“color: #555555;”>Mendota, Illinois – Following Gia Lewis-Smallwood‘s new American Record 69,17m (226′ 11′) in France, thereby stamping herself as one of the great discus throwers ever, we asked her coach, Mike Turk, how it came about.
“color: #555555;”>Yesterday Throwholics shared some of the nuts and bolts, today we share a Q & A.
Gia Lewis-Smallwood sets USR 69,17m (226′ 11″)
“color: #141823;”>Zylstra: What was Gia’s DecaNations series?
“color: #141823;”>Turk: Her series wasn’t very good really. It went something like sixty-three meters, foul, sixty-nine meters and foul. They only got four throws. She told me the two foul throws weren’t very good.
“color: #141823;”>Zylstra: Was there a key element in the throw that produced to 69m throw?
“color: #141823;”>Turk: There were two of key elements, one was psychological and the other was technical.
Psychologically, she was angry because of what happened in Zurich [Diamond League meet]. She had already broken the [American] record but it didn’t count. Her second throw in Zurich was long but it was called a foul. She protested the call and later won the protest. Unfortunately, they did not record the mark of the throw. As a result the decision was made to give her the second attempt over at the end of the competition. That throw ended up being 67,32m (220′ 10″) but it wasn’t as good as the one that wasn’t measured. So, she felt she had already broken the record and she was confident. After the meet in Zurich, she was as angry as I have seen her.
“color: #141823;”>She also had the confidence to tell me that night that she believed she could throw 69m.
“color: #141823;”>Technically, she worked her hip into the middle well and was more patient for the delivery. We’ve been working on both of those points. The fact that throws two and four weren’t very good tells me she probably wasn’t very patient on those two throws.
Zylstra: I see she threw a Nishi on the 69m throw, it that her favorite? What is your thinking re. implements?
Turk: I’m laughing at this. I see all the high school and college kids throwing these very expensive implements and that’s fine, I guess. Gia has thrown four different discs over 66m. She’s thrown the Cantabrian Gold, Nelco Blue, and two different Nishi models. I don’t know, I may be forgetting one.
When you are on your own and on a budget, you throw whatever you can get. Gia has an array of discs. We still train with a 1.25k rubber discus, if you can believe it. The Nelco is a very inexpensive discus and she can really make it fly. She has thrown that discus over 67m in competition. She threw the Cantabrian in competition almost exclusively for over two years. It’s kind of like that comfortable sweatshirt you can wear in any weather.
We have had trouble getting a Nishi discus, to no fault of the people at Nishi. Nishi has been very gracious in helping her and she now has her own Nishi High Moment discus. This is the discus of choice. Its most widely available or accepted in international competition. The Nishi really looks good coming out of her hand. She needs more reps to feel it better but I love the flight she gets with it. She hit one today [in training] that made my jaw drop. It was just beautiful to see that discus in the air. Even when it started to roll, it was stable and carrying distance.
“color: #555555;”>Zylstra: How long has Gia been in Europe?
Turk: Gia actually doesn’t like to be away from home long. It interferes with consistent training and she is more of a homebody. She left on the 18th of August, competed in Stockholm Diamond League (3rd to Perković, Samuels – 65,21m 213′ 11″) on the 21st, went to Germany for a couple of days and competed there on the 24th (Kostritzer Werfertag meet in Bad Kostritz Germany. 1st 62,05m 203′ 7″), on to Zurich Diamond League (2nd to Perković – 67.32m 220′ 10″) on the 28th, a travel day to France with the DecaNations meet on the 30th and she came home on the 31st. We will get about ten days of training in before we leave for the Continental Cup. She had been home training since July 18th after the Glasgow Diamond League (1st – 67.59m 221′ 9″), where she had a personal best.
Zylstra: How do you coach her while she is gone?
Turk: I went with her for part of this last trip. I met up with Gia in Germany after the Stockholm Diamond League and stayed with her through Zurich. Since she avoids prolonged trips abroad, it’s much easier to work with her. I try to keep everything consistent.
We work on things, maybe using a couple of simple cues in preparation and Gia does a great job of remaining focused on what we have worked on. She will always call me immediately after the competition to give me her thoughts and we talk about the performance, immediately setting up our strategy for moving forward.
I think the key element is we have developed a lot of trust in each other and we stay on the same page. I listen to what she has to say and she listens to me and is accepting of my input. Gia is very coachable and I know she will do everything she can to carry out our plan. The fact that I have probably seen Gia take over 50,000 throws in the past six years helps me understand what she is telling me. I can picture exactly what she describes to me.
“color: #141823;”>Zylstra: What competitions does Gia have left?
“color: #141823;”>Turk: Only one competition left on the schedule for this year, the Continental Cup in Marrakesh Morocco Sept 13 and 14. As soon as she gets back, we start preparing for the Bejing World Championships.
“color: #141823;”>Zylstra: Have you made any training changes that have produced 2014’s improvements?
Turk: Hmmm, that’s really an interesting question. I wish I had a simple, yet exciting answer. The answer is yes and no.
No because we have been working hard for a long time for consistent improvement. I have been working with Gia for six years now and we are just getting to the point where she understands the concepts, can control her movements and most importantly, feel the movements and know how and when to make adjustments. Gia has been throwing for a long time but used several different models and coaches for a period of about six years before that. We have changed everything about the technique, really starting all over. Gia is just now has enough reps under her belt to reach the levels she is. It takes time and is why I think most kids are better off staying home or with their college coach when then continue on as post collegians.
On the other hand, I am a firm believer that you have to periodize your technical work to improve. Every year I change the routine and add a new drill to the progression just to stimulate the system. To be honest, I felt Gia was in a rut early in the season so I added a new drill to stimulate and challenge her. I have an inventory of drills and progressions along with varied weight implements that I constantly cycle in and out to keep things fresh. I will say we don’t spend a lot of time on partial throws. Most of our time is spent on the whole movement.
As far as changes in physical training, nothing new really. Gia and I are often asked about her strength levels and plyos, etc. and people are in disbelief when I tell them her strength levels, which are good not awesome and pretty much the same as they were six years ago.
At her age, we want to maintain her strength levels and athleticism but most importantly, keep her healthy. Her improvements that past two years are all about repetition and experience. The experience of the London Olympic Games changed everything. Up to that point, it was all about making the team. Once the experience was over, she was able to realize how capable and close she was to going to the next level and making a final.
She made the final at the Moscow World Championships and finished 5th. After the meet, I think it really sunk in the she was capable of getting on the podium. She could have been on that podium. That performance earned her more opportunities to compete in Diamond League meets where she gained more experience and consistently improved. Finally she hit a personal record and beat Perkovic in her last meet of the year in Zagreb. That was a nice way to end the year. Instead of taking time off, Gia came back and got right to work that week to prepare for 2014. She doesn’t take time off. Time off means you are not improving.
Zylstra: Will this affect her relationship with the USATF?
“color: #141823;”>Turk: The USATF High Performance division and development committee have been helpful to Gia. Especially Connie Price Smith, who was the development chair for women’s throws, Bing Yu, USATF’s biomechanist for the discus and Robert Chapman from the high performance staff. I know USATF will continue to offer support and programming, as they do for others as well, I don’t have any idea if or how the relationship will change.