NOTE: Written in summer 1998 and published in USATF's "Track Coach" magazine
Gorski does not inhale air, but the javelin. He breathes this event. He has the true passion of the fanatic, in a positive sense. His observations on the training and technique emphases of these world class throwers from Germany are instructive and thought-provoking...
(From Kevin McGill's intro of this article in "Track Coach")
My Dinner with Klaus
By: Jeff Gorski Founder/Head coach of Klub Keihas
This Spring I was fortunate to have been able to spend time with Tom Pukstys as well as four of the world's best javelin throwers from Germany: Boris Henry, Raymond Hecht, Andreas Linden and Peter Blank. These athletes and their coaches spent four to seven weeks training in Baton Rouge with Tom. This gave me a great opportunity to watch their training and discuss javelin throwing philosophy with them and their coaches, especially Klaus Bartonietz, one of the top sport scientists and biomechanical researchers in the world. In the time that I spent with them I had the chance to compare the German and American attitudes on sport in general and the javelin specifically and was surprised by some things and amazed by many others.
I would like to share some of these with you in the hope that it will add to your understanding of what it takes to become a world class thrower. I found the German athletes to be well conditioned, explosive individuals who are intelligently trained in a very systematic manner with an excellent grasp of what you need to do to throw the javelin very far. They have trained over many years to reach a fitness level that gives them the capacity to train at high intensity and to recover quickly. They have incorporated the basic movements needed to throw far into their own particular throwing styles, taking advantage of their individual physical abilities.
This is not very different from what the top Americans are doing except for one important fact: there is only one U.S. thrower over 280 feet, while the Germans have five, from a population base of about one third of ours. This obviously has something to do with differences in the two societies and what is important to each, which is something that I will discuss later. There also is a difference in the coaching of athletes, especially since there is a higher percentage of knowledgeable coaches in Germany who have a "feel" for the javelin than there are in the U.S. While many American coaches have a general idea of javelin technique, after a period of time the throwers reach a level that exceeds the knowledge of their coaches, and the athlete's progress is limited because of it.
To improve both consistency and distance year after year requires direction from someone who has the ability to see not only what the athlete is doing now, but also can "see" what they will throw like years down the road and can guide
them to that goal. Many American throwers are not associated with this type of coach or do not have the "fire" to continue to reach such lofty goals as a world ranking, or both. Every year we produce a number of throwers who reach 70 meters or more, and yet they seem to vanish almost as quickly as they appear. For every Tom Pukstys there seem to be a dozen Eric Smiths. A big part of this is our country's obsession with equating success with money; a great athlete should make a lot of money like Carl Lewis or Michael Jordan, and being a great javelin thrower in the U.S. just doesn't attract that kind of attention or cash. There are avenues that can allow a thrower to continue a career and still make a decent living, but you need to pursue them as aggressively as you would your training goals or an entry level job situation. This brings up the heart and desire of the athlete-the willingness to sacrifice. In today's society of sound bites and short attention spans, few people have the internal discipline to make that effort. Those who make that commitment and effort have a much better chance of reaching their athletic potential than those who wait for the magic fairy to do it for them. While there are a few programs or grants that can help for a short time, don't count on someone to dump money or equipment on you because you have some potential. I've been told by Nike, Adidas and others that they're giving equipment to distance runners because it sells more shoes for them since there are more joggers than throwers. As with most things in life, if it's worth having you probably will have to sacrifice to get it. Basically, if you want to be a thrower for fame and fortune, move to Europe. In Europe, if you are a track and field athlete with promise and drive, you will get some support that makes it easier to reach your
goals. A big part of this is how the major sports compare to the U.S.: here it's football, basketball and baseball, the traditional big three. Across the pond it's soccer, basketball and athletics, so the big-framed athlete who would be a linebacker or tackle here is drawn to the throws or multi-events in the rest of the world. There is also a difference in how each society lives. While Europeans have a high standard of living, they generally live in smaller homes, eat less meat, pay more for gas and pay higher taxes than we do. They also have more support from their employers in benefits and vacation time and fitness/wellness programs or sport teams that allow time off to train and compete. Sport is more along the lines of club and AAU teams here rather than the school or university-run programs that we are familiar with. The effort in these early sport programs in Europe is more geared towards all-round athletic experience and identifying talent for future specific event training. All of us have seen the youth league coach with the Woody Hayes/Bobby Knight "must win" attitude, instead of teaching sport skills. You have a greater chance of developing good future athletes if you have a feeder program that stresses skill improvement and understanding the needs of your sport for continued success, rather than winning games. There's not a lot of glory in being a mentor in the past of some athlete, but all the great ones will remember the individual who got them started on the path to their success. The individual nature of track & field makes it difficult in this country for talented youngsters to come across that person who will stimulate them to pursue greatness in the circle or on the runway. Instead they are steered towards jump shots or home runs. If they are lucky enough to have a good track coach in high school they have probably made the decision of which athletic path to travel before they give throwing a fair try.
