat in his attempt to snag a third Weltklasse Zurich title.

Coincidentally, a sweaty Alekna just happened to occupy the top spot on Anna Swisher’s wish list for the upcoming holiday season. A recent graduate of Williams College and herself a thrower, Anna arrived in Zurich harboring a mad hot crush on the Lithuanian studmuffin. Her goal for the 2005 Weltklasse was simple: find Alekna and get his autograph. If a marriage proposal followed, so much the better.

This aspiration (at least the autograph part of it) was not-so-far-fetched. The athletes’ hotel is just a few blocks from Letzigrund, and it is not uncommon to see them walking to or from the stadium. In fact, as Mike, Anna, and I entered Letzigrund, we ran into Franz Kruger making his way towards the athletes’ check-in area. We did not trouble him for an autograph, but Anna was encouraged by the thought that a certain Lithuanian dreamboat might be in the vicinity as well. Unfortunately, we could not afford to spend any time staking out the entrance if we wanted to secure a spot in the north stands with a clear view of the discus ring. The Zurich Weltklasse pretty much sells out every year, and the general admission area overlooking the discus cage fills up quickly.  Owing  to necessity  then, we temporarily  suspended  the “hunt for Alekna”  portion of our mission  and managed  to grab a nice spot not too far from the cage and just  across  the track from an open area where the throwers  tend to congregate between  attempts.  Not a bad perch, as it turned out, for a passionate woman armed with a telephoto lens. From there, Anna and I anxiously awaited the beginning of the discus warm-ups while Mike (himself armed with a telephoto lens and a positively Japanese-like passion for using it) contentedly   snapped photos of the steeplechase water hazard.

Unfortunately, the steeplechasers would not be the only ones dealing with water and its hazards on this night. A few minutes prior to the discus warm-up, a steady drizzle began to fall and continued as Alekna and the other throwers were escorted to the cage. As the group began their warm-up tosses, it quickly became clear that the wet ring was forcing everyone to move cautiously.  Further complicating matters was a fairly steady breeze blowing in along the right foul line. Normally a boon to right-handed   throwers, the wind seemed to make it harder to get a proper flight on the disc, resulting in many weak-looking “pop-up” type throws-not the sort of thing one might expect from the world’s best.

After a few rounds, the warm-ups were halted for the “Introduction of Champions,” during which any recently crowned World Champion competing in the Weltklasse was paraded on the infield to the accompaniment of some sort of regal sounding techno music. After the introductions, the champions scattered to toss t-shirts into different sections of the stands. Alekna trotted right over to us and tossed several t-shirts into our section but just out of our reach.  It is testament to Anna’s genteel upbringing that she refrained from a.) hopping the railing and tackling Alekna, or b.) drawing blood in an effort to snag a shirt, especially when she realized that the world’s most hunkalicious Lithuanian had autographed them!

All eleven throwers were given a couple more warm-up tosses, and then with the rain still falling, Mario Pestana opened the competition with a very decent (considering the conditions) 64.90m.  This seemed to set the tone for the night. Yes, the ring was wet. Yes, it was hard to get a good grip on the disc. Yes, Anna was giving everyone but Alekna the evil eye. But these guys were professionals, and regardless of those distractions they were going to fight to get off some good throws.  This point was made abundantly clear when Franz Kruger fired a season best 67.30m on his first attempt.  This got me jacked up, as Franz is a class act and a lot of fun to watch.  The 2000 Weltklasse, the first that I attended, was something of a coming out party for the big South African who launched a couple of PR’s that night and endeared himself to everyone in the north stands by playing to the crowd before and after each throw. Two weeks later, he collected the bronze in Sydney and seemed to be on the brink of a fantastic career. After a stellar 2001 campaign, however, he slipped a bit and became just another member of the pack of throwers who struggled to stay within five meters of Alekna week in and week out. I often wondered if he was struggling with injuries during that span. Or if getting married had crushed his spirit the way it has with so many other men over the eons (just kidding, dear). What a pleasant surprise then, to see him suddenly conjure the mojo of Bachelor Franz and throw down the gauntlet on a night where 67.30m  looked to have a real chance of holding up for the win.

Things continued to look good for Franz for the rest of the first and most of the second round.  Even though the rain stopped for a few minutes, nobody, not even Alekna, could seem to get comfortable.   Of the first twenty-one throws, six were fouls and nine others were less than 64 meters.  Unfortunately for Franz, on the twenty-second throw Alekna demonstrated that he did not need to be comfortable to throw far, launching one 68.00m while nearly falling down during his reverse. This pleased Anna quite a bit, but not nearly so much as when the large Lithuanian stripped off his wet shirt prior to round three. Aside from Alekna showing off his pecs (an event that Anna was able to capture via her telephoto lens) the highlights of that round were Franz backing up his 67.30m with a solid-looking 66.68m, and Zoltan Kovago (he of the crazy mad right-leg action)  launching a season best 66.00m.

A poignant but largely unnoticed moment occurred during the re-shuffling of the order, as Lars Reidel, certainly one of the all-time greats and a six-time winner of the Weltklasse during the 1990’s, packed up and left the field after failing to qualify for the final three throws.  How odd to see this former ubermensch almost sneak away from a stadium where he had been the object of much adoration over the years. Too bad he didn’t announce his retirement during the “Parade of Champions” to give the crowd a chance to go nuts over him one last time.  I guess when you’ve reached the heights that Lars, has it must be hard to know when and how to bow out gracefully, but going three and out in Athens, Helsinki, and now Zurich is probably a sign that it’s time to go. Perhaps Mother Nature was as sad as I was to see Lars go, because the rain really began pelting down prior to round four. Predictably, this led to lots more fouls­ eleven over the final three rounds. Unpredictably, Kanter nailed 67.92m on his fourth throw to bump Franz to third, and Mario Pestano pitched a season best 66.57m on his final attempt. Neither Alekna nor Franz was able to improve, so the final ranking went Alekna (68.00m), Kanter (67.92m), Kruger (67.30m). A fun competition, but probably disappointing to these athletes who clearly were in shape to throw far had the conditions been better.

One final note regarding the disc. Both Ian Waltz (seventh with 63.08m) and Jarred Rome (eighth with 62.68m) demonstrated once again that they belong among the world’s elite. They both look big, strong and technically sound, and I predict they’ll be major players throughout the current Olympic cycle.

The completion of the discus put Anna in a slight bind. True throws fan that she is, she wanted to remain in the stands to watch the javelin competition (eventually won in a downpour by the young Finnish thrower Tero Pitkamaki with a fine throw of 88.71m) but longed to stake out the exit to catch Alekna on his way out. Anna’s mom (a charming woman born and raised in Austria who enjoys escorting Anna on jaunts over the Pond) settled the dilemma by noticing that the program promised a meet and greet with the night’s champions after the final event. Anna decided to pin her hopes on the chance that Alekna would stick around. Mike and I both had early flights to catch the next morning, so we left the stadium just before the meet ended, and were busy packing when Anna arrived with the sad news that Alekna did not stay for the autograph session. She faced this unfortunate development with her usual pluck and optimistic demeanor, wishing Mike and I a pleasant journey as we finally hit the hay around 1:00 AM. And thus our adventure came to an end.


The next morning, fairly numb from lack of sleep and distracted by a sort of generalized ache to see my wife and daughter again after ten days away from home, it took me several moments to realize that the man standing before me in the waiting lounge of Zurich Terminal One was none other than Virgilius Alekna.

So Anna was to get her autograph after all, though not in the way she’d expected.  He was extremely gracious as he signed, nodding politely as I pantomimed “rain” and told him how great I thought he was. My best guess is that he did not get any English in school as Lithuania was still part of the Soviet Bloc in those days, and he certainly did not try to speak any to me. But I didn’t care. I took the autograph, thanked him profusely and went back to my Napoleon book, wishing I knew how to use a pay phone in Europe so that I could call Anna and wake her up with the good news.

But a few minutes later, the news got even better.

Nose buried in my book, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to find Alekna standing over me. Without a word, he handed me a postcard-sized autographed photo of himself on the awards stand at Athens, nodded politely, smiled and walked away. Now I was really stoked. How cool to find out that someone you admire is a genuinely nice guy. I only hoped that Anna’s seizure upon receiving the photo would be a small one.

At that point, it was time to head to the gate to catch a bus to the tarmac where I’d board the flight to Manchester. Within ten minutes I was standing on the bus, still shaking a bit from the excitement of having met the Olympic champion. All of a sudden, I looked around and guess who was standing on the same bus just a few feet away from me? Yep. Now I started to feel a bit self-conscious, in no small part because of the fruity bag I was using as a carry-on. Earlier in the week, Mike and I had spent a couple  of days touring Salzburg, and I felt like I needed about five hands to carry all the stuff I was trying to schlep  around.  My solution was to buy a big canvas sack decorated with brightly colored images of fruit that would a.) hold all my stuff and b.) make a great beach  bag for my daughter  when  I got it home.  I knew it looked silly for a grown man to be carrying a bag like that. I even joked with the shop owner when I bought it that people would think I was “less than manly.” And indeed, a group of teenagers kept snickering at Mike and I when we sat down for lunch that afternoon. But I didn’t care. Until, of course, I suddenly found myself holding it in the presence of the Olympic discus champion.

Luckily, it was a short bus ride, and in a few minutes I was standing in the aisle of the plane trying to find my seat. The aisle was blocked by a lot of people still stowing their carry-ons, so I craned my neck to see around them and began counting rows. My seat was 12A. Take a wild guess who was already sitting in 12B.

Now I started to feel a bit panicky. As I mentioned earlier, Alekna is an enormous man who as far as I can tell does not speak English.  Were I to squeeze into that seat next to him, we’d  be smashed up against each other for two hours with absolutely no way to communicate.  And who could blame him for suspecting that I was some sort of fruity-bag-carrying stalker?  I mean, what are the odds that the only guy in the whole airport who recognized him would just happen to end up sitting next to him on the plane? And what could I say to assuage his fears?  “Me no stalk you. This coincidence.  Anna stalk you. She have picture of you no shirt. She want marry you.”

Nice guy that Alekna is, he started to get up to let me have the seat when he saw me staring at it, but no way was I going to sit there.  “Thanks again for the autographs,” I said and scrambled down the aisle clutching my fruity bag until I found an empty seat.

by Dan McQuaid

this article originally appeared in the Long & Strong Throwers Journal in October 2005

Time to hit the reset button on throws world records

Unless you live in a cave with no wi-fi service, you know that the role of PEDs in various sports has been all over the news lately. Fans of the Tour de France have been keeping their fingers crossed that their recently crowned champion, Chris Froome, will avoid the drug scandals that have plagued that sport for-seemingly-ever and restore some semblance of legitimacy to the yellow jersey.

By the way, there was a really interesting article in the New York Times last week describing the efforts of a physiologist to detect drug cheats in the Tour by comparing their performances to those of known juicers. Here it is…

Fans of track and field have to wonder if there is such a thing as a clean sprint champion, as Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell were busted last week. And speaking of Tyson, why does a thirty-year-old world class athlete require the services of an “anti-aging” specialist? Didn’t he (Tyson) have the leading time in the 100-meters this year? Does that sound like he’s suffering from the affects of old age? I’m the one who ought to be seeing a specialist. Takes me about a minute-and-a-half to haul my 50-year-old butt 100 meters, and then I need a nap. Here’s a link to a Sports Illustrated article about Tyson and his specialist…

Finally, fans of Major League Baseball, took a high hard one to the chin as Milwaukee Brewers all-star Ryan Braun admitted that he had been using PEDs and accepted a 65-game suspension. Braun, you may remember, tested positive in 2011 but avoided a suspension by successfully arguing that his sample had been “mishandled.” He insinuated that the poor schlemiel who collected his sample had somehow spiked it with testosterone before mailing it to the lab. This resulted in death threats aimed at the collector and should ensure Braun a prominent spot in the Big Fat Douchebag wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Braun, like Tyson Gay, was a client of an “anti-aging” clinic. It was evidence gathered while investigating that clinic which resulted in Braun’s suspension. Here is an article about him…

Often, when you read about PED scandals in baseball, you come across references to the “Steroid Era” and to Commissioner Bud Selig’s determination to move the game past that era. Commissioner Selig wants very badly to show baseball fans that he is taking all possible measures to keep PEDs out of the sport. This may have something to do with the fact that Selig was commissioner during the Steroid Era and is embarrassed by accusations that he kept his head firmly buried in the sand while a bunch of ‘roided up sluggers destroyed some of the game’s most cherished records.

