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IAAF World Championships London 2017 - Part 2: Qualifying Competition Discus
Alex was set to compete in the qualifying round on Friday, August 4th. One concern we had was how late his qualifying round was starting (8:40PM). Fortunately, we had planned for this and the previous two nights Alex went to bed after 1:30AM and we continued this trend into Friday morning, going to sleep around 2:00AM Friday morning. This let us get a full 8-10 hours of sleep and allowing for a wake up time around noon for Alex. Because of the late wake up time, he could get a brunch and then spend some time focusing on the day’s task at hand and then take a little nap before we left for the qualifying round at 5:30PM.
While Alex slept in, I was able to head out and spend some time “site-seeing.” I walked around the London Tower Bridge, saw the castle area and spent time meandering through the streets around our hotel. Around noon, Tim asked me to head over to the Nike Hospitality for him to pick up his gear and get a nice coffee and some good food, all provided by Nike. We arrived at the Nike House, I was able to get a sweet shirt, a nice haircut and an awesome beard trimming all before we got our Nike provided meal and Americano coffee!!! We sat around and had a great discussion with Brittany Crew over our coffee and lunch and then began to head back to our hotels. Once I got back to the hotel, Alex and I planned everything out for the evening, got a bit of food and then got our gear together for the qualifying rounds.
We arrived at the Olympic stadium around 6:30pm and were then escorted to the discus warm up field which was separate from the warm up track. Alex was in the second group of qualifying, as we arrived, Robert Harting, Mason Finley and Rodney Brown among others were getting on their bus heading over to the track to start their competition. Alex and I walked around the discus area, spent some time loosening up and just talking a bit about our game plan and trying to relax prior to Alex beginning his final preparation for competition. Andrew Evans, a long time friend of Alex, was also in our qualifying group and he and Alex were able to warm up and get ready for the evenings throws. Martin Wierig, Gerd Kanter also joined us and world record holder, Juergen Schult was hanging around the cage, coaching Wierig. As the evening progressed, Alex took 1 non reverse throw and then 2 full throws, he looked great and was smashing the finish. The only time I felt Alex was “starstruck” was when he came over to me and said, “Yo, how cool is it that I threw a Juergen Schult discus over Juergen Schult’s head and then Juergen Schult threw his own discus back to me??!!?!?!” That was a fairly entertaining comment that broke a bit of the tension and made me feel that Alex was 100% ready to qualify for his first international competition final!
As we took the bus over to the call room area, Alex and I discussed our goals and what he should do in warm ups prior to competition, knowing that he would only receive two warm up throws in the stadium. This planning was a huge part of Alex’s success on his first throw because he knew what to expect and had a plan to handle the different scheduling that large international competitions provide. We knew he would only get two throws in a 30 minute period and we knew he needed to do dry runs on the side to continue warming up and visualizing the feel of the big one!
During warm ups, some guys were screaming and losing their minds while other veterans were staying calm and focusing on technical feelings that they knew would progress them to the next round. Alex was completely relaxed. His first warm up throw was decent, not amazing, not great, he came over to me on the side of the track and discussed what he felt, I gave him 2 cues and then he went back to the bleachers to visualize and relax a bit before his final warm up throw. He went in and hit a very, very solid second warm up throw and looked ready for a big throw in the qualifying rounds. He came back over to the stadium side and I did my part telling him how confident I was in his ability to qualify for this championship final. He went back to his seat and almost looked as though he entered a meditative state. Whether or not he was meditating or just zoning everything out, ALEX WAS READY TO ROLL!!!!
Before Alex had started, we had seen that Stahl had taken a throw at 61 meters for his first mark. This was something that we noted heading over to the stadium because Stahl’s second throw was 67 meters. I felt this was important for Alex to see that even the best of the best need a throw to shake out the big competitoin jitters. Alex was following Simon Petterrson of Sweden and a Russian, Buteyko in the throwing order. He looked supremely confident as he walked into the circle for his first toss, he wound and entered the center in solid position, he jumped a bit on his finish but he let loose with an excellent start of 61.62 on his first throw. The fact that Stahl had also thrown 61m on his first throw did cross Alex’s mind. Does that mean he thought he was on Stahl’s level? Absolutely not, but he knew qualifying was in the realm of possibility.
The 10k final had begun during Alex’s first throw so it had become a bit harder for he and I to communicate during the rounds of throws. This was mainly due to the fact that British athlete, Mo Farah was running in his big event and was trying to defend his world title. The energy in the stadium was INCREDIBLE and I had hoped this was help fuel Alex on his final two throws. After the first round of qualifying, Alex was sitting around 15th. He entered the circle for his second throw, came out of the back a bit over rotated and then really open on his finish and ended up with fouling his second attempt. I wasn’t worried, nor was Alex. We both believed he could put together a solid third effort to make the top 12.
After his second attempt, I was signalling for him to get more weight around his left and work forward on his finish. This attempt was a very interesting point. I can replay everything as though it was slow motion. Simon Petterrson had been sitting in the mid-20’s heading into his 3rd round, he was two throwers out from Alex. He SMASHED his throw and went 64m+ to bump up into qualifying. His was yelling and screaming and I felt this was the energy Alex may have needed for a big throw. Alex and Andrew Evans had also been talking and motivating one another during the qualifying and that support was something else that I believed was in his favor. Buteyko threw and his throw went poorly. Alex was up. As Alex was throwing, Mo Farah and the rest of the 10k pack was rounding the turn where the discus was being held. The crowd was going nuts as there was only two laps left in the race and Mo was holding steady with the Ethiopian. This got me amped for Alex to get in and feed off the energy! Alex took to his wind up, hit the middle faster than I have seen him attack a throw and landed just a bit too open when his left leg grounded. He lost the throw down the right sector line but had let out a nice yell. Could this be it? I was screaming for the discus to come back in, not sure if it was far enough or not. It landed just at the 60m line and was 59.80 when measured. Damn. Alex was so close.
We had figured 63-63.50 would take it for qualifying. Kanter had said on the bus over that he believed 63.40 would qualify. I took him for his word as he had the most experience out of anyone on the bus. I was proud of Alex. We went to London with a chance to qualify for the finals, he came up just short but the experience is going to be tremendous for his career moving forward. After the qualifying, we discussed what we did wrong and what we did right. Honestly, Alex threw 4 meters further than he ever had at a World/Olympic competition. This was a HUGE step in the right direction. We rode back to the hotel with other top guys that had missed the cutoff as well, including Philip Milanov.
Alex and I discussed the immediate attention his technique needs to get to the next level and we also discussed some meet preparation we could do better before the next big competition. Something we kept in mind was that Alex had just moved back to Michigan and he was also in the midst of preparing to be married in the next month. He has had a lot of stuff on his plate and STILL was able to get out there, compete well and learn from the mistakes. We were fortunate enough to meet with Nik after the meet and Simon and Vesteinn (Simon’s coach) to discuss training and congratulate Simon on a great performance. We shared some details of our planning and learned from these veterans on what we did well and what we could improve upon.
We both left qualifying with a bittersweet feeling. Emotions mixed between failure and excited giddiness. We both know what needs to be done moving forward and we both know how to get these things done. Now it is time to execute the plan and prepare for this years Commonwealth Games. But first, I want to say how proud I am to have represented Team Samoa and to have coached Alex in London and to coach Nik Arrhenius and to have experienced what I did as a coach. I have grown tremendously and cannot wait to improve my plan of execution. I am proud of Alex and his performance and I am proud to be part of his growth not just as an athlete but also as a man. Congratulations on a great season, Alex!!! Now take some time off and enjoy your wedding!!!!