Category Archives: Discus

Lars and Franka: the finish

photo (62)

So there it is.

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

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

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

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

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

Lars and Franka

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

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

Allow me to elaborate.

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

photo 1 (4)

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

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

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

Here are Lars and Franka beginning to run the ring:

photo 2 (2)

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

As is the case above.

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

get off it…

photo 3 (2)

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

 

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

Here they are at right foot touch down:

photo 4

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

 

Now for the final phase of the throw:

photo 1 (5)

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

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

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

 

 

Did Lars Riedel Throw Like a Girl?

Why, yes he did.

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

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

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

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

Most men, that is.

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

Let’s take a look.

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

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

photo 1 (3)

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

photo 2 (1)

 

 

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

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

photo 3 (1)

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

photo 1 (2)

 

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

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

photo 2

 

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

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

photo

 

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

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

Here they are at the moment of release:

photo (1)

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

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

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

Next up, we compare Lars to Franka Dietzsch.

Torsten Schmidt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, my sources of information were quite limited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nor had I ever been to Europe.

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the Germans dominated international competition.

Jurgen Schult…

jurgen photo

…gave way to Lars Riedel…

lars photo

…who gave way to Robert Harting.

harting photo

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

Americans have won 3.

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

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

It sure made me wonder.

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

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

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

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

So, that was that.

Until…

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

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

His name is Torsten Schmidt…

torsten photo

…and he competed for Germany in the Athens Olympics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Things I Know by Mac Wilkins

Part 1 of 3

No Secrets here…

These three high level concepts will work well as a tune up focus before the big meets in May and June. You won’t get bogged down with complex details and “forget how to throw”.

They are also concepts that can and should be mastered as part of the foundation of your technique from the beginning of your career.
1. See the Horizon to the Target
2. Work a Wide Right Leg from the Back of the circle to the Middle
3. The Right leg/hip continuously rotate into the left side block from the middle.

The three moves are good for advanced and beginning throwers as well. They are easy to grasp and execute. The trick is executing them well in the whole movement of the throw.

Each of these three concepts have many sub parts or details that can be explored and I will list a few of them. Primarily, though, I am looking at these as high level movements, positions and rhythm that can be approached with the end result in mind. Work one idea or all three per throw in training or competition.

It might be easy to dismiss these concepts as too simple or high level and move on to more detailed trivia. The advanced thrower will find endless subtlety here and increase their power and efficiency.

1. See the Horizon to the Target (throw direction)
If you can’t see the details of the horizon, where the sky meets the earth, then you are turning too fast. Slow Down!  Or get on balance so your head is more centered as you turn.  Or be more upright with your upper body posture.

Let the left side (eyes, left arm, knee and foot) lead to the target

From 10 o’clock on, (with 12 being straight out the back of the circle) the left side is a single vertical plane. (don’t let the foot/knee get ahead of or lag behind the shoulder/arm/head unit)

At the target or in the next 150 degrees, the left side slows or pauses to let the Right Leg Engine catch up and overtake it creating torque. This slowing point varies from thrower to thrower. If the left side doesn’t slow the right leg will never catch up to create torque.

Try to hold your face at the target until the right leg pulls it around to the back of the circle. This is an important key for throwers having trouble getting torque.

The throwers in this video “see the horizon” and “hold their eyes on the target” for a hot second before the right leg turns them to the back of the circle.

 

For over 100 video lessons from Mac Wilkins on shot and discus…  www.thewilkinsreview.com

How We Adapted in the Shot Post 1995 and Why We Didn’t Adapt in the Discus (by John Smith)

It’s been 20 years now since there was a radical shift in drug testing on the world level. American shot putters adapted to the new conditions by developing a fairly new way of throwing: the rotational technique.  The results of this by the numbers are pretty evident. Over the last 20 years, the US has captured 32/75 world medals (42.6% of Olympic, World Indoor and Outdoor) and 81/200 top ten world ranking spots (40.6%). Over the previous 20 years(1975-1994) the US had earned 9/39 medals (23%) and 61/200 world ranking spots. Clearly, as the spin technique became better America’s medal production and top 10 ranking spots made a significant increase. However, our other rotating event– the discus–did not see the same success.

I am a numbers guy and a history guy. I coach by recording numbers and watching the correlations between the numbers and the training program. I also have done extensive research into training systems around the world. The history of the sport can also show you the mistakes that are made so you don’t do repeat them, and yes, I love the history channel.

Here are the discus numbers for three 20-year time periods.  From 1955-1974 we held 84/200 world ranking spots (42%) much like the spin shot has been for the last 20 years and 10/15 world medals (66.6%) . Over the next 20 years (1975-1994) those numbers dropped dramatically: 42/200 world ranking spots and 5/24 medals (20.8%). During the next 20 years (1995-present) we earned 22/200 ranking spots and 1/45 world medals (2.2%). These numbers have always bothered me, so I started looking for reasons why.

America produces good high school discus throwers at a much higher rate than we did in the past.  Over the past fifteen years, there have been 101 male high school discus throwers in this country who have thrown at least 200 feet. Here is the breakdown:

-3 over 234

-5 over 215

-9 over 210

-25 over 205

-60 over 200

This would indicate that the raw material for good discus throwing at the upper levels exists in the country, and the NCAA system is still the best minor league for track in the world. The big question is, why aren’t we producing more world class discus throwers?  In the last 10 years we earned 7/100 world ranking spots and a big goose egg on medals.