This is the major difference why other countries with smaller populations and fewer resources can consistently turn out great track athletes while Americans seem to run in cycles in some events that are not "natural" events for us. We always have had lots of great sprinters and horizontal jumpers and fewer athletes in the shot and discus. But success in these events have a high relationship to success in football. Just look at the lists of college football recruits and then compare that with the high school lists of top 25 track athletes. But in more technical events that require an "apprenticeship" to learn the skill before success is reached we have more peaks and valleys than the other countries where there are better coaches to teach young athletes the correct basics of their events. In my discussions with the German athletes they told me that early on they were exposed to a variety of events but that there was a "specialist" around, someone with more than just general knowledge of an event, who could help advance any of the more promising youths. A very general impression of European sport development is varied activity from 8 to 11 years, more specialized physical and event training from 12 to 15, with advanced technical and physical development geared towards their event from 16 to 19. We can learn a big lesson from this program by trying to develop a feeder system that finds talent and keeps the athlete interested and motivated in his/her event.
In terms of the training that I observed, the general impression I got was that there were two schools of thought being used by the two coaches. Klaus Bartonietz, who works with Boris Henry (90.44m) and Andreas Linden (86+m) had his athletes throw a great deal during the times I saw them train, as many as 50 throws in a session off a run-up at estimated intensities of 70 to 80%. When I saw them in mid-April, Boris was just ending a cycle of throwing that had him doing this type of session every other day for two weeks and included heavy (up to 1200 grams) and light javelins (600 grams) as well as the regular implements. While he commented on how much he had thrown and felt tired and flat, on his last throw of the last workout he threw a 600g javelin that hit a fence that was over 102 meters away! This gives an indication of the type of concentration an athlete of this level has: to be able to ignore fatigue and allow the body to go on "auto-pilot" and be correct in technique so you can throw an 600g javelin cleanly and with speed to fly over 100 meters. This was still early in the year for this intensity of throwing training, and there was still quite a volume of weight training and special power development exercises being done in these two-a-day training sessions. A great deal of attention was also given to nutrition and diet, good food with low fat levels, and massage therapy to help recovery from the high levels of training. The other group of athletes that I saw train under Bernd Bierwisch and includes Raymond Hecht (92.60m) and Peter Blank (88+m). They were spending their sessions doing a great deal of power development work, both general and specific. While I only saw three training sessions with them, they did no javelin throwing, but did a great amount of jumping, weight lifting and crossover work, both pulling and being pulled with bungee cords (Fig. 1).
But I'll never forget the nearly three-hour session of measured throws with a 16-lb. kettlebell (a shot with a handle welded on) featuring a dozen different throws. Some were the traditional throws: backward over head or forward from a squat, while others I have never seen before, like reverse discus style with each hand, and even slinging it with your foot hooked in the handle! Words can't do some of these throws justice (Figs. 2, 3 & 4). Record were kept on the best of three efforts, so this was obviously a regular part of their training. This shows me that power development is a big part of their training, but I can't give an honest insight as to how much throwing they did at this time of year as both Peter and Raymond were recently recovered from injuries or surgery.
MAJOR POINTS OF TECHNIQUE
Talking with both Bernd and Klaus I did get a clear idea of what they feel is important in technique so as to throw far. The most important aspect is to generate an "elastic reflex" as a result of the braking action of the plant leg. A technique that gets the biggest number of muscles under stretch at impact is what is most desirable. The goal is to get "on" the left leg as soon as possible with a big blocking action (Fig. 5), that is, stick the plant and let the throw happen from the stretch.
