This weekend, I witnessed via my television screen one of the biggest blunders in college football. The situation of course was the fumbled snap, the re-fumbled recovery of that snap, and the subsequent recovery of that fumble for a last second touchdown. Michigan State wins and beats Michigan in their big in-state rivalry, and one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the football. The person who fumbled that snap has a name, and his name is Blake O’Neill. After October 17, 2015, every Michigan football fan will know his name. @blakewoneill on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets went crazy! The comparison of this young man’s blunder and Ray Finkle, the fictional character from the Ace Ventura: Pet Detective movie, are alive. I don’t know a lot about Blake O’Neill, but the little that I do know, and the bit of science has grown to help us understand performance, should tell us all he alone is not the only one to blame. Given his lack of situational experience any one of us could do the same thing, and the coaches had the primary responsibility to give him more situational practice. Read more
Back in April one of my articles went viral when I wrote that under the new Olympic standards are so high that Olympic javelin champion Keshorn Walcott would not have even qualified for the Games. The point of the article was that the standards are way out of line in some events, yet many people missed that point and quickly pointed out that Walcott would have never these been an Olympian. Even though he didn’t have the standard, the new qualifying system invites additional athletes to ensure a minimum field size of 32 athletes. Ranked 22nd in the world in 2012, Walcott would have been in London. It seemed so clear to the people responding to my article, but I was skeptical. Read more
When I read last week that the IAAF announced the Olympic qualifying standards, including an unbelievable qualifying standard of 83 metres in the javelin, my first thought was:
Please please can somebody stop these people from killing our sport!
I thought the IAAF was moving in the right direction after they released the new World Championships qualifying structure in November. As Kibwé wrote about last fall, the World Championship standards looked like they could help resurrect the hammer in America. They were tough, but gave athletes leaving college an achievable goal so that they would continue with the sport. But that honeymoon was short-lived. This week the IAAF announced the qualifying standards for the 2016 Olympics and the sport as a whole has taken a giant step backwards. Read more
In my career as an athlete, coach and trainer I have been challenged many times by other athletes, weekend warriors, and lay folk to do or try random things in training. There is a problem that social and mainstream media are creating. The problem is that the world is starting to confuse “working out” with training.
Track and field and bobsled have ties that go back a long ways. The bobsled requires a fast and explosive start, something that sprinters, throwers, jumpers, and hurdlers all possess. I highlighted some of the track stars entered in the men’s bobsled earlier in the week. And while the women’s bobsled is a relatively new sport added to the Olympics in only 2002, it has also quickly developed a connection to athletics. This year the US team has a very strong contingent of track athletes on the women’s bobsled team. Former summer Olympians Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams have been making most of the headlines, but they are not alone. Five of the six women on the US team have track backgrounds. Brakemen Aja Evans is profiled along with Jones and Williams below, but USA 2 pilot Jamie Greubel also competed in the heptathlon for Cornell and USA 3 pilot Jazmine Fenlator was a thrower at Rider University. Overall track and field is the most popular background for athletes, with well over a third of competitors from all countries coming from the sport.
The women’s bobsled competition will take place Tuesday, February 18th and Wednesday, February 19th. Twenty sleds from 13 countries will be competing. Unlike the World Cup circuit, where results are decided after two runs, the Olympic champion is determined by adding up the results of four runs. Below are 11 of the women’s competitors that have already reached an international level in track and field, in a rough ranking of their success off the ice. With two world champions, three Olympic medalists, and four World Championship medalists, these are athletes at the highest level. And as I mentioned earlier, they are just a few of the track and field athletes that will be competing in Sochi.
Lauryn Williams (USA 2), World Rank: 3
Sprint sensation Lauryn Williams has a chance to be fifth athlete and third woman to win a medal at both the summer and winter Olympics. As a brakeman in USA 2, she enters the Olympics ranked third in the world. She has already paired with her pilot, Greubel, several times on the World Cup circuit this year. At the last top in Austria they won and they also finished second together earlier in the season. In the summer Olympics she struck silver in the 100 meters at age 20 back in 2004. The next season she was world champion. With a personal best of 10.88 seconds, she was also a two-time world champion in the 4×100-meter relay, world championship runner-up in the 100 meters, three-time Olympian, and four-time World Championships competitor. Most importantly, she has an Olympic gold medal after running in the prelims of the 4×100 meters at the 2012 Olympics.
