Meet Recap: Jeux de la Francophonie

FRANCOPHONIE NICE-CoulYou can learn a lot about a country based on what others notice about your country. For example, someone from a flat place might first notice the mountains when visiting Switzerland. Often our house guests from Seattle first comment on the graffiti they see in Zurich. It is only natural that we notice what is different. I arrived in Nice on Sunday for the Jeux de la Francophonie and my chatty chauffeur from the airport talked about her own experiences visiting Switzerland. In Switzerland, she said, one thing stood out above all others: “the time is the time.” Perhaps she noticed this since the speciality here is definitely not organization. But unlike other places they can get away with that by providing such a warm and beautiful location on the French Riviera.

What is the Jeux de la Francophonie?

The Jeux de la Francophonie is my last major competition of the season. It takes place every four years and is often referred to in English as the Francophone Games, but that is a misnomer. Indeed this is a multi-sport event bringing together the 77 member and observing states of the L’organisation international de la Francophonie. But this is more than a sporting contest; it is also a cultural event. The hammer throw competition was held at the same time as the juggling semifinal today. There are also competitions in literature, photography and street art. Spikes Magazine has a primer on the event. The competition is also much broader than you think. Those 77 states include mostly french-speaking countries and former french colonies. However it also includes countries like Poland and Qatar that only have a loose connection to France or the French language. This means that the hammer field is top notch, including world champion Pawel Fajdek, the best French and Canadian throwers, and world junior record holder Ashraf Elseify of Qatar.
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Five in a Row

The top four finishers at the 2013 Swiss Championships.

The top four finishers at the 2013 Swiss Championships. Photo by Fritz Berger.

I am writing from the comforts of the Pacific Northwest, but on Friday night I was 5,000 miles away in Luzern competing in blistering heat at the Swiss Championships. As usual, I came in as the strong favorite and a mediocre first throw was good enough to secure the win and my fifth straight Swiss title. While the end result was not much better, it was a fun competition as always.

The day started off with some fireworks from some other throwers. Junior javelin thrower Lukas Wieland broke his own junior national record four times and ended up with a massive throw of 75.11 meters which puts him among the ten best junior throwers in the world this year. Simultaneously, the women’s hammer throw also produced some amazing results. Nicole Zihlmann also secured her fifth national title, but in doing so broke a number of barriers. Most importantly, she broke the Swiss record twice in the competition. Her throw of 61.54 meters also was her first time over 60 meters, just the second Swiss thrower ever over 60 meters, and qualified her for September’s Francophone Games in Nice. When it was time for the men’s competition, we also raised the level a bit. For the first time since 2007 we had five men over 50 meters. This might sound unimpressive, but considering that Swiss hammer throwing reached its low point in recent years (the silver was won with just 46 meters last year) it is promising, if only a small step forward. Even more promising is that one of our youngest throwers, Robin Santoli, threw a personal best and his first podium finish.
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Meet Recap: Wind and the European Team Championships

There are two Irish sayings I became intimately familiar with this weekend. Our national javelin coach Terry McHugh, an Irishman himself, first warned us before the competition that if we didn’t like the weather we just had to wait five minutes since it would surely change. The second saying came when we asked a meet official if they thought it would rain on Saturday. He responded by quoting another Irish saying: “You see that hill over there? If you can see it, it will be raining soon. If you can’t see it, it’s already raining.” The conditions this weekend proved that both sayings are more than just jokes.

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Ireland provided us with a warm welcome.

The Swiss team travelled to Dublin for the European Team Championships over the weekend. With nations like Hungary and the Czech Republic in our group, I expected a strong hammer competition and based on my season’s best I entered the meet ranked just 10th among the 12 throwers. But our team needed every point it could get to avoid being relegated to a lower division for next years competition and I knew I was capable of climbing up the rankings with a good throw.
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Meet Recap SVM and Training Update

I reached the end of my latest training program on Friday and was feeling in great shape heading into this weekend’s annual club championships, the Schweizer Vereinsmeisterschaften (SVM). The SVM is normally not the ideal setting to throw far with just four throws, one flight of 25 or more throwers, an early morning start, and no one near my level. But some great weather and a chance to throw in the Stade Olympique de la Pontaise, home of the Lausanne Diamond League meeting, was motivating to me and I was able to put together another solid meet with a throw of 64.38 meters. In addition to winning the hammer, I contributed some more points with a fifth-place finish in the discus. However it was not enough as our injury-plagued men’s team took second place by just three points.

It shouldn't be such a big deal, but it's always fun to throw in the stadium.

It shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it’s always fun to throw in the stadium. Foto by Fritz Berger.

With the meet behind me, it is time to start my next training phase and also a good time to reflect on the last training program. I had been training under the old program since the European Cup Winter Throwing at the end of March and it had obviously worked well since I improved more than four meters over the last two months and am way ahead of where I was last year at this time. However not everything went as planned since my best competition results came a month before the end of the program and I never really felt like I put everything together with the competition weight hammer.
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Meet Recap: European Champion Clubs Cup


One travel tip I forgot to include last week was the most important: be prepared for anything and be patient with those things you cannot prepare for. Even after years of traveling for competitions, there are still surprises and this weekend’s meet was no exception.

On Friday, I traveled together with my clubmates at LC Zürich to Dubnica nad Váhom in Slovakia for the European Champion Clubs Cup. As the Swiss club champions for both men and women, our club had the opportunity to represent Switzerland in a competition against the national champions of other nations. The Dubnica competition was the second league and a top two finish would lead to a promotion to the top league next season.

