Monday, July 31, 2017

USATF National Championships

A return to Sacramento for this year's USATF National Championships meant that I was prepared mentally for lots of heat and a competition that takes place on the warm-up track outside the stadium. I competed for the first time at Sac State at Golden West about 15 years ago. Way back then (and into the first part of college), the infield was grass and we got to throw there. Now, we're relegated to the far corner of the practice track. My experience throwing out there in 2014 told me that I wanted to take special advantage of this year's championships and announce the men's javelin to make it a bit more exciting! That experience turned into a bit more, and was awesome.

Photo by Paul Merca (2014)

2014's USATF National Championships
 saw me return to the top of the podium for the first time after my ACL surgery, and was an interesting and busy season for me, as we were renovating our house and also planning our wedding for the September immediately following that comeback year. This year, my focus coming in was to win my seventh national title, and throw really far.

That's truly all I was thinking about, and as a result, I had no true technical focus. I really tried to relax on the runway and let my feet do the work, but the technical cues and patient positions I've remembered in the past few weeks clue me in to why the javelin didn't go further than 62.80m one month ago at this meet. I succeeded in winning my seventh national championship and earning a spot on this upcoming World team, but I was in shape physically to make the javelin go much further on that 109-degree day. My legs worked okay, but the timing of my upper body was way ahead of those legs, and I can see that clearly now. I still managed to have two other throws over 61m and another two over 59m. Ari was second with 58m, and set herself up to throw further later and make the World Championship team, too!!

The javelin and hammer competitions, as previously stated, take place outside the stadium at Sac State. This presents a neat opportunity for fans of those specific events to get close to the action, but that's not enough! Three years ago, I was extremely frustrated with the energy level of the announcing that happened during our competition, so this year I wanted to do something about it. I couldn't really affect change during my own meet, and the men's hammer happened earlier that same day, but the men's javelin was scheduled for Saturday and the women's hammer was contested Sunday morning. I called the powers that be at USATF and asked if I could announce the men's javelin, not on any live streamed internet channel to conflict with the broadcast rights of NBC, but just for the one-set-of-bleachers-full of the athletes' friends and family out at the warm-up track. I was pumped when they said yes.

Armed with an index card of information gathered on each of the 18 men's javelin throwers, I had a blast providing background information, a few technical opinions, hype, and a positive spin on each athletes' performance on Saturday. Riley and Cyrus both threw season's best, and Michael Shuey threw lifetime PRs to break into the top 3 two weeks after finishing his collegiate career at Penn State. All of the other athletes seemed to enjoy it, and the crowd was more engaged by far than for our event two days prior! So fun. Amanda Bingson showed up to watch the event, and told me point blank that I had to announce the hammer the next day as well. I had thought about it briefly, but her request meant a lot to me, and I did my research that night and the next morning to do those awesome athletes justice as well. American women's hammer has been steadily catching fire for the past few years, and their incredible competition was an honor to be a small part of. I got great feedback from both crowds and had an absolute blast shedding some light and entertainment on my fellow American throwers for the fans that chose to sit in 100+ degrees to cheer them on!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Prefontaine Classic

We threw on Friday night at the Prefontaine Classic this year, which is the first time in my four total trips to this meet that that has happened. The women's long jump and women's javelin were the only two field events held on a night that typically sees lots of distance races go around the track.

I felt good coming into Pre, and had set up my training in a way that made me feel confident in my power and state of recovery for the first Diamond League meet of the season. I always want to succeed at Pre, because it's the only time I meet my international competitors on home soil, and have the advantage of time zone adjustment. I was second at this meet in 2015 and won way back in 2010, but fell short of my expectations in 2011 and this year.

On meet day, on the way to the track, the nine competitors set to throw were informed that only six athletes would receive six throws, rather than the Diamond League and IAAF rule-stipulated eight. This year in the Diamond League series, we field event people only have five competitions (including the final) compared to the seven we have always had, so to limit the final at the first one, while not unusual for this specific meeting, was frustrating for all of us. Whatever though, it's not like my or anyone else's mindset is ever that we will not be in that top 6 (I promise you: Everyone always wants to win), so the focus remains the same.

