Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Lessons from the Men's Shot Put at the Rio Olympics

By Mac Wilkins
Full Disclosure -
I have known Ryan since he was 8 and have advised him and his dad from time to time up through his high school years. I have been involved with his training on a daily basis since the first of June this year. This fall Ryan and I will work together full time at the Training Center in Chula Vista.
I have been a supporter of my colleague Art Venegas and World Champion Joe Kovacs for the last three years while Joe has trained at the Training Center. I was around most of Joe's final training sessions and all of Ryan's.
I don't claim this report to be objective, but I am in a unique position to comment on the shot put.

Background to Rocket Launch

Normally in an athlete's career, particularly a thrower there is a time of development that exceeds all other times in rate of improvement. Once in awhile these faster periods of growth are exceedingly rapid. Sometimes it's the senior year of high school. Frequently starting college or just after graduation.

These rapid growth spurts are almost always one time shots. Growth continues afterward, by no means is it the end of the road. But the pace in these spurts is unmatched.

Duncan Atwood went from 195' to 249' during the summer as a 16 year old because he could hear the rhythm, hear the timing of the sound of the foot steps of better javelin throwers during their training. "I can repeat the rhythm of those sounds!" young Atwood correctly surmised.

Russ Francis broke the National High School Record in the javelin at 259', just 60-90 days after his first ever throw with the spear!

For more mature throwers it usually happens as a result of good work and growth building up but for some reason not being expressed in performance gains. Then a situation changes, the total life stress load is reduced, a technical epiphany may occur, or a change of training environment and... Booooom. Performance can jump 5% from season to season.

My career had such a period of growth. After college I spent two years building a foundation getting thousands of "Failure Reps" in the circle and over 40 competitions of not "getting it all out".

And then I moved to San Jose CA to train with 20 other throwers working for the Olympics. World Record Holders Al Feuerbach, John Powell, and Brian Oldfield, to name the top throwers. Living and training with this group was the gasoline to the fire already burning in me.

Workload Management for Crazy Stoopid Growth
This year it was Ryan Crouser's turn in the shot put.
Ryan was the center of The Perfect Storm the likes of which hasn't been and may not again be seen in our lifetimes.
The buildup was a combination of several factors. He finished school and eliminated that life stress from his daily routine.
1. Eight hours a day working for his masters in Finance through May.
2. Eating light snacks running from class to class.
3. Training was catch as catch can, yet he still managed a PR to win NCAA indoors.
4. Wisely, he planned his five years of eligibility to keep the spring of 2016 free from collegiate competition. He took this time to complete his Masters, keep the lifting going but back way off the throwing.

When Ryan came to the Training Center in Chula Vista he was strong, his body was fresh from relatively little throwing outdoors and the rocket fuel on his fire was:
1. Healthy food, all you can eat 13 hours a day
2. 8-10 hours of sleep every night,
3. No mid terms, finals, no late night study sessions etc.,
4. His dad and coach from the start was able to come down for a couple of 3 day sessions,
5. I was there as a sounding board and guide for the mental perspective required
6. The training environment included Joe Kovacs, World Champion and Darrell Hill his Olympic Teammates.
7. The San Diego weather.

KaBooom! in mid June! ...
June 18 Chula Vista competition, two PRs, the best 21.85m.
The week before the Trials he lifted and threw training PRs.
Ryan won the Trials/US National Championships with a PR of 22.11m.

But Wait, there's more... A Second Season of Growth
If a relatively young athlete is able to have 'another season' after the State Meet or the NCAAs there is often additional growth. They are starting fresh on a new, shorter season but in near Championship form. As if you could double the growth with "two seasons" per year. We hoped the time between the Trials and Games would act as another season of growth for Ryan because he was fresh from not competing outdoors in the spring, AND he had the feeling of what it's like to throw 22m in a competition!

And it did!
The training program for the 48 days between the Trials and Games was treated like an annual cycle only greatly compressed; fitness/volume, strength and then taper. In Rio in the weeks before the Games Ryan took yet another step up exceeding all lifting and throwing PRs established before the Trials.

Those on the US Team could see it like a freight train coming down the tracks. Although you can never be sure how training translates to competitive performance, Ryan's training was steady, methodical and controlled (no fouls), not the result of crazy, mad, psyched up, screaming, shirt ripping all out efforts. The feeling was another 22m competition would be likely. By the way, Joe's training was right there as well. A 22m shootout looked probable.

