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 training group currently consists of 2019 discus World Champion Daniel Ståhl (71.86m PB), up-and-coming discus thrower Simon Petterson (69.48m PB), indoor European shot put silver-medalist Fanny Roos (19.34m PB), former European U23 discus champion Sven Martin Skagestad (65.20m PB), and former European U20 shot put champion Marcus Thomsen (21.09m PB).
"In the Ring with Coach V" will feature 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.
This newsletter, produced with the assistance of Dan McQuaid of McThrows.com, is the first product of a collaboration between Global Throwing, Macthrowvideo, and McThrows.com to promote and advance the sport of throwing. Future projects under discussion include books, webinars, coaching clinics, and symposiums
.In this issue, Vésteinn recounts three eventful discus competitions from June as Daniel Ståhl and Simon Pettersson honed their skills in advance of the Olympic Games.
Sollentuna (June 13th)
It was a beautiful day that Sunday in Sollentuna, but there was no wind to help the discus go far, and when the women were unable to produce any big throws, I assumed it would be the same with the men--except for Daniel, who often throws his best in dead air.
Sven Martin Skagestad flew in for this meet from Estonia where he had produced his best mark of the season--62.99m--and led the competition until Piotr Małachowski beat him with his final throw. Sven Martin was searching for the qualification standard of 66.00m, but Sunday in Sollentuna was not the day to get it. However, even though his 59.46m was his worst result of the season at that point, this was, in some ways, his best effort so far. He was focused and fired up from the meet in Estonia, and I liked his attitude and will to throw far.
Simon Pettersson ended up finishing second with a throw of 64.42m. This was well below the PB of 69.48m he set in May, but still a positive development as he beat some good throwers such as Ola Stunes Isene, Alex Rose, and Lawrence Okoye--guys he will go up against in the Olympic Games. And 64.42m in dead air is a pretty good throw.
Speaking of Lawrence Okoye, I consider him an outside joker that could take a medal in Tokyo if he hits one just right. And that would be incredible for a man who left the sport for six years to try to make a career in American football.
I first met Lawrence in 2010, when I was consulting with UK Athletics and his coach asked me to take a look at him. That entire session, he never got one throw out of the cage! But, a year later when he was only nineteen, he threw 67.63m. Then, at age twenty, he threw 68.24m.. He was for sure the best young thrower I’ve seen until Kristjan Ceh, who last year hit 68.75m as a twenty-one-year-old, and this year has already thrown over sixty-nine meters.
Even though he was away from the sport for so long, Lawrence is incredibly explosive and slams the hell out of the discus at the finish. It is what happens before the power position that is the problem, but if he lines one up, he can do some damage, as he showed a few days ago when he threw 67.13 at a meet here in Sweden.
Back to the meet in Sollentuna, Daniel won with a best of 68.03m. That was a good throw, and he was starting to look lighter on his feet as we moved closer to our final phase of training before the Olympics. With his technique, he was still a bit too vertical and was rising up a bit as he sprinted through the ring, but I could see he was slowly finding his competition rhythm. The day after the meet, he had what might have been his best throwing session ever in training, so clearly his capacity was high and he had a chance to throw far in the next few weeks.
Karlstad (June 22nd)
It was cold and rainy in Karlstad for this competition, but once again I came away feeling encouraged about our prospects for the season.
Daniel, Simon, and Sven Martin finished 1-2-3 in a field that included Mauricio Ortega of Colombia (70.29m PB), Henning Prüfer of Germany (65.26m PB), and Guðni Valur Guðnason of Iceland, who broke my Icelandic record last season with a PB of 69.35m.
This meet was important to Simon because as an up-and-comer, beating other world class throwers is an important part of his development. It can be very intimidating to show up for the Olympic Games and look around and all you see are guys you’ve never in your life beaten. This is why I have my athletes always traveling, always seeking out the best meets they can get into. They have to develop the habit of winning against top-level competition.
Another important aspect to a thrower’s development is getting used to competing in lousy conditions.
I let my shot putter, Marcus Thomsen, have it a couple of days earlier when he threw poorly at the European Team Championships in Romania and messaged me afterwards that nobody could throw well that day because it was raining and the circle was like ice.
I sent a message back saying, then I guess you are all amateurs, because a professional thrower has to be able to throw in any ring. In my mind, there are no slippery circles, just bad preparation.
A thrower has to be like a Formula 1 racer--when conditions get bad, you change the tires and keep racing.
At the 2012 Olympic Games, Koji Murofushi showed up with sixteen different pairs of shoes. At the end of my career, I had thirty-one pairs of shoes, some of which I made myself by heating throwing shoes in an oven, peeling off the soles and replacing them with the soles of regular walking shoes that had more grip.
And aside from having the proper shoes, throwing well in bad conditions is a matter of practice.
The first year I worked with Daniel, I had a throwing session scheduled with him, Nik and Leif Arrhenius, and I think Kim Christensen. At the time we were to begin, it was raining so hard I could tell they were waiting on my signal not to train. They were gathering their implements and everyone was looking at each other like they were nervous, and I just said, “Come on, let’s throw.”