I would date baseball’s Steroid Era as stretching from approximately 1995 to 2007. Though few prominent players were ever busted (baseball did not even begin testing major leaguers until 2003), a quick look at statistics shows that something fishy was going on during that period. For example…

-During the 1970′s only one player hit 50 home runs.

-During the 1980′s not a single player hit 50 home runs.

-From 1990-1994 one player hit 50 home runs.

-During the period from 1995-2007 twenty-two players hit fifty or more home runs.

The poster child for baseball’s Steroid Era (and a man who should get his own wing in the Narcissism Hall of Fame) is Barry Bonds who, suddenly blessed with biceps as imperious as his ego, launched 73 home runs in 2001, and eventually set the record for most homers in a career (762).

Selig would argue that, through the implementation of a thorough testing program, baseball has greatly limited the use of PEDs. Statistics prove him correct. In the five seasons stretching from 2008 to 2012, only one player hit 50 home runs.

So, good for Selig for finally facing up to the challenge of steroids in baseball. But, here’s the problem: the record books have forever been ruined. As long as baseball devotes its considerable resources to detecting and punishing drug cheats (and that seems quite likely, especially now that the players union is on board) Bonds will never be supplanted as the all-time home run king. He will remain in the record books forever.

And if you love baseball, that really sucks.

Because he is a cheater (and a tool).

Which brings me to the main point of this article: The throws are in the same boat as baseball. When I say “throws,” for the purpose of this article I am going to refer only to the shotput and discus as I don’t know much about the javelin or hammer.

And from the late 1970′s until the early 1990′s, the shot and disc experienced a Steroid Era as pronounced as baseball’s. The men’s and women’s world records for each of those events were set during this era, and remain unbroken. Here they are, courtesy of the Track and Field News website:

Shot 23.12 | 75-10.25 Randy Barnes (US) Westwood, California 5/20/90
(note: Barnes tested   positive for steroids later in the year; in keeping with its standard policy,   T&FN does not carry any of his ’90 marks on its all-time lists)
Discus 74.08 | 243-0 Jürgen Schult (East   Germany) Neubrandenburg,   Germany 6/06/86


Shot 22.63 | 74-3 Natalya Lisovskaya   (Soviet Union) Moscow, Russia 6/07/87
Discus 76.80 | 252-0 Gabriele Reinsch   (East Germany) Neubrandenburg,   Germany 7/09/88

Aside from the world records, the list of all-time top performances in the shot and disc is absolutely saturated with throws from this period. According to a list posted at there are only two women’s shotputters from outside of the Steroid Era whose performances appear among the top 300 throws of all time. One of those is Nadezhda Ostapchuk, who has since been banned. The other is Valeri Adams, whose PR of 21.24m ties her for 184th on the list.

The women’s discus statistics are even more skewed. Sondra Perkovic’s winning (69.11m) throw from last year’s Olympics? Good for 263rd place.

The men fare a bit better. While the list of farthest shot put throws is dominated by putters from the Steroid Era, at least Christian Cantwell and Adam Nelson managed to crack the top 15. (Kevin Toth’s 2003 put of 22.67m is listed at number 7, but he was banned shortly thereafter.) And 7 of the top 10 discus throws were produced since 2000 by Virgilius Alekna, Gerd Kanter, and Piotr Malachowski. (Robert Fazekas is at number 8, but like Toth he was banned.)

So, what’s the problem here? Based on these statistics, one could argue persuasively that track and field’s anti-doping measures are working. But having those all-time lists dominated by throwers from the Steroid Era diminishes the sport in two ways.

First, it makes today’s great throwers seem patently inferior to those from the Steroid Era.

As I was working on this article, Valeri Adams won the London Diamond League meet with a world-leading toss of 20.90m. That’s an outstanding throw from one of the greatest putters ever (a two-time Olympic Champion need I remind you) in the middle of her prime. And it ranks 405th on the list of all-time performances!

Do you see what that does to our sport? Imagine a young lady sitting at home in a country where they actually show the throws on television, seeing Adams nail that 20.90m to beat runner-up Christina Schwanitz by over a meter and, filled with inspiration turning to her parents and saying, “Wow! Mom, Dad, was that a world record?”

“Uh, no honey. But it tied her for the 405th best throw ever!”

“Awesome, maybe if I train hard someday I can crack the top 400!”

I asked Adams a couple of years ago if she thought she could make a run at the world record, and she just laughed at the notion. And looking at these statistics, she was right. As long as she stays clean, she’s not likely to get anywhere near it.

Feel free to raise your hand if you think that is good for our sport.

Second, if a current thrower does manage to break a world record, they will immediately be suspected of juicing.

It’s happening in baseball right now. Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles had 36 home runs going into the All-Star break. Guess what question he gets asked several thousand times per day?

The physiologist quoted in that article about the Tour de France to which I posted the link above argues that any current rider whose power output approaches that of the known juicers should be suspected of juicing as well.

And you tell me, if any current discus thrower, male or female, throws 75 meters…aren’t you going to wonder?

Again, this is awful for our sport. A world record should be cause for celebration, not suspicion.

So, what is to be done?

Baseball, if you pardon my bluntness, is screwed. They are trying their best to eliminate the use of PEDs, but the more successful they are the more likely it is that Bonds, the King of Cheaters, will continue to own the record book. I visited the Hall of Fame in 2004, and they have the all-time performance lists displayed all over the place. Even then, a couple of years before his retirement, Bonds’ name was everywhere. Based on evidence gathered during the Balco investigation, I suppose Selig could try to get Bonds erased from the record books, but what about all the other guys who got near the top of those all-time lists by cheating as well? Sammy Sosa (full disclosure: I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and hate the Cubs) pulled off the same panther-to-rhino transformation as Bonds late in his career. Actually, the Sosa/Mark McGwire home run race of 1998 is thought to have inspired Bonds to hit the sauce. But as far as I know, there is no hard evidence linking Sosa to steriods. So, should his name stay in the record books?

I imagine that mess has cost Selig many a night’s sleep, and as much as I’d like to see the record books renovated, I just don’t know how he could do it.

But for the shot and disc, a solution exists: Change the weight of the implements.

Add a half of a pound to the men’s and women’s implements and start over with a new set of world records. Think of the excitement it would add to our sport. At the 2016 Olympics, Whiting, Storl, Majewski and whoever battling for the lead until one of them walks away with a gold medal and a new world record.

We who love the throws are always talking about ways to make them more popular with the viewing public. Holding the shotput in venues like the Zurich train station is a step in the right direction. I’ll bet standing in that station holding a brat and a beer while watching world class putters is a lot of fun. Know what would be more fun? Whipping out your phone and texting your friends that you just saw a world record!

Right now, that’s about as likely as the movie Sharknado winning an Academy Award.

And that really bites.

by Dan McQuaid

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on July 27, 2013

2013 USATF Championships Women’s Hammer

Anyone who has read my stuff and assumes that I only care about the shot and disc is in for a big surprise because I covered the heck out of the women’s hammer at this meet.

There are two reasons why.

One, the timing fell just right. At these types of meets, the throwing events often overlap, and at Drake if one of the overlapping events is the shot put, you are forced to choose because all of the other throws take place outside the stadium. No worries on this very sunny Saturday afternoon, though, because there was plenty of time after the women’s shot to meander over to the hammer cage without missing anything.

Two, I had Trofimuk–a straight up hammer aficionado–with me, and he assured me that this would be a competition well worth watching.

Holy crap, was he right.

The hammer cage at Drake (it also serves as a discus cage when people are throwing discs from it) is set up in a fan-friendly way.  You can probably tell from this photo of Britney Henry warming up that…


…I am looking down at her from above the cage. That’s because the hammer cage is nestled into the corner of a huge athletic field that is rimmed with a grassy hill. Spectators, therefore, can flop on the grass and enjoy a sweet view of the the thrower and the landing area. Here is Art Venegas talking with Kristin Smith on that hill.


Unfortunately, the layout at Drake turned out to have one design flaw. On the other side of that fence you see with all the signs on it is an alley, which leads farther down to a parking lot. Have you ever seen those giant nets that they sometimes erect at driving ranges to keep the golf balls from flying onto a road or into a subdivision? Well, the folks at Drake have placed several of those nets along the left foul line to make sure that an errant throw will not make it to that alley or parking lot. Amazingly, in spite of those precautions, the left-handed thrower Jessica Cosby Toruga launched a warm-up throw out of the cage, over the giant safety nets, and into (I think) the parking lot. I say “I think” because you can’t see exactly what’s on the other side of those nets, but it sounded like the hammer skidded across the alley and thunked against a car.

Art, who coaches Cosby Toruga, must have sensed right away that something like that could very well shake a thrower’s confidence because he immediately called out, “I’ll pay for the car!” to try to lighten things up a bit. Unfortunately for Cosby Toruga, this would not be the only confidence-killing challenge she would face on this day.

Here are a few more photos I took during warmups…

Amber Campbell:


Jeneva McCall:



Cosby Toruga:



Gwen Berry and Jeneva McCall:



Ashley Harbin, Chelsea Cassulo, and Brittany Smith



Once the competition began, Amanda Bingson dropped the first bomb.



McCall trumped her a couple of minutes later:


That, my friends, is a legit world-class throw.


But Bingson wasn’t nearly finished. I was at Drake last year for the NCAA meet, which Bingson had a serious chance to win. Unfortunately, she had a lousy day and finished third after fouling four of her six throws. She clearly was not haunted by those memories, though, as in round two she stepped in and set a new American record.


After they announced it, she ran up the hill to show some love to Mom and Dad.


One might reasonably think that all this excitement would tire a person and make it unlikely that they might shatter their freshly-set American record on their next throw. Au contraire, mon frere.


Even world class hammer throwers have their limits, though, and Bingson went 72.41m, foul, foul, in the final. She did, however, punctuate her victory with a very impressive series of back flips after her sixth throw.

I had a long talk with her afterwards, which you can view in it’s entirety if you go first to and then to as the interview is divided into two parts.

McCall, suffering from an abdominal strain that she had incurred competing in the shot, could not better her 74.00m opener in rounds two and three, and then passed all of her throws in the final.

There were, however, some fine throws in the late rounds.

Here is Britney Henry going 69.57 in round four to capture fifth place:


Here is Amber Campbell reaching 72.58m in round five to finish fourth:



And we’ll finish with what might have been the most remarkable throw of the day. I mentioned earlier that Jessica Cosby Toruga launched one out of the facility during warmups. It would be perfectly understandable if she had become a bit tentative after that. To her credit, though, she maintained her focus and nailed a round-two throw of 72.47m  that had her right in the thick of things going into the final.

She began the final with a fourth-round 71.09m, but on her fifth throw she lost her balance in the middle of the ring and hit the concrete hard. My first thought, when she went down, was that they had better get an ambulance over here quickly because there was no doubt she was badly injured. It was like seeing someone come crashing down on the sidewalk after jumping from a fourth floor window.

Shockingly, though, after a few tense and weirdly quiet minutes Cosby Toruga got up and walked out of the cage under her own power. Even more shockingly, when her name was called in the sixth round, she was ready to take her throw. Most shocking of all,? It turned out to be her best throw of the day.


As Joe Gargery, my favorite character from my favorite novel (Dickens’s Great Expectations) would say, “Astonishing!”

