Friday, August 31, 2012

Images are Imaginary

Here in the United States we are in an election year. For various reasons this election seems to be one of the most divisive that I can remember. I have never been rich enough to be a republican and I am not liberal enough to be a real democrat, so I have voted for candidates from both parties over the years as well as even a few from outside of the major parties. I have been following all of the candidates this time and am still forming opinions. Now that we are down to the final two candidates, there are things I like about both platforms and things that I don't agree with as well. I have been inspired by the Republican convention and am looking forward to the Democratic convention next week. I have to admit that this episode below was a little frustrating.
Why do we give so much credibility to actors and performers?
They are obviously skilled at projecting an image, but why do we trust them to sell us weight loss products, exercise equipment, or insurance, let alone politicians?
I have always enjoyed Clint Eastwood's films over the years from the "spaghetti westerns" to dirty Harry, but he seemed out of place in this venue. I wonder which celebrities the democrats will trot out now?
Anyway, what does this have to do with training? Don't waste your time with anything that needs to solicit or pay for a celebrity endorsement. Study, talk to real people, and trust your own experiences.
Take advice from people who deal with experiences and problems like yours. Most of all, remember that images are imaginary, life is real.
 Trust real people.

This is the Clint Eastwood we know and love doing what he does best.........

Monday, August 27, 2012

"In Defense of Bondarchuk"

Orrin Whaley, Utah State champion and state record holder and full-time student, part time worker, adapts training to conditions. Currently Orrin is serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Tampa, Florida.

Below is a post that Martin Bingisser posted on his site recently. It is titled "In Defense of Bondarchuk". For those non-track athletes, Dr. Bondarchuk is a world reknowned track coach, formerly of the Soviet Union, who coaches throwers in Canada now. He is especially sought after as a Hammer coach. He is a former world class thrower himself and has coached something like 18 throwers who have exceeded 80 meteres. He is a well respected author of books and articles on training methods as well.

There are some in our Western Hemisphere that are ennamored by anyone with a foreign accent and automatically jump on every new bandwagon that claims to come from behind the former Iron Curtain.
There are others who are skeptical of anything outside of their own experiences and refuse to try anything they aren't already familiar with.
Neither approach will get you very far.
Martin makes this point. Bondarchuk hasn't reproduced the type of athletic success in the free world that he was able to do in a more controlled system, yet his methods deserve investigation by anyone who is serious about reaching their potential. While I do not claim to be an expert on his methods, it seems to me that his underlying premise is that each athlete must be coached individually to achieve the highest possible results.
While there is no magic "one size fits all system" that can insure universal success, there are some constant basic truths that must be respected. Study, observe, learn and adapt.
Who can argue with that?

Bondarchuk is my coach after all, so there is no doubt which side of this argument I will come out on. But the arguments against Bondarchuk’s methods appear at first sight to have some merit and are often repeated by those advocating a traditional approach to throws training. After a disappointing performance by many of Bondarchuk’s athletes at the Olympics, it is only a matter of time before these critics come out again.

Much of what makes Bondarchuk hard to understand is that people were first introduced to his ideas through word of mouth in the 1980s. This led to misunderstandings. Then came the translated books, which only led to more misunderstandings. At its core, his ideas are really simple. That is what I explained in my article Simplifying Bondarchuk, and what I try to do on this site too. If you want a better explanation on anything I discuss, feel free to contact me since I do not keep any secrets regarding training. The “against” argument is right in that throwing far comes down to technique, special strength, and various other elements. But the argument also overlooks that Bondarchuk’s program is one of the few that talks the talk and walks the walk, rather than simply speaking about the importance of technique and then spending all the time in the weight room.

Bondarchuk’s performance does indeed get more complex when you get into the periodization. Sure it is easier to take a cookie cutter program from a training book and give it to every athlete in your program, but this ignores the individuality of each athlete. As a coach you have to invest time in learning about the athlete and invest energy in observing them. People can learn about Bondarchuk’s periodization from a book or lecture, but they cannot learn experience and learn about their athlete from a book. This requires time and patience and then the nature of today’s competitions can throw everything off just as easily. There is a reason that most of the top throwers were not at their best in London: it is hard to peak correctly when you factor in travel, a six-month long season, and the pressure of a big meet.

