Posts

Remembering Harold Connolly

One year ago, the global hammer throw community lost its greatest advocate. For the past 60 years, nearly every great american hammer thrower knew and was influenced by Harold Connolly. Some, like Kevin McMahon, were coached by him. Others didn’t even agree with him, but couldn’t avoid his impact.  While his stubbornness made many hostile, he forced even those people to look hard at their values before deciding they were correct.

I could immediately sense this when I met Harold. This led me to learn my most valuable lesson from him: every moment is a chance to teach and learn.  Read more

Trying to Make Sense of Freeman’s Suspension

2010 U.S. hammer champion Jake Freeman is currently serving a 1-year doping suspension.

Kibwé Johnson dominated the U.S. championships in the hammer throw yesterday, outdistancing America’s best hammer throwers by six meters. Behind him were two-time Olympian A.G. Kruger, former World Junior Champion Conor McCullough, and many other world-class throwers. But when the officials read through the throwing order at 4:20 in the afternoon, one big name was missing. Rather than getting reading to defend his title, former world championship competitor Jake Freeman was spending his time serving a one-year ban after testing positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana.

This post is not a plea for Freeman’s innocence or even an attempt to get his ban overturned. There are rules, and Freeman broke them. I think Jake is a great guy, but I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the position he is in. It’s not just that he should have known better since THC is listed as a banned substance and everyone knows there is drug testing at the U.S. indoor nationals. It’s that Freeman DID know better since he has been in this situation before: He tested positive for the same substance at the same exact meet two years ago and served a 3-month ban after that offense. As a second offense, his ban was raised to one-year.

This post also isn’t advocating a legalization of marijuana or allowing the use of other banned substances.

Instead, this post is about why anti-doping policy even tests for marijuana in the first place. Read more

Fifteen Minutes of Fame for the Hammer Throw

Over the past few weeks, the hammer throw has benefited from a rare and lucky streak of publicity. First, noted author Brendan Koerner penned a 3,000 word piece for ESPN The Magazine looking at the 25 year anniversary of Yuriy Sedykh’s world record and how it might be one of the most untouchable records in sports. In tomorrow’s New York Times, Isolde Raftery wrote another article about the philosophical nature of hammer throwers. Read more

Training Talk with Mac Wilkins (Part 2)

Mac Wilkins in his prime.

On Tuesday I posted the first part of my recent interview with 1976 Olympic discus champion Mac Wilkins. We talked about the current state of the discus throw in America and his new projects with the Mac Wilkins Throwers Academy and the The Wilkins Review. In this final part we turn our attention to training and what characteristics he sees are needed by elite discus throwers.


Training

Martin: What aspect of training or technique do most American discus throwers get right?

Mac: They wear throwing shoes when throwing. They know which edge of the discus to hold in their fingers.

Martin: What aspect of training or technique are most Americans missing?

Mac: No concept of how to create power in the throw, how to sling the discus. They want to hit it instead of sling it.
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Training Talk with Mac Wilkins (Part 1)

1976 Olympic Champion Mac Wilkins

While my true love lies with the hammer throw, I try to learn as much as I can from all of track and field’s various disciplines. The best coaches and athletes that I have met all accumulate knowledge from every source possible. With that in mind, I decided to ask Mac Wilkins a few questions about the discus throw. Mac was the 1976 Olympic Champion in the discus throw and set five world records. But even though he had much success in the discus, he also knows a thing or two about the other throwing events. His nickname was “Multiple Mac” since he had impressive personal bests of 70.98m (discus), 21.06m (shot put), 63.66m (hammer), and 78.44m (old-style javelin).

In 2005, Mac decided to turn his attention back to the throwing events. He accepted a job as the throwing coach at Concordia University and started the Mac Wilkins Throwers Academy. Through those two roles he is involved in a long list of pursuits from offering online video analysis to hosting frequent competitions and clinics. One of his more recent ventures is The Wilkins Review, a subscription based service that provides coaching tools, analysis of the world’s best throwers, commentary, and training tips for the discus and other throwing events. His contribution to the sport is already paying dividends. This year’s top ranked male high school shot put, discus, and hammer throwers all train at his facility (in addition to the national high school javelin record setter last year). Despite the mild weather in Portland, it is the best throwing facility I have ever seen.

Below is part one of the interview where we discuss his projects and the current state of discus throwing in America. Check back for the final part in the next day or two, where we’ll discuss more about training and the elements of success for elite throwers.