Update: Team USA made some changes in their lineup and shifted Williams to the USA 1 sled with pilot Elena Myers. As Myers is currently ranked second in the world, this further improves her medal chances and could make her the first woman ever to win gold at both the summer and winter Olympics.
Jana Pittman (AUS), World Rank: 18
Pittman has a resume just as impressive as Williams, however her medals chances will be slim in Sochi as Australia is far from a bobsled powerhouse. Pittman is a two-time world champion in the 400-meter hurdles with a personal best of 53.22 seconds. She also has a best Olympic finish of fifth.
Lolo Jones (USA 3), World Rank: 7
While she has the most name recognition of anyone competing in the bobsled, she has just the third best track credentials of those that have switched over to sliding. Still, there is a reason everyone knows her name. With a personal best of 12.43 seconds in the hurdles, she is a two-time Olympian and two-time World Championships competitor. Indoors she was also a two-time world champion over the 60-meter hurdles. Her best Olympic finish was fourth at the London games, however in 2008 she was ranked first in the world by Track and Field News and was leading the Olympic final before stumbling at the end of the race. In Bobsled Jones was on the podium already this year with other pilots on the World Cup circuit, but her chances of repeating that are less in Sochi since she will be in USA 3 and pilot Jazmine Fenlator. Their best finish together on the World Cup circuit this year was seventh but in a close race anything is possible.
Hanna Mariën (BEL), World Rank: 10
Mariën was a 200 meter specialist and holds the Belgian 200 meter indoor record. Her outdoor personal bests in the sprints are 22.68 seconds and 11.41 seconds over the 100 meters. In addition to making the European Championships semifinals over 200 meters, she competed extensively on the Belgian relay squad, earning a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics, bronze at the 2007 World Championships, as well as numerous other international appearances.
Judith Vis (NED), World Rank: 9
As a former 100m hurdler and heptathlete, Vis won four national titles. She also also competed at the 2003 World Championships in the former event after posting a personal best of 13.05 seconds.
Aja Evans (USA 1), World Rank: 2
Evans never qualified for a World Championship of Olympic team, but she was a standout shot putter and sprinter at the University of Illinois. That combination showed her great combination of speed and power which got her on the USA 1 sled. He best results were in the shot put, where she competed for the US and won bronze at the North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) Championships. She was also a five-time NCAA All-American and had a best was 17.08 meters (56’0.5″). In the bobsled she has already been on the World Cup podium five times this season. She has also been in bobsled longer than Williams and Evans, which gives her a bit more experience. Another interesting fact is that her brother is seven-year NFL veteran lineman Fred Evans of the Minnesota Vikings.
Update: As mentioned above, Lauryn Williams was moved to the USA 1 sled. As a result, Evans was bumped down to USA 2. However her podium chances are not changed that much since USA 2 pilot Jamie Greubel is also ranked third in the world.
Rebekah Wilson (GBR), World Rank: 13
Wilson is quite young and only left athletics recently, but in 2010 she competed as a member of the UK sprint relay team at the 2010 World Junior Championships.
Andreea Grecu (ROU), World Rank: 26
Even younger than Wilson, Grecu competed in the 100 meters at the 2011 World Youth Championships.
Olga Stulneva (RUS 3), World Rank: 12
As I said earlier in the week, brakemen tend to bring the better athletic backgrounds to the table, but a few pilots have also had elite track careers. Competing under her maiden name, Fyodorova, the Russian driver Olga Stulneva was an Olympic and World Championship medalist in the 4×100 meter relay. With personal bests 11.21 seconds in the 100 meters and 23.19 seconds in the 200 meters, Stulneva was able to contribute to the Russian relay squad that finished second in the Athens Olympics and third at the 2005 World Championships. She also competed in the open 100 meters at the 2005 World Championships.