Bondarchuk also does have the advantage of working with some talented athletes. This is true; Dylan and Kibwe can be classified as freaks. Dylan could likely be a world class Olympic lifter or football player if that is where his heart led him. Kibwe also has a unique combination of speed and power for a hammer throw. But both have achieved more with Bondarchuk than they had with their previous coaches. Even Adam Nelson and others have said Bondarchuk’s system only works for Dylan due because he started out very strong to begin with. This ignores the fact that Bondarchuk has coached many more non-freaks. Justin Rodhe had barely thrown 18 meters before training with Bondarchuk at age 23. In fact, even that 18 meter throw was kind of a fluke since he consistently threw only in the 16 to 17 meter range. Five years later he is now steadily close to 21 meters and has a personal best of 21.11 meters. Even world record holder hammer thrower Yuri Sedych was rarely described as a freak. Compare him with Jud Logan or of the other throwers he routinely dominated and you would never say Yuri had the most talent.

In addition, measuring the success of Bondarchuk’s ideas goes beyond his own athletes. You have to look at the other coaches and athletes that implement his system. That means people like 2008 Olympic champion Primož Kozmus, Olympic finalist and 2010 World Junior Champion Sophie Hitchon, Oceania junior record holder Julia Ratcliffe, or the numerous other Russian and Ukranians that implement his principles. Top German coach Michael Deyhle even credits Bondarchuk as his greatest influence. The variety of athletes that have succeeded under his system are varied provide further proof that he is on to something. And just because a few did not live up to expectations in London does not refute all of his ideas. There are just as many people using traditional methods that also underperformed, just like there are other systems that produced top results.


Utah's Strongest Man uses a variety of training methods.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Food Coaches?

Is this what a "Food Coach" will look like?

Food Coaches? Only in American football I guess. They have coaches for quarterbacks, running backs, linemen, tight ends, recievers, linebackers, defensive backs, defensive linemen, defensive ends, defensive and offensive coordinators, kickers, punters, and whatever else, not to mention the strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers. So, of course, to remain competitive and stay ahead of the crowd a top tier team now needs a "food coach." Will they soon be designated as breakfast coaches, lunch and dinner coaches and snack coaches? I am qualified as an ice cream eating coach. I can coach both speed and endurance eating when it comes to ice cream.
Seriously, any serious athlete will enhance their performance by applying sound nutrition principles. Having a nutritionist available to consult with can be very helpful. In the past decade many programs have such a person available to cover all the teams. With so many books, websites, and other information available most serious athletes in individual sports such as track, weight lifting, gymnastics,..etc. do their own research and find what works for them. Leave it to football, the ultimate "team (and mindless herd mentality) sport" to develop the need for a "food coach" to tell the players what to eat.

CHICAGO, IL. (Daniel Johnson, Missouri Sports Magazine) – “Food coaches” are becoming as hard for colleges to find as accurate, strong-armed quarterbacks, but 14 of the nation’s top 25 college football teams in USA Today’s preseason coaches’ poll have hired at least one full-time sports registered dietitian (Sports RD) in the past few years to shift emphasis from feeding athletes to fueling them. All four teams that competed in the last two NCAA Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) title games—national champions Alabama and Auburn and runners-up LSU and Oregon, respectively—had Sports RDs on staff throughout the season. Eight of the top nine ranked schools this year kick off with full-time Sports RDs, while the other one, fourth-ranked Oklahoma, relies upon an on-site sports nutritionist who is aided by the best known Sports RD in the country. Sports RDs, or “food coaches” as football coaches often refer to them, are finally part and parcel of a well-rounded athletic program, relied upon now to deliver the same level of day-to-day support for athletes that athletic trainers and strength coaches have been providing for decades. The Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA), which originally formed in 2009 to facilitate information-sharing in an increasingly specialized field, now faces a dilemma few industries are experiencing in these difficult economic times: more demand than supply. “We’re lending all the assistance we can right now to top athletic departments like Michigan State, Clemson and North Carolina State that are searching for experienced Sports RDs, but it’s getting more difficult all the time,” said CPSDA President Amy Bragg, Director of Performance Nutrition for the defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide. Third-ranked USC just hired longtime Sports RD Becci Twombley away from UCLA; and the University of Illinois recruited seasoned Sports RD Chelsea Zenner from the University of Florida this week, creating two more vacancies that coaches would like to fill. “Sports RDs have long since transcended the pre-game meal,” explains Dave Ellis, longtime advisor to Oklahoma’s athletic department and a 30-year veteran of sports nutrition. “We’re in the recovery business–replenishing athletes’ expended calories with healthy whole foods and safe nutritional supplements—and the best coaches and athletic directors realize there’s a science to that.” Visit CPSDA at www.SportsRd.org. See schools with full-time Sports RDs here: Full-time Sports RDs SOURCE Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association Web Site: http://www.SportsRd.org

