I'm proud to present our first interview of the off-season, Andy Bloom. If you don't know who Andy is, you haven't been paying much attention the last couple years. He is probably behind only John Godina when it comes to excellence in both the shot and disc. Andy is only 24 years old and has lots of elite-level throwing ahead of him. Enjoy!!!
Long & Strong: Andy, would you consider your 1997 campaign to be a success?
Andy Bloom: The indoor season was undoubtedly a success. Going in to the season my best indoor mark ever was 62' and I had every meet past that mark. I also had the opportunity to compete against the best in the world in the shot put for the first time and I think I served notice that I can throw the shot competitively with the best. Outdoors, the season held tremendous potential. I had some huge fouls early on in the shot (20.75m) and some very solid marks in the discus despite some technical mistakes. Going into the nationals, though, I felt that I hadn't had a very good season. I was injured at the time, I had sprained an ankle at Salinas, and had been very inconsistent. To me, consistency is the mark of a good season. With consistency comes big throws. The national championships changed the entire season for me. Any time you can PR at the nationals, it was a great season. Despite what I would consider a very poor effort at the Worlds, I think the season was a big success. I had the opportunity to throw against some of the greatest throwers of all time and learned a great deal in the process. That is what I am carrying into 1998 and eventually 2000. If I can take the lessons that I learned in Athens into Seville and Sydney, then Athens may turn out to be one of my greatest meets ever.
L&S: You've made significant gains over the last three years, being a relative unknown internationally, becoming the first NCAA SP/DT double champ in XX years in 1996, just missing the '96 Olympic DT team, and then making the U.S. team for Athens in '97. What factors do you credit for your steady progress?
AB: 1995 was undoubtedly my breakthrough. That year I went from being a 185 foot thrower to PRing at 208 at the ACC championships. Ironically, the best thing that happened to me that year was a broken wrist in December. I had spent the fall that year getting very strong and was beginning to see practice throws in the mid-190s, but something was missing. As it happened, when I broke my wrist, I was forced to stop lifting upperbody and concentrated on getting strong legs and becoming explosive. I was also forced to give up the shot put for three months. As a result, I began to "feel" the throw better. The last weekend in March, with a nice wind, I threw 198' and I was getting consistent over 190 in competition. We had a beautiful wind at the ACC championships that year and I sailed one out to 208. That was also the first meet that I threw the shot put in that year and I managed 61'. Most importantly, I gained a lot of confidence in my ability to compete with the best in the US.
In 1996 I began to attack my weaknesses. I was too fast out of the back and had trouble throwing without the adrenaline that comes in big meets. I began working with a sports psychologist and was seeing tremendous results. Going into my first indoor meet I was ready to throw 20m in the weight and 19m in the shot. Then I broke the weight and broke my hand again. Instead of being a negative, it again forced me to focus on the discus full time and I had a great year. I'm still not sure how I threw 65' at NCAAs, but I do know that for the first time, the rhythm felt right and that's all I thought about. To answer the question, I guess I attribute the lessons I've learned to my success. I no longer bench press, I focus on the rhythm of the throws, and I keep working the mental aspect of the throw.
L&S: You've had some disappointments as a thrower, such as at '96 NCAA Indoors and missing the Olympic team by inches. Yet you've always seemed to bounce back. How is this?
AB: To me, the '96 NCAA Indoor was anything but a disappointment. Most people didn't realize that I broke my throwing hand on January 24. I didn't pick up the shot again until february 24, at the ACC Indoor, and only competed that one time before nationals. I wasn't ready to throw at a national championships, but I still had a foul in the third round that would have placed me sixth. The foul was called out of the back of the circle by an official standing in the front of the ring. I believed then, and believe now after watching the tape, that he was in the wrong place to make that call and that the call chould have never been made. Erase that call and I have my best NCAA shot put finish up to that point. The weight was a similar situation. I fouled a throw out around 21m and just had no idea how to stay in the ring. The month of training I lost was hard to overcome, but I had to be honest with myself and be proud of the distances I had thrown despite the broken hand.