Nadezhda Sergeyeva (RUS), World Rank: 27
Sergeyeva was an impressive heptathlete before starting bobsled. She placed third at the 2009 European Under-23 Championships and had a best of 6118 points.
Elfje Willemsen (BEL), World Rank: 10
Another pilot from track and field is Willemsen. As a junior she was a two-time world junior finalist in the javelin in 2002 and 2004. She posted a best of 52.70 meters (172’10”) as a junior.
The Olympic spirit is once again in the air. Many track athletes often forget that the Olympics also take place when it is cold outside, but on Friday the 2014 Winter Olympics will officially kick off. Not all track athletes forget though, since some will actually be there compete.
John Candy’s character in the movie Cool Runnings was correct in his assessment that sprinters have natural talent for the bobsled. While the Jamacian team is ironically one of the few sleds qualified for the Olympics without a track and field athlete on board, nearly every other country features a sprinter, thrower, or decathlete. And with sixty sleds from 22 countries competing in two events, that means a lot of track and field athletes are in Sochi.
Below are the those with the most success and international experience in the sport. This includes former World Championships medalist, Olympians, and age-group standouts. But many more athletes have backgrounds in the sport that did not make my list. For example, Beat Hefti, the Swiss pilot currently ranked second in the world, was never a track and field specialist but dabbled in athletics as a secondary sport and has dropped a 6.70 seconds over 60 meters. The time becomes even more impressive once you learn that his name is no misnomer: he weighs nearly 250 pounds. And many others have produced good times in the sprints or field events. Here are the best of the men, with statistics provided by the indispensible Tilatopaja Oy. Read the profiles of the the top female track stars competing in the bobsled here.
Joel Fearon (GBR 1, 4-Man), World Rank: 12th
Sprinters are represented more than any other event group and the fastest man in the field is Joel Fearon. You may not recognize Fearon’s name since he had his big breakthrough only last season when he posted a 10.10 second time over 100 meters. But after false starting in the semifinals at the UK Championships he was not able to secure a spot at the World Championships. He has made the national team in the past and competed over 60 meters at the 2011 European Indoor Championships. He will be teamed with John James Jackson, a veteran driver. Together they just placed fourth at the last World Cup event, but many of the top sleds were absent. But he has a good shot at a top 10 finish in Sochi.
Craig Pickering (GBR 1, 2-Man; GBR 2, 4-Man), World Rank: 20th 4-Man and 29th 2-Man
Another Brit is the most successful track athlete in the field. With a personal best of 10.14 seconds in the 100 meters, Beijing Olympian Craig Pickering switched to the bobsled a little more than a year ago. He left behind a great record, including World Championship bronze in the 4×100 meter relay at the 2007 World Championships, silver at the 2007 European Indoor Championships over 60 meters. He was the 100 meter World Youth bronze medalist back in 2003 and
won European U23 gold with the UK relay team in 2007.
Update: Pickering was forced to withdraw due to injury.
Bryan Barnett (CAN 2, 2-Man; CAN 3, 4-Man), World Rank: 10th in both 4-Man and 2-Man
Barnett is one of a few sprinters in the Canadian sleds. With personal bests of 10.22 seconds in the 100 meters and 20.31 seconds in the 200 meters his best individual result was making the World Championships semifinals in 2007. He had even more success in the 4×100 meter relay, where he competed at three World Championships and won silver at the Pan American Games.
Neville Wright (CAN 2, 4-Man), World Rank: 9th
On the track Wright had a personal best of 10.30 seconds. He competed at the 2007 World Championships on the Canadian 4x100m meter relay team. That same season he won bronze at the World University Games. Wright is teamed with driver Lyndon Rush, who won bronze in the 4-man event at the last Olympics. The team has been less consistent this season, but just placed third in the final World Cup last month.
Hisashi Miyazaki (JPN 1, 2-Man and 4-Man), World Rank: 25th 4-Man and 28th 2-Man
Miyazaki is one of the top Japanese sprinters. As a World Championship competitor in the 200 meters, he had a best of 20.53 seconds and also 10.28 seconds over the shorter distance. At 2009 Worlds he was also on the sixth place 4×100-meter relay squad.