I started out with 61.66m in the first round, and was happy with the relaxed, strong beginning effort. As nice as an easy mid-61m throw is, I knew I'd need to improve to guarantee top 6, as the last two years of women's javelin throwing in the world have seen a huge increase in the number of women that can throw 62m any given day.

I tried way too hard in rounds two and three, totally losing my chest at the end of the throw (as a result of pushing backward with my right foot and rushing my upper body forward) and sending the tip of the javelin straight up in the process. I sat in sixth place until Barbora passed me in round three to push me into the first spot out of finals.

There have been too many finals in my career that I've sat out of. I truly enjoy the friendships that I've cultivated with many of my international competitors, and I always strive to be a good sport. When you don't get all six throws at a meet, you can either be escorted off the field, or stick around and watch finals from the bench. I've done that with genuine happiness for others and misery for myself far too many times, and at Pre this year, my parents were in the stands and leaving early the next morning to go home. I was more furious with myself than I've been for a long time, so I asked to leave.

Dinner with my parents in their motorhome with the dogs was far better and healing for me than sitting inside the oval at Hayward Field and politely clapping for my competitors' excellent performances would have been. I've been motivated by staying on the track for finals so many times that I wanted to fuel my fire with something different, and that's the love and support of my family. I spoke to Ty on the phone and he said that he heard something in my voice that he never has before, and was excited about perhaps a little different mindset for me. That feeling is still there, and has only intensified with other frustrating competitions this year.

It would have been more fun to watch the main Prefontaine Classic on Saturday if I had performed better, but seeing Christian Taylor and Will Claye put on a triple jump show, among many other awesome results, was still great. I also went for an interval run in beautiful weather along the Willamette River that morning, so I got some of my anger out. I'm a track and field fan, so being able to simply spectate one of the best meets on American soil is always enjoyable, plus I caught up with Rachel and her kiddos!

I can't lie to you, being given numerous excellent opportunities to perform by JRS Sports Management in the last seven years and continuing to just struggle along is not fun. I approach every single competition with the true belief that I have everything it takes to be the best, so to come out of many of them with very similar results (59-62m and 5th-7th place) is incredibly frustrating and disheartening on those bus rides back to the meet hotels. More on this in the next three posts, with some elaboration on what makes putting myself in these same situations worth it.

Friday, July 21, 2017

IMG Academy

Each year, USATF sets up high performance competitions for elite throwers. Typically this means that everyone goes to Tucson, Arizona for two meets at the end of May, but this year there were some extra opportunities! One of them fell on May 5th at Kibwe Johnson's new stomping grounds, IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

I threw in Austin in the middle of April, and didn't have another competition scheduled until Prefontaine at the end of May, so competing in Florida sounded perfect.

Personal coaching is a new thing for me (I have one Paralympic athlete and one heptathlete, plus a few people I consult with electronically), and I had the fun opportunity to meet with Kibwe and some of his athletes to offer them javelin pointers! (They've got it totally handled with him as a coach, btw.) I'm so impressed by the talent this private high school attracts from literally all over the world. What an interesting place to work!

I was pretty sore and tired after really hitting things hard in training post-big opener, so I didn't know what to expect. What happened was that I was all over the place on the runway! I should have thrown further at this meet than I did (61.32m), but Ariana Ince PRed and threw 60 meters for the first time! Bonus points for the beginning of a beautiful Friendship: It turns out that Ari and I are basically the same person. Down to simultaneous hair flips and reaching for the same soda.

My series on the day was fairly consistent (more so than Austin), and I was encouraged by that, even with my footwork being nowhere close to smooth. This meet was interesting and felt like a work in progress: It was the second IMG Academy Throws Challenge ever, and also second this year. There is definite room for improvement, but I think USATF should keep coming back here. The campus is incredible, we stayed close to the track, housing allows athletes to cook for themselves (something I personally love when on the road), Uber is available for transportation, and the weather in May was perfection. Absolutely would throw again!