Thursday, August 3, 2017

V 7 N. 54 (12)Jon Hendershott's Most Memorable Women's Throws and Heptathlon


Women’s Throws & Heptathlon.

by Jon Hendershott

Michelle Carter

Two more thrilling examples of rising to the competitive occasions gave me my most memorable women’s shot performances—and both were authored by ’16 Olympic champion Michelle Carter.

First at last year’s World Indoor in Portland, Carter had taken the lead with her third-round 63’4¼” (19.31) from the 63’2” (19.25) by Indoor defender and two-time Games winner Valerie Adams of New Zealand. Then on the penultimate toss of the competition, Hungary’s Anita Márton raised her national indoor best to 63’5” (19.33) to take the lead.

So that left everything in the hands of Carter, the daughter of Michael Carter, the boys high school 12-lb. recordman with his mind-boggling 81’3½” (24.775) back in ’79, the ’84 Olympic silver medalist and a Super Bowl-winning pro footballer.

Michelle Carter, who had returned to the straight-back O’Brien style of throwing after using the spin delivery earlier in her career, then fired across the circle and the ball arced out to an American Record 66’3¾” (20.21), the second-longest American throw ever trailing only her own outdoor AR of 66’5” (20.24) set in ’13.
Anita Marton
Valerie Adams

“To not even get close to a PR for a while has been frustrating,” Carter said. “So to hit 20-meters [65’7½”] and 20.21 was a great feeling. Thing are starting to come back together.”

Later at the Olympic Trials, Carter again found herself trailing as she entered the ring for her final throw. She actually stood 3rd behind collegian Raven Saunders and veteran Felisha Johnson who each hit their respective bests in round 5 of 63’1½” (19.24) and 63’1¼” (19.23).

2016 Olympic Trials Michelle Carter

Again, Carter rose to the occasion on her final toss and the ball flew out to a Trials Record 64’3¼ ” (19.59). She later said, “For me of course the main goal is to make the team, but I really wanted to go out with a win. And I was able to pull that out with that last throw.”

And it’s a matter of history that Carter yet again came through when the biggest title was on the line at the Rio Olympics. She hefted out an AR 67’8¼” (20.63) on her final throw to overtake the 67’0” (20.42) by Adams and claim the gold medal.


On the morning of August 18, 2008, I shared breakfast with T&FN Olympic Tour members Bart Templeman and Bud Rasmussen. Both were major throws aficionados as well as coaches, and had founded the Iron Wood Throwing Camp that helped develop the skills of many young throwers.
Stephanie Brown Trafton

Bart especially liked the prospects of one athlete who had instructed at Iron Wood: Stephanie Brown Trafton. SBT had made the ’04 Games team but hadn’t qualified for the final in Athens. In ’08, she had lengthened her career-best to 217’1” (66.17), then placed 3rd at the Trials to make her second Olympic team.

Yet even though Stephanie’s 205’11” (62.77) paced the qualifying round in Beijing, most eyes focused on Cuba’s Yarelis Barrios, the silver medalist at the ’11 Worlds in Daegu. But Bart felt that Brown Trafton had as good a shot to win as any other thrower. Did he ever turn out to be right.

Stephanie simply launched her first throw out to 212’5” (64.74) and no else came within 4-feet of her mark. Barrios opened at 207’3” (63.17) and improved to 208’9” (63.64) but that was as close as anyone came to the Californian.

Stephanie Brown Trafton Beijing 2008

It was a stunning upset, yet one highly welcomed from the quiet, unassuming Brown Trafton. She became the first American to win the Games discus since Lillian Copeland had taken the title back in 1932.

Afterward, Stephanie said, “It’s surprising that I have the gold medal, although I came to Beijing feeling that I could get a medal. My goal was to come to the Birds Nest [Stadium] to lay a golden egg and that’s what I did.”


Sometimes you just have to be lucky to notice a World Record. So it was for me at the ’09 Berlin World Champs when Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk spun out a global hammer best amid exciting competition in three other events. I just happened to see her wind up to make her second throw.

As tight competitions were reaching climaxes in the women’s 5000 and men’s pole vault and long jump, Wlodarczyk stood 2nd behind Germany’s defending champion Betty Heidler (246’5”/75.10). But the Pole led off the second frame with a mighty 255’9” (77.96) to add 16cm (6¼”) to the global best.

Naturally thrilled with her achievement, the 24-year-old Wlodarczyk bounded on the track in several leaps of joy. Sadly, she came down so awkwardly on her final jump that she severely twisted an ankle, causing major ligament damage. She passed her third, fourth and fifth throws, then took her sixth from a stand, which she fouled.
Rio 2016 Women's Hammer
It was an unfortunate end after a brilliant performance. But Wlodarczyk returned better than ever, winning the ’12 Olympics, ’15 Worlds and ’16 Games and raising the World Record all the way to its current 272’3” (82.98). And she will throw in the coming Worlds in London. Bet she watches her steps during any victory celebrations.