So, that was the women’s hammer competition. I’ve got the second flight of prelims and much of the final on my youtube page:

It is pretty exciting that the US is sending legit medal contenders to Moscow in this event, especially considering the fact that very few kids are exposed to the hammer until they reach college. Honestly, though, I don’t see how that is ever going to change. As evidenced here at Drake, there are safety concerns with the hammer that you just don’t have with the shot and disc and it is hard to imagine high schools being willing to take on those risks. I guess we just have to hope that Fate keeps guiding the right athletes–like Bingson and McCall–to the right college programs.

by Dan McQuaid


this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on July 3, 2013

2013 USATF Championships Women’s Shot Put

The 2013 USA Track and Field Championships were held in Des Moines last weekend, and a great time was had by…well, by me for sure and also by numerous throwers who not only qualified for the World Championships to be held in Moscow this August, but revealed themselves to be serious medal contenders as well.

Holy cow, is Des Moines a great place to visit for a track meet. I live in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago which often finishes near the top in those “Best Places to Live” features you see in magazines, and justifiably so.  The schools are fantastic. The library system is one of the best in the country. A scenic riverwalk curves its way through a thriving downtown. But people can get a little intense here, so before you try crossing a street in that downtown you had better look both ways or the woman making a left into the yoga studio will run your butt over–that is if the dude racing to drop off his son for a cello lesson doesn’t get you first. I remember one time I was standing near a busy intersection downtown with my daughter listening to an outdoor Christmas concert when two drivers got into some sort of dispute. Suddenly, the cheery sound of a tuba playing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was interruped by blaring horns and shouts of “F— you, idiot!” Good will to men, indeed.

But it is hard to imagine anyone ever cussing someone in Des Moines, or running them over. People there seem to live at a more leisurely pace, one that allows room for cordiality.

I was accompanied on this outing by my friend and former thrower Pat Trofimuk. If you read my post on the New York Diamond League, you saw photos of Pat’s twin brother Peter. One of the standards that I live by is that I will not cover a track meet unless accompanied by a Trofimuk. They both possess encyclopedic knowledge of the throws, and can spend a five-hour car ride speculating on who might qualify for Moscow in the men’s shot. That makes them invaluable to me.

Anyway, late Saturday afternoon Pat and I pulled up in front of the Hotel Fort Des Moines to check in for the night. Though we were in the middle of downtown Des Moines–the state capitol need I remind you–the process of checking in, getting a room key, and then parking for the night in a free-on-the-weekends garage took about ten stress-free minutes. Parking in the Naperville garages is free as well, but on a Saturday night you’d probably have to punch someone in the face to get a spot.

Another thing that Des Moines has over Naperville is the Blank Park Zoo, which is an awesome place to take embarrassing photos of your friends. For example…


That’s Pat. And here he is again…


Luckily, we live in a world where it is okay for a giant shot putter to publicly display his sensitive side!

Since Pat and I arrived on Saturday, we missed the women’s javelin and men’s discus throws.

I am not nearly smart enough to figure out the whole “A standard” and “B standard” deal, but of the top three finisher in the women’s jav (Brittany Borman 60.91m, Ariana Ince 56.66m, and Kara Patterson 55.88m) none–as far as I know–has the A standard of 62m and only Borman has the B standard of 60m. Therefore–as best I can tell–Borman will be the only representative for the USA in that event in Moscow, unless Ince or Patterson goes out and nails the A between now and July 20th.

Of the top three finishers in the men’s disc (Lance Brooks 62.29m, Russ Winger 62.03m, and James Plummer 61.96m) none has the A or B standard. Winger told me that in order to make the team for Moscow, he has to get the A (66.00m) or hope that Brooks gets the A, which would allow Winger to make the team by hitting the B standard (64.00m). Got that?

Pat and I arrived in time to see the Women’s shot, which featured two throwers who had already hit the A standard of 18.30m–Tia Brooks and Michelle Carter. Notable by her absence was Jill Camarena-Williams, the 2011 bronze medalist who apparently was sidelined with an injury. I was afraid that this was going to be a boring competition as Carter and Brooks appeared to have a lock on the first two places. When I suggested to Pat that I might skip part of the women’s shot to check out the Junior women’s discus competition (the shot is contested on the infield of Drake Stadium, the other throws are held next to the stadium) he cautioned me that I might miss some big throws.

Apparently, he is not only sensitive but psychic as well.

All the big throws came in round five. First, the University of Arizona’s Alyssa Haslen hit a  PR of 18.10m to capture third place and a spot in Moscow (since she now has the B standard). Here is that throw:

Haslen 18.10

And here is an interview I did with her afterwards:

Tia took a while to get comfortable, but finally grabbed a ticket to Moscow with this throw:

Brooks 18.83

I had a nice chat afterwards with her also, and you can find that at

Here is the throw, though, that, had I missed it, would have required Trofimuk to hide all sharp objects in the hotel room. There are a lot of records in the throws that date back to the late 1980′s. I know that many current throwers despair of ever breaking them. A couple of years ago, I asked Valeri Adams, a two-time Olympic champion who was 26 years old at the time, if she thought she’d ever break the world record of 22.63m (which, by the way, was set in 1987). She laughed at the very idea. To me, that’s kind of discouraging.  Adams is one of the all-time great shot putters and just entering her athletic prime. If she can’t imagine taking a run at the world record, then who ever will?

The American record has lasted nearly as long.  It is 20.18m, and was set by Ramona Pagel in 1988. Sorry, I should say it “was” 20.18m because…

Carter 20.24

She looks pretty unimpressed by herself, doesn’t she? Oh, did I just break a 25-year-old record? Ho hum.

When I spoke with Carter afterwards (a chunk of our conversation is on Macthrow as well) I was struck by how grounded she was. As in the video of her throw, she did not go nuts or seem surprised even. She’s really happy training in Dallas with her father (who, by the way, still holds the American high school record in the shot) and was ready to head back there and get to work. To me, her attitude bodes well in terms of her chances of getting on the podium in Moscow. The rest of us might be astonished/overjoyed that she is now a 20-meter shot putter, but to Carter it is just a natural result of her training and…no big whoop. I see that as an indication that she will not be intimidated in Moscow. She’s ready to shine on the big stage.

Another interesting thing about Carter that I don’t think showed up in the interview owing to technical difficulties is that she’s not crazy strong. Her best bench press is 225 for a set of three. Her best squat is 405 for a set of five, and her best clean 275 for a single. Not too shabby, but wouldn’t you have thought a 20-meter shot putter would be stronger than that?

Anyway, the weekend could have ended there and it would have been worth the trip. We had some great moments ahead of us, though, as we headed over to watch the women’s hammer. More on that next time.

by Dan McQuaid

this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on July 1, 2013

2013 Chicagoland Summer Throws Series

All of us throws fans in the Chicago area owe Tom Pukstys a big, fat man-hug for putting together a great meet last Saturday, June 7. He got a bunch of elite athletes to come from the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, and somehow rounded up outstanding high school throwers from all over the country.  Before I forget, the results can be found here:

On Friday night, the throwers gathered for a reception at Benedictine University, the highlight of which was a couple of speeches–one by Jarrod Rome and one by Art Venegas.

Jarrod, a two-time Olympian in the disc, gave a lot of encouragement to the young throwers and told a hilarious story about how L. Jay Silvester, one of the all-time discus greats, advised him to take a shot at the NFL because he’d never succeed as a discus thrower. Luckily, every time Jarrod told his mom that he was thinking about hanging it up, she cried. Dutiful son that he is, Jarrod could not stand to see his mother cry so he kept at it.

Art, the longtime throws coach at UCLA and current throws coach at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, also directed encouragement towards the young throwers. I taped most of his talk, and it is worth watching. Art has been in the business for about twelve decades, but he has lost none of his competitive spirit and cantankerousness. And he is very funny. You can find his speech here:

The throwing events took place the following day, and I have to admit, I did a lousy job of covering them. In my defense, there was so much going on, so many fine throwers competing, so many interesting people to talk to that it would have taken a crack team of expert throws journalists to keep up with it all. There just wasn’t enough of me to go around, doggone it, so I focused on one flight of the elite shot put competition and one flight of the elite discus and covered them like the proverbial blanket. Here are some photos from the shot:

This is Russ Winger, who won with a toss of 20.53m (67’4.25″).

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This is Braheme Days, the fine high school thrower from New Jersey who put the 12-pound ball 19.78m (64’10.75″).

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This is Nick Ponzio, a high-schooler from California who put the 12-pounder 19.99m  (65’7″).

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Brandon Lombardino from Grant High School here in Illinios. He put 18.09m (59’4.25).

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Kurt Roberts. He finished second with 20.09m (65’11″).

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Another look at Braheme Days.

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Joe Kovacs, who finished fourth in last year’s Olympic Trials. Joe put 19.83m (65’0.75″).

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This is Nick Baatz  of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Nick put 17.88m (58’8″).

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This is Jacob Thormaehlen, formerly of the University of Texas. Jacob put 18.97m (62’3″).

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The discus competition was loaded with great talent as well. Here is 2012 Olympian Lance Brooks. He ended up throwing 60.71m (199’2″).

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Here’s a vid of Lance throwing 60.30m (198″).

Lance Brooks


This is Aretha Thurmond, who has made (I believe) three Olympic teams. She finished the day with a best of 59.54m (195’4″).

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Russ Winger was the only elite old guy who competed in both the shot and disc. His best throw was a sixth-round 59.08m (193’10″).

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Here is a vid of that throw:

Russ Winger


Here is Chase Madison, who had the best throw among the men with a 60.86m (199’8″) toss in round four.

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Here is a vid of Chase throwing 58.30m in round 5:

Chase Madison


Brandon Lombardino finished with a best of 56.22m (184’5″).

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Two-time Olympian Jarrod Rome threw 59.76m (196’1″).

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Here’s his round six throw, which was a foul:

Jarrod Rome

Gia Lewis-Smallwood had the best throw of the day: 61.90m (203’1″).

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Here she is throwing 58.80m in round six:



Luke Bryant, formerly of the University of Oklahoma, threw 58.83m (193′).

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I do not know the name of this thrower, but check out that beard:

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And now, as with every time I cover a meet, I must apologize to fans of the javelin and hammer. I don’t doubt that karma will eventually catch up with  me and I will be reincarnated as a javelin catcher in my next life, but the javelin competition overlapped with the shot put, leaving me to choose between watching an event that I coach or watching one that I know next-to-nothing about.

I did get to watch the elite hammer competition, which followed the discus.

Here is Jeneva McCall, the 2012 NCAA champion from Southern Illinois University. She threw 71.75m (235’5″).

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Here is a vid of one of Jeneva’s throws (although I don’t know which round this is).

Jeneva McCall


Finally, here is a vid of Rudy Winkler, the fine high school thrower who had the best toss of the day–77.67m (254’10″).

Rudy Winkler

I think that might have been his 77-meter throw.


Anyway, this was a fantastic day for throws fans, and I hope Tom, Greg Raimondi (Benedictine throws coach), and James Kluckhohn (Benedictine’s head track coach) make it an annual tradition.

by Dan McQuaid


this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on June 13, 2013

2013 New York Diamond League Men’s Shot Put

Probably the coolest part of the men’s shot competition was meeting some of the throwers in the hotel lobby the night before.


That’s Peter in the  middle surrounded by an awful lot of shotputting firepower: Former NCAA champ Cory Martin, fourth-place Olympic Trials finisher Joe Kovacs, two-time Olympic Champion Tomasz Majewski, and World Indoor Champion Ryan Whiting.

They are all good guys, and it was fun chatting with them. Cory said he is training and working as a volunteer jumps coach at Indiana University. He hopes to become a full time college coach some day, so he is trying to get some experience in events other than the throws. He was really optimistic about this season, as he said he is feeling totally healthy for the first time in a couple of years.

Joe is training with Art Venegas at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. I last spoke with him a year ago during the NCAA meet in Des Moines, and at that time he was not sure about continuing his career post-collegiately. But that was before his sensational performance at the trials where he launched a 21.08 bomb and came within 20 centimeters of making the Olympic team. He is very happy with the setup in Chula Vista, and seems likely to contend for a spot on this summer’s World Championship team, especially with Reese Hoffa receiving a bye for winning the 2012 Diamond League shotput competition.