Friday, August 17, 2012

Russian Weightlifting

A video of the Russian team as they prepare for London. It is interesting to note that the Russians have not won a weightlifting gold medal in either Beijing or London....But before they are counted out, remember, they did win 6 medals and were eligible to field a full men's and women's team. Several of the former Soviet Union nations won medals as well. Klokov, who is one of the subjects of this video, was held out for "unspecified medical reasons" and did not compete. Of course most knowlegable followers of the sport feel that this "condition" had to do with not being able to pass the drug testing. At any rate, it is interesting to watch and read the english subtitles with the benefit of hindsight.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Great Facility to Last a Lifetime

The Bishop Gorman High School Weightroom
Below is an article about the design of the Bishop Gorman high weightroom in Las Vegas, Nevada. As the article states, they have had a top athletic program and wanted a weight room that would fit their own philosophy. It certainly reflects a lot of thought and planning and will serve them well. As I have stated in earlier posts, personally I don't really like having  the platforms encumbered with racks and benches. Of course I want racks and a benches, just not cluttering up my platforms. Of course these self-contained units are all the rage these days and if your program views squats and benches as core lifts, and limits quick lifts to power and/or hang versions of cleans or snatches, then these work well enough. However I teach full snatches and cleans and overhead work and view those as the core of our program. We believe that these lifts need space unencumbered with benches and racks. Squats and various bench presses are also important, for sure, so heavy duty stations are provided for those as well. Below is a short video clip of our facility which I was fortunate enough to design to meet our philosophy. I imagine most coaches would be happy to be able to train their teams in either one, but the designs reflect differences in philosophy and needs. Our current facility does not have Samson equipment, but my impressions of their products is that they do a great job. The heavy duty LifeFitness/Hammer Strength stuff we have meets our needs along with the Eleiko sets. That was our highest priority, to get the best bars and bumper plates possible. Once we got those, we built the room around the barbells. We have York barbells in the power racks. Eleiko bars so not belong in racks. We chose Hammer strengths for our machine units as there are no cables or weight stacks to maintain. We have chosen machine units that allow us to supplement the work on the platforms such as a pullover unit, ground based rotation unit, lat machine, ...etc. My best advice to anyone designing a weight room is design your facility around your program. Don't let the facility dictate your program.

Bishop Gorman High School, located in Las Vegas, Nev., is home to one of the top high school football programs in the country. In fact, BGHS sets the bar nationally in every athletic sport. So when the time came to build a new weightroom and athletic complex, no detail could be left out and every square inch of the massive new facility had to be customized to the coaching staff’s extremely detailed preferences.

Having dealt with Samson Equipment in the past, Sean Manuel, BGHS’s Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, knew he only had one call to make. Coach Manuel traveled to Samson Equipment’s headquarters in Las Cruces, N.M., to personally go over his very specific designs for the new equipment, as well as provide input on how to modify existing equipment to flawlessly marry his older racks with his new equipment. All of the new equipment was to be placed onto a brand new, custom Mondo Floor that included a large school logo as well as inlaid platforms for his “power stations.”

It was vital for Coach Manuel to seamlessly marry his older equipment with his new equipment, as well as have each customization look exactly as he envisioned. This was no problem for Samson Equipment, since brand new design software enabled Coach Manuel to see the projected designs three dimensionally, as well as extremely detailed and close up.

Going the extra mile on custom designs is one of the ways Samson Equipment sets itself apart from other equipment companies. The other way is the extreme durability of its equipment. The durability allowed Samson Equipment to use older racks in conjunction with new equipment. While inferior equipment would have stuck out like a sore thumb, the flawless marriage proved that Samson Equipment is built to last.

For BGHS, the end result speaks for itself. The school now has 18 complete power stations, with each containing built-in band pegs, custom chin up bars and rotating chin up handles, rotational bar sleeves or “malaks” firmly secured on the front of each rack, custom band and chain storage within the racks themselves, two single leg squat pads with storage, and built-in bumper plate and Olympic plate storage. Add custom paint, upholstery colors, and custom embroidery to each station, and you not only have a great looking facility, but one that will last a lifetime and look unlike any in the country.

Since 1976, jobs such as the one at BGHS have been commonplace for Samson Equipment. But now more than ever, Samson’s unique design capabilities, new products, and new philosophy combined with the same famous durability of equipment and great customer service proves the company is a force to be reckoned with for decades to come.

Samson Weight Training Equipment



Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mac Wilkins

                           Mac Wilkins, one of the United States' greatest all-around throwers.

