January, 2003


Letter From The Editor
Random Thoughts

Barely Censored...Adam Setliff
A very candid discussion with the platter leader

Even Kuehl
Kris Kuehl is making a name for herself

Discus Sequence Analysis
Kuehl shows how she does it

The Gift/The Curse
The Crouser brothers were blessed and hexed

Found His Groove
Kevin Toth is coming on strong

The Hammer Takes Time
A case study in athletic development

Talkin’ Technique
The American Record Holder breaks herself down

Hammer Throw Basics
An in depth analysis

Shot Put Shenanigans
Assorted thoughts on tossing iron

Managing/Coaching Large Groups
A look at how to handle a big roster

America’s Forgotten Event
The prep hammer movement in Washington


By Glenn Thompson

Say "Suzy" to a thrower, they know who you are talking about. Same with Seilala. Try Kris. "Kris?"

Its easy to lose discus veteran Kris Kuehl (pronounced "Keel’) amongst her better known competition. Out of the spotlight in the bitter climes of Minnesota, she has slowly bloomed into a national, and now international, caliber athlete. The quiet, modest exterior hides a woman of significant depth. To ask those who know her brings gushing praise such as "incredible self-discipline", "wonderful sense of humor", "tremendous desire", and "plenty of spitfire".

The well-balanced Kuehl was an honor student in high school and college and is a two-time Olympian. And as of June of 2002, she is now a USATF champion.

Kris recently took some time out of her busy schedule to share a bit of herself with Long & Strong.


Long & Strong:  What sports did you participate in high school?   How did you get started as a thrower?

Kris Kuehl: I played basketball and did track in junior and senior high school, although I didn’t start track until 8th grade.  (My mom only let me go out for one sport at first; her reasoning was that my grades might suffer.  They didn’t.)

My first two days of track practice EVERYONE went out for a 2-3 mile run.  On the third day we were given the option to run a long distance again or to learn the discus.   That was a no-brainer. I chose the discus.  I had no idea what it was, but developed a knack for it and practiced it whenever the coach let me.  (Which in 8-10th grade was not that often).

LSTJ: Were you a late bloomer?  How does a future Olympian wind up at a Division III school?

KK: I certainly was a late bloomer.  I did a lot of growing (length-wise) during 9th and 10th grade and weighed quite a bit less atKuehl99.tif (1255620 bytes) that time.   It took me a while to develop solid coordination because my body was really changing all through junior and senior high school.  I guess that’s one reason I ended up at a D-III school.

Being from a very small town with a track coach that was not proactive with college recruiting opportunities, I think is the main reason.  I did pretty well my junior year, but didn’t make it to State that year (that’s a long funny-in-hind-site story), so I had limited exposure.  I was perused by a variety of schools for basketball, but I declined because I thought I had more potential with the discus.   As for a track and field scholarship, I wasn’t offered one and was only perused by one program; the college I ended up going to.  And I’m the one that initiated the contact.  I did try to arrange meetings with track coaches at two other scholarship schools (both of which will remain nameless, not the U. of Minnesota, just so that’s clear), but was totally blown off.

The college I went to, Concordia College in Moorhead Minnesota, was of interest to me for a lot more reasons than sports.  My sister was going there, small class sizes (I had one class with two other students), and a caring faculty and staff.  I also felt at home on my visits there.

LSTJ: Why did you drop the shot put?  You had success there as well.

KK: The main reason I stopped putting the shot is because of that damned toeboard!   If I had a dollar for every time I injured my ankle on that thing, I’d be rich (well, maybe I’d just be able to get a nice lunch).  I had trouble adjusting to the smaller ring and would always end up tripping over that thing at the finish.  I was a spinner. Also, I didn’t see myself being throwing elite distances in the shot.   I figured I’d be better off focusing on the event I was better at than to try to excel at both.

LSTJ: You’ve spent 10 years competing at a high level as a post-collegian.  What keeps you motivated?  What sacrifices have you had to make?

