Some of you may know of the Hammer/Weight twins Mark and Sean McGehearty. But many
of you may not know their coach/training partner, President of Sector Sports, and
co-publisher of the upcoming Sector magazine for throwers. Oh did I mention he was the
fourth place finisher at the '96 Olympic Trials? Its with great pleasure that I introduce
you to John Walker!
L&S: John, how were you first exposed to the hammer?
JW: I was first exposed to the hammer at the University of Rhode Island. All my friends ended up being Rhode Island high school hammer throwers. I was a discus thrower coming out of high school, but I just couldn't stand being at the bottom of the depth chart in anything so I worked really hard at the hammer.
I didn't see any results till I quit football, I was just another undersized slow tight end that would be rather throwing than catching. It really worked out for the best. It was at URI that I was first introduced to Stewart Togher, he was the man who formed my technique into what it is today. John Copeland got me started so I give him credit for that, but it was coach Togher that taught me all I know about hammer throwing.
L&S: Can you give us a throwing progression for yourself (distances, titles, etc.)?
Hammer & Discus
YEAR HT DT ACCOMPLISHMENTS
1986 140'2" 154'9" I was a freshman!
1987 146' 160'6" NE Discus runner-up
1988 192'9" 167'1" NE runner-up HT, DT 4th
1989 209'1" 173'5"(PR) NCAA HT 9th,TAC 15th,Oly Fest 6th, All-American
1990 213'5" TAC 9th, Oly fest 3rd
1991 218'1" TAC 5th, Oly fest 2nd
1992 224'6" Trials 7th
1993 220'2" USATF 8th
1994 225'9" USATF 10th
1995 228'7"(PR) USATF 5th, Oly fest 4th, US vs GB 3rd
1996 228'1" US Trials 4th , Alternate Olympic Team
1997 222'5" USATF 8th
L&S: Everyone always likes to get a fix on raw strength and performance levels. Can you give us some of yours?
JW: My all time best lifts are as follows:
Power Clean 365 lb. x 1, 320 lb. x 6, 300 x 8
Snatch (wide grip) 240 lb. x 1
Snatch (close grip) 230 lb. x 1
Front Squat 405 lb. x 4
Back Squat 590 lb. x 1, 500 lb. x 6
Bench Press 315 lb. x 1, in college, I haven't benched since!
Vertical Jump 29"
Standing LJ 9'11"
Overhead Shot 56'4"
Hammer PR 228'7"
Weight PR 67'4"
Discus PR 173'5"
Shot PR 50'1"
L&S: Tell us a little about your coaching career?
JW: My coaching career started at LaSalle Academy in Providence Rhode Island. I coached a state champ in the hammer, discus and shot that year, his name was Carl Ricci, he went on to captain Yale's football team for three years. In 1992 I took the job at Boston College and in my first year was fiortunate enough to win a very tight recruiting race for the Mcgehearty twins. I feel very fortunate to have beat out some very fine coaches like Larry Judge and Mike Maynard. Then I went to work on developing these two over the next four years.
This is what my athletes accomplished under my guidance:
1997 NCAA Champion - 35 lb. weight - S. McGehearty
American Collegiate Record 35 lb. weight- 72'10" S. McGehearty
2 time NCAA Runner-up M. McGehearty
7 time All-American M. McGehearty
4 time All-American S. McGehearty
13 New England Champions
4 IC4A Champions
4 Big East Champions
3 Men's School Records - hammer, weight and javelin
5 Women's School record -all throws
Two finalist '96 Olympic Trials - men's hammer
4 finalists '97 National Championships - DT(1), women's HT(1), men's HT(2)
These are the big ones that I am most proud of. Additionally, my two prize pupils graduated with very high academic success as well and are now enrolled in a masters program at Boston College.
L&S: Should hammer throwers start with the weight?
