Look at the American throwing scene and you could point to technique or training as holding it back from its potential. The reasons could have been listed as holding back American middle distance and distance runners 10 years ago. But then, without big changes on either front, Americans began to bridge the gap between them and the world’s best. The top American 1500 meter runner in 2003 was David Krummennacker at 3:35.15. In 2013 the top 10 Americans all ran faster. And this happened in other events too, along with medals and historic barriers falling on the track from the 800 to 10,000-meters for both men and women.
Coach Stuart McMillan has produced some great interviews and commentary on his blog recently, often focusing on what a national governing body needs to do to be successful. From an interesting interview with former world 100m record holder Donovan Bailey, and some tips for national governing bodies. This week he has posted my new favorite, a two-part interview with Canadian coach Derek Evely focusing on his thoughts on how to create high performance. Part 1 focuses on building a successful training center. Part 2, posted today, focuses more on politics at the federation level.
Derek and I go back to when he was the head coach of the Kamloops Track and Field club when they hired Anatoliy Bondarchuk. Simply put, Derek knows high performance. He has been involved with three highly-successful training centers and has taken a lot away from that experience. His work in Kamloops set the foundation for what turned into the Canadian National Throws Centre. Next he helped run the Canadian Athletic Coaching Centre where he played an integral role in developing the world’s best online coaching resource at the Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre. His latest role was leading the Loughborough High Performance Centre for UK Athletics leading up to the London Olympics. In addition to these management roles, Derek has always remained active in coaching, molding Olympians in the sprints and throws along the way. Derek has also been a great mentor of mine, and you can read more about his training philosophies in the extensive three-part interview I conducted with him last year. Read more
As my training camp came to a close yesterday, I couldn’t have been happier with the progress I made over 10 days and 16 training sessions. My season plan may have been interrupted by setbacks in May, but now I am in the best shape of my life. In addition to the personal best with the 9-kilogram hammer on Monday I had personal training bests with the competition weight 7.26-kilogram hammer on both Friday and Saturday. First I launched 67.30 meters (video below) and then came back the next day to toss 67.70 meters. I had only thrown over 67 meters twice in training before, but this week I had nearly a dozen throws at or over that distance and am capable of more.
The European outdoor season begins much later than the North American season, and that is especially the case here in Switzerland where most athletes do not start throwing until the end of May. But for athletes competing in the long throws, this can be a frustratingly long wait. I’ve competed at the European Cup Winter Throwing the past few years and will do so again this year. In addition, this year my club organized our own winter throwing cup here in Zürich today. Combined, these meets make up my pre-season; I get some feedback on how training is going and then have the opportunity to focus entirely on training again for two months before the real season starts.
For most people in Switzerland, Sunday is a day of rest. The labor laws generally prevent anyone from working on Sunday. Therefore, with a few exceptions, all stores are closed. Residents are expected to keep loud noises to a minimum, meaning that even things like laundry and vacuuming can be frowned upon in certain apartment buildings.
But since I work all week, Sunday is the one day where I have lots of free time. It is my biggest training day of the week, yet the only place to lift weights is in the basement fitness studio of a hotel half way across town. Furthermore, I have to go out of my way to pick up an access card from my club on Friday. And the equipment doesn’t always fit my needs. This is a stark contrast to America where you can almost always find a gym open and when you can’t you know the guy who has the key.
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.
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?
I was looking back at my review of last season today and it is eerily similar to how I feel about this season. However, the two years were world’s apart. I not only threw three meters further this year, but I was also more consistent and had almost ten meets over my season’s best from last year. But, as always, I want more.
The Good – Like I said above, I threw better than last year. Much better. The highlight of the season was another win at the national championships by a convincing margin. I finished more than fourteen meters ahead of the next Swiss thrower (Björn, a German citizen, also threw great for second place), which by my research is the largest margin of victory at a Swiss Championship. Training has also gone very well. I improved my special strength and set lots of training bests from the 5-kilogram hammer all the way up to the 10-kilogram hammer. If I can get that strength into the throw, I know it will produce something over 70-meters. My technique also improved this year, although it is still not where I want it to be.
Throughout my career as a hammer thrower, I’ve constantly been traveling to find coaching. I traveled to Harold Connolly‘s cabin in southwest Virginia, to clinics on both coasts, and across the country to learn from the country’s top coaches. As a young college thrower, I went to training camps in Hungary, Belarus, and Slovenia to learn from the world’s top coaches. Then, in 2005, I met Anatoli Bondarchuk after he moved to Kamloops. He wrote my training programs while I attended law school in Seattle and after years of making the five-hour drive to visit him on the weekends, I’ve spent most of my time in Kamloops since graduating in 2008.