Below is a great interview with a man, who in my way of thinking, epitomizes what it is to be an elite athlete in the free world. Mac tells it like he sees it with all of the ups, downs, and challenges. It's a very interesting story for anyone aspiring to compete at the highest level. His career began almost by accident and he had to fight both the establishment and his own sense of priorities. The result was an amazing athletic career, followed by success in business, then back to athletics. I appreciate Mac's candor as well as  his knowlege and understanding. A good read........

Though he also threw the javelin and put the shot at the University of Oregon, Wilkins's greatest accomplishments came with the discus. He made four straight U.S. Olympic teams and returned home with a gold medal in 1976, a silver in 1984, and a fifth-place finish in 1988. Wilkins is also the first man ever to throw the discus more than 70 meters, and he held the world record for over two years, bettering his own mark three times between April 1976 and August 1978.

He retired from competitive throwing at the national championships in 1989 and went into computer technology sales. In 2000 he began handing out fliers for a throwing club, and he is now the throws coach at Concordia, a Christian university in Portland.

* * *

I tell people I'm a coach. I tell them I'm a teacher. Or a mentor.

It means you're guiding young people out past toward maturity and growth, pursuing their passion, and most of the time that passion is focused on throwing. I'm not a drill sergeant. I'm not a high school football coach. Like my college coach Bill Bowerman, I prefer not to be called "Coach." We had our taste for that word tainted by bad experiences in high school from football coaches.

* * *

When I was a kid, I'd go out and play. I'd come home from school and go out and play every afternoon until it was dark and I had to come in for dinner. I just wanted to go out and play. I liked sports. It was fun. And when I got to junior high school I thought I'd go out for track to help my conditioning and coordination for football and basketball.

My dad went to the University of Oregon and was a well-known athlete. He played three years in the NFL and he was an All-American basketball player and a semi-pro baseball player and a scratch golfer and all that kind of stuff, and so I had the heritage to be an athlete. And I was really lucky. My dad never pushed me into sports. He encouraged me, but he never really made a big deal out of it.

I was 13 years old when I first went out for track, just to improve my conditioning and coordination for basketball and football, and I wanted to be a miler. The coach wouldn't let me run the 880, which was the longest race they had, but I did get to try the hurdles and I ran on a relay team, and he had me throw a shot because I was tall and fairly coordinated. And I was pretty good at the shot put. And then when I got to high school, for the same reasons, the coach had me pick up the discus and I was fairly good at the discus. And by the time I was a senior in high school the coach was afraid that he wasn't going to have any hurdles left because I kept hitting them too hard and breaking them, so he had me stop running the hurdles and I was stuck with the shot put and discus.

In Oregon they throw the javelin in high school, so as a senior I picked up the javelin and was very successful with that fairly early, fairly quickly, and without very much coaching. And I really think the javelin was my natural and best event. But I had a couple of letters from small colleges to play basketball, and I thought that was really a cool deal. I didn't know if I was good enough to play a varsity sport. And then my senior year I won the state meet in the discus throw and Bill Bowerman talked to me about coming to Oregon to do track, and so I was a thrower.

* * *

I was in the same class with Steve Prefontaine, and he was world-famous before he got to college. He made the U.S. national team as a senior in high school, and toured Europe with the U.S. team as a senior in high school. And he came to college and was wearing USA national sweats and that's like …. I don't know what to say that's like. There's nothing like that. I mean, you can go buy an official NFL jersey. Big deal. Who cares? But you couldn't, at least back then, you couldn't go buy a USA national team jersey. And he had one and he wore it sometimes, and he'd hang it up in the window of his dorm room to let it dry and stuff like that.

And some people thought he was cocky and some people thought he was arrogant and it's easy to come by that, but he's 19 years old, and he had his priorities so clear. He was so clear on what he wanted out of life, and what he had to do to get it. Some hot babe would ask him if he could go out with her Friday night, and he'd say, "I don't know. Let me check my schedule. I think I have a hard workout Saturday morning." And I'm watching this from 15, 20 feet away and I can't believe it. I was 19 years old and just having a fun time. And he was 19 years old and one of the best in the country.

I was always kind of puzzled about his attitude and behavior, and then I realized that, because he was 19 and from a blue-collar town on the Oregon coast, he wasn't very socially skilled. I mean, he wasn't a complete bozo, but, you know, he's 19. He's a 19-year-old guy and on the national team in high school.

But he was so clear about his priorities and what he wanted to do and what he needed to do to be successful and to improve. And I was right there at the same point about six months after he died. He passed away in May of 1975, and at that time I was becoming like him. I didn't realize it until later. I was a little bit gruff and a little bit impolite at times. It was only when I thought people were getting in the way of what I needed to do, and what I wanted to do was be the best thrower that I could be. It just took me a while for my priorities to clarify and for me to have the passion and the desire to have the self-discipline to live those priorities on a daily basis. And he had that when he was 19.

