The start of the 2010 season was huge for me. A personal best of just over two meters in some great wind conditions led me to many competitions over 65m. I still feel that my all time best performance thus far was at the Prefontaine Classic (Eugene Diamond League), where I threw 66.95m and was third just behind the likes of Zoltan Kovago and Piotr Malachowski. This allowed me some Diamond League points but for some reason immediately exiled me from two other Diamond League meetings to come? I had passed on the opportunity to compete in Monaco, as my wife and I where dead set on getting pregnant that summer. After being snubbed from 2 contests which I had already been invited, I competed after a 6 week layoff at the Zurich Diamond League Final, and in addition my season best of 69.90m qualified me for the Continental Cup (World Cup) in Split, Croatia.
After taking two weeks off at the end of September, I have already jumped back into training for 2014 and the first week is now behind me. During my time off I took some time to reflect on the last season. Whether I make this public or not, this is something I do every year. Some things are more clear in hindsight than they were at the time and everyone must must learn from these moments in order to continue to improve in the future.
I had just two goals to start out the season. Unlike many athletes, I do not define my goals in terms of how far I want to throw or what place I want to finish. I simply identify what I need to do to get better and then focus on that. After the 2012 season I was physically in the best shape of my life but I couldn’t translate that into the throw. Therefore my first goal was clear: my technique needed to get better. My only other goal related to my priorities for competitions. Rather than trying to hit a peak for the Swiss Championships, I wanted to shift my peak to the Jeux de la Francophonie this year. Having a later peak allowed me more time to prepare and hopefully reach better performances. With those two goals I started out towards the 2013 season.
You can learn a lot about a country based on what others notice about your country. For example, someone from a flat place might first notice the mountains when visiting Switzerland. Often our house guests from Seattle first comment on the graffiti they see in Zurich. It is only natural that we notice what is different.
I arrived in Nice on Sunday for the Jeux de la Francophonie and my chatty chauffeur from the airport talked about her own experiences visiting Switzerland. In Switzerland, she said, one thing stood out above all others: “the time is the time.” Perhaps she noticed this since the speciality here is definitely not organization. But unlike other places they can get away with that by providing such a warm and beautiful location on the French Riviera.
I am writing from the comforts of the Pacific Northwest, but on Friday night I was 5,000 miles away in Luzern competing in blistering heat at the Swiss Championships. As usual, I came in as the strong favorite and a mediocre first throw was good enough to secure the win and my fifth straight Swiss title. While the end result was not much better, it was a fun competition as always.
The day started off with some fireworks from some other throwers. Junior javelin thrower Lukas Wieland broke his own junior national record four times and ended up with a massive throw of 75.11 meters which puts him among the ten best junior throwers in the world this year. Simultaneously, the women’s hammer throw also produced some amazing results. Nicole Zihlmann also secured her fifth national title, but in doing so broke a number of barriers. Most importantly, she broke the Swiss record twice in the competition. Her throw of 61.54 meters also was her first time over 60 meters, just the second Swiss thrower ever over 60 meters, and qualified her for September’s Francophone Games in Nice. When it was time for the men’s competition, we also raised the level a bit. For the first time since 2007 we had five men over 50 meters. This might sound unimpressive, but considering that Swiss hammer throwing reached its low point in recent years (the silver was won with just 46 meters last year) it is promising if small step forward. Even more promising is that one of our youngest throwers, Robin Santoli, threw a personal best and his first podium finish.
There are two Irish sayings I became intimately familiar with this weekend. Our national javelin coach Terry McHugh, an Irishman himself, first warned us before the competition that if we didn’t like the weather we just had to wait five minutes since it would surely change. The second saying came when we asked a meet official if they thought it would rain on Saturday. He responded by quoting another Irish saying: “You see that hill over there? If you can see it, it will be raining soon. If you can’t see it, it’s already raining.” The conditions this weekend proved that both sayings are more than just jokes.
The Swiss team travelled to Dublin for the European Team Championships over the weekend. With nations like Hungary and the Czech Republic in our group, I expected a strong hammer competition and based on my season’s best I entered the meet ranked just 10th among the 12 throwers. But our team needed every point it could get to avoid being relegated to a lower division for next years competition and I knew I was capable of climbing up the rankings with a good throw.