The Mac Wilkins Throws Academy

Martin: After working in the business world, what made you decide to switch your focus back entirely to the throws?

Mac: In about 2000 I realized that my best and highest use was teaching the throws, not selling corporate technology solutions. Opportunities presented themselves such as starting a Throwers Academy and being invited to be the Technical Consultant to the Elite US Discus Throwers. In December 2004 I was contacted by Randy Dalzell who was starting a track program at Concordia University. Concordia’s long term plan of growth in enrollment, neighborhood involvement and becoming a center of excellence was a good match with my vision. The resulting Throw Center is clearly a miracle of the Lord. It was crazy since their enrollment at the time was about 700 undergraduates.
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Ask Martin Vol. 13: Rocky IV and the Hammer Throw

Question: As a very stereotypical American hammer guy myself (I did not throw until college, focused on getting strong, threw the weight, etc.) I can tell you that I really wanted to outwork people when I was training. I wanted to grind it out and bleed to be good in a very Rocky IV kind of way. If we can agree that Americans are too obsessed with maximum strength and this is holding our hammer back… is this simply an individual track coach problem, or is it culturally influenced? Is our cultural heritage holding us back in in the hammer, while helping us in the shot put? Are the fine skills of hammer too nuanced for our firepower and bootstrap pulling things we tend to glorify? –Coach Lynden
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Basel Competition Recap

After a week-long training camp, I returned to Switzerland for a season-opening competition on Sunday in Basel. While in Italy, I wanted to take advantage of a week away from work and a week with a coach, so I trained without any of my normal breaks. That left me a bit exhausted by the time I arrived home to Zurich Saturday night after a nine hour car and train ride. But I still wanted to compete Sunday for two reasons: (1) I wanted to see if some of the technical gains I have made would hold up under the pressure of competition; and (2) the Swiss championships will be held in Basel this year and I wanted to get a feel for the facility. The cage took a few adjustments to get used to since it is constructed very narrowly. Even with the doors wide open, it is possible to hit the cage with your wire on a throw that lands in the middle of the sector. After a few attempts I was able to figure it out. I was also happy with my technique which was the best it has been in a meet for several years. Unfortunately, my legs were just drained of power and my result was a less-than-stellar 62.37 meters. But I won, and am quite satisfied with how the last week has gone.
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Tips for Bringing Fans to the Hammer with Ken Goe

Ken Goe, one of the nation's best track and field writers (photo courtesy of the Oregonian).

Back in February, Oregonian sportswriter Ken Goe wrote a persuasive article about why the USATF needs to switch its focus from the athletes to the fans. Ken has been writing about track and field for more than two decades and is one of the last print journalists in America that continues to cover the sport. In his piece he stated “If track and field ever is going to regain its foothold in the U.S. sports scene, somebody is going to have to care about the people who buy tickets and tune into televised meets.” I couldn’t agree more. It sounds backwards, but if you focus on the fans, the athletes will be better off. More fans means a more exciting competitive environment. And more fans will bring more sponsors and money for the athletes.
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If You Want Support, You Need To Create It

Sooner or later most track and field athletes accept the fact that the sport will not make them famous or rich. At most, a handful of track geeks will recognize your name when making their predictions for the Olympics or World Championships. And while we must eventually accept this, it is hard. We watch professional athletes on the TV making millions and feel that we should also be rewarded for having dedicated our lives to maximizing our physical gifts.

The Evergreen Athletic Fund has found success in helping athletes by creating new sources of support in the sport.

The truth of the matter is that no one is sitting around waiting to hand money to athletes for their talents. What brings this topic to mind is a discussion I had with elite discus thrower Will Conwell after the Evergreen Athletic Fund‘s annual meeting on Tuesday. We were both a little exhausted from hearing athletes complain about lack of support and then do nothing about it. It’s not that I think athletes are undeserving of support from the USATF and others, but athletes have been calling for more support for the last century and little has changed. Yelling loader won’t help. For better or worse, athletes have to take some initiative to find that support. I learned this lesson from Harold Connolly. After getting little support from USATF for the youth hammer throw, he started to raise his own money and create his own path where he found much more success.
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Ask Martin Vol. 12: Is the NCAA System Good for Hammer Development?

Question: Today I overheard someone say… “If an international hammer thrower is serious about being good, they will stay away from the NCAA.” Ouch. As a college coach I tend to be offended. But as hard as it is to hear that, are they right? I think the NCAA CAN be a great place for development, even for elite hammer throwers. It has it’s downsides, but it doesn’t have to be all bad. –Coach Lynden
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