Majewski is a giant, and luckily for mankind seems to be quite friendly.

Whiting has been without a doubt the best shotputter in the world so far this season. He has accumulated tons of international experience over the past few years, and it has given him great confidence. The only thing that might slow him down for a couple of weeks this summer is the imminent birth of his first child.

We also ran into European indoor champion Asmir Kolasinac of Serbia. Here he is with Peter:


All in all, it was a pretty solid linup of putters.

Unfortunately, it rained like crazy throughout the warmup and competition. These guys are pros, and nobody lost control running the ring, but it had to make it hard to really let loose. Also, the landing area was covered with fresh, thick turf and the shots just about disappeared upon landing. All the guys were forced to spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning and drying the shots between throws.

Here are a bunch of photos from warmups that Peter took from the grandstand.

This is Cory Martin performing a step-around drill:

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Here’s Kolasinac:

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Here’s Majewski performing a fixed feet glide:

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Here’s Joe Kovacs getting out of the back:

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Here’s Dylan Armstrong:

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And here are some videos:







Hope you enjoy the photos and vids. Should be a fantastic summer of competetion in the shot. For Whiting to throw 21.27 in those conditions? Amazing. And you know Majewski will be there when it counts in Moscow.

Stay tuned.

by Dan McQuaid


this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on May 31, 2013

2013 New York Diamond League Women’s Javelin


So, as the women’s discus ended, the javelin throwers began warming up and I’m pretty sure the temperature dropped even more. Here is a clip of me down by the javelin runway trying not to die of hypothermia:

At the javelin runway

For some reason I refer to the measuring system as the “timing system” and Icahn Stadium as “Randall Stadium” but I defy anyone as cold as I was to make sense when talking into an I-phone.

It was a great field of throwers…

…but how anybody got loose enough to sprint into their throw is beyond me.

My favorite thrower was Martina Ratej of Slovenia. Here she is:


The reason I liked her so much is that her coach gave her an animated pep talk between every throw, but her expression never changed. She opened with a season-best 60.51, and I guess her coach figured that he could berate her into an even greater effort. I do not speak Slavic, but based on his tone and his body language, he seemed to be saying, “You are throwing like a wuss and that is making me look bad!” But she totally ignored him.

My other favorite thrower was Christina Obergfoll, if for no other reason than that I love Germany, and that when I spoke to her after the competition she dropped an f-bomb when talking about the weather conditions. Here she is:


Here are vids of some of the throws. I apologize to you jav fans out there for my less-than-excellent camera work, but I had two factors working against me. One, I could not feel my fingers. Two, javelin throwers have the annoying habit of running away from you as you try to film them.




As you can see from the results, Obergfoll came through with a pretty decent 65.33 for the win. She’ll be competing in Eugene this coming weekend, and I anticipate a nice effort out of her as even the unpredictable and occasionally maddening Eugene weather should seem luxurious after what she fought through on Saturday.

by Dan McQuaid


this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on May 30, 2013

2013 New York Diamond League Women’s Discus

My friend, Pete Trofimuk, and I headed to New York this weekend to take in the Adidas Grand Prix Diamond League meet. Here is our report.

The women’s discus was scheduled for 9:00am, so we left the Hotel Jolly Madison around 7:15.(I know that’s a weird name for a hotel, and I wasn’t sure what to expect when my wife booked us there, but it’s totally legit–a great location and a very helpful staff. The elevator made a funny creaking noise, but that just made riding to the tenth floor more interesting.) After walking three blocks to Grand Central Station, we jumped on a number 6 train heading uptown. Even on that short walk, it was readily apparent that the weather was going to be an issue. We got pelted the entire way by a cold, steady rain while gusts of wind threatened to yank the umbrella out of my hand. It was a little slice of November that somehow showed up in late May, the kind of weather that made you want to hunker down in your hotel room and whine like a little girl. Luckily, Pete and I are built of sterner stuff, so we just whined while we walked.

We got off the subway at 103rd street and made our way to the East River where a pedestrian bridge arches up and over to Randall’s Island, home to jogging paths, ball fields, a large structure that looks like an old hospital, and Icahn Stadium where the track meet was to be held. On a normal May day, I would highly recommend taking this route to Randall’s. You can see from this picture that the pedestrian bridge offers some potentially awesome views of the city. On this particular day, it was a bit uncomfortable being exposed to the elements way up on that bridge, but manly men that we are, we soldiered on.


After crossing the bridge, it’s about a one-mile walk to Icahn. Here we are upon arrival:

Arriving at Icahn

We got into the stadium just as the discus warmups were beginning, and I was able to make my way to a spot just across the track from the cage. This was my view:


Notice the cameraman behind the cage looking like an eskimo?

I was amazed at how well the throwers were able to control the discus on their warmup throws. I don’t recall seeing one end-over-ender or cage shot in spite of the cold and rain. Then again, this was a solid field.

Glanc, Lewis-Smallwood, Randall, Robert-Michon, and Thurmond have all been Olympians, and Perkovic, of course, won the London games with a sensational 69-meter performance.

I had seen Perkovic compete here in New York in 2010 when she was just starting to make her presence felt on the international circuit, and I remember being impressed by her vitality. It was hot and humid on that day, and the air was pretty heavy, but she did not give a rip. She got in that ring and banged, barely fouling a 65-meter throw before winning with 61-something.

And this day would be no different. In spite of the presence of the fine throwers listed above, this was to be a battle between Mother Nature and Force of Nature. Throughout the competition, I had the good fortune of standing next to Perkovic’s coach and boyfriend, the former NCAA shotput champ from Auburn, Edis Elkasevic, and though I do not speak Croatian, I could tell from their interactions that Sondra had arrived in New York ready to rumble. She seemed concerned about the slickness of the wet ring, and she did not launch any monster warmup throws, but as the competition was about to begin she exhanged a fist bump with Edis, turned, sang herself part of a song, let rip with a “Whoop! Whoop!”, and then marched off towards the cage ready to kick some ass.

Which she did, in a rather amazing fashion.

The early highlight of the first round was a 61.86 toss by Lewis-Smallwood, which, given the conditions, was a pretty nice throw.


Then Perkovic went to work.

Perkovic Round-1 64.00

The previous meet record was 63.97, set by Stephanie Brown Trafton in 2009. Throwing last in the first round, Perkovic etched her name in the record book with a toss of 64.00. She was clearly jacked by that solid opener, and looked more than capable of adding on to her new record when, two throws into the second round, the competition was halted due to a glitch with the automated measuring device. As the delay dragged on, I had a nice chat with Edis, who told me that he and Sondra had met when he returned to Croatia after graduating from Auburn and began coaching a club team in Zagreb. Edis’s team shared facilities with the club to which Sondra belonged, and one thing led to another. He said that she comes from a pretty tough background, and is fiercely competitive. The results from last week’s competition in Wiesbaden where China’s Gu Siyu went 67.86 had gotten her attention, and she arrived in New York determined to strike back.

Now, after that promising start, she was forced to “chill out” literally and figuratively while officials tinkered with the measuring device. Needless to say, she was not happy about the delay, and she came over to the fence several times and engaged in spirited conversations with Edis. Afterwards, she revealed that they had considered retiring from the competition rather than risking injury by getting back into that wet ring. They decided to stick it out, however, and she killed time by dancing, singing, and fashioning a skirt out of a towel.

When the competition finally resumed after a break of at least 20 minutes, she stepped in and fired a 62.50 then started walking back towards the fence to discuss the situation with Edis. For some reason, one of the officials decided to intercept her. “No, no, you can’t go over there,” he said, motioning for her to return to the throwing area.

She did not even break stride. “Oh, shut up, you!” she said, and dismissed him with a wave of her hand.

Now, I’ve got great respect for the people who sign up to officiate track meets. This guy was out there freezing his nuts off like the rest of us, and I doubt very much he was getting paid. But you’re going to pick that moment–after a 20-minute delay in the bitter cold caused by the incompetence of your fellow officials–to all of a sudden decide that she’s violating some rule by conferring with her coach over whether or not it was safe to continue competing in genuinely wretched conditions?

Well, Perkovic was having none of it, and she blew right past him. Luckily for all parties, the official decided not to press the issue. He went back to his seat next to the cage and Perkovic, after conferring with Edis, stepped in at the end of round three and killed one.

Perkovic Round 3 66.31

After that she smelled blood, and for a time probably got a little too fired up. The officials took forever reordering the throwers for the final three rounds and when Sondra finally got back in the ring she pulled the trigger early and caged it. After some more advice from Edis (as best I could tell he was reminding her not to yank her head through the finish) she looked like she could barely wait to get back in for her fifth throw. Here it is.

Perkovic Round 5 68.48

I’m sure people are wondering about the wind. As I said earlier, I almost lost my umbrella a couple of times on the walk over, so the wind was definitely blowing. Inside the stadium at the ground level, I couldn’t feel it very much, but Peter was sitting on some bleachers that were elevated a bit on the other side of the track from the right foul line, and he felt like the wind was blowing across the sector from right to left. Whatever the case may be, it was certainly not an ideal wind and there is no arguing that 68 meters was a massive throw in those cold, wet conditions.

And Perkovic is immensely entertaining to watch. She reminds me of Adam Nelson in 2000 when it seemed like he could throw 22 meters whenever he wanted to. He was happy, confident, animated. A barbarian warrior slashing his way through the world of shotputting.

Right now, Perkovic is the barbarian princess of the discus. And I mean that as a supreme compliment. Jet lag? Rain? Cold? Delays? A slippery ring? None of that mattered. As Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock would say, she took all those potential distractions and crushed them in her mind vise.

She intentionally fouled a disappointing sixth throw, but it didn’t matter. That 68.48 had sent the message that she wanted to send. The Olympic title was no fluke. Hope you all had a nice time throwing PRs into that world record wind in Weisbaden, but how many of you could throw 68 in this crap?

And she seems to have the perfect partner in Edis. You can tell that she trusts him completely and his calm demeanor seems to be a nice compliment to her passion and volatility. He told me a great story about how he dropped her off at the airport as she headed off to the London Olympics and then found that she’d left an envelope in the car. Inside was a suprise–an airline ticket to London so he could be with her at the games.

We all know how that worked out, and if Saturday was any indication, there will be more golden days ahead for them.

I asked Edis how they would celebrate the big throw. “We will go shopping,” he replied. “I will follow her around and end up carrying many bags.”

Hmm. Maybe they’re not such an unusual couple after all.

by Dan McQuaid


this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on May 27, 2013

2008 NCAA Outdoor Championships

Friday, June 13th


Tim and I arrived at the outskirts of Des Moines around 3:00pm, uncertain as to what we’d find when we entered the city. In many respects, it was a perfect summer’s day. Bright sun. Light breeze. Eighty degrees. But we’d seen enough inundated fields, swollen rivers and coyote carcasses on our eight-hour journey to know that the previous day’s storms had done some damage. Flooding had already forced us to abandon Highway 80, the main road into Des Moines from the east, and follow a long, looping detour across the northern part of the state. Weather reports warned that although the rains had passed, runoff from the storms might cause already bloated rivers to spill their banks, and the Des Moines River runs right through downtown Des Moines. As we approached our exit, a strange-looking convoy sped past us going in the opposite direction: three yellow school buses escorted by half a dozen squad cars with their lights flashing heading out of Des Moines. Was this the beginning of some sort of evacuation?  Would the meet be cancelled? We didn’t know.


Tim has enrolled at Drake for the fall semester and is familiar with the campus, so with him navigating we quickly found parking, slapped on some sun block and scrambled toward the stadium. Within minutes we’d secured our media passes and planted ourselves behind the discus cage just as round two of the men’s discus final began. I took a moment to catch my breath and look around, and everything…seemed…perfect. Not a hint of flooding. No panic. No talk of an evacuation. The venerable Drake stadium, built of brick and situated in the middle of a neighborhood, exuded a quaint, old-school charm like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. The throwing area, a large, fenced-in square of plush grass attached to the north end of the stadium was alive with brightly uniformed athletes competing from two rings. The rings sat in different corners of the square field, maybe one hundred meters apart and connected by a long, low hill filled with spectators lounging back in the grass and enjoying the competition. A Sunday-school picnic could not have been more placid.  It felt surreal, but Tim and I had work to do, so we whipped out our notebooks and got down to business.