I reached the end of my latest training program on Friday and was feeling in great shape heading into this weekend’s annual club championships, the Schweizer Vereinsmeisterschaften (SVM). The SVM is normally not the ideal setting to throw far with just four throws, one flight of 25 or more throwers, an early morning start, and no one near my level. But some great weather and a chance to throw in the Stade Olympique de la Pontaise, home of the Lausanne Diamond League meeting, was motivating to me and I was able to put together another solid meet with a throw of 64.38 meters. In addition to winning the hammer, I contributed some more points with a fifth-place finish in the discus. However it was not enough as our injury-plagued men’s team took second place by just three points.
With the meet behind me, it is time to start my next training phase and also a good time to reflect on the last training program. I had been training under the old program since the European Cup Winter Throwing at the end of March and it had obviously worked well since I improved more than four meters over the last two months and am way ahead of where I was last year at this time. However not everything went as planned since my best competition results came a month before the end of the program and I never really felt like I put everything together with the competition weight hammer.
One travel tip I forgot to include last week was the most important: be prepared for anything and be patient with those things you cannot prepare for. Even after years of traveling for competitions, there are still surprises and this weekend’s meet was no exception.
On Friday, I traveled together with my clubmates at LC Zürich to Dubnica nad Váhom in Slovakia for the European Champion Clubs Cup. As the Swiss club champions for both men and women, our club had the opportunity to represent Switzerland in a competition against the national champions of other nations. The Dubnica competition was the second league and a top two finish would lead to a promotion to the top league next season.
The whole weekend turned out to be a comedy of errors. After a plane delay, our bus was then pulled over by the police, turning a four hour journey into an eight hour adventure. Veteran discus throw David and I were given our room key after arrival and then headed upstairs to find an expansive room nearly empty except for one small solitary double bed.
It’s been a busy weekend. Over the past 48 hours I have competed twice and racked up nearly 600 miles on our rental car. I’ve competed at one of the best speciality meets in the world, won the hammer throw and a watch at the only Swiss Meeting that includes it, caught up with many friends, and returned home with enough time to do laundry before I have to return to work tomorrow. It was exhausting, but it was fun.
The first big event of the weekend was the Fränkisch-Crumbach international hammer meet in Germany. This is my fifth year at the event, which packs thousands of fans into the town park to gossip, grab a beer, and, of course, watch hammer throwing. I’ve written about how great the meet is every year, so there is little to add this year. Once again the meet management and fans did not let me down and I tied for my my highest ever finish at the meet.
Another week and another unplanned competition added to my schedule. This time I went to Olten yesterday for their season opening all-comers meet. I’ve had good luck in Olten the last few years and it continued yesterday afternoon as I launched a big season’s best of 65.27 meters and then got to watch two of the girls I coach also throw personal bests.
I followed up a decent result in Basel last week with a week full of season training bests from the 10-kilogram to the 7.26-kilogram hammer. I knew I was ready to throw in another meet. My technique did not quite hold up in Basel, but after the competition I knew I was ready for 65 meters this month. In Olten I also had the technique and, not surprisingly, my result was again over 65 meters. Other than one throw I abandoned, all throws were solid, stabile, and legal. I gradually built up in each round until my best throw arrived on my also attempt. I’ve included a video of that throw below.
I returned from Tuscany on Saturday, but my training camp actually ended only yesterday since I still had a few extra vacation days remaining to focus on training back here in Zurich. Overall the training camp was a success. Above all I have come back to Zurich refreshed with renewed energy to start the core of the season. I have also made definite technical progress, which is more and more difficult as I approach my 30th birthday. As I explained at the start of the camp, my technical goal was to get get more radius after landing on the first turn. Rather than utilizing an early double support phase to patiently push the hammer, I try to force the hammer around and thereby reduce the radius of the implement. I focused on this point entirely for the last two weeks and it seems to have paid off. While the error is still there, my small improvements are now present in nearly every throw rather than just one or two throws each session. And I had a my best results with every implement so far in this training cycle. In the coming weeks I’ll post some more video showing the differences.
Despite the progress, I must say I still don’t quite feel comfortable with the new changes. Well, that isn’t quite right; the throws feel quite easy, but the overall feeling is somehow different. For example when the start goes well I often find myself doing something completely different at the finish. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad. But it is always a different feeling. It is just new territory that I visited in a while and it will take me a while to completely get used to it as I continue to progress with my technique.
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