AND FINALLY, HERE IS THE CAPSTONE of the masterpiece, Ryan's greatest strength is his mind. Focused, yet calm and undistracted by the unusual external and internal noise that goes with competing in the Olympic Games. He has a great understanding of the event, awareness of his body and the forces it is and isn't creating. His technique is simple and stable so dealing with the adrenaline of the competition is a more manageable challenge. And make no mistake, Ryan is a very physically gifted athlete at 6' 7". 295lbs.

With training sessions of multiple throws, seemingly effortless, without fouling, over 22m, how could we be surprised by his Record Breaking Performance?
With PRs in the weight room and throwing with the 16lb and light shot in the 10 days before the competition, the surprise would have been if he had a lesser result.

Some of Ryan's training included morning sessions to simulate the Qualifying Round with two warm up full throws, then three throws between 20.60m and 21m spread over a period of about 25 minutes. In the afternoon he would come back and simulate the competition warm up then take six throws without fouling. The first would be about 21.30m, the next five at 22m. Then he would work on technique.

For Olympic success Ryan only had to throw well, not even a PR, just close, like 21.70m.
None of the prognosticators ranked him to finish in the top five. Outside our group the expectations were low. Inside the group we knew he was capable of another Life Record in the Games as in the Trials and thus a strong chance for a medal.

Final pre-competition instructions, "stick to your plan, (don't compete in warmups, open a little over 21m) and then have fun.
Let everyone see your passion when you throw. Show them what it means to you."

Ryan was the only thrower to record all six throws without a foul.
Four of his six throws were long enough to win.
Ryan broke the Olympic Record set in 1988.
Oh, and he improved his Life Record Three Times in the competition.
And that is an exceptional example of the Perfect Storm of rapid acceleration of growth at the highest level.

Season Highlights - Ryan Crouser
Feb 27 PR 21.73m 71' 3.5" Big 12 Indoor Champs
May 27 20.27m 66' 6" Pre Classic
June 18 PR 21.85m 71' 8" Chula Vista
July 1 PR 22.11m 72' 6 1/2" Olympic Trials
Aug 18 PR 22.52m 73' 10" Olympic Games - Rio

The SHOT PUT COMPETITION Thursday August 18
Qualifying 9:55 am Auto Qualifying distance 20.65m - Finals 8:30pm
Everyone's goal is to throw the Automatic Qualifying Distance with as little energy as possible. However, rarely do 12 throwers exceed the Automatic Distance.
First timers often blow all their adrenaline in the qualifying round and are flat in the finals. Veterans can control their emotions and find "just enough to qualify" at 9:30am.

It's OK for a favorite to need two attempts to get the Auto Q mark, kind of ease into the right amount of effort to just get it over the line.

Highlights of qualifying were the HUGE roar from the stadium when the Brazilian putter set a new National Record. Jacko Gill lead the first Round with 20.80m.

Ryan Crouser opened the Second Round with an easy looking 21.59m. This distance was the best qualifying throw ever in the Olympic Shot Put. Maybe a bit farther than he wanted but it didn't look like he was over amped. One throw and he was done for the morning.

Second best was 21.03 by Indoor World Champ and Rio Medal contender Tomas Walsh of New Zealand. I didn't know the status of his health but was surprised David Storl qualified only 11th at 20.47m.

OK boys, back to your rooms, rest up and be ready tonight for the medal round.

I have always contended that when the final twelve throwers walk onto the floor of the stadium for the Finals, each athlete knows within one or two places where they will finish. The order is predetermined by the competitors' perceptions of themselves and their competitors. Occasionally "Happy Accidents" can happen.

Not tonight.
I didn't walk onto the floor to put the shot, thankfully, but I knew Joe and Ryan would be the top two. Joe after a long string of 22m competitions was under 22 at the Trials and then opened at a surprisingly low 19.59m, 64' in the qualifying. After the Qualifying Round, the Gold seemed Ryan's to lose. but Joe is a fighter and that's why they have the competition!

The two favorites would open the throwing, Ryan first, Joe second. Could Walsh get close to 22m? Was Storl really out of it?
Joe bombed several over 22m in warmups, with full on emotion and energy.
This was to help him establish his 22m rhythm and perhaps for impact on the competition.
Ryan had seen it before, though, and sat out the "warmup competition".

Round 1
First throw for Crouser 21.15m, on target. We can't control the other throwers but we can try to execute our plan.
Second throw of the competition, Joe hits a big one, 21.78m!
Wanting to see if the pressure of coming from behind would tighten up Ryan, Joe hoped he could jump on his first throw and he did.
Joe had also been well over 22m in training without fouling. The question was, could he find his rhythm to make these long throws, something that had been just off in the Trials.
His opener at 21.78m might get a medal but probably wouldn't hold off Ryan. But it was a great start for Joe, something to build on.