JW: Unfortunately, in the U S system most kids learning the hammer for the first time, learn the basics while getting ready for the upcoming NCAA or (in RI) the high school season at their respective schools. Ideally this is not the way to go. The weight is first of all very heavy for most and it can really ingrain some bad habits. I prefer to start my new kids off with a light hammer and even sometimes with a short/light hammer and then gradully introduce the weight into their training. Once the thrower becomes a little more accomplished, the weight can turn out to be a savior when doing technique work. We find that it often corrects problems that we know are there but can't figure out what exactly they are. So, my opinion of the weight is that it does have a purpose but caution and common sense should be applied when teaching an athlete how to throw.
L&S: When introducing the hammer, what points do you emphasize?
JW: My coach and mentor, Stewart Togher, has taught me that learning rotational movement and using two legs are the keys to throwing the hammer far. Those two basic ideas are the foundation for all of my teaching, drills and focus. It has taken me many years to realize this, because I was taught originally in the old school mentality where dragging the hammer was accepted. I am 30 years old and I am trying to break bad habits from 10 years ago. It is working though, I just hope that it doesn't take another 10 years to become proficient.
L&S: Is weight training different for the hammer as opposed to the shot and disc? Are there exercises that deemphasized, and others that are?
JW: We perform some different exercises than shot/disc guys but in general the basic training is about the same. We do avoid upper body training at all cost. Our focus is on devloping raw power in the legs, back and abdominals. We do cleans, close grip snatch, front squats, back squats, jumps with plate, much twisting with plate and dumbells, lots of step ups, squat walks, close lunges, med balls, puds, and maybe a feww really creative ones that I often forget the next day. We like to focus our strength development out on the field first, by throwing heavy hammers, weights and puds.
It becomes kind of a ritual, mixing the right amounts of weight lifting and conditioning with the right amount of throwing. WE NEVER SACRIFICE THROWING FOR LIFTING< THROWING COMES FIRST AT ALL TIMES.
L&S: Are there any special physical characteristics that are common in elite HT'ers?
JW: 4. A successful hammer thrower is a very balanced, powerful, agile, fast and athletic animal that loves to live on the edge and push the envelope of speed and physical limitations.
L&S: Is the hammer more of a speed/technique event? Is speed/quickness a variable that can be improved?
JW: Hammer is defintely a speed/technique event. The technique can be taught definitely and it is from the proper technique that speed will come from. So, yes you can improve the speed factor in a thrower. Everyone has their limitations though!! Some people are just plain old slow, no matter what!
L&S: How did Sector Sports come about?
JW: When I graduated from college I was fortunate to get a job working for Bill Falk at M-F Athletic. There I learned the ins and outs of the track and field equipment business. I worked there for about three years. Sector Sports came about in 1995, I was working a go nowhere job in a retail outlet for New Balance Shoes and came to the conclusion that I needed to create my own Olympic Job Opportunity Program so I started my own business.
I started out with a newly designed shell style indoor weight which in the 35 pound model was a complete flop, but I didn't give up. This year I am releasing a new version to the market that should in all accounts be indestructible, and yes I'm knocking on wood as I write this! We are now currently trying to further expand out into the marketplace and also expand our clinic/camp business locally here in New England.
L&S: How do you mix competition, coaching and entrepreneurship?
JW: Mixing competition , coaching and business is a daily adventure. For some reason, my hectic schedule seems to work, I just simply run out of time in the day to accomplish everything that I need to get done. Good scheduling and an understanding wife are the keys to my success right now.
When the major competitions come around, my athletes know that they are at war, but I am not unreasonable. We tend to help each other no matter what. But, I always tell them that if you need me now, at the nationals, I didn't do my job very well . We believe in being prepared and riding the groove.
I hope that all this craziness will pay off in the long run, I love what I do and I sincerely hope that I can continue to help people with their love for throwing.
L&S: What are your future goals/plans?
JW: Well, one of my goals is on the way, My wife and I are expecting our first child next May! I hope to also make a serious run at the 2000 Olympic team but if that doesn't happen, I hope one of my talented athletes makes it so I can at least go to Sydney.
Much thanks to John for giving us some of his valuable time. Best wishes in the future!