The whole weekend turned out to be a comedy of errors. After a plane delay, our bus was then pulled over by the police, turning a four hour journey into an eight hour adventure. Veteran discus throw David and I were given our room key after arrival and then headed upstairs to find an expansive room nearly empty except for one small solitary double bed. Since we both outweigh all of our other team members by at least 30 pounds each, it only made sense that we were unlucky ones forced to cram in a bed together. Our shoulders were as wide as the bed itself. While they had no additional rooms, the hotel was able to find a slightly larger bed for us to share in a room that is not normally rented out. When we finally went to bed we then realized the blanket was only big enough to cover one of us, leading us to burst out laughing at the absurdity of the day. We both woke many times during the night since any slight move by either of us would make the bed creak louder than a haunted house, which again caused us to laugh.
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Meet Recap: Fränkisch-Crumbach and Basel

It’s been a busy weekend. Over the past 48 hours I have competed twice and racked up nearly 600 miles on our rental car. I’ve competed at one of the best speciality meets in the world, won the hammer throw and a watch at the only Swiss Meeting that includes it, caught up with many friends, and returned home with enough time to do laundry before I have to return to work tomorrow. It was exhausting, but it was fun.

In Fränkisch-Crumbach Sultana is, and always will be, the fan favorite.

In Fränkisch-Crumbach Sultana is, and always will be, the fan favorite.

The first big event of the weekend was the Fränkisch-Crumbach international hammer meet in Germany. This is my fifth year at the event, which packs thousands of fans into the town park to gossip, grab a beer, and, of course, watch hammer throwing. I’ve written about how great the meet is every year, so there is little to add this year. Once again the meet management and fans did not let me down and I tied for my my highest ever finish at the meet.
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Meet Recap: Olten Nachmittagsmeeting

Another week and another unplanned competition added to my schedule. This time I went to Olten for their season opening all-comers meet yesterday. I’ve had good luck in Olten the last few years and it continued yesterday afternoon as I launched a big season’s best of 65.27 meters and then got to watch two of the girls I coach also throw personal bests.

I followed up a decent result in Basel last week with a week full of season training bests from the 10-kilogram to the 7.26-kilogram hammer. I knew I was ready to throw in another meet. My technique did not quite hold up in Basel, but after the competition I knew I was ready for 65 meters this month. In Olten I also had the technique and, not surprisingly, my result was again over 65 meters. Other than one throw I abandoned, all throws were solid, stabile, and legal. I gradually built up in each round until my best throw arrived on my last attempt. I’ve included a video of that throw below.
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Italy Training Camp: Wrap-Up

I returned from Tuscany on Saturday, but my training camp actually ended only yesterday since I still had a few extra vacation days remaining to focus on training back here in Zurich. Overall the training camp was a success. Above all I have come back to Zurich refreshed with renewed energy to start the core of the season. I have also made definite technical progress, which is more and more difficult as I approach my 30th birthday. As I explained at the start of the camp, my technical goal was to get get more radius after landing on the first turn. Rather than utilizing an early double support phase to patiently push the hammer, I try to force the hammer around and thereby reduce the radius of the implement. I focused on this point entirely for the last two weeks and it seems to have paid off. While the error is still there, my small improvements are now present in nearly every throw rather than just one or two throws each session. And I had a my best results with every implement so far in this training cycle. In the coming weeks I’ll post some more video showing the differences.
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Italy Training Camp: My Focus

Comparing the first turn of last week and this week.

Comparing the first turn of last week and this week.

I have been looking forward to an April training camp since the start of the year. After a long tax season at work and an even longer winter in Zurich, this was the focal point that kept me training hard for the past three months. Originally my plan was to join coach Bondarchuk’s group at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista and compete once again at Mt. SAC to watch Kibwe and Sultana win. But getting to Chula Vista isn’t as easy when you are coming from Europe. As my trip shrunk in length it just didn’t make much sense to travel all that way for a camp.

Thankfully another opportunity showed up. I decided to travel south once again to Tuscany last Thursday and join my club’s sprint group for a 10-day training camp. I am the only thrower making the trip from Zurich, but since I often train alone in Zurich I do not mind. Plus, I occasionally have a training partner here since Olympic silver medalist Nicola Vizzoni lives nearby. Read more

Meet Review: European Cup Winter Throwing 2013

Last weekend I travelled to Castellón, Spain for the annual European Cup Winter Throwing. After a mediocre start to the season last week, I was hoping for more in Spain. But it didn’t happen for me this week.

The new national team uniforms feature my employer UBS as the top sponsor.

The new national team uniforms feature my employer UBS as the top sponsor.

I’ve been searching for a reason why my result was so bad and I still can’t put my finger on it. As a result, I am still quite frustrated two days later. Normally I can point to my technique as the problem, but surprisingly my technique was improved compared to last week and much closer to what I’ve been doing in training. I can point to a dozen things that may have contributed: too much overtime, strong winds, slow competition, tense arms, etc. But even all those points still don’t add up. I threw just 61 meters. Even in bad conditions with little rest I should be able to throw a few meters better. It would be best to forget it all and move on, but as much as I try it is more difficult than normal since I cannot just point to what went wrong. I feel completely exhausted now, but I have two months until the regular season starts. I will keep on the same path with faith that this was just a bad day and everything will line up by then. And with the pre-season now over we will get back to regular programming on this site: more talk about training and less talk about me.
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