Sebastien Gattuso (MON 1, 2-Man), World Rank: 24th
There are faster sprinters in the field that are not listed here, but veteran Gattuso was able to compete at the World Championships since he hails from Monaco. What is quite impressive is that his best of 10.53 seconds over 100 meters came at the age of 37.
Marko Hübenbecker (GER 1, 4-Man; GER 3, 2-Man), World Rank: 1st 4-Man and 11th 2-Man
The start is as much about power and explosiveness as it is about speed since the long 4-man sled weighs nearly 600 pounds empty. Throwers, therefore, also have a strong presence in the sport and the Germans use a few of them. Hübenbecker has one of the best background and also is the best medal threat among former track and field athletes. He competed in the World Youth Championships in the shot put back in 2003. After throwing the light shot put 19.03 meters he eventually improved to over 18 meters with the senior shot put as a young thrower. His sled is also the top ranked in the world for the 4-man event. Together with pilot Maximilian Arndt Hübenbecker already won the World Championships last summer.
Alexander Rödiger (GER 1, 4-Man), World Rank: 1st
Another former thrower for Germany is Alexander Rödiger. He competed at the World Junior Championships in the shot put back in 2004 with a personal best of 18.92 meters with the 6-kilogram shot put. Like Hübenbecker, he is on the strong Germany 1 sled that is one of the favorites. Unlike Hübenbecker, Rödiger will only be competing in the 4-man event.
Janis Strenga (LAT 1, 4-Man), World Rank: 7th
Strenga will be pushing for the strong Latvian sled driven by Oskars Melbardis. The Latvians are known for strong starts and won the recent St. Mortiz World Cup event. Strenga is a former javelin thrower. He competed at the World Junior Championships and had an impressive best of 71.96 meters as a junior.
William Frullani (ITA 1, 4-Man), World Rank: 17th
Another popular background is in the decathlon. Frullani placed ninth at the European Championships in the event and had a best of 7984 points. Indoors he placed even higher with a sixth place at the 2009 European Indoor Championships. He also claimed bronze at the European Under-23 Championships in 2001.
Thorsten Margis (GER 3, 4-Man), World Rank: 8th
Margis placed fourth at the World Junior Champions in the decathlon with a best of 7555 points. He eventually hit 7707 points with the senior implements.
Edwin Van Calker (NED 1, 2-Man and 4-Man), World Rank: 14th 4-Man and 26th 2-Man
The crewman end to bring the better athletic backgrounds to the table than pilots, but one of the top pilots is Edwin Van Calker. Calker placed fifth at the World Junior Championships way back in 1998. As a junior he hit 7089 points back when they used senior implements at that age.
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The 1890s were a tumultuous time for the hammer throw. The event was quickly transforming into the modern version and the scene was so chaotic that there wasn’t even a clear world record holder. It was similar to how boxing currently has multiple world champions in each weight class due to the numerous sanctioning bodies. The problem in the hammer was that there were no clear rules. You had a world record holder for throwing different weights. For throwing a hammer with a wooden handle or with a flexible handle. There were record for both the 7-foot, and 9-foot circles, and for throwing from a square. The only constant in these times was the winner: without fail it be an Irishman.
In part one and part two of my training talk with throwing great Ed Burke, we discussed his long journey to 1984 in which he retired after making two Olympic teams and then came back to throw a personal best at age 44 and qualify for his third Olympic team in 1984.
The last part of our training talk centers around that pivotal time. We start by talking about what the youth program he set up immediately after his second retirement that ended up producing hundreds of throwers and multiple Olympians. It started off as a simple idea and can serve as a template for helping growing the sport. Then we also talk about 1984 itself and what it was like to be selected and actual carry the American flag at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies.
Part 3: Youth Development and Carrying the American Flag
Martin: You had been away from the sport nearly 30 years before you came back as a masters athlete. Did you not throw the hammer at all during that time?
Ed: Oh no. Well, I shouldn’t say that. In 1985 I started the Explorer’s Post club with Mac Wilkins. I would demonstrate to the athletes and probably hold the world record for throwing the hammer in Rockport walking shoes.