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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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May Training Update

Back when I was throwing at the University of Washington my season was almost over by this point in the year. Rather than having thrown in just one meet, my season had only one or two meets left. Here in Switzerland, on the other hand, I still feel like my season has yet to begin and I’m getting a little impatient since all the men I used to train with in Kamloops threw new personal bests last weekend: Kibwe Johnson became the first American in a decade to break 80 meters and now ranks third in the world; Michael Letterlough improved his Cayman national record; and Ryan Jensen broke 60 meters for the first time. But, since our national championships are not until August, I keep reminding myself that there is no need to start as early as I did in North America.
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How to Coach Another Coach’s Athlete

Putting on a clinic in 2009.

Since I am still training as a thrower, I have not developed my own stable of throwers to coach. Instead I help my club’s youth throwing coach, put on clinics, or respond to videos sent via email from all over the world. Coaching another coach’s athlete can be very difficult since you have limited time to make an impact and also do not want to step on the toes of the other coach.

Since starting as a coach several years ago, I’ve found that some things I’ve tried have worked well and other things have failed. Overall, the following steps have worked the best for me:
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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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Under the Tuscan Sun (and Clouds)

As I mentioned earlier this month, I started working with former Swiss hammer throw record holder Samuele Dazio so that I could get some in-person feedback on technique. In the first month of working with him, I had already made some progress despite only working with him for a session or two at a time. This week I travelled with him and his club, Virtus Locarno, for a week-long training camp in Marina di Peitrasanta, Italy.
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Training Talk: Shot Put With Justin Rodhe

Bondarchuk is most well known for his legacy as both an athlete and a coach in the hammer. But his greatest success since he began coaching Western athletes has been in the shot put. His star pupil Dylan Armstrong increased the Canadian record to 21.58 meters and placed fourth in Beijing, just one centimeter off of the podium.

Often hidden in the shadow of Dylan is Justin Rodhe, and that’s something he hopes to change in the future. When Justin arrived in Kamloops in 2007, he had just graduated Division 3 Mt. Union College, where he was a consistent 16 to 17 meter thrower. During his last meet for the school, he threw 18 meters for the first time and won the NCAA D3 title. Since joining the group he has made quick progress: last year he threw 19.52 meters and this year he expects to be in the 20 meter range in 2011. Rodhe also married Megan VanderVliet in 2009, a Commonwealth Games participant for Canada in the hammer throw, and is deciding whether to compete for America or Canada in the future. The two recently launched RodheThrows.com. Justin has been kind enough to share some of what he has learned about the shot put from Bondarchuk and others.


Shot putter Justin Rodhe

About RhodeThrows.com

Martin: To start off with, tell us a little about RodheThrows.com and what you and Megann are trying to do with the new site?

Justin: RODHETHROWS.com is the platform from which Megann and I have found ourselves in a unique position to offer professional products and services as well as an information resource for the throwing community and our support groups as we endeavour toward the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.

The site offers blog updates concerning our nutrition, training research and competition updates. We also provide handmade leather products for sport performance, our signature product being the RODHETHROWS Shot Put Glove.

What Sets American Shot Putting Apart

Martin: Unlike the hammer throw, the U.S. has been able to stay on top of the world lists in the shot put. Why do you think the U.S. has been able to maintain such a high level of success in the shot put while success in the other throwing events has fallen?
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April Training Update

With temperatures reaching 25º C (77º F) in Zürich over the weekend, it’s hard to believe I have to wait another month for the season to start. It feels like summer has already arrived. But when I talk with my friends in Kamloops and Seattle I realize that summer has definitely not arrived. That’s good since another month will give me more time to fine-tune my technique. My finaceé is out of town for a few weeks, which has give me more time to party focus on this task.

Former Swiss record holder Samuele Dazio.

I spent some of the extra time visiting coach Samuele Dazio on Friday in Ticino. I first met with Dazio at the Swiss Athletics Hammer Workshop in March. Immediately he gave me some fresh ideas on how to improve my technique. Since then we have remained in contact and I hope to visit him once or twice a month in the future. Bondarchuk continues to write my training programs, but is has been difficult to work on technique without him watching me in person. I thought it would be easier since I also trained away from him while I was in law school, but what I forgot is that even in law school I visited him for a few days each month. I need those few days. As much as I think email, YouTube and self-coaching can improve my technique, there is no replacement for someone watching you and giving instant feedback. Dazio was an accomplished thrower himself and coaches the same basics principles as Bondarchuk, so it has been a great match.
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Training Talk With Sergej Litvinov Jr.

As I mentioned last month, I will be posting some question and answers sessions with some of the world’s top throwers and coaches over the next few months. The first is with Sergej Litvinov Jr. Litvinov just threw a personal best of 79.76m last month. After starting the hammer relatively late, he placed 5th at the last world championships at the age of 23. He is trained by his father, the former Olympic champion and world record holder of the same name.

Like many hammer throwers, Sergej is refreshingly outspoken and shared some ideas about why hammer throw technique is not as good as it once was and how the hammer throw can win back fans. He also shared some thoughts on training and technique. I first met Sergej in 2004 when I visited Minsk for a 10 day training camp. It was then that I first began to understand how vastly different the Russian approach to training is and have kept studying it since. While every coach has different points of focus, it is reassuring to read that the main elements of his training match mine. Now I just need to find that extra 10 meters.


The Current State of Throwing

Martin: You’ve said before that most of the current world class hammer throwers do not have good technique. Why do you think technique was better twenty years ago?

Sergej: Twenty years ago people tried to bring new things to hammer throw technique to make it better. Now the people think more about the strength and other ways to throw far. This is the easy and not the perfect way and sometimes its works for winning some titles. But our generation has to bring that back to our sport; we need the progress.
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March Training Update

It’s been nearly two months since my last training update on here. However, it seems like you all enjoy other topics more since I had a record number of readers last month. Lately I’ve also enjoyed talking about other topics more because my results have been reliably mediocre.

I tend to be optimistic about training. When I have a bad day or bad week of training, I tend to write it off since a step back is actually part of the my plan to progress forward. However the past two weeks have been different because this step back was not planned. I picked up the flu right around the Swiss Indoor Championships. While it was never that bad, it drained my energy for a while, left me five pounds lighter, and somehow stole most of the technical progress I’ve made in the offseason.
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My Goal of Becoming a Shot Put Champion (Seriously)

My goal for tomorrow: a medal in the shot put.

U.S. Olympic hammer thrower Loree Smith recently wrote a detailed post on goal setting for hammer throwers. She provided, better than any sport psychologist I have ever heard, the best explanation of how useful goals can be.

To summarize, athletes need long term goals, short terms goals, and flexibility. I believe the long term goals are the most important for a hammer throw since shortcuts and quick success are hard to come by in such a technical discipline. It takes a certain type of athlete to train year after year towards a goal that may be a decade away. But those as the type of athletes that succeed in the hammer throw. I’ve seen many talented throwers give up the hammer after one day since they were not able to throw further than their shot put best. That was probably the right move because they didn’t the mental prerequisites to be a good hammer thrower.
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