"In The Ring with Coach V" by Vésteinn Hafsteinsson with Dan McQuaid. Issue #4: Fukuoka
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 first three posts, Vésteinn related his impressions of a crazy six-meets-in-fifteen-days period that he, Daniel Ståhl and Simon Petterssen had to navigate prior to embarking for Japan.
In this piece, Vésteinn reports on life in their Fukuoka training camp.
We flew to Fukuoka from Copenhagen on June 12th and arrived here around 9:00am local time. Because of the Covid protocols, it took five hours from when we landed to when we finally made it to the hotel.
The Japanese people are very pleasant, but the Covid procedures are very strict. We have an app that we had to download to register our health every day. We also have to do a PCR test every day.
On our first day here, we could only leave the hotel to go to training. Since then, we are allowed to walk on the beach, which is nearby, each day between the hours of 6:00-9:00am and 4:00-7:00pm. Other than that, we are supposed to be on our floor in the hotel or in the large team room set up for Swedish athletes.
We are allowed to eat together, but each table is divided into five places by plastic dividers. The serving sizes are quite small compared to what an American or European is used to, but the food is served buffet style and the dining area is open all the time, so you can eat as much as you want.
When new groups of Swedish athletes arrive, they are kept in a kind of quarantine for three days. We cannot eat with them or hang out with them. They are allowed to train right away, but for three days they must be transported separately from those of us who arrived earlier.
That first day in Fukuoka, we rested in order to begin recovering from the travel. The next day, we trained twice. There are three throwing areas here: the infield in the main stadium, a throwing field beside the stadium, and a dirt hammer field.
When we showed up at the stadium for our throwing session that first morning, we were told that the only ones allowed to practice there that day were the soccer players. As always, the Japanese staff was very nice about the situation, but they are very strict about following orders, so our boss--the head of the Swedish team--had to call their boss to get things straightened out.
This kind of thing is not uncommon when you travel. Once, when we did a training camp in Spain we were told, “No training on Sundays.” Of course, during a training camp we have to train on Sundays, and after one or two days we got that worked out.
And this was one reason I wanted us to arrive in Japan as early as possible--to have time to work through any misunderstandings
So, after about thirty minutes, we were directed to the hammer field. Since that first session, we have trained either in the main stadium or the throwing field, and both facilities are just fine--as is the weight room.
Fanny, Daniel, and Simon all looked a little rusty in our first training session, but did pretty well.
It was around 2:00am back at home during that session. And it was very hot, 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit) and humid. It reminds me of the weather in Alabama when I was in school there. Because of his size, Daniel usually feels the heat more than the others, but we have our physio and our nutritionist with us, and they weigh Daniel every morning and evening and test his urine or saliva each day to make sure he is not getting dehydrated.
The training rhythm we have followed here is two days on, one day off. So, we trained on the 14th and 15th, rested on the 16th. We trained on the 17th and 18th, rested on the 19th. After those first two rounds, they began to feel acclimated to the time difference, so we were able to push a bit harder than we had initially.
We did our first “slam session” on the 20th. Slam sessions are practices where we take a limited number of throws, maybe six-to-ten, often at a pretty high intensity. In this case, I gave each of them one technical point to work on and asked that they take their throws at a medium effort focusing on feeling and technique rather than trying to throw far by going crazy and flying out of the ring.
In that session, Daniel threw 69.25m, Simon 66.20m, and Fanny 19.11m. I was happy with those results.
We do not need to see PBs in training at this point to know that we are ready to perform well in Tokyo. In his final slam session prior to the 2005 World Championships, Gerd Kanter threw 61.98m. My friend Nick Sweeney, the Irish discus thrower, was there and he told me not to worry. “The kid has been throwing damn good lately,” he said. “He’s going to do great in the competition.”
Nick was right. Gerd threw 68.57m and got the silver medal.
Rather than the results from one training session or one competition, it is the athlete’s overall body of work that will tell you if they are prepared to throw well.
For example, Fanny threw 18.52m at Bottnaryd in her final competition before we left for Japan. That’s not a great result when your PB is 19.34m. But, by any measure, Fanny has had an outstanding season. She broke the Swedish record seven times. She is ranked eighth in the world. Her average throw in her top ten meets this year is excellent. She almost always gets off a decent throw during her first three attempts--which is important in a qualification round.
And, that 18.52m that she threw when she had a “bad day” in Bottnaryd would get her into the final in Tokyo.
Based on all of that, I know she is in great shape, so we don’t have to look for confirmation by throwing PBs in a slam session.
While I am on the subject of Fanny, I want to point out another important aspect of preparing for a major competition. Every athlete is an individual, and it is important to figure out what type of training brings out the best performance for each person.
For example, Fanny, Daniel, and Simon are all doing either 3x3 or 5-4-3 in the weight room with loads of between eighty to ninety percent. But, with the guys we will lighten things up even more during the last couple of sessions before qualifying, whereas Fanny will continue to lift a bit heavier.
She will also do one extra slam session that the guys will not do.
The reason for this is that her work capacity is very different from that of Daniel and Simon. Even in the hot conditions here in Japan, she could probably take a hundred throws at full effort if I let her, whereas Simon would be done after twenty-five and Daniel--because of his unusual combination of size and explosiveness--might be worn out after ten.
Because of her high work capacity, she does not need as much rest as Simon or Daniel before a major competition, and resting her in the same way as those guys would probably throw her off her rhythm. So, we have taken that into account in planning her final practices before the Games.
Overall, I am very happy with how my athletes have handled themselves here in Fukuoka. This will be my tenth Olympic Games as an athlete and coach, and I have learned that the biggest challenge is to remember that for us, this is just another shot put meet or discus meet.
We have tried to make this easier for our athletes by coming early to Fukuoka so that they could experience their normal training routine for two weeks leading up to the Games. Thanks to the Swedish federation and to the Swedish Olympic Committee, we were able to bring our nutritionist, physiotherapist, and sports psychologist. They are doing their jobs, I am doing my job--which is to coach shot put and discus--and hopefully, this will make it easy for Fanny, Simon, and Daniel to focus on their job.
One final thought. I cannot emphasize enough that the last week of training or the last day of training or the last throw on the last day of training does not need to be perfect. Coaches, do not waste your athletes' energy by goading them into throwing PB's in training this week as a way of affirming that they are ready. If you have done your job all year, they are ready.