As for the Trials, going into the season, my goal was to win an NCAA Championship. No more, no less. I knew this would be my last NCAAs, but I hoped I would have several more Olympic teams. Going into the season, I had one throw at 208, but my second best throw was only 197 so I couldn't consider myself to be a true contender for the Olympic team. It wasn't until Penn Relays in April that I began to believe that I actually had a chance to make the team. Of course, immediately following the trials I was incredibly disappointed, but looking back on the season, I can honestly say that I would not give up my two NCAA championships to have made the team. I wasn't ready mentally to compete at that level yet. The bad things that have happened to me have shaped my career far more than the good. After every meet I look back and evaluate what went well and what went poorly. If I learn a lesson from the bad things that happen and don't get satisfied with the good, I'll continue to improve every season and every meet. As long as I can learn from a negative experience, then I can't consider it a negative any more.
L&S: Contrast competing as a collegian to life after the NCAA. Are you still at Wake Forest?
AB: I'm currently at Wake getting my Masters in Education, concentrating in Math. I treated last year like I was still in college and competed every weekend. This year I will keep my competitions before nationals to a minimum to preserve my mental strength for the European season. It is a long season.
L&S: You throw for the New York Athletic Club. Can you tell us how that affiliation came to be? Most of our visitors are probably not familiar with how a top-flight club such as NYAC operates. Can you give us some insight regarding financial support, etc.?
AB: A good friend of mine from college told me that he had heard through the grape vine that the NYAC was looking for throwers and suggested that I call. I joined them last indoor season because of their approach to the team. NYAC looks at themselves as a team and thats exactly what I needed in my first year out of school. They agreed to pay for my travel and accomodations at meets and helped me with a small monthly stipend to help pay the bills. In my opinion NYAC is important to the sport. There aren't enough clubs willing to support throwers and NYAC supports far more than their share. Unfortunately, I have had to leave NYAC. After my performance at Nationals, NIKE became interested in my throwing for them. I had to make a choice between the two clubs, and while I couldn't bear to leave the NYAC, I had to look at the potential that being with NIKE brought. I want to do things in the sport that NIKE can make much easier (compete in Europe, do clinics for kids) and I had to weigh that into my decision. I can guarantee that I will miss the friendliness of the NYAC team and can just have faith in the decision that I was forced to make.
L&S: Do you consider yourself to be a discus thrower first, shotputter second?
AB: I consider myself to be a thrower. The discus is my first love, but I feel that I can be equally good in both. If you look at the greatest throwers of all time, they are multi-event throwers. Mac Wilkins threw everything, Powell threw the weight, Oldfield threw everything, Heisler threw the shot 66', so did Buncic, Plucknett is one of the greatest Highland Games athletes ever, Zerbini is a great combination thrower, Tony Washington threw the weight almost 20m, Lance Deal is a 200' discus thrower and a 60' shot putter, and of course there is Godina. The list goes on and on. I think that in order to become great you have to have the diversity it takes to throw all of the events. Each event has something in the feel or technique that can be lent to another technique to improve all your throws.
L&S: If I remember correctly, you're approximately 6'1", mabe 260 with a powerful lower body. The prototype elite discus thrower is often someone taller, with long arms, such as Reidel, Schmidt, Plucknett, etc. Are explosiveness and strength your greatest assets?
AB: Undoubtedly, my greatest physical assets are my strength, explosiveness, and quickness. My greatest asset, though, is my mental control and competitiveness. I refuse to believe that a person has to be 6'6" to throw the discus. Granted, I have had to develop my own technical nuances to take advantage of my assets and downplay my weaknesses, but we all have to do that. If you look at two of the greatest discus throwers of all time, Tony Washington and John Powell, neither is the protoypical thrower, but both threw 70m.
L&S: Can you give us an idea of what type of weight you are able to handle in the popular lifts? What does that translate into on meet day in terms of standing throws for both events?
AB: As I have already said, I don't bench press any more. My upper body workouts consist of light (20 lbs) dumbbell flyes and a straight back DB Military press. I have done 180 lb dumbbells for three reps with each arm. My best squat ever is either 670x7 with a belt, or 650x5 without a belt. I never wear a belt anymore. I do all of my Olympic Lifts from a hang. I can't catch a clean because of my wrist so I do a high pull, my best is 500x5. My best close grip snatch is 275x3. I dead lift in the fall and my best is 670x6. I never do less than 3 reps and as it gets closer to the nationals I cut the weight in half and work everything based on timed sets instead of reps.
As for my stands, my PR in the discus is probably 145, maybe 155 with a good wind. But it is important to note that I emphasize keeping my stand in a position that I have a hope of hitting in my full throw. Too many throwers try to throw far instead of throwing from a reasonable position. In the shot, my usual stand is 53 feet non-reversing and 55 feet reversing. I have stood 56' non-reversing and 60' reversing, but that was 3 feet past my bests before that day so I can't consider those to be true marks.