Men’s Discus


The early rounds of the men’s discus final were oddly subdued. Whether because of nerves or a slight tailwind or a combination of both, no one seemed able to muster Mr. Mojo. Many throwers struggled to get a proper flight on the disc, unable to keep the front edge from tipping up. Everyone seemed frustrated.  Leif Arrhenius, the sophomore from BYU, took the lead with a toss of 57.27m early in the second round, but that was the first throw of the day past 57 meters. The next came from Russ Winger, the fine all-around thrower from Idaho whose 57.17m pulled him into second. There were no other changes in the top two until Liberty’s Clendon Henderson stuck a 58.36m in round three to take the lead. At the break, the top five consisted of Henderson, Arrhenius, Winger, Jason Schutz of ColoradoState (56.76m) and Greg Garza of UCLA (56.71m).  I have to think that Garza, a veteran of many big competitions and owner of a 64.53m PR, would have been considered the favorite coming in, but he could not find his timing out of the back and each throw saw him crowding the front of the ring near the left foul line.


While the officials calculated and re-ordered the nine final finalists, several throwers took advantage of the delay to step into the ring and try to conjure some rhythm. At that point, every thrower who qualified for the final three rounds had to be thinking that he could win if he could just get a hold of one. Most took a couple of practice throws, and the disc seemed to be flying better out of everyone’s hand. Yemi Ayeni, a long-limbed University of Virginia junior sitting in eighth place at 55.17m, picked up a baseball and performed several dry throws. This apparently did the trick, as right after the break Ayeni, throwing second in the fourth round, stepped in and drilled a 59.50m to take the lead.


His reign was brief. Throwing third in round four was Rashaud Scott of Kentucky. Scott struggled mightily with his balance in the early rounds producing a 56.05m and two fouls, and Ayeni’s throw had just bumped him into eighth place. A powerfully built junior, he stepped into the ring, wound, turned, and lurched badly toward the left foul line as he sprinted out of the back. He almost fell down during his reverse, and I commented to Tim that he looked “way off balance on that one.”  Balance, apparently, is in the eye of the beholder. Scott’s throw measured 60.87m and put him in the lead.


Henderson also contributed a bit of round four excitement with his best throw of the day, 58.70m, which buttressed his hold on third place.  Ayeni backed up his 59.50m with a 59.23m in round five, but no one could catch Scott.


As round six began, Art Venegas, the great UCLA coach, left his perch on the hill overlooking the throwing rings and slowly walked over to Garza. Facing the last throw of his college career, Garza looked glum as Venegas spoke to him, and I wondered if the pressure of being the favorite, of maybe restoring some of the luster that the UCLA program has lost in the last few years weighed too heavily on him. He looked listless on his final throw and intentionally fouled it.


No one was able to come within two meters of Scott during the last round, and when Henderson fouled the final throw of the competition, Scott became champion.


Afterwards, Tim and I attempted to interview Scott. We had a mini tape recorder that a reporter who covers our meets back home lent us, and Scott was very polite about answering our questions. But warm-ups for the women’s disc had just begun and every time a throw headed anywhere near one of the foul lines an official let rip with a blast from an air horn as a way of warning the other officials to watch out, so the taped conversation ended up sounding like something from one of those reality TV shows where they beep out all the cusswords. As best I could tell, though, Scott said that during the first three rounds he felt like he was close to nailing one if he could just stop dropping his left arm out of the back. Whatever adjustment he made, it certainly worked. He’ll be back next year to defend his title, and if Ayeni remembers to pack his baseball theirs should be one heck of a battle.


  Women’s Hammer


A battle for first place between Eva Orban of USC and Brittany Riley of Southern Illinois started as a rout and ended with a close call. I’m kind of bummed that we couldn’t track down Orban after the competition, because she sounds like she’d make a great interview. According to a transcript that we found in the media room, a reporter had asked her after Wednesday’s prelims if she was worried because Riley threw farther that day. “No,” was her refreshingly honest reply. “The game’s on Friday.”


Indeed it was, and Orban made clear her intention of winning Friday’s “game” with a round one salvo of 68.27m.  Riley, the defending USATF champion and no shrinking violet herself, answered with 65.26m. Orban extended her lead in round two by hitting 68.71m, and seemed to have the title firmly in hand when Riley fouled her next four attempts. In round six, however, Riley launched a throw that appeared close to matching Orban’s best. It turned out to be 67.44m, which moved Riley from fourth place to second but left Orban the champion. Orban later told the USC website that had Riley jumped into first with that throw, she (Orban) was “ready to throw it farther.”  Considering that Orban has never finished lower than third in the Pac-10, NCAA Regional, or NCAA Championship meets, it is hard to doubt her word.


Another bit of drama in the women’s hammer was provided by the ladies of ASU. Defending team champions, ArizonaState needed a boatload of points in the throws to have any chance of repeating. That’s a lot of pressure to carry into the ring, but Sarah Stevens and Jessica Pressley both came through. In round five, Stevens launched a 66.37m throw to move from seventh place to third. Pressley did her part with a sixth-round 65.28m to nail down fourth place. As it turned out, those eleven points were just the beginning of a remarkable two days for the ASU women.


Men’s Javelin


As expected, the men’s javelin competition came down to a battle between the only three collegiate throwers to break the eighty-meter barrier this year: Cory White of USC, Adam Montague of Florida, and Chris Hill of Georgia.


Of these three, White threw first in round one and opened with 73.49m. Montague followed and topped White with 74.48m. Hill then took the lead with a 76.21m opener. White improved to 74.57m in round two to move into second place, only to see Hill extend his lead to 78.41m. White had his best throw, 77.79m, in round three, but there were no changes in the top three places for the rest of the competition.


According to the Georgia athletics website, Hill’s javelin title is the first in school history. Don Babbitt, Georgia’s highly regarded throws coach told the website that Hill “did a very good job holding off a couple great competitors today. He executed well and handled his first national championship with great composure.”


Hill returned the compliment saying, “There is no way I’d be where I am now without the help of Coach Babbitt.”


Men’s Hammer


Heading into Friday’s final, the men’s hammer competition shaped up as a battle between Auburn’s Jake Dunkleberger, the defending champion, and his teammate Cory Martin. However, as Auburn throws coach Jerry Clayton sagely reminded us, “There’s a big difference between coming in ranked one and two and actually finishing that way.” Though Clayton had faith in Martin and Dunkleberger, and referred to them both as “great competitors,” he was worried that Igor Agafonov of Kansas might pull off an upset. “He’s got a great coach, and he’s really dangerous,” said Clayton. “As long as he’s got a throw left, the competition is not over.”


It looked like Martin was determined to end the competition on the very first throw of the day, as he stepped into the ring and set a new Drake Stadium record of 72.83m. Agafonov responded with 69.51m, but the first round ended with Martin separated from the rest of the field by more than three meters.


Martin opened round two with 71.39m, and walked out of the ring hanging his head. Clayton told us that Martin had been throwing well in practice, and apparently the tall, bearded senior from Bloomington, Indiana felt he was ready to go farther than that 72.83m.


The battle for second place heated up in round two.  Dunkleberger showed some life with a 68.84m and Boldi Kocsor, much to the delight of the large UCLA cheering section perched on the hill above and to the right of the cage, knocked Agafonov into third with a toss of 69.92m. A fun moment came when Oregon senior Colin Veldman let loose with his second-round toss. Lance Deal, currently the Oregon throws coach, yelled “Come on!” as the hammer arced through the air, and the hammer wisely responded by traveling 66.94m, which would turn out to be Veldman’s best throw of the day. I asked Deal later if he was optimistic about the state of the hammer in this country. “When I see a big guy like Cory Martin throw with great technique rather that just muscling it? When I see Boldi Kocsor three-turn seventy-meters? Yeah, I’m optimistic.”


The Auburn boys provided further justification for that optimism in round three, as Martin hit 72.43m (and once again hung his head in disappointment) and Dunkleberger grabbed second place with a 70.51m toss. Rounding out the top five at the break were Kocsor, Agafonov, and Virginia Tech’s Matej Muza in fifth with a third round 68.18m which delighted his small but vocal fan base so much that one of them screamed, “Let’s go get some pizza!” Muza, showing remarkable restraint for a thrower, declined the offer and stuck around for three more throws. It was a wise choice on his part, because his best was still to come.


So was Dunkelberger’s. Throwing eighth in round four he showed he was not ready to relinquish his title just yet.  Clayton told us that Dunkleberger had been feeling sluggish during the last part of the season and had complained that the implement felt heavy, “So we mixed in some throws with an overweight implement to try to get him to work the ground better.” Mission accomplished.  Dunkelberger stepped in and smoked a 72.98m to take over first and set another new stadium record.


There was some late round maneuvering among the rest of the field as Agafonov jumped into third with 69.92m and Muza tightened his grip on fifth with a 69.83m, but everyone’s attention focused on the Auburn boys. Martin answered Dunkelberger’s bomb with a 72.77m. Dunkelberger hit 71.90m in round five. Martin replied with 71.36m. Dunkelberger finished the day with a sixth round 69.72m and then stepped aside as Martin entered the ring for the final throw of the day. We asked Martin later what was going through his head at that moment. “Just that it was time to lay it all on the line, not worry about fouling or whatever. Just put everything into it. I really had nothing to lose, so why not go for it?”  As his throw hung in the air he bellowed, “Go!” The crowd roared when the hammer planted well beyond the 70-meter line. It measured out to 74.13m, a new PR for Martin and, of course, a new stadium record.


We spoke with Coach Clayton after the competition, and I was struck with how gracious and humble he was. If anyone had reason to crow at that moment, it was him, but he gave all the credit to Martin and Dunkelberger, praising their competitiveness and willingness to accept coaching. Before we parted ways, I asked if he thought that Martin would have anything left for the shot. “I think the hammer takes more out of your legs than the other throws do,” he replied. “And, of course, you’ve got the big three in the shot, Whiting, Winger, and Lloyd. But I’d never count Cory out.”



Women’s Discus


Having gained momentum in the hammer, the ASU women spent the discus competition handing out extra-large slices of whupass pie.


The first three rounds saw ASU’s Tai Battle locked in a struggle for first place with Texas Tech’s D’Andra Carter. Battle improved on each of her first three attempts, culminating with a PR of 55.69m in round three. Carter stayed close with her own round- three bomb of 55.34m.  Sarah Stevens, fresh off of her third place finish in the hammer, stuck a round two 53.44m which temporarily put her in third place here as well.  Stevens and her teammate Jessica Pressley both had to report to the discus almost immediately after the completion of the hammer, and the quick turnaround may have flustered Pressley a bit, as she fouled her first two attempts and stepped in for round three facing elimination.


Stevens told us later that having teammates competing in the same flight really helped the ASU throwers to stay calm in high-pressure situations. She also credited her coach, Dave Dumble. “He’s always so relaxed and positive, he makes it easy for us to be that way.” Dumble, the former UCLA discus All-American who has built a powerhouse throws program at ASU, was a very busy man on this day, at one point having to hobble back and forth between the women’s hammer and men’s discus where Ryan Whiting ended up finishing ninth. I say “hobbled” because Coach Dumble spent the weekend on crutches after injuring himself demonstrating how to throw on a wet ring during a practice meant to prepare for the forecasted Iowa rains. “I’m thirty-two years old now,” he explained sheepishly. “Not as young as I used to be.”


Whether due to girl power, positive coaching, or simply out of determination to “win one for the gimper,” Pressley came through with a throw of 49.48m in round three, which put her in eighth place and qualified her for three more throws.


At the break, the top five consisted of Battle (55.69m), Carter (55.34m), Stevens (53.44m), McKenzie Garberg of WashingtonState (51.68m) and Khadija Talley of Miami (51.09m).