The rest of the first round had a BIG National Record from Franck Elemba of the Congo at 21.20m, a beautiful glider, who moved Crouser to third.

Romani, the Brazilian, drew another INCREDIBLY HUGE roar from the crowd with another PR/NR at 21.02m in fourth place.
No one else was over 21m in the round.
1. Joe - 21.78m
2. Elemba - 21.20m
3. Ryan - 21.15m
4. Romani - 21.02m

Round 2
Ryan wanted 22m in Round 2 and hit it, 22.22m a PR by 2 1/4", and into the lead.
You just won the jackput er jackpot!! There is nothing better than throwing a PR, your life record, in the Olympic Final!!
Mission accomplished. Sit down and relax.
"Excuse me, Not quit yet please.
You told me to have fun and I have four more tries at fun, at expressing my passion for the throw."

Joe just missed with a foul but was second, still within striking distance of Ryan's 22.22m.
Tom Walsh moved into a tie for third with 21.20m but started to look like he wouldn't get close to 22m.
1. Ryan - 22.22m
2. Joe - 21.78m
3. Elemba - 21.20m
3. Walsh - 21.20m
5. Romani - 21.02m

Round 3
Ryan was told to have fun.
PRs are fun.
Don't mind if I have another one, thank you, 22.26m!
Looked like he was loosening up a bit.
Joe is the only other thrower over 21m in Round 3

Now we get down to the top eight throwers for the last three throws.
Its shaping up to be Ryan and Joe for the first two places.
Ryan looked so connected to the ball, Joe was just a little off but capable of well over 22m.
1. Ryan - 22.26m
2. Joe - 21.78m
3. Elemba - 21.20m
3. Walsh - 21.20m

Round 4
Reverse order now, shortest going first so Joe throwing ahead of Ryan who gets the last throw.
No one is over 21m, Joe fouls and Ryan misses at 21.94m (enough to win).

Round 5
Walsh is finding his groove but its not going to catch the two Yanks, 21.35 and out of the tie and into sole possession of the Bronze Medal. Elemba moves down to 4th.

Joe had been working and building to get beyond his strong opener. He gets it in the fifth round as he unleashes his longest of the night just over the 22m tape but his right foot comes down on the top edge of the toeboard for a foul. All that work and build up for his longest throw of the night goes for naught and he is down to one last throw.

If fouling his biggest throw was deflating for Joe, the next throw, Ryan's fifth attempt was the hammer, a PR by 26cm or 10", a NEW Olympic Record 22.52m, 73' 10".
His third PR of the night!
His fourth throw long enough to win.
His feeling for the rhythm and the ball increased with each throw.
Being in third didn't tighten him up after Round 1 because his distance was on target for his plan.

And that ladies and gentlemen was your Ball Game!

Round 6
In the last three rounds only the Medalists had throws over 21m.
Walsh solidified his performance with his third throw over 21m, 21.25m and the Bronze Medal.
Last chance for Joe who now needed a near PR (22.56m) to win and was behind by 2' 5".
He had the Silver Medal in his pocket. Always a fighter, he made a good effort at 70' 2", 21.35m. All three of his legal throws were over 21m, 68' 11".
A great performance!
You can't knock an Olympic Medal of any color.
After having watched Joe for three years I can only say he just seemed a little off with his rhythm. But he fought and pushed on Ryan and won the Silver Medal.

Technique and feeling is not as easily managed and brought to a peak as strength.
It can be a bit mercurial with its coming and goings.
Sometimes its only a few days, but sometimes its an entire season.
Ask a golfer or a bowler or pitcher or batter or a shot putter.

And the new Olympic Champion steps in for his final throw.
A nice final attempt, but a semi-anti-climactic 21.74m, only 71' 7".

He executed his plan to a T.
After his training in the days before the competition it would have been a surprise had he NOT thrown 22m tonight.
The big question was How Far over 22m would he throw?
Looked to me like he still has more to go beyond 22.52m.


Final Results
Gold Ryan Crouser 22.52m 73' 10"
Silver Joe Kovacs 21.78m 71' 5"
Bronze Tom Walsh 21.36m 70'
4th Franck Elemba 21.20m
5th Darlan Romani 21.02m
6th Tomasz Majewski 20.72m Olympic Champion 2012 & 2008
7th David Storl 20.60m World Champion 2011 Olympic Silver 2012
8th O'Dayne Richards 20.64m

From where we sit today its still a race between Joe and Ryan to 23m and then the World's Record.

Note: As of Sept 3, in competitions after Rio Tom Walsh has moved his PR out to 22.20m!

Who would have thought of Crouser breaking Ulf Timmermann's Olympic Record at the end of May when he threw only 66'6" at the Pre?

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