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"In The Ring with Coach V" by Vésteinn Hafsteinsson with Dan McQuaid. Issue #2: Diamond League Disc

Vésteinn Hafsteinsson, one of the most accomplished coaches in the sport and himself a four-time Olympian, has agreed to share regular updates as he prepares his athletes for the Tokyo Olympics. Vésteinn will share insights on training, stories from his long career as a coach and athlete, and observations on the state of the sport.

In his last post, Vésteinn related his impressions of the discus competitions at Sollentuna, Karlstad, and Kuortane. That was just the beginning of a crazy busy time for his discus throwers. Here, he describes the discus battles at the Swedish Cup and the Oslo and Stockholm Diamond League Meetings.

The Swedish Cup (June 29th)

The Swedish Cup and the Oslo Diamond League meeting were both meant to take place earlier in the season, but because of Covid they were moved to June 29th and July 1st, which meant that the competition in Kuortane on June 26th began a period during which Daniel and Simon would have four meets in eight days. That was for sure not an ideal situation, but I had to figure out the best way to manage it. Diamond League meetings are where throwers make a little money and accumulate World Athletics ranking points, so skipping Oslo was not an option. I suggested to the guys that they skip the Swedish Cup, but in Europe track and field athletes are members of clubs, and the Swedish Cup is a big deal for those organizations. Simon and Daniel feel loyalty to their clubs, and they wanted very much to represent them in this meet, so I came up with the idea of treating it as a training session.

I gave them each one technical point to focus on and told them that I wanted to see six legal throws at submaximal effort. In Daniel’s case, I wanted all six throws to be over sixty-five meters. For Simon, sixty-two meters or better.

The conditions that day were very hot with a swirling wind that kept fading, then picking up, then changing direction. On some throws, there was no wind. On some there was a little tail wind. During one or two rounds, there was a helpful wind.

I was very happy with the results. Daniel and Simon each threw one out of the sector and otherwise had five legal attempts. Simon’s best was 65.23m and Daniel had three throws over sixty-eight meters with a best of 68.65m.

Afterwards, we did a weight lifting session.

You may be wondering why, during a hectic period with lots of competitions, we would take the time and energy to lift weights on the same day as one of those competitions.

This is why:

I heard recently from a thrower who is traveling in Europe that he has not done weight training in something like fourteen days. I have heard this also from other throwers over the years. They get caught up in the travel and competitions and do not think about how to maintain a rhythm in their training. The result is that after a while the body does not know what it is supposed to be doing and the athlete loses their feel for throwing.

Careful planning is necessary to prevent this. For most of my time coaching Gerd Kanter, I also acted as his agent and was in charge of making his travel arrangements for competitions. This consumed a lot of time, but it allowed me to make arrangements in a way that we were able to keep the rhythm of his training. For example, we often tried to make it possible for him to do a weight lifting session right after a competition before traveling to the next destination. For an afternoon meet, he would lift weights that same day. For a later meet, he would do our weight lifting the morning after, before heading to the airport.

This meant making a lot of phone calls to find places for him to train, and it meant finding flights at just the right times, but over the course of Gerd’s career, this allowed him to have literally hundreds of training sessions that he’d have lost if we had not been so careful about arranging his schedule.

This consistency in training allowed Gerd to win two Olympic and five World Championship medals and to throw over seventy-meters six years in a row.

That is why it was important for Simon and Daniel to have a weight lifting session the evening of the Swedish Cup. It allowed them to maintain the rhythm and consistency of their training.

Oslo (July 1st)

In the Oslo Diamond League meeting, Daniel and Simon went up against many throwers who are expected to contend for a medal in Tokyo, including Lukas Weißhaidinger, Andrius Gudžius, Fedrick Dacres, and once again, Kristjan Čeh.