KK: I know I can improve my PR and my average distance, therefore I’m fired up at my prospects for continuing to make our U.S. team and winning a major medal(s) over the next few years. I have made lots of sacrifices but at this time they are very worth it. I don’t really think of them as sacrifices.  I just set goals and prioritize my activities and decisions around those goals.  So, I don’t go out and stay up late a lot because I function much better with 8-9 hours of sleep.  Discus throwing is not exactly "lucrative" so I have a part time job to help pay the bills.

I think it’s safe to say that I’d have a good job/salary and a more interesting social life if I wasn’t training for the Olympics.  Another "sacrifice" is that I take so much time off from work for my sport, that I hardly ever take time off for any fun, normal-person stuff; so I rarely get an actual vacation.  But I enjoy what I’m doing, met lots great people, traveled all over and received some other nice perks along the say.  To me, that’s a fair exchange.

LSTJ: Doesn’t living in Minnesota’s weather present some serious obstacles to discus throwing?

KK: Yes it does, but not as much as people might think.  Some of that attitude probably comes from growing up here, dealing with the weather and knowing the drill for how to train in the winter.  In some ways I actually see it as an (although small) advantage.

Even though this is where I live and train, I end up with most of my competitions in warmer areas.  I do try to compete in the Twin Cities once or twice per year and that can be a gamble with the weather.  It could be 80 degrees, or it could be 40.

We can throw indoors off a wooden platform for a ring into a net.   Although we don’t get the benefit of seeing the flight, we are not concerned with how far the discus went.  We can truly focus on technique and take lots of throws in a temperature-controlled environment.  Once outside, It does take a short time to get used to throwing a metal (as opposed to rubber) discus and make adjustments based on the implement’s flight.  I try to go someplace warm for some winter training and work on those things before I compete in my first meet.

LSTJ: You fouled three times during preliminaries at your first Olympics in Atlanta (1996).  Was that difficult to deal with mentally afterward?

KK: Yeah, that was no treat and I was very disappointed.  Especially waiting around in Atlanta for the discus finals and for my departure date.  But once I got home and back into my normal routine I think I bounced back pretty well.

The fouling part was something I definitely wanted to address and fix so I felt like that monkey was off my back during meets.  (I had a similar problem in 95 (USATF Championships), but instead of fouling the third throw, I took a ‘safety’ throw and it was just shy of advancing to the final eight).  That (the fear of fouling out) did affect me a little in the following seasons if I found myself in a similar position.   Now, after six more seasons, better technique, less fouling and more confidence, I’d say that experience in ’96 was a great opportunity for me to learn and improve from.

LSTJ: Describe the Olympic experience.  What do you cherish the most?

KK: I have to use lots of adjectives to describe my Olympic experience. Fun, memorable, something to be proud of, exciting, challenging. Part of it was stressful/painful because my back flared up and I had to get an epideral/cortisone shot in my low back.  That’s just to name a few.  Over all it was awesome.   In a way I felt like a kid at camp, minus the crafts and KP (that’s kitchen patrol) and plus a very acute focus.

The part I cherished the most would be the competition.  Even though I wasn’t 100% and didn’t throw as far as I wanted to, I savored every moment during my time on the track.  I felt very comfortable out there and just did my best.  I wish I had made it to the final and watching it from the stands was difficult.  But it did fuel the fire for me to make the 2001 World Championships team and qualify for that final.   Now, with that under my belt I’m only looking for bigger and better things.

LSTJ: Where does capturing your first USATF title (2002) at Stanford rank among your list of accomplishments?

KK: It’s definitely at the top somewhere, especially because of the timing.  2002 was a year after three Americans were ranked in the top 10 in the world, the American Record was smashed and Aretha [Hill] was having her own world top 10 year.  Meanwhile, I had surgery on my left knee and was on crutches for three weeks in April (completely non weight-bearing) due to an untimely meniscus tear.

