"In The Ring with Coach V" by Vésteinn Hafsteinsson with D. McQuaid #12: A new season begins!
After participating in four Olympic Games as a discus thrower, Vésteinn Hafsteinsson embarked upon a remarkably successful career as a coach, guiding shot putter Joachim Olsen to a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics, and discus great Gerd Kanter to Olympic and World Championship gold.
Vésteinn’s success has continued with his current training group, which consists of World and Olympic discus champion Daniel Ståhl, Olympic discus silver medalist Simon Pettersson, indoor European shot put silver-medalist and Olympic finalist Fanny Roos, former European U23 discus champion Sven Martin Skagestad, and Nordic Indoor shot put champion Marcus Thomsen.
"In the Ring with Coach V" features insights into how these athletes train and compete, stories from Vésteinn’s long career as an athlete and coach, and thoughts regarding the current state of the sport and how it can be improved.
In this edition, Vésteinn focuses on Fanny, Simon, and Daniel.
Fanny Roos had a big breakthrough year in 2021. First she won her first international medal at the senior level by getting silver at the European Indoor Championships, then she made her first Olympic final. She also set a PB of 19.34m while breaking the Swedish indoor and outdoor records a total of seven times.
Fanny is twenty-seven years old, and our goal now is to get her to take the next step where she can contend for a medal at an Olympics or World Championships.
Improving her strength will play a big part in helping her to this next level, so this winter I brought in Rickard Nilsson, who competed twice in the Olympics as a weightlifter and for a long time has worked for the Swedish Olympic committee, to guide Fanny and also Simon Pettersson in improving their technique with the Olympic lifts and squats. Fanny and Simon both love to lift, and as they get a bit older and stronger I want to be sure we are training in the smartest way possible so we stay healthy while getting strong.
My philosophy is that an athlete should never hurt themself in the weight room. Athletes only have a few years when they are at their prime, and those years cannot be wasted by getting injured. If they get hurt in the weight room, then I am doing something wrong with writing their program, or else their lifting technique is bad. The back is especially vulnerable to injury if an athlete does squats or deadlifts with poor form, and we have used Rickard many times over the years to help us do these lifts correctly.
For most of January, Fanny was lifting very hard and throwing a lot with the 4.5k shot. In spite of the high volume of lifting, she regularly threw the 4.5k around eighteen meters. This indicates that she is in shape to throw the four-kilogram competition implement somewhere in the 19.30m to 19.50m range. At the time I am writing this, she has competed in five meets, with her best result being 18.86m at the Nordic Indoor Championships on February 13th. She, of course, is a bit frustrated because she knows she is in shape to throw farther, but it is not so easy early in the season to do in a meet what you have been able to do in practice.
She has told me she feels “this close” to finding her form, and I am pretty sure that she will throw a PB in the next month or so and be in great shape for the World Indoor Championships in mid-March.
As with Fanny, Simon had a huge breakthrough in 2021 when he increased his PB to 69.48m early in the season and then took the silver medal in Tokyo. Also like Fanny, he needs to gain a little more muscle and strength to reach his full potential. The training plan for Simon will be a little simpler to arrange because he has no indoor season, but the outdoor season will provide a challenge with a crowded schedule that includes both a World and European Championships.
An improvement that I’d like to see Simon make is for him to be more consistent. He needs to throw sixty-five to sixty-seven meters more often within a given series. He has a great talent for finding a big throw at the most important competitions, as you saw in Tokyo, but I’d still like to see him have a little more stability with his technique and string together more solid throws.
He also has an opportunity to increase his capacity to throw farther by getting stronger. With Rickard’s guidance and a lot of hard work, we hope to get Simon to be able to squat 300k by 2024, and also to snatch 160k and bench press 220k. If he can do that while also increasing his bodyweight to 130k, he will have the possibility of throwing seventy meters inside a stadium.
So, if you love the discus, you are in for some exciting times, as Simon, Kristjan Čeh, and Matthew Denny are all hitting their stride and Daniel is still in his prime as well.
Speaking of Daniel, he is having a great winter. I’ve written before about how proud I am of how he has handled the pressure of being the top discus thrower and always expected to win. This year, now that he has an Olympic gold medal, some of that pressure is off and he is having a lot of fun.
He is still in his prime, and I would like to see him get the huge throw that he is capable of but that is not always easy to produce. He almost did that last May at a meet here in Växjö when he warmed up at seventy-three meters and I thought he might break the world record.
He did not find a big throw in the competition that day, and one of our goals this year is for him to finally crush one and take down the world record before Kristjan Čeh finds his groove and puts it out of reach.
Daniel and I have been working on consistency in his entry, and if he gets this right I think it will lead to bigger throws. It is interesting that he can throw seventy-meters from a static start, much the same way that Ryan Crouser can throw twenty-two meters plus from a static start. This is a demonstration of the tremendous capacity they both have, and also an illustration that a static start can sometimes make it easier to achieve a smooth, seamless entry.
Why not just throw from a static start all the time then? Well, the biomechanics people say that someone with a huge wingspan like Daniel–and this applies to Ryan in the shot put as well–can increase the potential distance of a throw by using a full windup and thus moving the implement through the maximum possible path of acceleration.
So, if you believe the scientists, which I do, then it is worth the effort to find a way to pair a full windup with an efficient entry. For Daniel, it is often difficult to be patient as he comes out of that long windup, and because he is anxious to get going into the ring he will cut his right leg sweep. This causes him to rise up too much as he sprints to the middle. Then, his left foot arrives late to the front of the ring and he ends up leaning back and scooping the discus as he throws.
We have been working on sinking lower on the left knee out of the back and sweeping the right leg out wider. Sitting lower on his left gives him a little more horizontal force across the ring, and sweeping the right leg wider before pulling it in seems to help him get his left foot down earlier at the front. This allows him to maintain contact with the ground longer through his release, which helps produce big throws.
He has recently thrown seventy meters indoors in training, and on Friday will take a crack at Gerd Kanter’s indoor world record of 69.51m here in Växjö where we are hosting the Swedish Indoor Championships.
In March, we will do a ten-day training camp in Portugal and compete there in the European Throwing Cup. After that, we will head to California for more training and some meets in hopefully very good conditions.
I will continue posting to update our progress. Hopefully, I will have many interesting stories to report!