He developed that much earlier than I did, and he was a runner. And yeah, I could relate to what distance runners went through, and I appreciated some of his races. He wanted to see who could stand the most pain. And he was going to stand more pain than you were. And you kind of have to do that when you're a thrower—the workouts are hard work. But it's also a skill thing. There's not a whole lot of skill in left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right for 10 minutes or however long you do it.

* * *

I really think my best event was the javelin. The problem is, I didn't really have anybody show me how to do it correctly. As a senior in high school and as a freshman I had a little bit of guidance, but it was from Bill Bowerman, who was a distance running coach. So at the start of my sophomore year I was getting more power into it, but in the wrong positions, and I blew out my elbow. And this was before Tommy John blew out his elbow, so there was no Tommy John surgery for me. I just struggled for the rest of the year and into my junior year, and finally in January 1972, my junior year in college, I decided I was going to give up the javelin and just focus on the shot and the discus. Go back to the good old shot and disc just to keep my scholarship for the last two years of college, then get a job and disappear into oblivion [laughs]. It was really depressing.

That January and February were not real pleasant times for me. I had given up the javelin. So one day I go out to train and I say, Oh, what the heck. Let's just give it a little extra effort today. And I did, and I got better and it went farther. And I thought that was kind of fun. What if I could that again tomorrow? And so pretty soon, I'm hooked on, Can I do it better today? And it was fun. I knew I could get better and I enjoyed it.

By the time I was a senior I won the NCAAs in the discus, and I was third in the shot put, and I also won the national AAU championship in the discus. And I thought that was really fun and really cool and I wanted to do more. And I knew I could get better. I knew I was barely reaching into my ability or my skill. And another thought that popped up was, Well, if I keep doing this for another three years and I don't get hurt or really screw up or go down or backwards, I might even make the Olympic team. Not that that was a huge, major goal, but it was just like, I can get better. I know I can get better. I know this isn't the end of the road. I know I can get better.

* * *

I competed much of my time against the Germans and the Soviets. And for them it was a big priority. It was a big deal, and it was a national thing. And yeah, there were abuses in what they did, but they also have an institutional knowledge of how you do things: the right way to perform the shot put or the discus or the hammer throw.

We have that in golf and we have that in tennis and to some degree probably pitching baseballs, but you certainly don't have that in the shot put or the discus or the javelin or the hammer. And so the knowledge exists in the world, but not very much in this country. And I thought it was such a waste of talent. So many people working so hard and pursing their dreams, and, to one degree or another, they were kind of clueless about what was really important to be successful.

It's a skill. The skill of throwing is very similar to the skill of swinging a golf club or a baseball bat, for that matter. And it's all timing and leverage and rhythm, except you have to be a lot stronger because the implements are heavier obviously.

Your life is certainly unbalanced. I mean, you're very narrowly focused and you're going a mile and half deep on one tiny little thing. And you have to give up other stuff. You give up a lot of things in life. A lot of it is not a normal, natural life. You're so focused. It's all about me. It's all about my performance. What's the most important thing for me to do right now so I can have peak performance at the most important meet of the year 10 months from now?

And that's what you think about constantly. And if it's a holiday and the gym's closed, you can't train. So it's not bad timing on your part. It's just the stupid gym's closed. It's horrible. I hate Thanksgiving because the gym's closed and you can't train. Come on. Just change the program so you don't have to lift weights on Thanksgiving. But that's not how you see it at the time.

It was all about, There are no limits. There are no limits. I have no restrictions. I have no inhibitions. And you can achieve anything that you set your mind to. There are no limits.

* * *

Starting in 1976, a regular part of my routine was to throw left-handed at the start and the finish of every workout. Now certainly that's not going to equal the same amount of stress on my left side that it put on my right side, but it would help balance things out a bit. There were also some stretching exercises that I did, and a sort of a power-walk kind of thing that I would do to stretch from side to side. And those were all things to help you extend your career.

I'm slightly larger on the right side than the left side. But tennis players are the exact same way.

My right side was slightly larger. You wouldn't so much notice it in my upper body, maybe a little bit in my lower body, my legs, but not nearly as much as a bowler or a tennis player.

At some point you're going to wear things out, especially with the javelin. The javelin's a very violent event. It's not nearly as gentle as throwing the shot, for example, relatively speaking.