I rehabbed my ass off and sought out the best medical help I could.  I was able to start competing in time for the Golden Spike Tour but I wasn’t at full strength and it showed in my early performances.  I really struggled getting out of the back of the ring and also my left knee didn’t like "blocking" so much.  Quite honestly it took me until late July before I really felt close to normal.

Anyway, going into Nationals I had a different approach from all of the others I’d competed in.  Instead of flying out two days before, I left the day before.  I was much more low key and was truly thinking "just do your best and whatever happens, happens."  I was putting absolutely no pressure on myself.  As it turned out, I had a great time out there on the track and I threw well.  It happenned to be that I got a good throw relatively early and no one could top it on that day.

LSTJ: What is your height and weight?

KK: For most of my post collegiate career, my weight has fluctuated from about 197 to 205 lbs.  I am 6' 1/2" tall.

LSTJ: How do you approach weight training?  What are some of your better lifting numbers?

KK: My weight training approach has changed though out my career, mostly due to some injuries that I’ve had.  (I’ve got a couple ruptured disc’s in my low back that with smart training are not an issue).   Earlier in my career I totally over-trained, thinking that more was always better.   "If I can just get my squat up to ###, then I’ll be able to throw farther..."  I also had no idea about how the body requires rest or how it recovers.  For a while I got away with this attitude, but age and injuries have caused me to rethink things.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be strong.  Just look at what the Europeans did in the 70’s and 80’s and some are still throwing far mostly on pure strength.  But a women’s discus only weighs 1 kilo and it’s been proven that "speed of release" is the key.  So, since I’m not ever going to be that strong (per injuries and body type) I need a way to integrate other approaches into my training that will help me throw far.

Now my philosophy while training is to stay healthy and fresh.  I still try to lift heavy, but I focus on doing it correctly, without compensations and not lifting heavy at the expense of my health or my "feel" for technique (if I’m in season).  In the weight room I have strength days, speed days, and days I focus more on stability.  I work more on true core strengthening than I used to, and by that I don’t mean just doing abs or hypers.  I mean integrated training (for more info refer to Mike Clark’s teachings).

My numbers are not that impressive relative to other throwers (I’ll be listing them in pounds not kilos).

Squat: this number has decreased since I blew out my back in ’97. It used to be in the very high 300-lbs. range, with terrible form though. In subsequent seasons it’s been in the low 300-lbs. range.

Clean: I did 215 in January, which I think tied my previous best.

Flat Bench: 210 in January. This was either a new PR or tied my previous best.

Snatch: I’ve never taken a one-rep max in this lift. It makes me a little nervous. I see in my training log book that I did sets of 5 last winter with 125-130. I remember thinking that was pretty good and tough.

LSTJ: Explain your approach to throwing from a technical standpoint.   From beginning to end, what happens during a perfect throw?

KK: I’ve learned to focus my strengths, which are my levers. I do much better when I trust the physics behind the event and go through those motions, rather than trying to muscle the discus out there.  I am not extremely strong and I never will be so I do my best to take advantage of the space that were given to throw from.

The perfect throw... First lets say that the front of the ring (where we release from) is 12 o’clock and the back is 6 o’clock.

A few years ago I retooled my start and that has made a huge difference for me.   Both in terms of distance but also being more balanced throughout the circle and thus fouling less.  After the windup I "move left" (to use Minnesota terminology) by pushing my left arm out so my shoulder is (approximately) over my bent left knee.  During that first turn and as I start to drive out of the back, I try to have a long/wide right leg.  With that and with my long levers, I am utilizing lots of space and thus slowly collecting and storing energy.

Then as I’m in the "flight" phase I continue to try to use the space on that side of the ring.  I try to keep this part simple because it’s a pretty complicated move with lots of different things that have to happen in the right area and time.  As I move out of the back of the ring and into the center I sometimes focus on just moving the discus on a smooth, wide and rising orbit as far to the front of the ring as I can.  Of course there are things that my body has to do in order to get this right and I do work on those issues in practice.  But sometimes in practice and meets, I find it easier to think of what the discus needs to be doing instead of all the things that my body has to perform.

