Sunday, November 29, 2015

Spear Chucking: How Mac Wilkins Became a Discus Thrower

Last week the European Javelin Symposium was held in Finland.  If you've ever been to a big meet in Scandinavia you know how much the fans and the athletes appreciate the event.  While it was a big surprise that this year a Kenyan won the gold and an Egyptian the silver in the men's javelin, it was no surprise that their coach is a Finn.

The takeaway theme from the Symposium was that concentrating on technique is currently believed to be the way to achieve the best results in the event.  That brings up a story 1976 Olympic champion in the discus, Mac Wilkins told last year at the Minnesota track coaches clinic.  We had been talking about his early career and Mac noted that he started as a javelin thrower.

More accurately, the javelin appeared to be his best event.  When he got to Oregon, it looked like his future would be in the javelin.  The javelin was his "natural" event, said Wilkins, and is the toughest field event in terms of what it requires from your body.  Javelin throwers put their entire body to work in launching the spear.  It was Wilkins' technique, or should I say, defects in that technique, that ended his "spear chucking" career.

His sophomore year, he was out throwing with his coach, Bill Bowerman, observing when his elbow "blew."  There was no "Tommy John surgery"/repair back then in the early '70s, said Wilkins, so, instead of being Olympic champion in the javelin, Mac continued his career as a discus thrower and shot putter.   He won national championships in both events, but the discus was where he had the most success. He began beating the top discus throwers in the world.

One of them, Sweden's Ricky Bruch, invited Mac to come to Europe and throw on the circuit.  Bruch figured that an American competing with the Europeans would increase the visibility of the event and that both he and Wilkins could get more money from the meet promoters.

On May 1, 1976, Mac broke the world record for the event three times.  He went on to defeat his friend and rival, the GDR's Wolfgang Schmidt, in Montreal for the Olympic gold medal.  Not bad for spear chucker.

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