This is what I think happened in the last 20 years in the discus in America. When the 200-237 foot high schools throwers tried to step up to the 2k something was missing. We can rotate well, because we have all these spin shot putters so what is it? Is it technique like many say, or is it something else? If it was solely technique, then we wouldn’t have all these high school guys throwing so well. What we need to do is to focus on throwers with a large wingspan and specifically train them with under and overweight implements and special throwing tools at higher volumes. This is how we are getting beat in this event. Americans mostly right now throw the 2k and lighter for our training with a low volume of throws.  We need to be throwing heavy discs up to 4k and even heavier devices like the one Perkovic throws that was developed by Jerry Clayton. We need to focus on this area and stick with it. This is a long term approach that pays down the road. When the heavy implement goes further and the light implement goes further than the middle implement, the 2k will go further. Just throwing a 2k or a 2.25k will not get the job done. This is a 10,000 throws a year training regimen that has to be programmed, recorded and monitored for each athlete at the elite levels. The Europeans know if we don’t take that many throws and we don’t throw that heavy as part of the training that we have no chance unless we come up with our own freak of nature. The last part of this is a large amount of discus training has to be centered on non-reverse throwing. This doesn’t mean that I am saying never to use a reverse, but a high amount of throws need to be taken non-reverse for proper leg development. Discus throwers technically need to learn good mechanics working against the ground. This has to be introduced early during a thrower’s high school days as it takes many repetitions to reap the benefits of this approach. This would represent a major philosophy shift in this event, but what we are doing now clearly does not work. When the drugs got scaled back, the Europeans adapted in the discus and we didn’t. We adapted with the rotational shot and they didn’t.

John Smith

Harting v. Perkovic: Part 1 (by Dan McQuaid)

I ask you, is there a better way to ward off the winter blues than to spend an afternoon dissecting great discus technique?

Okay, there probably are better ways, but this one is cheap, fat free,  perfectly legal and will help me  forget about that three-foot snow drift covering our discus ring. So, here goes.

It seems to me that the key to great discus throwing is finding a reliable way to get from here…

casanas wind

 

To here…

casanas wide right

From here…

malone wind

To here…

malone wide

From here…

alekna close 1

To here…

alekna close 2

Warning: If you can identify the owner of these legs you probably spend way too much time watching throws videos and are in danger of being called a “super dweeb” by your long-suffering wife. Trust me, I have experience in this matter.

Anyway, these pairs of photos illustrate two important stations along the path to a fine throw. The athlete must begin with a balanced windup: right foot flat, left heel up, left big toe in contact with the ground. The second photo in each set depicts the athlete in an excellent position to run the ring: right leg wide, weight balanced on the ball of the left foot, discus trailing behind the right hip.

If you watch these throwers (Frank Casanas, Casey Malone and…..???) on film or in person they make moving through these positions seem perfectly natural, but if you coach young athletes you know how difficult this transition can be. Beginning throwers tend to unwind by pulling with their head and left arm. This causes the discus to jump ahead of the thrower and makes it impossible to get the right leg out wide because the thrower will feel (quite correctly) that he will fall down if he doesn’t get that right foot back on the ground quickly.

It seems that among the best discus throwers there are two approaches to moving from the windup to the balanced, “ready to run the ring” position.

Some throwers try to get their right foot off the ground and sweeping ahead of the discus as soon as possible. When the left foot pivots 90 degrees to the left, they want that right foot up and moving.

Here is an example.

vikas wide rear

This is Vikas Gowda. As you can see, his left foot has turned 90 degrees and his right toes are leaving the ground.

By the time his left foot has turned to where it is pointing down the right sector line, his right leg is already sweeping past it.

vikas right passes left

The right leg then continues to sweep out wide with the disc lagging behind.

vikas wide rear 2

At this point, he is in great shape to run the ring.

Here is Casey Malone, demonstrating the same “get the right leg moving early” approach.

malone wind

malone left

malone wide

The other method of transitioning from the wind to the “ready to run the ring” position is to leave the right foot on the ground longer while turning and getting way out over the left foot.

weir close 1

weir close 2

weir close 3

If you can identify the owner of these legs,  you are a bigger dork than me even, but you won’t have to worry about your wife getting mad at you because you likely will never have a wife.

As you can see in the middle photo, this thrower keeps his right foot grounded much longer than the throwers in those earlier photos–beginning his right leg sweep only after his left foot turns to point down the right foul line.

Interestingly, this is the approach used by the two current Olympic champions,

Robert Harting…

rh wind

harting left

rh wide rear

…and Sondra Perkovic.

perk wind

perk left

perk wide

I suspect that the advantage of leaving the right foot on the ground longer is twofold. First, it may make it easier to remain on balance while the thrower shifts his/her weight far to the left–a shift that is essential to getting in position to run the ring.

Second, leaving the right grounded while shifting way out over the left leg may create some elastic tension in the right leg that, when released, adds extra impetus to the right leg sweep.

I have experimented with this style the past couple of years, and some of my athletes have become quite comfortable with it. One warning though. If you attempt to teach this method, you must constantly drill your athletes to keep the discus back as they shift out over their left leg because with the right foot staying grounded longer it is very easy to let the disc sneak ahead.

We are due for another snow storm this week, so stay tuned for part two of Harting v. Perkovic.

Any guesses on the owners of those legs?