It was a good opportunity to compare Simon to these Olympic contenders, and I was very happy with what I saw. He threw 64.52m on his second throw, and then put the gas on maybe a little too much to try to make the top three. He fouled his last three attempts, but finished in fifth place overall and once again showed a lot of capacity and determination.

Daniel had been working on creating more horizontal power in his turn out of the back and sprint across the ring, and this was the best he’s done with that so far this year. Unfortunately, he was scooping the discus a bit at the finish, and so his throws were going too high.

Even so, he produced the four farthest throws of the day, including a best of 68.65m.

In the sixth-round “final” as featured in the new Diamond League format, Daniel, Kristjan and Lukas Weißhaidinger were each given one attempt to decide the top three places. Weißhaidinger threw first and went 61.03m, then Kristjan put one out to 65.72m.

Daniel scooped his throw badly, launching it very high and with the front edge raised up. But, sometimes it pays to be very big and very strong, and his throw measured the exact same distance as Čeh’s--65.72m.

Daniel was awarded first place because he had the farthest throw from the first five rounds, and I was happy because he had no fouls and once again demonstrated the capacity to produce big throws once he finds his best rhythm.

People have asked me what makes Kristjan Čeh so good, and so I will touch on this.

One thing that stands out is that, for a young guy, Kristjan is very cool and calm.

He goes into the circle with good focus, and doesn’t rush things. He is 2.06m tall and uses his levers to good effect. He achieves good separation and flies the discus well, and when he hits it, it goes a long way because he is so long.

In relation to how young he is, he is the best that ever lived. I could see him throw in no wind sixty-eight or sixty-nine meters, which will make him a medal contender in Tokyo.

Of course, with Daniel’s size, strength, and experience, he might have the ability to throw seventy-one or seventy-two meters with no wind, so any time he has a good day he will be hard to beat.

As with Kuortane, and the Swedish Cup, I was happy with what I saw from my guys in Oslo. As I said, Daniel showed enormous capacity by throwing 65.72m straight up in the air, and Simon compared very well to the expected contenders in Tokyo.

Stockholm (July 4th)

On June 29th at the Swedish Cup meeting, Daniel threw 68.65m. On July 1st at the Oslo Diamond League meeting, he threw 68.65m. In Stockholm it was 68.64m.

That consistency was developed through years of hard work, travel, and competition. And right now, it puts him in a league of his own. At some point, I will tell the story of how he got to this place where he makes throwing sixty-eight meters meet after meet in different stadiums, different countries, different conditions look easy, but for the moment I will just say that Daniel is a true professional. He understands the importance of taking care of business. He has a team of eight or nine people behind him of which I am the coordinator. That team includes a nutritionist, a physiotherapist, and a mental coach all working to help him achieve his potential. But, our efforts would mean nothing if Daniel did not buy in.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? You come to practice on time every day and give your full effort. If you have an appointment with the mental coach, you show up. If you need to lift weights after a meet in order to maintain the rhythm of your training, you go to the weight room and do the job.

But, you’d be surprised how many talented athletes cannot commit themselves to behave like professionals. They cannot stand the constant travel required to become a top competitor. They would rather go for a beer after a meet instead of doing their weight training. If it is a holiday, they want to relax and not have a throwing practice, a weight lifting session, and an appointment with the nutritionist on that day.

I have had this discussion recently with Sven Martin. He came to me in 2020 to try to restart his career, which had gone badly since he nearly made the Olympic final in 2016. I asked him to send me video from all of his 2019 meets, and it turns out he only competed in three, all in Norway where he lives. So, he really wasn’t even in the game.

After working with him for a year, I know that Sven Martin has the potential to throw very far and contend for medals, but he must commit himself to the life of a professional. And that might not be easy for him. He is a very smart, well-educated guy. He is married. He has a lot of opportunities available to him outside of throwing that he will have to put off if he chooses to live this life. But if he wants to be a factor at the 2024 Olympics, he must embrace life as a professional thrower and all the work and responsibility that comes with it.

Back to the Stockholm meet.