Spear throwing is almost the national event in Finland. Seven Finnish men won Olympic javelin titles and another four claimed Worlds victories. But at the inaugural ’83 Worlds, a Finnish javelin victory sent the crowd that filled Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium into a thundering roar of delight.

Then 22, Tiina Lillak had lengthened the World Record to 245’3” (74.76) two months before the Worlds. She had burnished her international reputation with a record 237’6” (72.40) in ’82 and much was expected of the Helsinki-born thrower at the first Worlds.

Lillak led the qualifying round with 236’10” (69.14), so any Finnish fan who could score a ticket for the August 13 final packed the stadium to its 54,000 capacity. Britain’s Fatima Whitbread, recently recovered from a bout of tonsillitis, opened with a 69.14 of her own, while Lillak stood 2nd after her 220’11” (67.34).

Whitbread never did improve, while Lillak marginally added to her best in round 5 with a 221’4” (67.46). Whitbread passed her last throw due to a sore back and seemingly could barely watch as Lillak readied for her closing effort.

The noise from the crowd built and built as Lillak ran down the runway, then roared in an explosion of sound as the spear left her right hand. It was almost like the crowd was willing the implement to fly farther.
Tina Lillak

And it did, knifing into the green turf at 232’4” (70.82), the crowd erupting anew when the measurement came up on the scoreboard. Lillak sprinted around half the track in a victory celebration, adding a skip of joy here and there. She said afterward, “It was not a technically perfect throw, but there was enough force behind it to go over 70-meters.”

Tina Lillak 1990 European Championships

Lillak claimed the silver medal at the next year’s Los Angeles Olympics, matching the nation’s previous highest Games placing (Kaisa Parviainen in ’48) but leaving the honor of Finland’s first Olympic women’s javelin champion to Heli Rantanen in Atlanta ’96.


Steadfastly believing in the T&FN credo that you have to see a record performance from beginning to end, I rushed from my hotel without even unpacking to see the start of the heptathlon at the ’86 U.S. Olympic Festival in Houston. It was a bakingly-hot day in the Texas city but I wanted to see every effort by young American Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who had missed the ’84 Olympic gold by just 5 points at age 22.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee

JJK already had enjoyed a banner ’86 campaign, winning the Mt. SAC Relays in April at a PR 6910, then taking the prestigious Götzis title a month later at 6841. In early August at the initial Goodwill Games in Moscow, Jackie had totaled a WR 7148. So I simply had to get to the University of Houston’s Robertson Stadium on that August 1 to see the start of the 7-eventer.

I hitched a ride from my hotel with superb track photographer and longtime friend Tony Duffy, who also wanted to chronicle Jackie’s Festival efforts. We got there just in time, literally standing outside the fence to watch the start of the 100-meter hurdles, Tony clicking away through the chain-link mesh.

Jackie hurdled 13.18, not as fast as her 12.85 in Moscow, but she matched her 6’2” (1.88) high jump from the earlier meet. Next in the shot, she set a then-PR of 49’10½” (15.20), before closing the first day with a scintillating 22.85 in the 200, another career-fastest.

JJK totaled 4145 points at the overnight break, 6 points shy of her Moscow tally. The next day, she long jumped 23’¾” (7.03), just ahead of the 23’0” (7.01) to bring her total to 5327—equal to her Moscow record.

She built a 5-point edge with a 164’5” (50.12) javelin throw, versus a 163’7” (49.86) in the Russian capital. So as often happens in multi-event competitions, a World Record depended on the outcome of the concluding distance race. She had run a 2:10.02 800 in Moscow, but gutted her way through Houston’s heat and humidity to clock 2:09.69, adding another 5 points for a total of 10 more to raise her WR to 7158.

Jackie smiled her usual broad grin afterward, then tried mightily to pull ecstatic husband-coach Bobby Kersee into the steeplechase water pit to a celebratory dunk. But no such luck as Bobby showed great athletic balance and strength to resist being pulled off the rim of the pit and into the water.

Jackie Joyner Kersee Seoul 1988

Of course, Jackie would go on to compile a career second to no American woman athlete, in any sport: Olympic titles in the ’88 long jump and heptathlon (the latter in the still-standing WR of 7291); a 7-event repeat in Barcelona ’92; a quartet of world titles in the ’87 LJ & Hept, ’91 LJ & ’93 Hept; Olympic LJ bronzes in ’92 & 96.

Among the plethora of awards to honor Joyner-Kersee: the AAU’s Sullivan Award as ’86’s top American athlete; USATF’s Jesse Owens Award in ’86 and ’87 as leading U.S. woman (the award for women has been renamed in JJK’s honor); a 2010 NCAA Silver Anniversary Award; and naming by T&FN as the top woman trickster of the 20th century and by Sports Illustrated for Women as The Greatest Woman Athlete of All-Time.

Absolutely no argument there.

So, there you have my “most memorable” recollections from so far in my lifelong love affair with track & field. And the exciting thing for me to know with certainty is that there will be many more chances in future seasons to see many more thrilling performances that will then create many more memories. How lucky can a fan get?

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