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The Rise of the Small School Thrower

When I visited Portland last month I met up with Jared Schuurmans for a training session. Schuurmans is one of the top discus throwers in the US. Schuurmans had a bit of success in college while attending small Doane College and competing at the NAIA level. After graduating he became a bit of journeyman before moving to Portland last year to work with Mac Wilkins. This past season proved to be his best and most consistent as he improved by two and a half meters to 62.89 meters.

Former NAIA champion Jared Schuurmans is now one of the top discus throwers in America.

Former NAIA champion Jared Schuurmans is now among America’s best.

When we were talking about training and comparing our different approaches, one comment he made stuck with me. He said that everyone keeps telling him that the problem with American discus throwing is that throwers focus too much on strength, but most of the throwers he knew were like him and had just moderate strength in the weight room. I am as guilty as anyone of using this stereotype. After thinking about it I agree he is right; the old stereotypes do not apply like they once did.
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The Times They Are a-Changin’

At the beginning of 1964 young singer-songwriter Bob Dylan released what would be one of his most popular hits, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” The song came out during a tumultuous time around the world and these changes were not limited to politics or culture, they extended even to the hammer throw which was undergoing a rapid transformation. At the front of the sport throughout this period was one man: Harold Connolly. Read more

2013 US Championships Hammer Throw Guide

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For many American throwers the season will already come to an end at this weekend’s US Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. However, for a select few the competition will also serve as a chance to extend their season through August by qualifying for this year’s World Championships in Moscow, Russia. The men will start the action on Friday afternoon, and the women will follow things up on Saturday afternoon. Below you will find a preview of both competitions, as well as an overview of the World Championships qualifying procedures, and an summary of which athletes have met the international qualifying standards so far this year.

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10 Reasons to Watch the Hammer in 2013

Are you ready for the hammer season? Ready or not, elite throwers around the world are getting ready to enter the ring if they haven’t done so already. On Saturday, the first major US meet of the season will take place at the Mt. SAC Relays with throwers like Kibwé Johnson, Libor Charfreitag, Drew Loftin, Mark Dry, Sultana Frizell, Jessica Cosby, Sophie Hitchon, Sarah Holt, Britney Henry, and several other elites. The IAAF Hammer Challenge kicks off in a few weeks in Tokyo. I’ve had six months to speculate, talk about, and analyze the upcoming season. So without further ado here are the 10 reasons why I think everyone should watch the hammer this year. And feel free to comment below with what you are looking forward to in 2013.


1 – 80 meters still has to be right around the corner. It was first on my list last year and remains first on my list this year. I want to see the women’s world record broken with the first throw over 80 meters. A half dozen women are within striking distance and just one of them needs to get there. Betty Heidler has to be the favorite to reach the mark first. Not only is she the current world record holder at 79.42 meters, but her recent inconsistency plays to her advantage in this regard. Throwers like Lysenko have been so consistent that I would be more surprised by a big personal best. But with Heidler anything is possible and a big throw of 80 meters is definitely one of them. Read more

Training Talk With Kevin McMahon (Part 2)

Last week I posted the first part in an interview with Kevin McMahon, a two-time Olympian in the hammer throw and one of the top throwers in the history of American hammer throwing. In Part 1, he discussed how he started out in the sport and the coaches that helped him along the way. In part 2, he goes on to discuss his approach to training and technique.

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Martin: When you started out, you were able to progress quite quickly and reached nearly 70 meters before you turned 20. That is a level that many throwers already plateau at. What do you think helped you to continue to improve to almost 80 meters, while others never get beyond that mark?
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Training Talk With Kevin McMahon (Part 1)

When people think of American hammer throwing in the late 1990s, silver medalist Lance Deal is often the first name that comes to mind. But right behind him was a thrower with arguably the best technique in American history: Kevin McMahon. When I started out in the hammer throw, Kevin was one of the throwers I looked up to the most. Not only was he still active and at the top of his game, but he was a pleasure to watch. The rhythm of his throw was the antithesis to the grip and rip style of some of his competitors like John McEwan. But Kevin’s throws weren’t just pretty, they also went far. His personal best 79.26 meters (260-feet) stills ranks fifth all-time in America. He was two-time Olympian (1996 and 2000), two-time US Champion (1997 and 2001), and a silver medalist at the 1999 Pan American Games. Since then his career has finished, but he has continued to stay connected to the sport through coaching at both the high school and collegiate level.