L&S: You are a rotational shotputter. Is your thought process the same in both events, or do you make concessions for the different implements? Can you run us through a full throw?
AB: Technically I try to do very similar things although there are slight variations in body positions. FOr instance, I have to be much taller in the discus than the shot. In the shot I try to be much more open in the front of the ring. For me a full throw begins at the front of the ring where I reinforce whatever aspect I am focusing on for that throw. This is the last time that I think about the throw. I walk slowly to the back of the ring and exhale. My wind is very controlled so that it is consistent from throw to throw. My first movement is with my left foot, which I want to turn 180 degrees. Without pausing I sprint as hard as I can off my left, keeping my right behind and moderately outside. When the left leaves contact with the ground, the right begins to track rotationaly, it is this movement that pulls me back into the ring. If I didn't track my right I want to land outside the ring. When the right lands I just want it to turn as hard as it can, without forcing a breakdown in my positions form the ankle up. All power is lost if your leg buckles or your back dips to one side. At left foot contact I would like my right foot one click past facing the side of the circle. When I anticipate the left foot landing, I drive as hard as I can with the right leg, moving my center of mass form over the right leg, to split between the right and the left, and finally directly over the left. If done correctly, the reverse happens as a result of this drive and is a totally unconscious reaction.
Please keep in mind that in competition all I think about is turn on the left, turn on the right, stand up. I couldn't possibly keep all of these other thoughts running through my mind and still throw far.
L&S: Technique-wise, do you have others that you pattern yourself after? Who do you consider the best technicians in the respective events?
AB: I work a lot with Powell. I try to train at least two weeks every year with him and look to him for advice when I need it. While my technique may not look exactly like his, our assets are totally different. I look to him because I believe his ideas to be universal. I believe that his ideas about technique are basic and anyone can throw far using them. Obviously, I consider him to be the best technician ever in the discus. He threw farther than anyone else ever had despite being shorter smaller and weaker than all of his counterparts. In the shot, I have tried to model myself after Oldfield and Barnes. I think when Randy was throwing the world records there was nobody who could touch him technically. Whenever I am having problems I watch tape of the training session where he threw 79'.
L&S: Who would you consider to be the most influential person in your athletic career?
AB: Obviously, I owe a great deal to my parents, who were incredibly supportive and took me anywhere I needed to go. Other than them, I will have to say that two men have been the most influential. The first is Ralph Moore. He was my high school coach and was the first person to believe that I could be a great discus thrower. i think he believed it before I did. Ralph made sure that I did everything I could in high school and instilled a goal in me that I will never lose sight of. We began 12 years ago hoping to improve the image of the sport in upstate New York and now I carry that with myself to every meet I go to.
The second man who has greatly influenced me is my current coach, Scott Bennett. We have learned and grown together over the last four years. I have no doubt that I would not be where I am today without his advice and training.
L&S: Tell us a little about your training plan, in-season and out, in the weight room and out.
AB: For me, training is about one thing, throwing. If I don't believe something will make me throw further, I don't do it. I don't lift to be a powerlifter, bodybuilder or olympic lifter, I lift to be a thrower. Away from the weight room I emphasize becoming a better athlete, because the best athlete wins. I take at least 100 throws four days a week in the fall and that number drops as the season continues. Two days a week I throw the shot and two days, the disc. I begin my running with repeat 800s and drop to 400s, 200s, 150s, 100s, 50s, and finally 20-30s in five week cycles. Running gives me a strength level that I cannot build in the weight room. I do one day a week of medicine ball work and one day of plyometrics. My weight room routine is broken into an upper and a lower body day and I lift four days per week (Monday legs, Tuesday upper, Thursday legs, and Friday upper). I begin the season with circuit work in the weight room and then progress to 10s, 8s, 6s, 5s, 4s, 3s and timed sets in a four weeks on, one week off cycle. Each workout involves a main lift; squats, pulls, DB military, or close-grip snatch, and what ever assisstance lifts I feel will help; flyes, abs, back. I don't lift arms. My off days I try to get into the pool to loosen up.
L&S: You make the comment "Running gives me a strength level that I cannot build in the weight room." Can you expand on that statement and direct correlations to throwing movements?
