For nearly more than 15 years Aretha Thurmond was among the world’s best in the discus throw, making four Olympic teams and winning four US titles. Along the way she got to work with some of the sport’s top coaches and learn from each of them what it takes to be a champion. Currently, she is passing along her knowledge to a new generation of throwers as the Managing Director of International & Championship Teams at USATF. On this episode, we talk about the lessons she learned in her career and the mental skills required to be a champion, including the amazing story of how she nearly made Team USA just two weeks after giving birth.
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Notes and quotes
Aretha announced herself as a thrower by qualifying for the 1996 Olympic team at age 19. She went on to make teams again in 2004, 2008, and 2012. Since retiring in 2012 she has been working for USATF and was recently promoted to Managing Director of International & Championship Teams, where she organizes the logistics and administration behind the national teams.
In addition to looking back on her career, we talked about the champion’s mindset and the state of American throwing.
Lessons learned in 20 years of throwing
- 7:30 – Starting out in throwing and developing a passion for the throws under high school coach Keith Egger.
- 12:30 – Transitioning to UW and working with Ken Shannon. “There is not one thing the coach will tell you at the competition that will add five meters. You know what you need to do; you just need to execute it .”
- 19:30 – Transitioning to post-collegiate throwing.
- 23:30 – Moving to Auburn and working with coach Jerry Clayton.
- 26:45 – Learning to compete better: “I was fortunate to never have coaches that tried to put me in a box. As support people we have to be flexible. You have to figure out what they need. “
- 30:15 – Comparing the training methods of Jerry Clayton and John Smith.
- 34:45 – Multiple weighted implements and why America is not as good: “Somewhere along the way we decided we needed to get bigger and stronger. At some point you lose your timing and rhythm. You need strength to handle the force, but after that you need to understand force application, not just more force. “
- 39:00 – Consistency is king: “It’s one thing to have a good PR, but can you do it in a stadium, can you do it in the rain, in the swamp, etc. “
The state of American discus throwing
- 42:15 – Why can’t we prepare athletes to throw in a stadium? “Whether you are in the stadium or not, your goal should be to throw as far as you can that day. We’ve gotten caught up in chasing marks instead of chasing wins. “
- 49:00 – Finding the right athletes for the discus/javelin/hammer: “In the shot put it is to your benefit to be really freakin’ strong. But it’s hard to take the big strong guy and lengthen them out. We need to go in the other direction. “
The champion’s mindset
- 51:30 – Returning from pregnancy. “Competing at the US championships 2 weeks after childbirth is the culmination of the athlete mentality. It is only something a stupid person would do. Sane people don’t do that. ” “My mindset was that I’ll do what I could do until my belly got in the way. “
To hear more on these topics, listen to the full episode above. Also be sure to subscribe to our podcast and review it on iTunes.
The following links were referenced in the podcast or provide some additional reading material on the topic:
- If you like the podcast, don’t miss our latest book Training Talk: Conversations with a Dozen Master Coaches for more in-depth insights on training from some of the world’s top coaches.
- You can learn more about Thurmond’s current role on the USATF webpage, as well as an overview of her career highlights. You can also follow her on Twitter at @arethathrows.
- Nick and I recently assessed the state of American throwing. You can hear that on Episode 161, or read it on the site.