It's a put because your hand and your elbow stay behind the ball, but you're really pulling the ball with your hips, just like the discus or a golf swing or a baseball swing.

* * *

In Montreal I felt like all I had to do was go out there and have an average performance and I'd win the gold medal. And I did. I had an average, slightly above average performance. It wasn't that great. I threw 67.50 [meters] and then 221 [feet] in the finals, 224 in qualifying. Warming up for the qualifying round I threw 230 and 236. In the qualifying they have one line out there, and it's the "A" standard. If you throw it over the line you're automatically in. And you don't get any more throws. And I threw a bad throw. It was low and it was wobbly, and it went 224. And I stood for a second thinking maybe I should step out of the circle so I'd get another try and really throw it far. And I said, No. I'm a wild and crazy guy, but not that wild and crazy [laughs].

* * *

I don't think I was a slam dunk to win [in 1980]. First of all, the Soviets won all four men's throwing events, by hook or by crook and some of them by crook. Absolutely by crook. The Cuban [Luis Delis, who finished third] should've won the discus, but they mismarked his throw by about a meter. Udo Beyer, the East German, should've won the men's shot put, but the Russian won. I even heard this from a Russian thrower: In Moscow Stadium they had these huge doors at the end, and they would open up the doors to improve the air flow to help the aerodynamics lift the javelin for the Russian throwers, and they'd close them for everybody else. So I was not a slam dunk, and I threw the longest throw of my life in that year.

I thought that the boycott was a stupid thing to do. We continued to sell wheat to Russia. We continued to sell Pepsi to Russia. We bought vodka from Russia. It was business as usual except for the Olympic Games. And, of course, we only boycotted after we won the ice hockey game in Lake Placid that year. So I thought it was very naïve, and I was very disappointed because I really liked Jimmy Carter. And there's still a war in Afghanistan, even to this day. So it didn't do anything.

* * *

In some ways, I was more satisfied with my performance in Los Angeles than Montreal, in spite of the silver medal versus the gold, because I think I threw better. I was more consistent. I had two throws that would've won and I think one of them, or maybe both of them, would've broken my Olympic record from Montreal in '76. But I didn't quite have enough of the right stuff to make those throws and stay in the circle. My focus was not as sharp as eight years earlier in Montreal. And that was a result of life situations.

In L.A. it was like, Oh man, I know it's right there. Where is it? Is it this? Is it that? I just know it's right there. And it was right there, but I couldn't touch it on that day. And then in 1988 in Seoul it was like, I'll be happy if I can throw high teens, close to 220. I know I'm not going to win. I know that. I'm happy to be here. I want to perform well. And you always want to fight against "I'm happy to be here" versus "I'm going to give it my best, and I have a chance to win" and all of that stuff, except that you're not going to win.

When 12 guys go out onto the floor of the Olympic stadium for the final of the event, they pretty much know within one or two places where they're going to finish. And there's nothing wrong with that. What matters is, Can you move up out of that? Is there something that you can do that's above and beyond where you think you're supposed to finish?

* * *

In 1988, after the Olympics in Seoul, there was a party in someone's apartment, and there were throwers from all around the world. Some of them had two or three gold medals. Some of them had three or four world records to go with their two or three gold medals. And some of them had no medals and no world records, but they had just been part of the group for years, competing internationally.

And in this group, at this party in this apartment, it really didn't matter who had what. Everybody was equal and the main thing was we were all friends and we'd shared our common pursuit of throwing far. And not everyone was a discus thrower, but they were all throwers pretty much, and we all shared this common bond of competing with each other, competing against the challenge of making the throw.

And that's what I remember—such a warm and pleasant and strong memory of the friendships that you make with people who are doing the same thing you're doing. They understand what you're going through and they understand the challenge because they face it themselves. That's the real reward.

* * *

At that time I had planned on '88 being my last year. '89 was an afterthought. It was just because I could. '88 was supposed to be my last year.

I did one more year just because it seemed like, with all things considered, it was something I could do and at the same time still try to develop a career outside of throwing. And, in fact, I was able to do that. I did actually start a job before I finished my throwing. I was able to get a job and continue training, and they gave me some leeway in terms of leaving early. But then I was done for good at the end of June at nationals. I said, OK, I'm all done. I can't do this anymore.

The national championship was always the biggest meet of the year for me. I always planned to do my very best in that meet, except for a few years when I could train through it and feel comfortable that I would win. But I always wanted to be the national champion, so I was trying to get up to my best level of performance, and I think I had taken three weeks off from throwing right before that competition because my back was in such pain. I could not turn my right hip ahead into the throw.