During warm-ups prior to the final three rounds, Stevens picked up a towel and performed several dry throws in the ring. She told us later that she felt like she had a big throw in her if she could just find her rhythm.


It turns out her suspicions were correct, as she nailed a fourth-round 56.14m to vault into first.


Battle responded with a 55.41m, and Carter finished her day with a 55.04m toss in the sixth round, but those were the only two throws that came close to matching Stevens. Meanwhile, Pressley finished with a sixth-round 50.27m which lifted her into seventh place and secured two more precious points for ASU.


After the competition, an ecstatic Stevens ran up the hill among the spectators to celebrate with her family and friends. Only a junior, she’s already experienced a lifetime’s worth of ups and downs at championship meets including a victory in the indoor shot in 2007, and a big disappointment in last year’s discus competition when she was favored to win but did not make the final.


After each event, the top eight finishers were escorted through the media room and we found Stevens there radiant and surprisingly articulate at the end of what must have been an exhausting day. I asked her how she was able to keep her energy over this long day of competition. “It’s easy, because this is what I love to do. Actually, throwing the hammer first today probably helped me in the discus because it let me work off some of my nervous energy.”


By the time the throws finished up on Friday, Tim and I were exhausted as well. We dazedly watched a few running events, then headed to our hotel where we were again reminded of the flooding that was causing havoc all over Iowa. Some members of a minor league baseball team in town to play the Iowa Cubs were lounging around the lobby speculating on whether or not the flooded baseball stadium could be made ready for a game. “I don’t think so,” I overheard one of them say. “The groundskeeper told me there’s fish swimming in the dugouts.”


I also overheard a stranded railroad employee telling the desk clerk about an empty train that had been intentionally parked on a bridge over one of the swelling rivers as a way of helping to stabilize the bridge. The river swept away both the empty train and the bridge.


The nightly news reported that many buildings in downtown Des Moines were flooding, including the jail, which had to be evacuated. That explained the convoy of busses we’d seen leaving town as we drove in Friday afternoon.



Saturday, June 14th


Another surreal day. The morning news was dominated by images of flooding and evacuation, including a photo of a river running directly over Highway 80, the route Tim and I had hoped to take home that evening. There were also calls for volunteers to fill sandbags in downtown Des Moines. Once again, though, conditions at the track were perfect. And the people working the meet, the police officers directing traffic outside the stadium, the concession workers, the security guard who jumped up to open the door to the media room each time Tim and I approached, were remarkably polite and helpful as if they had nothing else in the world to be concerned about other than the comfort of the spectators. Amazing.



Women’s Shot  


The field was loaded with former champions. Sarah Stevens won indoors in 2007. Jessica Pressley won outdoors in 2007. Mariam Kevkhishvilli, a native of the Republic of Georgia, won the 2008 indoor title throwing for the University of Florida.


Once again, the ASU women carried with them the pressure of keeping their team in the championship hunt, and once again they handled it magnificently.


Susan King of Memphis set the pace in the first round with a 17.02m toss, but Pressley, exhibiting a beautifully smooth spin technique, took over the lead for good in round two with a put of 17.94m.  King launched her best throw of the day, 17.68m, in round three. Kevkishvilli, a glider, hit her best throw of 17.43m in round three as well. Kevkishvilli seemed a bit uncomfortable and repeatedly looked to her coach in the stands for guidance as to where to line up her right foot at the back of the ring. We asked her about this afterwards, and she told us that her coach, from his vantage point, felt that the left foul line was incorrectly angled and wanted to be sure that Mariam did not throw that way. From where we were sitting, we could not tell if there was a problem with the foul line, but I wonder if worrying about it may have cost Kevkishvilli some of her focus.


The most exciting moment of the first three rounds came when Northern Iowa’s Rachel Jansen, sitting on two fouls, drilled a PR of 17.36m. Jansen has a very aggressive spin technique with a violent right-leg action that caused Tim to dub her “Mrs. Kovago” after the Hungarian discus thrower. Jansen’s throw moved her into fourth place and caused a joyous celebration among her fans.


Also in this eventful third round, Stevens hit her best throw of the outdoor season, 17.21m, to take over fifth place.


At the break, Stevens and Pressley came over to the stands to confer with Coach Dumble. He gave them technical advice, encouraging Pressley to let her right leg get ahead out of the back and Stevens to slow her shoulders and hit a more wrapped power position. The girls smiled frequently as he gently encouraged them, and I was impressed by their demeanor. In the middle of this pressure-packed competition the three might as well have been sitting around a Starbucks enjoying iced lattes. I complimented Dumble on his coaching style later that afternoon, and he told me that one of his former throwers who ended up studying sports psychology advised him that the best way to give technical suggestions was to sandwich them between two positive comments. I think most coaches would agree that it is best to stay upbeat during high-pressure competitions, but agreeing with it and actually doing it when your knee is killing you and the success of your team depends on your throwers amassing ungodly amounts of points is a whole different matter.  Staying calm, though, seems to come naturally to the amiable Dumble, and his even-temperedness combined with his technical expertise make him a masterful coach.


With Kevkhishvilli off her game it seemed during the final three rounds that if anyone was going to catch Pressley it would have to be King, an aggressive and explosive athlete. But Pressley extended her lead with a round five 18.13m and the strain of trying to match that caused King to foul her final three attempts, including one that landed outside the left sector in round six. It looked to me like Pressley’s superior technique made the difference. Each of her throws was smooth and balanced. She’d sweep a long right leg through the right half of the ring and let that carry her out of the back. All of her momentum traveled down the center of the ring and out into the throw. King, on the other hand, seemed to use her shoulders to develop momentum out of the back. This caused her to tip towards the left foul line and, when the heat was on, made it difficult to stay in the ring.


On her final throw, Patience Knight of Texas Tech hit 17.26m to knock Stevens down to sixth. But it was another great day for Dumble’s women, who finished the weekend with a total of forty-four points.


Afterwards, Pressley, having successfully defended her title, dedicated her performance as a birthday present to her father. Like Stevens, she was gracious and articulate in victory, deflecting credit to the coaching of Dumble and the support of her teammates. I, for one, hope that Pressley finds a way to continue throwing as she looks to have the potential to some day succeed on the international level.





Women’s Javelin


Near the end of the women’s shot, the stadium announcer encouraged spectators to head over to watch the women’s javelin final which “featured four of the best throwers in NCAA history.” I’m not sure if Oregon’s Rachel Yurkovich was one of those “four greats” referred to by the announcer, but she came out on top in this competition.


The first three rounds featured a tight battle between Yurkovich, New   Mexico’s Katie Coronado, Nebraska’s Kayla Wilkinson, Purdue’s Kara Patterson, and Andrea Kvetova of SMU.  Yurkovich opened the proceedings with a toss of 52.53m and followed that up with 53.94m in the second round. Patterson (53.39m) and Kvetova (54.47m) stayed close, while Wilkinson briefly took the lead with her second round throw of 54.60m. Yurkovich responded with 54.71m to retake the lead in the third round. Also in that round, Coronado moved into fourth place with a 54.11m toss.


At the break, the top three were separated by little more that half a meter, but Yurkovich broke things open with her fifth round toss of 56.58m, the eventual winner. Meanwhile, Coronado moved into second with her final throw of 54.71m. Wilkinson’s 54.60 held up for third, with Kvetova and Patterson rounding out the top five.


Yurkovich later told the Oregon athletics website that she “was really nervous going in, but once I got on the field, my goal was just to keep improving with each throw and it turned out great in the end.”


Tim and I found Lance Deal, Yurkovich’s coach, after the competition and asked if he was able to lend some of his vast experience to his athletes as they competed over this weekend. “They probably get sick of hearing all my stories. This morning I told them about the time at the World Championships that I traveled forty-five minutes by bus to a practice area then opened my bag and found out I’d packed two left shoes. I just wanted to remind them that everyone is human.”  Just then, Yurkovich, fresh off the awards stand, came along and enveloped her coach in a long embrace.



Men’s Shot


The men’s shot, the most highly anticipated throwing event of the weekend, began much like the men’s discus, with a tentative first three rounds. Whiting set the pace with a first round 19.83m, but did not look especially comfortable. He’s an interesting thrower, Whiting. There were probably half a dozen putters in the final with more refined technique, including Winger and all three Arizona guys. He tends to stay on his left a long time coming out of the back, something that Dumble told me was a result of relying on his upper body strength to initiate his spin. But he seems to have an innate gift of being able to generate a tremendous amount of force. Watching him, I was reminded of having seen John Godina throw the shot in 1998 or Robert Fazekas throw the disc in 2003. Those guys could just bring it better than any of their competitors, and so can Whiting. If he stays healthy for two more years of working with Dumble, and develops some of the rhythm that Godina possessed, holy cow.


Winger’s first throw was a sector foul down the right side, as was his final attempt in the discus the day before. It seemed like he was just pulling the trigger a little early, which is understandable in a meet like this, but he needed to find his timing if he wanted to hang with Whiting.


The Arizona throwers, Zach Lloyd, Shawn Best, and Jarred Sola, looked very smooth, although none produced big throws in the first round. Lloyd hit 18.35m, Best reached 18.52m, and Sola settled for 17.74m.  Cory Martin, fresh off his big win in the hammer on Friday, produced a first round 18.33m.


The second round developed similarly to the first, without much in the way of fireworks. Whiting fouled. Winger looked tentative but locked up a spot in the final nine with a toss of 18.84m.  Lloyd improved to 19.19m, but did not look at all pleased with his effort. Martin showed some life with a 19.32m, which moved him to second.


Whiting extended his lead in round three with a throw of 20.24m.  Winger, looking ever more frustrated, again threw down the right side of the sector and did not improve on his second round toss. Lloyd seemed to find a bit of comfort and moved into second place with a throw of 19.35m.


After three rounds, Whiting held the lead by nearly a meter, but neither he nor anyone else looked happy with their performance. Dumble told us later that Whiting said the throwing surface was kind of slow, and this may have crossed up the rotational throwers. The lone glider among the twelve finalists, Justin Clickett of Virginia Tech, could not seem to get comfortable with his release.  Maybe it was the pressure. Maybe these guys were a bit gassed at the end of a long season. Just about all of them compete in two events outdoors and some in even more. Julie Taylor, the Idaho throws coach told us that Winger, though sick with the flu at the time, insisted on throwing the shot, disc, hammer and javelin at their conference meet. That can exact a toll even on these great athletes.


Several throwers ratcheted up their aggressiveness after the break. Winger charged into second place with a 19.63m effort, by far his most comfortable and vocal throw of the day.  Martin, throwing next, matched Winger’s yell and bettered his toss by hitting 19.89m.  Lloyd then produced his best effort of the day, 19.40m, to remain in fourth.  Whiting finished the round with a 19.78m toss.


The fifth round was uneventful until Martin stepped in and consolidated his hold on second with a throw of 20.16m. Whiting fouled his fifth attempt, and so entered the final round with his lead cut to eight centimeters.


Winger finished a fantastic college career with his best throw of the day, 19.73m, to take third. Cory Martin entered the ring next, needing a PR to overtake Whiting. During the warm-ups between rounds three and four, Martin uncorked a big throw that traveled in a higher arc than any of his other tosses. From his perch in the stands, Jerry Clayton now gestured to Martin to raise the shot up as he turned into the power position so he could once again find that higher arc. After the competition, Martin told us that he trusted Clayton so much he’d, “eat dog poop if Coach told me it would make me throw better.” In this case, just raising the shot a bit sufficed, as Martin unleashed a high, arcing bomb that measured 20.35m and put him in first.


Next up was Lloyd, who fouled what looked like a big throw and had to settle for fourth place. It all came down to Whiting’s final attempt.  Whiting showed at the indoor meet that he is quite capable of hammering a big throw under pressure, and he kept his wits about him here. But his final effort, 19.98m, though more than respectable was not enough to overtake Martin who became the first man since 1922 to win the NCAA hammer and shot.