A good idea is to think about sliding into the block and let the energy "flow" into the release without wasting any. An interesting point that Klaus mentioned was that as run-up speed increased, the power needed to block correctly increased four times that speed increase. That is, if there was a 10% increase in speed, the power to stop would need to increase 40%. To them, stopping correctly has more to do with throwing far than a faster run-up. Another point that we discussed was the action of the right leg as it lands from the crossover. While we agreed that the action is not a push or thrust, they stressed that it is active in getting out of the way so the body moves into the block for the "elastic reflex." This is the action that I have called a "soft-step" (Fig. 6) or a flopping action.
They also spoke of the need to use the left leg to "paw" at the ground to aggressively jump into the crossover and plant and the need for an overall good rhythm in the run-up. This means that there must be equal use of the legs in the throwing technique, which may sound elementary, but many of us have seen javelin throwers who stress the action of the right leg so much in the crossover that they never get into a good plant and delivery action. The effect is equally aggressive with the jump or takeoff of the left leg and the swing or crossover of the right. Janis Lusis told me years ago that javelin technique was "long jumping with a stick in your hand," which gives a good idea of the importance of rhythm and where the effort should be in this phase of the throwing technique. Upon landing from the crossover the right foot should be under the center of gravity of the body so there is no slowing down of forward motion (Fig. 7) that would take away from the blocking action and a resulting elastic reflex of the left leg plant. For many years athletes in an effort to get a long pull on the javelin tried to land with the right foot well in front of the body to get a big backward lean, which they did, but at the expense of a quick plant and an explosive delivery. Landing on the right foot in this manner made the right leg do what they wanted the left to do-jolt the body into a quick forward rotation.
Klaus talked about optimal use of body position in the throw once you get to the plant and are actually beginning the throw. You have essentially a 180-degree path of pull on the javelin at most, so you should use a throwing technique that makes the best use of your physical abilities. For example, Jan Zelezny, throwing with 12 o'clock at the middle of the sector, begins his pull at about 7:30 and ends it at about 2:00. This year Klaus was working with Boris Henry to start his pull further back, at 7:00 and finish at 1:00 to make better use of his great trunk power. In previous years Boris was more of a 6:00 to 12:00 thrower. The more twisted the trunk is, the greater the potential is for big throws, but the trade-off is that the technique is more difficult to time correctly and carry all your speed into the block. At the other extreme are Steve Backley and Mick Hill, who keep a very straight line with the hips and shoulders and have deliveries in the 5:00 to 1 1:00 range. The danger here is that with so much speed and so little torque you can easily "dump" to the left and fall away from the delivery if the technique rhythm is off. You need to develop a style of throwing technique that takes advantage of the athlete's best physical ability and not make him copy someone else! Klaus and Bernd also spoke of the need to channel energy effectively in the throwing technique.
The total look of the run-up and throw should be clean and economical, with no wasted or unneeded actions in the effort. Energy generated must be directed totally into the throw, not wasted on trying to maintain balance because of poor mechanics or worthless movements. What the German coaches and athletes are doing to throw far is not radically different from what good coaches and athletes in the U.S. are doing. The big difference is in how they are able to do it. We need a better and consistent commitment at all levels to make this a stronger event for us-with more exposure at the grass roots and youth level to find prospects. We need education so people don't fear the event and will include it in more meets, and a better network of support and clinics to keep coaches and athletes motivated to stay with the event longer which will lead to more success and continue to feed the system from the ground up. We have a wealth of talent in this country to draw from and it is up to us as coaches to go out and educate and motivate these athletes to gravitate toward the best sport in the world!
Raymond Hecht and Peter Blank
represent the level of fitness
of the elite javelin thrower.
Author, Ray Hecht, Peter Blank, Bernd Bierwisch,
Andreas Linden and Peter Wentt in Baton Rouge, LA. April 1998.
Sport science guru Klaus Bartonietz
General sport activities are best
for young children (under 12 yrs)
Young teens (13-16 yrs) can start
more specific sport skill work
Teens with good specific skills can produce good results:
Devin Bogert/Youth Olympics silver medalist 76.88m
Fig 1- Raymond Hecht and Peter Blank develop
power doing crossovers with a bungee cord.
Figure 2, 3 & 4: Raymond Hecht and Peter Blank demonstrate some of the more interesting kettle ball throws.
Figure 5: A solid blocking action of the left side
is essential to make use of the "elastic reflex."
Figure 6: Boris Henry actively moves his right leg
out of the way to set up the bracing of the plant
Figure 7: Landing from the crossover should be over the crossover leg
to avoid losing any forward speed that should go into the block.