I competed in nationals. I qualified second with a horrible distance of 193, and I went home the next morning because I was in such pain I knew that I couldn't continue. And I could go on throwing in July and August, maybe September, but why? I'm not going to set a world record. I'm not going to make $200,000. I'm not even going to make $20,000 probably. And there's no good thing that will come out of it, so just stop now. Stop now. Go to work. Do your job full-time instead of 30 hours, 25 hours, and make a change in your life. So I did.

I walked away from the competition. I walked away from the qualifying round and I never had such a burning in my lower back. I tried to hang on some pull-up bars and I tried to stretch and took some pain medicine and by dinnertime I said, This is not getting better. I'm not going to throw tomorrow. I don't want to do this anymore. This hurts [laughs]. This is no fun. So I knew then that I was all done, and I didn't compete in the finals.

* * *

It's very difficult to stop. It's very difficult to stop. I was very lucky. I had a couple of bulging discs. I was physically unable to throw. Every time I made the throwing motion it was like a knife in my back. I had a wife and a young son and I wasn't making much money at all doing the discus. I was getting tired of all the bureaucratic rigmarole and politics in the sport. And I was 38, 39 years old, and my performances were declining.

I'm a very, very fortunate guy. I can't believe how lucky I am to have a woman who is so loving and understanding and [laughs] lets me kind of be this guy who … all I did was I kept turning and turning on my left foot, working on the discus move at the start. And we're in the grocery store even now, and I'll kind of start. It's like I have this uncontrollable twitch. My body starts pivoting on my left foot. I joke and say, Ever since I've retired I've taken thousands of throws. I have this turning thing going on. And my wife says I should see a doctor and get rid of it.

My satisfaction when I was selling corporate technology solutions was not nearly what it is now or what it was when I was throwing. And it was about when I was 50 when I realized that this isn't the best use of Mac Wilkins.

I got into technology because I wanted to be rewarded for being good, which is another way of saying, I wanted to make a lot of money. And that's not always the best reason for doing things. I had some successes. Absolutely I had some successes. But the realization in 2000 was pretty clear. It was like, This isn't really what you're all about, and this isn't the best thing for you to be doing. And it took a while to figure out how to get back to where I could make a living, support my family, because I knew it wasn't going to be as a thrower [laughs], at age 50, clearly. So yeah, it took a little while and I struggled with letting things happen.

Maybe I was in the right place at the right time sometimes, and perhaps this was the wrong place at the wrong time. Or I didn't have what it takes. I don't know. I just had all these questions, and finally about 2000 I went around to some youth track meets and handed out fliers and said, Hey, I'm going to start a throwing club. We'll meet here at this time, come on out, and I'll teach you how to throw.

And I started doing that and sometimes we'd meet at this place and sometimes that place. We didn't have a home. We just met wherever we could, and sometimes we'd be throwing and the sprinklers would come on [laughs], but I had some pretty good kids and finally it occurred to me about a year or two after that that that's really the best use of Mac Wilkins in this lifetime.

* * *

Is there a moral to the story? Well, probably.

I have so many, so many times when I would fall down or fail. Being a teacher/coach, I have to be ... well, it's exactly like being a parent. You have to be a better person than you really are [laughs]. You have to be a role model.

My throwers all want to throw 200 feet, or 60 feet in the shot, or go to the Olympics or something like that, but that's not the real goal for me. The real goal is for them to get hooked on learning and enjoy that passion and then share that with somebody else, be compelled to share that.

The hardest thing about the throw is to go slow and be relaxed and let the reach and the rhythm and the timing create all the power. And the bigger lesson from all of that is, You have to let go. You have to trust that there's something greater than you that will make it work right. And that's what you need to try and practice. And that's really hard because you spend all this time trying to get strong, and you want to use those muscles and you want to work hard when you throw, but that's not how you throw far.

* * *

There was one interview before the '88 Olympics, and the guy says, Why do you keep doing this? And I wasn't trying to be funny. It came across like I was being a real wiseass or something. I just said, Well, you know, it's beautiful. It's a beautiful thing and I can still do it, so I do it. And that was just a sincere, honest response, and looking at it on tape later, it looked like I was a wise ass [laughs]. It's a beautiful thing. Because it's beautiful. Because I can. That's what it boiled down to. Because it's beautiful. Because I can. And I think there's nothing wrong with that answer.