Kevin obviously understands technique, and listening to him talk about training always brings me a new insight into my throw. There is no doubt his eloquence comes in part from having some amazing mentors and coaches throughout his career, but it also is a testament to his approach to the event. In this first part of our interview, Kevin discusses how he got started in the event and what he learned from the likes of his former coaches Mac Wilkins, Ed Burke, Harold Connolly, and Dan Lange. Be sure to continue reading the next installment of the interview where Kevin discusses his training and approach to technique.


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The Way Forward

Sometimes the smallest moments can provide proof of what I have been thinking all along. Meet directors often like to say they have not included the hammer throw because it is not popular. But there is still a natural fascination with the event that they do not seem to get. My Sunday morning training this week took place at the same time as a kids’ relay practice. Throughout their training, I could tell many of the kids had their eyes on my throws instead of their coach, and as soon as they were done a handful ran over to the hammer cage. Without any prompting, they began to use their backpacks as hammers and then see who could throw the furthest with their impromptu technique. I posted a short video on Facebook. As you can see, the kids are naturally drawn to the event and have fun doing it. The same is true wherever I train. The hurdle the hammer throw faces is how to tap into this natural fascination in a larger and more systematic way.

The purpose of this post is to outline how I think the hammer throw can move forward and look for your input on how to streamline my various efforts and focus them in a more systematic way to address the needs of the sport. It doesn’t sound easy, and it’s not. That’s why I am asking for your feedback.
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Bad Excuses Die Hard

Some things in life are timeless. A good wristwatch is one. Another is a bad excuse. Bad excuses, unfortunately, are too often repeated. A case in point was an article sent to me recently by Bob Gourley, America’s top high school hammer throw statistician and also a fine youth coach.

Olympic champion Fred Tootell was an adopted son of Maine.

The article was written in 1939, but could have just come from the mouth of Lionel Leach 70 years later. Back on February 17, 1939 the Lewiston (Maine) Evening Journal printed an article titled “Maine Principals Ban on Hammer Draws Fire.” In it, the paper responds to what turned out to be true rumors that the Maine Principal’s Association was going to cut the hammer throw as an event at the state championships. During the 1920s and 1930s, more than half of the states had the hammer throw as a high school event. But within the ten years all but Rhode Island would have eliminated the sport.
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2012 Youth Hammer Grants Seeking Applicants

Through his hard work, Harold Connolly left a lasting legacy on hammer throwing in America and throughout the world. More than two years after his death, his legacy continues to be felt directly by the top youth throwers in the form of the USATF Foundation Harold Connolly Youth Hammer Throw Grants program he started.

Since 2005, these grants have handed out over $24,000 to help cover specified training and competition expenses for some of the most promising youth hammer throwers in America. Last year featured a record 22 recipients from 11 different states. Among them were established champions like US junior champion and world junior championship finalist Rudy Winker (Sand Lake, NY) and Nike Outdoor Nationals champion Avana Story (College Park, GA). There were also some up-and-comers like freshman Jacob Beene (Gilbert, AZ) and Sabrina Gaitan (Kennesaw, GA). A complete list of recipients is found here. On average, they improved their personal bests by 30 feet among the boys and 12 feet among the girls. While we cannot take credit for the hard work and dedication that led to each athlete’s success this past year, we would like to think that the grants helped motivate and support each athlete and made their efforts even better. Read more

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

A topic that has interested me a lot this year is how to identify and develop talent. Recently Vern Gambetta shared a good article on his blog about a counterintuitive article recently published in journal Sports Medicine. The abstract describes the article best:

[T]he vast majority of [talent development] systems expend a great deal of effort maximizing support to the young athletes and trying to counter the impact of naturally occurring life stressors. In this article, we suggest that much of this effort is misdirected; that, in fact, talented potential can often benefit from, or even need, a variety of challenges to facilitate eventual adult performance.

“The Rocky Road to the Top: Why Talent Needs Trauma” by Dave Collins and Áine MacNamara of Institute of Coaching and Performance, University of Central Lancashire, Lancashire, UK.
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