And thus ended a fantastic weekend of competition. Thanks to Glenn for commissioning us to cover the meet. Thanks to Tim for his navigational skill, moral support, and technical expertise in figuring out how to work the tape recorder. Thanks to all the athletes and coaches who patiently spoke into that recorder. Thanks especially to the people of Des Moines for hosting a great meet under very difficult circumstances.

-Dan McQuaid is an English teacher and throws coach at Wheaton North High School

-Tim Batten is a 2008 graduate of Wheaton North

by Dan McQuaid

2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships

The NCAA Championship Meet, held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, represented the culmination of a very challenging few weeks for the nation’s top collegiate throwers. After attempting to peak for their conference meets, they had to muster up the special sauce again at regionals where a top-twelve finish was required to earn a ticket to Des Moines. Once admitted to the Big Show, these athletes had to deal with unpredictable weather and a sometimes controversial format in an effort to get on the podium.


Women’s Disc

An early casualty of this end-of-the-season grind was the 2010 champion in the women’s discus, Jeneva McCall of Southern Illinois, who did not advance out of the Eugene regional. That left the door open for the 2010 second place finisher, Oklahoma’s Brittany Borman, and for the possessors of the top marks coming out of regionals, namely Tennessee’s Annie Alexander (58.58m) and Arizona State’s Anna Jelmini (57.09m). Were I a betting man, I’d have put the house, the car, and maybe one of the stepsons on Jelmini who, despite her youth (she’s a redshirt freshmen) has chalked up lots of big meet experience over the past couple of years. I saw her throw at the 2010 Diamond League Meet in New York and she did not strike me as being a bit intimidated by sitting at the big table with the grownups.

Despite having the top two regional throws, Alexander and Jelmini were placed in different flights in Des Moines, and this is where the “controversial” aspect of the format came into play. The powers-that-be at the NCAA decided that the twenty-four throwers who qualified out of the regionals would be divided into two randomly selected flights at the Championships. Those throwing in flight one would have to chillax for at least an hour afterwards while flight two warmed up and competed. Any flight one throwers finishing among the top nine at the conclusion of both prelim flights would have to quickly rummage through their equipment bag to try to find enough leftover swagga to get them through another warm-up period and three more rounds of competition. Virginia Tech throws coach Greg Jack for one, was not a big fan of this setup, arguing that the top throwers from the regionals earned the right to compete in the second flight. “It is very unfortunate that they don’t rank these throwers by their ability level,” he said, “because they are hurting the top-ranked throwers. It doesn’t set up for a good competition, a fluid competition. It’s stupidity. Whoever is making that call is ignorant of our events…probably some distance coach!”

However one feels about the randomized flights or about distance coaches, it was interesting to observe the effect they had on the various throwing events.

Borman, slotted to throw in flight one, bowed out quickly with three fouls. Alexander seemed about to follow Borman out of the competition after opening at 41.19m and following that up with a round-two 41.40m, but a third-round 54.28m saved her day and put her into second place behind Southern Methodist’s Simone du Toit, who popped a 54.94m in round one.

Throwing next-to-last in flight two, Jelmini cranked a 56.67m on her first throw to take the overall lead, and later improved on that with a third-round 57.11m. Sneaking into the number two spot behind Jelmini was Northwestern State’s Tracey Rew with a round-two PR throw of 55.31m. I say “sneaking” because in spite of posting a very respectable 54.96m at regionals, Rew entered the meet with very little name recognition among discus prognosticators. Perhaps because she fouled out of last year’s meet in Eugene, she was not listed among the top ten women collegiate discus throwers as posted by Track and Field News a couple of weeks prior to the Championships. Life outside the spotlight seemed to suit her, though, as that 55.31m was only the beginning of an epic series for Rew.

After the nine finalists were identified it became clear that Annie Alexander had gone to a happy place during her enforced idle as she hammered a round-four 57.55m to seize the lead. Jelmini answered with 56.73m, while Michigan State’s Beth Rohl bumped Rew into fourth place with a toss of 55.39m.

Jelmini retook the lead in round five with a throw of 57.61m while Rew moved back into third place with 56.76m, her second PR of the day. That left Rohl in fourth and the freshman from Arizona, Baille Gibson in fifth at 55.29m.

Gibson jumped ahead of Rohl with a final-round 56.46m and was jumped in turn by du Toit who, more than two hours after her first warm-up throw of the day, drilled a 56.83m to finish fourth. Alexander finished her roller coaster of a day with a toss of 52.39m, and into the ring stepped Rew. “I knew it was the last throw of my collegiate career,” she said later. “I just stayed calm and worked on my technique like I’ve been doing. But I added a little bit of aggression and it paid off.”


Her calmly aggressive approach resulted in a throw of 58.64m, a three-meter-plus improvement over her best throw prior to this competition.

That throw had to feel like a sock in the jaw to Jelmini, and I’m not talking about a love tap. But she responded like a champion, popping up off the canvas to hit her best throw of the day, 57.97m. Unfortunately, she will have to wait another year to claim a national title. This day belonged to Tracy Rew.


Men’s Javelin

Probably the best way for a highly-ranked thrower to handle being stuck in the first flight would be to knock the crap out of one early and then let everyone else figure out how to respond. “There you go, fellas. Chew on that for awhile. I’ll be in the tent, if you need me.”

That pretty much describes the men’s javelin competition, as Illinois State sophomore Tim Glover opened with a monster throw of 80.33m (a PR, a school record, a Missouri Valley Conference record, and the best collegiate throw of the year) and spent the rest of the afternoon watching his competitors flail away at that mark. At the end of flight one, the second best thrower, Florida sophomore Stipe Zunic, was more than five meters back at 75.01m.

How did Glover feel having to sit back and watch flight two?  “It was pretty nerve-wracking. Especially because they had us stay down there, but then they shipped us off to another tent then they kicked us out and we had to go back and wait by the runway. I’d say we had at least an hour to wait while the second flight threw.”

“My coaches were freaking out when they had us sitting out here instead of keeping cool. I figured I had a good throw out there and they had to chase it and if someone got off a good one I knew what I had to do”

“I’m kind of used to that from the summer meets, waiting around. You’re supposed to throw at eight and you end up throwing at three.”

None of the flight two throwers did much to pierce Glover’s cocoon of nerve-wracked serenity, and he and Zunic held the top two spots entering the finals. Sam Humphreys, a sophomore from Texas A&M, sat in third place with a throw of 74.88, a nice improvement over the 70.32m that netted him fifth place in 2010. Another sophomore, Matias Treff from Virginia Tech by way of Nuremburg, Germany, held fourth place with 74.80m, followed by Kansas freshman Johannes Swanepoel in fifth with a first-round 72.24m which would turn out to be his only mark of the day.

The final rounds were drama-free until Treff stepped up on his last throw and banged out a 77.88m to move into second. Humphreys responded with his best throw of the day, 75.05m, to knock Zunic into fourth. Swanepoel, passing on all three throws, held on to fifth.

Afterwards, Glover faced what for him was the most anxiety-inducing moment of the day: the drug test. “I’m a shy pee-er,” he said. Competing for three hours in ninety-degree weather probably didn’t make that any easier.

The javelin is an odd event in that injuries seem more common than in the other throws and can make it difficult to predict future results. Ten of last year’s top twelve finishers were underclassmen, but only six of them made it to Des Moines, and only Glover and Humphreys improved on their 2010 finish.

That said, Glover would appear to have a bright future. He feels like he’s got a long way to go technically, and considers himself “one of the weakest javelin throwers I know,” with a 105k bench and 110k hang clean. Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildson, by comparison, benches 195k and hang cleans 155k.


Men’s Discus

Two of the top three finishers from 2010 returned: sophomores Mason Finley of Kansas and Julian Wruck of Texas Tech. Both threw very well at this year’s Big 12 meet, Finley hitting 60.37m to finish second behind Wruck’s record-breaking throw of 63.42m. Senior Leif Arrhenius of BYU also appeared to be in top form after hitting 59.11m at his conference meet and following up with 59.87m at the regional.

For someone to pull a Tracey Rew, each of these “Big Three” would have to falter.

They did not.

Wruck, an amiable Australian who said he likes to open easy with “about 90% effort just to be sure I’m in the finals,” threw down the gauntlet in round one of flight one with 60.08m. Finley replied with 60.11m. Wruck cranked it up for round two and fired a 61.81m. Finley finished with two fouls, and Wruck fouled his third effort, so the two sat first and second as the first flight concluded.

Just behind Wruck and Finley were two Nebraska throwers, freshman Chad Wright at 56.28m, and junior Tyler Hitchler at 55.48m. The fact that these two were able to compete at all, let alone to throw so well was a remarkable display of mental toughness as they were informed not long before the competition that their coach, Mark Colligan, had been found in his hotel room that morning dead of an apparent heart attack.

“We had to stay focused. It really didn’t sink in, so we tried to keep it business as usual,” Hitchler told ESPN afterwards. “We tried to stick with the motions. It was a shock, so the emotional side wasn’t there yet.”

“I thought about it the whole time during competition. After every throw, I instinctively looked at the sidelines for coaching on my technique. It was quiet. I had my dad and some other support there, but the face I had looked toward my entire career at Nebraska was gone.”

Arrhenius came out smoking in flight two, hitting 61.36m on his first throw to knock Finley into third. He did not improve after that, and there would be no final-round fireworks. Finley improved to 60.16m in round four, but the top three spots did not change. Colin Boevers of Kentucky nailed  56.88m to finish fourth, Central Michigan’s Alex Rose earned fifth place with a round four 56.64m, and Wright and Hitchler held on to sixth and seventh.

Afterwards, Wruck said that he had not been bothered by the randomized flights, and that he felt like he’d developed a strong mental approach to competition.

“This year was the first year I’ve been able to go to any meet and not feel nervous. I try not to see people as numbers. During warm-ups, you see everyone else as human beings just like you. They have fears just like you. I don’t see people as linear systems of better or worse. They might be thinking (when they throw a big warm-up throw) ‘Hey that was a lucky throw!’ You don’t know what they are thinking, so I try to get a lift out of the competition and if someone throws a big throw I try to look at it as an opportunity to throw one far as well.”

Wruck hopes to put this mental approach to use at the 2012 Olympics, and said he is likely to remain in Australia next year to prepare.




Men’s Hammer

How’s this for a loaded field? Two former champions, LSU senior Walter Henning (2010) and Virginia Tech senior Marcel Lomnicky (2009) along with Alex Ziegler, another Virginia Tech senior and last year’s runner-up.

Lomnicky, of the Czech Republic, looked to be the favorite after unloading a 75.84m bomb at the ACC Championships and hitting 73.91m at regionals. He was the only member of this “Big Three” slotted into the first flight, and I’m sure he hoped to replicate Tim Glover’s performance in the javelin. Drop a big one and let everyone fight for second place. According to Coach Jack, Marcel had been throwing very well in practice and was ready to launch one, but he opened with a foul, followed by a “safe” 71.49m, and a third-round 72.32m—a fine throw but one that had to leave Ziegler and Henning feeling that the door was definitely still open.

Both assured themselves a spot in the finals with their first efforts, Henning with 66.41m, Ziegler with 70.25m. Both fouled their second throws then improved in round three, Henning hitting 68.26m and Zielger reaching 70.32m.

Going into the finals, fourth place belonged to Alec Faldermeyer, a UCLA freshman who threw 66.95m in round three. Henning’s teammate, Michael Lauro, sat in fifth with a throw of 66.49m.

In spite of the long wait between flight one and the finals (Coach Jack compared it to “icing” a kicker in football), Marcel improved in round four with a toss of 72.35m. Ziegler also improved, hitting 72.01m, but remained in second. Faldermeyer (67.46m) and Lauro (67.45m) both had their best throws of the day in round four, as did Sam Houston State’s Chris Cralle(66.48m).

None of the finalists improved in round five.