Rob Trucks's latest book is on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk album. Actually it's about more than Fleetwood Mac's Tusk album, and most reviewers understood that, but people who commented on Amazon hated the work with a passion almost breathtaking in its purity. You may monitor Trucks's reading list at tusktusktusk.com, follow him on Twitter at @tusktusktusk, or write him directly at trucks@deadspin.com.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Testing Football Strength Lying Supine on a Bench

I am always amazed at how so many misguided sports writers equate bench press with strength. Yeah, I'll concede that a 600 lb. bench isn't chicken feed, but strongest man competition? Give us a break! When have you ever seen a strong man event that starts out in the supine position?
It's also obvious that in this picture he has a pad under his shirt which casts some doubt on the validity of the 600 lb. bench claim anyway. I agree with Al Feurbach, let all of my opponents think that benching is the secret. Meanwhile I'll work on cleaning, snatching, squatting, and putting the bar overhead.
Maybe that is how Jesse  trains as well, but the writers only get excited about his bench and give it all the publicity. Crazy world out there when it comes to reporting the strength levels of American Footbal players.

Jesse Williams might be in the wrong sport.
Williams, an Australia native, is a defensive lineman for Alabama, but earlier this week he proved he could easily participate in the Strongest Man competition.
(AP)According to tweets from himself and teammates, Williams benched 600 pounds Thursday. Yes, that's six plates — on either side of the bar. Check out the photo, the bar is bending like a cartoon.
Just call him Jesse ver Jesseson.
"I saw @ThaMonstar (Jesse Williams) dominate 600 lbs on the bench this morning... Incredible" tweeted Alabama long snapper Cade Foster, who benched a stunning 455 pounds.
To put Williams feat in perspective, former Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe maxed out at 500 pounds during this year's NFL Scouting Combine.
Williams started every game for the Crimson Tide last season. He had 24 tackles, four tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and a pass breakup.
I'm sure the opposing offensive linemen who have seen this picture just can't wait to face Williams this fall.
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Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Price of Gold

What an amazing story. For those of us in the "free world", this is almost beyond comprehension. The next question, I suppose, is what will become of her after her diving career is over? It is well known that many former Chinese athletes return to their home towns and villages after their athletic careers have ended due to age, injury, or lack of progress with no useful education or job skills.  In this case her level of ahievement may entitle her to a better fate. Maybe as a coach or diving official. I don't know.
Is the ability to jump into a pool of water gracefully really a pursuit worthy such single-minded dedication? Even at the expense of family relationships?
Believe me, I can appreciate the almost transcedent feeling that comes from mastering a physical skill. I can also appreciate the joy of competition and believe that such pursuits are worthy of an investment of time and energy. But, is such an activity, that is really mundane and unconsequential in the grand scheme of things, worthy of devoting one's entire life? I am happy that the country I live in at least allows me to choose. I am constantly amazed by the level of performance of these great athletes, but I wouldn't trade my life for theirs.

LONDON – Chinese diver Wu Minxia's celebrations at winning a third Olympic gold medal were cut short after her family revealed the details of a devastating secret they had kept for several years.

Wu's parents decided to withhold news of both the death of her grandparents and of her mother's long battle with breast cancer until after she won the 3-meter springboard in London so as to not interfere with her diving career.
"It was essential to tell this white lie," said her father Wu Yuming.
The story of Wu's family secret has generated huge discussion in China, where the pursuit of success has been chased by the government-backed sports national sports program with unshakeable zeal over the past two decades.
Now there seems to be a backlash against the win-at-all-costs mentality after the revelations about Wu followed fierce criticism from a national newspaper when a 17-year-old weightlifter failed to medal.
In China, athletes are often taken away from their families at a young age and placed in specialist training schools where they practice for hours every day. Wu began training daily at a diving camp at the age of 6. By the time she was 16, she had left home to be installed in a government aquatic sports institute.
She has become one of her sport's all-time greats, but her father says the success has come at a high price to her personal life.
"We accepted a long time ago that she doesn't belong entirely to us," Wu Yuming told the Shanghai Morning Post. "I don't even dare to think about things like enjoying family happiness."
Wu's mother defended the decision to keep her situation private and admitted she only broached the subject of her breast cancer at this point because she is now in remission. Both of Wu's grandparents died more than a year ago, but the diver knew nothing of their passing until this week.
The Chinese government's attitude towards the performances of its athletes is now coming under greater scrutiny than ever before. Messages of congratulations from the government to athletes through the state news agency have been sent only to gold medalists, not those winning silver or bronze.
"It is too narrow to look at the Olympics purely through the prism of medals," said an editorial in the China Business News publication. "It is also about sweat, tears, hardships … peace, freedom, and justice."
However, while China continues to dominate the medal table it is unlikely there will be any significant shift in a system that is regarded with pride within Chinese political circles.