One thing that made me happy was what I saw from Daniel during warm ups. I do not recommend that athletes waste energy trying to throw PBs in warm ups. It is actually an important part of a thrower’s development to get past the phase where they need the confirmation of big warm up throws in order to have confidence that they will throw well in the competition. Often, the opposite happens, and a thrower who produces big throws in the warm up has nothing left when the competition begins.

When I was starting my career as a thrower, I was lucky to spend time in the San Jose area of California where some of the best in the world, guys like John Powell, Mac Wilkins, and Al Feuerbach, lived and trained.

Mac and Al had a house in the Santa Cruz mountains, and for a while they held a shot put and discus meet called “The Two Big Guys Mountain Games.” The discus was held at a high school in San Jose, but the shot put competition took place in their backyard. There was a big mud wall at the back of the shot put landing area labelled “23.08m” so everyone could see how far it was. Dave Laut competed the year I was there. Bishop Dolegiewicz was there. And, of course, Brian Oldfield came with his “fan club” which was a group of kids who followed him everywhere. He loved putting on a show for those kids, and he went absolutely nuts during warm ups, screaming and flying out of the circle with his tank top barely covering him. One of his throws hit the wall a half a meter up!

Then, in the competition, he threw something like 21.70m. Brian won and he put on a great show, but this is not the way for most athletes to warm up.

In 2016, the first time Marcus competed at the European Junior Championships, he took something like fifteen warm up throws. Then, he threw lousy in the competition.

I had to convince him that he didn’t need to work so hard warming up, and that he would throw better if he took it easy. A year later, he took two warm up throws at the European Juniors, each one maybe twenty meters, and then in the competition he threw 21.36m with the 6k shot and won.

After that, he trusted me that warm ups are not the time to search for confirmation that you are a good thrower.

But, what Daniel did in the warm up in Stockholm was different. He was not showing off or feeling insecure, just taking care of business, and probably not many people noticed when he threw a non-reverse sixty-nine meters. But to me, that throw showed that he has the capacity to go much farther when he finds his best rhythm with his full technique.

This is similar to how Ryan Crouser apparently felt when he threw 22.92m on his first qualification attempt at the US Olympic Trials using a static start. When asked afterwards why he bothered to take a second throw instead of saving energy for the final, he said that 22.92m was a huge PB with the static start, and throwing so far with something less than his full technique made him feel like he had the capacity to maybe break the world record right then and there. He used his normal windup on his next attempt, but did not get the timing right and “only” threw 22.64m. But, that night in the final he did break the world record with a throw of 23.37m, so he was right about his capacity.

So again, even though Daniel “only” threw 68.64m during the competition, the capacity he showed in warm ups was very encouraging.

I was also encouraged when he threw well in the sixth round in this ridiculous format that the Diamond League is now using. In the women’s shot put, it looked like the three “finalists” were mostly worried about getting a legal throw, so they slowed down and threw lousy.

In the discus, Kristjan Čeh went first and threw 64.74m after throwing 66.32m earlier in the competition. Andrius Gudžius was next, and he hit 63.43m after having thrown 66.97m in round three.

I told Daniel, “You just go in there and put your technique together and just throw--no ‘security’ bullshit.” He did, and reached 68.23m.

Simon’s series of 65.19m and then four fouls looks terrible in the protocol, but as with Daniel I like the capacity Simon is showing and also the fact that he keeps beating people. Before this, he had never beaten Lukas Weißhaidinger. I realize that Lukas did not have his best day, but as I said before, part of a thrower’s development is getting used to beating the top people so you don’t go into a competition like the Olympics doubting that you belong there.

Simon was irritated like crazy after the meet, but I told him to think about where he was a year ago and where he is now--a strong contender to make the final at the Olympic Games.

Next time, I will maybe give another update on the discus throwers, but I also want to talk about the season that Fanny Roos has put together. It is a pretty good story.

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