The truth can be found in the eyes. Courage can be found in the eyes. Focus can be found in the eyes. Or unfocus. Hangovers can be found in the eyes. I know this for a fact.
I thought about all this after several people asked me about the throwing events at the London Olympics and why the gliders were doing better than the rotational throwers. I think the reason is not complicated. I think it’s as simple as the thrower having a focal point as he or she comes across the circle.
The winners of the gold and silver – Tomasz Majewski of Poland and David Storl of Germany — were gliders and I could tell as they came across the circle that they were able to see the shot leave their hand. The rotational throwers seemed distracted — either by fear of fouling or by the force of their effort — and did not watch the launch of the shot from their hand.
This got me to thinking about a competition a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away with the inimitable Randy Matson. I offered him some advice. The advice was to release the ball higher, above the eyes, so he could see the shot as it left his hand. I gave him the advice because I’ve always wanted to help athletes improve, but with a selfish motive. Then I could then beat them when they got better to show them who the master was. Just kidding, sort of.
Matson said, “Thanks, Brian.” Then he followed the advice and sawed me off. Matson was a great thrower, but he was doing one little thing wrong and when he fixed it, he beat me and I told him how to do it. This proves the old theory that no good deed goes unpunished.
Have you ever seen a baseball pitcher take his eyes off the plate when he threw? Have you ever seen a quarterback take his eyes off the receiver and throw a completion? Have you seen a basketball player shoot a three pointer without looking at the basket? Even gymnasts look at the floor so they can calculate where they are going to land.
In throwing you have to have three things in the release: height, angle and speed. The rotational throwers I watched in the Olympics had the speed of release, but they did not throw above their eyes. That’s how it appeared to me.
They seemed to be turning their heads away from the throw and weren’t locked in to the finish of the throw. When they push off and don’t see the shot leave their hand, they can’t keep their eye on the prize.
I always talk about envisioning that hole in the sky. That’s the target you want to throw at. That little hole in the sky. But I think the rotational throwers couldn’t see that imaginary opening in the sky. I think it was a matter too much force and not enough form. Though the intent was to accelerate the shot, the final effect was deceleration.
It may have been a case of choking. It looked like the rotational throwers might have been afraid of fouling and began looking down at the toe board. Remember, the television cameras are rolling. Everyone will see if you foul. It’ll be on YouTube. It’ll be on training films shown all over the world. No thrower wants to foul in the Olympics, though Storl fouled his last three throws. He wasn’t holding back one bit.
That being said, the throwing demons took over for the rotaters. One of them threw 73-3 a couple weeks before and then could only manage just over 69 feet at the Olympics.
Throwers can become a prisoner of the circle and are so afraid of fouling they turn their head to the left and look down to check themselves. But if you throw correctly with force and focus, you get the recoil, the shot pushing back, and that keeps you in the circle. That’s the perfect throw.
Some seemed to forget that too much force with wobbles in the form won’t win. They closed their eyes and blasted. They pulled away from the metal and over rotated, not from the ground up but from the head down. They were doing one thing wrong and didn’t have me to tell them how to fix it. They looked fast and powerful, but they appeared to be pulling away from the throw. That means the shot was starting to decelerate.
Those who question what I’m saying can take a DVD of the throws and go frame by frame. Majewski came up and over the top. All of his throws were world class because he watched the shot leave his hand on each won. He was confident.
He had a nice, long application of power. Some of the other throwers threw with the shot ahead of the hip. The makes for what I call, “Drift instead of lift.” Then you have to try and make up for it and you get the wobblies and you come up short. The throwers are so big and strong that they think they can just power through it, but one tiny flaw in technique can mean two or three centimeters less.
The guy who threw it the bestest, threw it the most correctest. For all the coaches who don’t know this, you’re welcome.
By Brian Oldfield and George Houde
(Find Brian on Facebook)