I used the opportunity to teach Daniel how to have the discus under his shirt until he began his wind up, and he experimented with throwing in different shoes--even jogging shoes. He actually threw pretty well during that session, and though he probably didn’t enjoy it too much at the time, a week later he threw really well in a competition in the rain and called me after to tell me how glad he was that we did that practice.
Because we did this sort of thing, both Kim and Leif ended up throwing their all time PBs in competitions held in the pouring rain.
This is stuff I learned from John Powell when I was a young thrower. To get me ready to throw on any surface, he had me do drills on grass and even in sand. I got so good at it that I once threw a sixty-meter South African on grass! And the only time I ever beat Jürgen Schult and Lars Riedel was in bad conditions because I was more prepared than they were.
I also have to thank my growing up in Iceland for helping prepare me to throw in less-than-ideal circumstances. If you only know nice facilities when you are young, it makes you into a spoiled brat thinking everything is supposed to always be perfect. In Iceland, it is almost never warm. When I was a kid, on days when it reached fifty-five degrees fahrenheit, the shops used to close so people could go out and enjoy the unusually warm weather! It also rains there all the time, and the winters are long and cold. One winter, I broke nine discs throwing on ice. But, if I waited for a perfect day to throw, I never would have thrown.
So, it is important to learn to throw on bad weather days, and this is something Marcus will get better at as part of his development as a thrower. Simon made progress at this by throwing 63.61m in Karlstad. That is a distance which would likely get him into the Olympic final, so to see him throw it on a cold, rainy day was very encouraging.
Daniel ended up throwing 67.64m, which was also encouraging. He did not have a great throwing day when he won the World Championships in Doha, but even on a bad day he was able to throw 67.59m and win. It is a great thing for a thrower to know that they can throw 67.50m no matter what the circumstances, and the Karlstad meet was another example of Daniel’s ability to do this.
Sven Martin threw 60.17m, which was also a positive result. Sven Martin has only been with me a year or so, and for a young guy he has already had some pretty big ups and downs in his career. He was one spot away from making the discus final in Rio when he was only twenty-one, but has had some setbacks since then.
I will write more about him in the future, as his story is very interesting.
Kuortane (June 26th)
This was a competition with plenty of good throwers and it turned out to be very exciting. Besides Daniel and Simon, there was the 2016 Olympic champion Christoph Harting and once again, the Icelandic kid Guðni Valur Guðnason
The main guy to keep an eye on, though, was Kristjan Čeh, the best young thrower since Lawrence Okoye. As I mentioned above, Lawrence threw 68.24m when he was twenty years old. Last year Kristjan, when he was twenty-one, threw 68.75m, and already in May this year he broke sixty-nine meters.
The conditions in Kuortane were pretty good, not a big wind, but a gentle wind coming from the right direction. I was very happy when Simon threw 67.39m, his best effort since setting a huge PB of 69.48m in May. His series was very good, too: 65.19m, 65.36m, 67.39m, foul, foul, 65.33m.
At this meet, he gained more valuable experience and showed that he has the capacity to throw very far as his technique and rhythm improve.
The big drama, though, involved Daniel and Kristjan. Lately, Daniel had been getting closer to throwing less like a Caterpillar tractor and more like a discus thrower. Our goal on this day was to throw with rhythm and technical feeling, and he for sure made progress at that.
He opened with 63.61m and then a foul, but I could tell he had some big throws in him. He was generating a lot of power, and he just needed to stay calm and throw with rhythm. Meanwhile, Kristjan went 67.81m on his second attempt, and then 70.35m on his third!
This made it not so easy to throw with rhythm and technical feeling. When an opponent hits a big throw like that, it is only natural to get crazy and try to kill your next one, but Daniel kept things nice and easy and threw 69.99m.
Kristjan fouled in round four, and Daniel improved to 70.21m.
It is not usual to be in second place after a throw like that, but when the world is your playing field you have to expect surprises.
Kristjan hit 68.54m on his fifth throw, and Daniel fouled. Kristjan then threw 70.22m on his final attempt, so the 70.35m was no accident.
Daniel was left with one final chance to respond, and he did. He took the win with a throw of 70.55m.
This was, I think, the first time that two people threw over seventy meters since Virgilijus Alekna beat Gerd Kanter 71.56m to 70.96m in Kaunas in 2007.
My takeaway from this meeting was that, one, Daniel and Simon both showed capacity for bigger throws in the future, and two, Kristjan Čeh is for real. To throw a PB against the World Champion is impressive, and he himself is likely to be a future champion if things keep going as they have.
Also, Daniel showed once again that his experience and training have made him a fierce competitor. When Kristjan made those big throws, Daniel had to elevate his game in order to beat him, and he was able to do that.
Next time, I will give comments on more competitions from this busy part of the season, and I still have much to say about my shot putters Fanny and Marcus as well.