AB: I believe that you have to take a lot of throws to fully absorb the throw and make it so you don't have to think in competition. 100 throws takes a tremendous amount of stamina and it is hard to duplicate this in the weight room without doing sets of 20. Sprinting, on the other hand, allows for the recruitment of faster twitch muscles while still taxing your endurance. Running is also one of the few movements that throwers do that is unconfined. There is no seven foot or eight foot ring keeping you in check. In addition, a powerful drive with the left leg out of the back is paramount for a good throw. Running allows you to get used to driving as hard as you can with your legs. Running 30s or 40s keeps you tight and choppy for most of the run, watch someone else if you don't believe it, while running 400s and 200s allows you to really open up your stride and be powerful. Finally, it helps me mentally to know that I am lean and in great shape.
L&S: Many of our visitors have no idea of what goes on at a major meet. I've always had the impression that the proceedings are very formal, by the letter of the law, etc. Can you give us a little insight into Athens behind-the-scenes?
AB: Travel is always hectic. It's very important not to let anything get to you. My last trip over I was delayed 8.5 hours getting to my hotel and had to throw against Schult and Alekna the next day. You just have to bend but not break. Athens had the best training facilities I have seen. They had four practice areas set up, two of which were for throwers, and one of which was only for throwers. The wight room was huge and had 16 platforms in it along with four sunken cement circles, two pole vault runways, and two high jump aprons. It also had at least 50 foot ceilings. The competition day is what gave me problems. We had two flights in qualifying with 21 throwers in each flight. There are no rules on flight size in IAAF competitions. It took 35-40 minutes between each throw. Add to that the pressure of having a 63m automatic qualifier that you know 8 people can hit. Like the US nationals, the qualifying round is pretty relaxed and once you hit the standard you go home and rest for the final. Something else that is different is that they make you use meet implements. This isn't a problem if you use one of the brands of discus that they have, but what if you don't? Also with meet implements, you can't control what other competitors do to the implements. If you don't like using chalk or stick-em and they all have it on them, you have to make do. These are all problems that are easy to get around, but you almost have to experience them before you can prepare yourself for them. I knew we were going to have 20+ people in our flight and I thought I was prepared for it, but I wasn't. You can bet I will be next time, though. For the most part the athletes are the same as the athletes here. You strike up friendships and look forward to seeing people again.
L&S: Can you give us one amusing/amazing anecdote from your experiences at the national/international level?
AB: People always want to know what throwers are saying to each other on the field. I don't know why, but it seems that everyone believes we all hate each other out there. This year at the nationals, after the warm-ups, John Godina and I were standing together waiting for intorductions to finish and for our turns to throw. While we were waiting we began telling jokes. They were long jokes, not the one liners that you can tell and walk away from. I didn't think anything of it at the time because we talk a lot at meets, but afterward I started thinking about how it was the national championship and we each had something to prove and I thought it was really funny that at the highest pressure meet of the year, we were both standing telling jokes to one another. Hey, we both PRed too, Hmmm.
L&S: What are your future goals in and away from throwing?
AB: I want to throw 70' and 70m. Nobody has ever done that before and I think it would be cool. I guess I better hurry, though, because Mr. Godina is almost there. I also want to improve throwing in the US. There are too many talented kids who don't get the direction they need and end up not throwing as far as they could, or not throwing at all. I enjoy working with kids and seeing them improve.
Away from throwing, I want to get my masters, which I will have by nationals next year. I would like to begin teaching and one day get my PhD. I want to have balance in my life. Jay Silvester told me last year that he thought it was a mistake to just throw and I agree with him. There has to be a balance.
L&S: Any free advice for up-and-coming throwers?
AB: Measure your success against yourself. If your best is 150', your goal for the next meet should be to throw 150'1". Too many throwers look at people who are built like them, or people who they beat once before to see how far they should throw. Track and Field is an individual sport. It is solitary. Focus on yourself and good results will follow. Too often I talk to high school and college throwers and ask them how they did at a meet and they say "Well, I didn't make the final." I have to ask them how far they threw and they tell me. Then I ask them what their PR is. More times than not, they have just thrown a PR. It's not fair to yourself to be down because you didn't make the final or you didn't win. If you PRed and I didn't, you had a better meet. Even if I win and you don't make the final, you had a better meet. Too often people forget this. Trophies and medals are nice and the recognition that comes with winning is good, but sport is about self-improvement and our sport gives you a definitive answer as to whether you have improved or not.
Much thanks to Andy for sharing his knowledge and experience with us!