Sitting seventh, Trey Henderson of USC popped a round six 67.58m to move into fourth place. And then came the Big Three. On the last throw of a fine college career, Henning hit 69.03m, his best of the day but not enough to move him into second. So, Ziegler stepped into the ring with one shot to unseat his teammate. Interestingly, this was only the third meet of the outdoor season for Alex. Coach Jack said that he’d had a little trouble transitioning from the weight throw indoors and since he had a long summer of throwing ahead of him in his native Germany, they did not see any reason to rush things along. Apparently they knew what they were doing, as Ziegler launched the hammer 72.69m and launched himself into first place. Lomnicky’s final effort came up short at 71.29m.

Coach Jack was not surprised at Ziegler’s success. “He’s been throwing great in practice,” he said afterwards. “If you follow the hammer, don’t be surprised to see Alex throw 76 meters this summer.”



Women’s Javelin

After fouling out of the discus, Oklahoma’s Brittany Borman had to be wondering why she ever tried this sport in the first place. After hitting a best of 50.70m during the first flight of the javelin prelims (well short of the 53.00m PR that got her second place in 2010) she could not be blamed for thinking thoughts that might not be printable in a genteel magazine like Long and Strong.

Sitting second to Stanford’s Eda Karesin (52.33m) after flight one and struggling to find a groove Borman, like Lomnicky in the hammer, had a lot of time to mull over possibilities.

“I was little nervous about yesterday’s performance in the discus, but I tried to come back today with a clear mind and forget all of that,” said Borman later. “After the prelims, I sat on the side and thought about what I needed to do and talked to Coach (Brian) Blutreich. I was a little tight and after doing that I was more relaxed. I knew that I had to get loose and let it fly and it showed on my fourth throw.”

True that. Marissa Tschida of Washington State had dropped Borman to third place by throwing 51.06m in the second prelim flight, then, throwing just ahead of Borman in the finals, increased her lead with a 52.20m toss in round four.  Maybe Tschida’s throw got Borman fired up. Maybe Blutreich found the magic words that all coaches wish they could find when one of their athletes is struggling. Whichever, Borman stepped up and fired a new PR of 54.32m that vaulted her from third to first. Spectators later reported hearing a loud thud that sounded a lot like a large monkey falling off of someone’s back.

There were no surprises in rounds five or six, although Borman punctuated her title with a 53.71m toss.

Karesin held onto second and Tschida to third, while Tulane junior Ana Ruzevic finished 4th (50.40m), Emalie Humphreys of Texas A&M finished fifth (50.26) and Illinois State junior Leigh Petranoff sixth (49.42m).


Women’s Hammer

With four of the top five finishers from 2010 returning, this promised to be a fierce competition. Though her training had been disrupted by off-season knee surgery, defending champion Nicole Lomnicka of Georgia appeared to be rounding into form. She won the SEC meet with a throw of 63.51m, and posted a respectable 62.88m at regionals. Last year’s second place finisher, Dorotea Habazin of Virginia Tech, came to Des Moines with a PR of 68.36m and a regional throw of 67.51m. Southern Illinois senior Gwen Berry led the nation with a 70.52m bomb that she unleashed at this very stadium in April. Amanda Bingson of UNLV chalked up a 67.92m at regionals. And nobody was more focused than Berry’s teammate Geneva McCall who hit 67.24m at regionals and came to Des Moines determined to make amends for her failure to qualify in the discus.

Unfortunately, a steady rain began falling just as flight one warm-ups began and threatened to turn the competition into a battle of attrition. There were numerous horrific-looking wipeouts as several competitors stepped a bit too far on their final turn and ended up on top of the insert. In these conditions, that was like stepping on an oil slick.

McCall was the only big gun competing in flight one, and she showed right away that she was not going to be intimidated by the foul weather. She opened with 65.37m, followed that with 66.45m, and improved to 66.47m in round three. That gave her a healthy lead over UNLV’s Chelsea Cassulo (64.07m), and the way the rain was pelting down I wondered if she’d pulled a Glover and sewn up the title during prelims.

Habazin quickly disabused me of that notion with a first-round 66.23m, followed by a second-round 66.14m, and a round three blast of 68.15m—an amazing throw under these conditions. I asked Coach Jack afterwards how Habazin was able to produce a throw like that when many of her competitors struggled to simply stay upright. “That’s good old beautiful Blacksburg weather right there,” he said. “We train in it all the time, rain or shine. We like it because it puts other throwers at a disadvantage.”

That was clearly the case with Berry, who fouled all three of her prelim throws, and Bingson who could not come within three meters of her regional best. Going into the finals, she sat fourth behind Habazin, McCall, and Lomnicka who showed some toughness of her own by hitting 64.88m in round three. This was less than a meter below the mark that won her the title in 2010.

There was not a lot of action in the finals until McCall stepped in for her final throw and showed her grit by launching one that looked to be very close to unseating Habazin. It was close—67.74m—but not quite enough, and Habazin, whose next goal is to represent her native Croatia in the 2012 Olympics, ended her Virginia Tech career as national champion.


Men’s Shot

Mason Finley finished second as a true freshman in 2010. He finished second at the 2011 Indoor Championships with a throw of 19.75m and came to Des Moines with a season’s best of 20.71m—a put that would dominate pretty much any collegiate competition that did not involve a Godina or a Whiting. Finley threw that 20.71m indoors, but you get the picture.  He was the man to beat, and having been slotted into flight two there would be no momentum-killing wait between prelims and finals. If he could get his groove on early it seemed probable that he’d steamroll his way to the title.

His main competition appeared likely to come from indoor champion Leif Arrhenius, who carried a season’s best of 19.92m—the mark that won him the indoor title.

Arrhenius was tabbed to throw in the first prelim flight, and luck appeared to smile on him and the other flight one competitors as the rain faded away during warm-ups. The ground remained wet, and there was the matter of keeping the bottom of one’s shoes dry, but unlike in the women’s hammer, the shot warm-up seemed to go smoothly. Arrhenius looked sharp and very confident. One other competitor stood out—Arizona State‘s Jordan Clarke, looking mighty BA under his fauxhawk and mighty smooth out of the back of the ring.

Clarke opened with an easy-looking 19.14m, a throw certain to get him into the finals. Arrhenius took over first place with a round-two 19.37m, and then Clarke took it back with a third-round PR of 19.53m. Michel Putman, a Florida State junior, filled out the top three with a third-round throw of 18.90m.  Clarke and Arrhenius both looked jovial as they as took a seat to watch flight-two warm-ups, confident that they’d earned a place on the podium. Finley also had reason to feel confident, as the top spot was still well within his reach.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature chose that moment to intervene, and it began to rain again during flight two warm-ups. The rain seemed bother Finley and pretty much everyone else in the flight. There were no big warm-up throws, and Finley’s 18.80m was by far the best toss of the first round. Then, just at Finley stepped into the ring for his second throw, an announcement came over the PA system that all fans and competitors had to clear the stadium immediately due to a lightning alert. Suddenly, throwing in flight two became a disadvantage as those competitors would have to sit out the delay, then warm up again before resuming their competition throws.

The fans were ordered to take shelter in the nearby field house, but my friend and I could not find the entrance. A nearby tavern graciously offered shelter, so we choked down a couple of beers just to be sociable and headed back to the stadium in time to watch flight two resume their warm-ups in an even heavier downpour.

By this point, Finley was starting to look a bit lost. His technique seemed to be quite different than I remembered it from watching him throw at last year’s USA Championship meet. He seemed very slow and deliberate out of the back, rising up and almost pausing on a straight left leg. More than once, he made eye contact with his coach in the stands and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “I don’t know why it’s not going farther.”

When the competition resumed, he fouled his second-round throw before hitting 18.94m in round three. This put him in fourth behind Clarke, Arrhenius, and Penn State’s Joe Kovacs (19.06m) as the finals began.

The rain continued to pound down, and of the final twenty-seven throws, fourteen would be fouls. Finley reached 18.53m in round four, while Arrhenius fouled and Clarke tossed 18.94m. Finley fouled his fifth throw, while Arrhenius reached 18.66m. On the brink of a very much unexpected victory, Clarke must have caught a sudden endorphin buzz as he shook off the conditions and any malaise he felt from the long delay to hammer out another PR—a fifth round toss of 19.75m.

That was the dagger.

Hayden Ballio of Texas knocked Finley into fifth place with a final-round toss of 18.95m. Finley tried to answer by putting a lot of juice on his final throw, and he got off a nice toss (somewhere near 20 meters) but his momentum carried him out of the front of the ring. That left Arrhenius, who was determined not to waste the final throw of his college career. He too, dropped one in the vicinity of the 20-meter line, but this was Clarke’s day, not his and he could not keep the throw, stepping out just to the left of the toeboard.

I asked Arizona State coach Dave Dumble afterwards if he was surprised by Clarke’s performance. “He threw a season best at Pac 10’s, went to the Tuscon elite and he had a great series there so there were signs that he was figuring out his entry and setting up his power position, so we knew he was going to throw well…but two PR’s? You know, when he’s happy and he’s confident he can do stuff like that.”

And what had they done during the delay? ”We just sat and talked had a couple of granola bars. He was so relaxed. He knew these guys still had to go out and warm up and compete, and he was so happy with how well he threw in the first three throws that even if he didn’t win he was still going to be happy with it. Everybody else was pressing, maybe trying to get a big throw, and he was just happy with wherever he placed.”

Women’s Shot

The Julie Labonte “Here Comes An Ass-Beating” Tour picked a perfect day to roll into Des Moines. Sunny. Seventy-something degrees. And who could blame Mother Nature for getting out of the way for this final throwing event on the final day of the NCAA Championships? Since finishing fourth in the nation a year ago Labonte, a native of Quebec Province, had developed into something of a force of nature herself. She had not lost against collegiate competition indoors or out in 2011, and came into the Outdoor Championships with a PR of 18.21m. Très bien, eh?

Should Labonte falter for the first time all season, a trio of fine throwers was lined up to challenge her. Tia Brooks of Oklahoma finished second to Labonte indoors with a solid throw of 17.40m. Indiana’s Faith Sherrill came in with the number two regional mark of 17.51m. And Tennessee’s Annie Alexander was SEC champion with a 17.50m put.

Brooks and Alexander both threw in flight one. I’m a big fan of the fixed-feet glide, and I got a kick out of Brooks’ violent finish. She hammers her right hip against her block. Ka-pow!  Her 17.21m in round two put her into first place after the first flight with Texas Tech sophomore Ifeatu Okafor (16.96m) and Alexander (16.92m) occupying second and third.

Just about everybody else seemed flat during the first flight, though. Throw after throw barely crossed the 16.00m mark. That trend continued during flight-two warm-ups until Labonte got limbered up and dropped one on the 18.00m line. That was what we English teachers refer to as “foreshadowing.”

Even Labonte looked a bit off though, as flight two got rolling, intentionally fouling a lousy first effort. Her second throw was a bit better: a PR and new Canadian record of 18.31m.

Like Tia Brooks, Labonte is a fixed-feet glider, although she has a slightly different finish. Her right foot sort of slides forward as the shot leaves her hand, making her look less explosive than Brooks, but in this case looks are deceiving. Labonte also puts the lie to the notion that gliders need superior strength to throw far. She benches 100k and squats around 160k. Not exactly what you’d expect from an 18.00m thrower, and as those numbers improve over the next couple of years…well…mon dieu!

The rest of the field finally shook off their lethargy during round five as Sherrill hit 17.54m to move into third and Samira Burkhardt, a Virginia Tech freshman, reached 17.09m to take over fifth place. Alexander held onto fourth with a round-five 17.18m and then all of a sudden Brooks’ morning cup of Joe must have kicked in as she pounded out a PR and school record throw of 18.00m.

Labonte admitted later that the excitement of hitting a PR and reaching the Olympic A-standard on her second throw had left her feeling a little queasy, and she had followed her bomb with 17.38m in round three and a foul in round four. Brooks’ big toss provided a dose of smelling salts though, and a newly- awakened Labonte responded with her second-best effort of the day, 18.19m. The highlight of the final round was a 17.66m PR by Alexander that netted her third place. Brooks finished with 17.40m and Labonte with 17.22m.

Next up was a trip back to Canada and an effort to qualify for the World Championships this August.

by Dan McQuaid

by Dan McQuaid & friends