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, Coach V looks back on some highlights from the indoor season.
The Pension Program
When a regular person reaches the age of thirty, they are still quite young. For a professional athlete, it is a different story. The body begins to slow down a bit, and it becomes not so easy to recover from strenuous training sessions.
A nutritionist I worked with while I was coaching Gerd Kanter told me that it is probably impossible to break a world record once an athlete turns thirty.
Daniel is twenty-nine now, and his birthday is August 27th, so if the nutritionist is correct, he has only a few more months during which he might be able to exceed Jürgen Schult’s world record of 74.08m. Jürgen set the record in 1986, then became World Champion in 1987 and Olympic Champion in 1988. This summer, Daniel will try to reverse that order. He is currently the World and Olympic Champion, and has a PB of 71.86m.
Can he reach Jürgen’s record at his advanced age? I believe he has a chance–if we manage his training correctly. That is why I have put him on the “Pension Program” in the weight room.as well as on the throwing field.
In the Pension Program, Daniel does twenty-five or thirty percent less volume compared to previous years. The high volume phases of his training have typically featured five sets of five reps in his main lifts. There is always room for variation within those 5x5 workouts, but a typical high-volume session under his old plan would consist of twenty-five reps at between 70 and 87.5 percent.
Most of his workouts this winter featured only three sets, and the reps were usually performed at between 55 and 75 percent. On some days we would do 5-4-3 or 5-3-1 at 70-90 percent, with the 90 percent coming on the single rep in the 5-3-1 workouts.
We have taken the same approach with throwing. For example, in previous years it was not unusual for Daniel to take fifty throws with the Denfi tool in some sessions. Now, the most he takes is thirty to thirty-five.
So far, the Pension Program seems to be good for Daniel. He actually gained strength this winter while training less. He got a PB in bench press of 210 kilograms, and did an easy single at 300k in back squat.
The lower volume means that Daniel was always fresh enough to throw well during practice and was able to develop his technique, which at this point in his career is the key to him throwing far.
He was very happy on this program all winter, although he felt bad for Fanny and Simon because they are at an earlier phase in their career where they still have to spend time killing themselves to build muscle.
We usually have an indoor discus competition here in Växjö in late February, which I use to evaluate how we did with our winter training. This year, the competition was on the 25th of February, and the results were good. Daniel got an official mark of 67.62m, but also two longer fouls, one of which we measured over seventy-one meters.
To me, the capacity he showed confirmed that the pension program was working. Now, we see how it goes outdoors.
A Proud Father
Congratulations to Sven Martin on the birth of his first child, a little girl named Ronja!
I coached Sven Martin mostly digitally twice a week this winter, as he was home in Norway most of the time and I was here in Växjö. He was able to come here twice for a week or two, but I did not see him in person between late January and the beginning of our California training camp on March 30th.
During our remote sessions, Sven Martin would place his device in different spots to give me the view I needed of his technique. I have tried this with different athletes over the years, and it usually works out pretty well, although I prefer coaching live so I can jump into the ring and put the athlete into different positions. Switching to virtual coaching would be hard on Fanny, Daniel, Marcus, and Simon because they are so used to me being there in person, but Sven Martin did not live in the same town as his former coach either, so he has pretty much always been coached virtually.
The challenge for Sven Martin is to reach a point where he can throw sixty-four or sixty-five meters in no wind against good people. Then, he will be back in the game and we can start thinking about making the final at meets like the European and even the World Championships.
He is a super smart guy, and we work well together. I would love to see him come back. He threw 65.20m in 2016, but somehow lost his feel and has not thrown a PB since. But, he is physically very gifted. Compared to Simon, Sven Martin is stronger in everything–bench, squats, snatch, you name it. One session last summer, he and Simon were throwing the Denfi tool and Sven Martin beat him by five meters. He is better than Simon in everything, except throwing the discus.
So, it will be a good challenge to see if we can get him back on schedule.
During the 2021 season, Fanny made huge breakthroughs when she finished second at the European Indoor Championships and seventh at the Olympic Games. You can read the details on her 2021 indoor season here and her outdoor season here.
She did extremely well in her training this winter, with many throws over nineteen meters. She struggled, though, to reach those same distances in competitions, and it is clear that the next step for Fanny is for her to get used to competing when the focus is on her. She is very shy by nature, and has always been more comfortable in meets like in the Diamond League where there are lots of good throwers and she can kind of blend in.
The 2022 Swedish Indoor Championships was a good example of how Fanny struggles at times. The meet was held in our facility in Växjö, where it would seem like she would be super comfortable, but she was by far the best women’s shot putter there and lots of people from her home town came to watch her, and this made her nervous. During her first four throws, she was unable to control the tension she felt and her best throw was 17.36m. When practicing every day in that same ring, she rarely threw less than 18.80m, so we were both pretty frustrated.
Before her final throw, I told her I wanted to test something. I said, “Focus on one thing–have your backswing one meter further back.” I was exaggerating, but the idea was to make her backswing as long and slow as possible so she would stop rushing into the throw.
Then she had her best throw, 18.95m, for a new Swedish Indoor Championships record.
The World Indoor Championships was three weeks later, on March 18th, and I was pretty confident that Fanny would throw well because, as I said, she was doing great in training, but also because she would be more comfortable throwing against the top women instead of her being the focus of everyone’s attention.
She threw 18.66m on her first attempt, which made me happy because it would probably get her in the top eight. It ended up taking 18.20m to advance to the final three rounds.
I believe she was in fifth place going into her third throw, and then she moved into second with a season’s best of 19.22m.
Fanny ended up finishing fourth behind Auriol Dongmo (20.43m), Chase Ealey (20.21m), and Jessica Schilder (19.48m), but I was very happy with how she performed. This was the third major championships in a row where she finished in the top eight, and she showed once again that she now throws her best on the biggest stage.
She went back into heavy training shortly after the Indoor Worlds, and we are very excited about her prospects for the summer.