From there on out, for me, it’s just turning and being very patient.  This is an area where I know I have some work to do to take advantage of my levers and all the energy they’ve gained through out the earlier motions of the throw.  So hopefully when I’ve landed in the power position my feet, center of gravity, arms and shoulders/head are in good balanced positions.  From there I try to continue moving the discus through another wide orbit.  This I like to simplify too; turn, turn, turn, extend, extend, extend, and release.  (Not to be confused with turn, extend, and release).

LSTJ: Do you ever feel you are overlooked?  Seilala Sua and Suzy Powell have grabbed the throws headlines since they were teenagers, yet you are a relative unknown compared to them and many other throwers.

KK: Yes, I suspect I am a bit overlooked, then again I think all throwers are overlooked.  The reason(s) I do all this training is not for headlines, so for the most part the lack of attention doesn’t matter too much to me.  Not that I mind having my photo and a quote or two in the sports section.  It does feel good to know that people are paying attention to what I’m doing (or any women’s discus thrower) and that we’re not just working in obscurity.

Relative to Sly and Suzy; they both had stellar high school careers and were very deserving of whatever press they got.  My high-school career could be categorized as "above average" and gave no indication of what my athletic future held.  Suzy and Seilala continued their success by breaking records and making U.S. teams at a big-name track and field school.  I slowly improved at a small DIII school in the middle of sugar-beet country (no offense to northern Minnesotans).   So that part is just apples and oranges.

LSTJ: Tell us about your love of art and your work in stained glass.

KK: As far back as I can remember I’ve always liked art.  When I was little I told everyone that I was going to be an artist when I grew up.  Art was my favorite class from elementary school on through my formal education.  It’s always been a means for me to express myself, relax and totally loose track of time.   This may sound crazy, but I think creating art and looking at art helps me to throw better.  I don’t know, maybe it’s a right brain thing, but I swear there’s a connection.  

I majored in Art and Secondary Education in college so I’ve dabbled in just about every media.  I don’t think I could pick a favorite but I enjoy painting, printmaking, drawing and glass work.  As for looking at art, I like the work of Paul Gauguin and Edward Hopper just to name a couple.  And then there’s Gary Larson, The Far Side guy.

After graduation I ended up finding a decent, fun job in the liturgical art field.   I was pretty lucky in that respect, and I had a boss that liked sports, so getting time off to train or compete was not an issue.  Lots of liturgical art is done in mosaic or stained glass form so that’s how I learned the glass trade.  Most of what I did was working on Dave’s projects, but I have designed and fabricated a couple of my own windows.  One (1' x 3') is in my parent’s house and the other (3' x 15') is a memorial for my grandparents and is in the church that they were members of.

I don’t work in the art field anymore but I try to keep the creative juices flowing.  Every year I make my own Christmas card.  It’s not a typical Christmas card as it’s always some kind of cartoon parody of the Christmas story.  It’s best to have a sense of humor when reading them.  My latest big undertaking was last fall when I made an edition of twelve prints, five color woodcut, based on my experiences at the 2000 Olympic Games.  I gave a few away to family and people who’ve helped my career without asking for anything in return.   I also sold a few to some athletes and friends.  I still have a couple left.

LSTJ: How much longer do you see yourself staying active?

KK: The philosophical answer: as long as I still enjoy it, am healthy and think I can still improve my performance, I’ll keep throwing. The realistic answer: probably 2004 or maybe 2005.

LSTJ: What are your throwing goals?

KK: Mostly, I just want to throw farther and farther.  I’d like to gradually increase my PR a few meters but almost more importantly, I want to increase my average distance.  If I can do that, then I put myself in a good position to continue making teams and make a run for winning medals at major competitions.

Another thing that I’d like to accomplish is to become a much stronger competitor.   I desire to be more confident, focused and composed during competition (and practice) in order produce the long winning throws in major meets. *LSTJ*

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