LIKE ITíS 1999!World DT Champ Tony Washington
GONE AND BACK AGAIN
1971: TWO PERSPECTIVES
REVISITING THE SOFT-STEP
THE HORIZONTAL TRANSLATION
PLYOMETRIC OLYMPIC LIFTS
WHO SHOULD I BE
Blood And Sand
By Glenn Thompson
Do me a favor. Ask modern-day platter slingers who the last American was to win a gold medal at a World Championships or Olympic Games.
Wait patiently. Then wait a little more.
Sure it would be an unscientific survey. But my unscientific guess would be maybe 25% would utter the name Tony Washington, and half of those respondents would answer in question form, as in, "Tony Washington???"
And though most of his international career took place before the internet caught fire, he deserves more of a spotlight than has shined on him.
Long & Strong was fortunate to get the United Stateís last world champion (1999) to reflect and share some of his thoughts with our readers.
Long & Strong: Where did you grow and what was life like?
Anthony Washington: I was born in Glasgow, MT, but I didnít grow up there. My father was in the U.S. Air Force and we were stationed there at the time. I grew up in Rome, NY, from about the age of three and lived there until I attended Syracuse University.
L&S: What sports did you participate in as a youth?
AW: I played the usual sports most kids do: Baseball, basketball, football, soccer, wrestling, track and field. By the time I was in ninth grade, I more or less focused on football, some wrestling, and track and field.
L&S: What was your first exposure to track and field? I understand that you were a sprinter/jumper originally?
AW: Thatís correct, but it didnít last but 2 years at most. I started out trying several running events, from the 800 to the 100, along with the triple and long jump, around the ninth grade or so. If I didnít perform as well as Iíd like to in one event, I moved on and try another. From an early age I was interested in athletics. When I was young, track and field was regularly on TV; even though we only had several channels, the exposure was there, not to mention we were encouraged to participate in many sports, to find one we really enjoyed, and to have some level of competency.
L&S: What were the highlights of your high school career?
AW: I know I had a good deal of competition that I was excited about, but I canít remember most; but however, what I can say is that my most satisfying moments didnít necessarily have to do with winning, It had to do with how I performed and if I was improving in technique, distance, and competitiveness. Nonetheless one of my biggest moments was winning the state championships or divisional championships; Iím not sure which one, during my senior year. Another high point was becoming a letterman and attaining all state honors in Track and Field, and upper state honors in Football.
L&S: Why did you pick Syracuse University?
AW: My sister had attended the school, and several athletes from Rome went there as well, so I was familiar with the school, not to mention that I wanted a school with a great reputation of providing a solid education, with a history of preparing students for the future, and I wanted a school with a large athletics department, and vibrant track and field program.
L&S: When and why did you choose to retire from the sport?
AW: 2000 was my last outdoor season on the circuit. I left the sport because I felt I did all I could do, along with the fact I didnít have the same level of sponsorship as I enjoyed during the previous several years. Having a family, working full-time, and trying to be a world class athlete takes a toll on you physically and mentally, and I was ready to focus on my career and going back to school to attain my Masters degree. All in all, I was quite satisfied with what I accomplished during my career given how it all came together, so it was time to move on to the next chapter of my life.
L&S: Do you have any involvement in throwing now? Do your kids show any interest?
AW: I help coach the discus at my boys junior.high school, and I will usually bring my throwing shoes and a disc or two and throw with the athletes a couple times a week during the season. My older son competes in a few different events and picked up the discus as something else to do a couple years ago. He had some success in the running events until having some knee problems which donít appear to impact his throwing all that much. The sport he has the most promise in at this point, and it might change, is swimming. My younger son is a thrower top down, since heís fairly big for his age. Along with football, which is his favorite sport at this time, the shot put might be the event he more or less gravitates to, but the disc and hammer will be a part of this event list.
L&S: In the world of elite throwing, you were not a particularly tall or heavy man, but you got tremendous results. Was that a testament to your technique, explosive abilities, or something else?
AW: Ultimately, I believe my ability to compete at a world class level had to do with a slow, methodical, consistent progression that had only a few significant injuries during my total career. My level of throwing grew fastest once I stopped trying to imitate past great throwers and develop a technique that worked best for me; of course it took about six to nine years to really solidify it in my mind and body, and what was really of interest is that , my most significant year wasnít my best year in the weight room, or my sprint-jumps routines. It was the belief that I had finally put it all together long before the seasonsí major meets started. Being explosive is also very important in the throwing events and I have no doubt that I became quite powerful as the years progressed. All I can say about this is that I wasnít very fast, or quick when I was young, and I didnít have an athletic frame either, but I did have the foundation to have all of those attributes. Obviously, it took a lot of specific training starting in high school and beyond to get me to where I needed to be. As I think about my past, I have to mention probably the most important aspect of training is having support to do so; without it, very little is possible.
L&S: How would you describe your technique at its peak?
AW: I donít think the average thrower would see the slight change in my technique during my 1999 season, and itís possible that there isnít a real change mechanically; the change might be more of a thought of how to do something, and/or a feeling that slightly changed the rhythm or cadence, but my technique at my peak wasnít the technique that produced my longest throw or even my most consistently long throws. The technique that produced the best throws in and out of competition allowed me to do more with slightly less effort, along with a frame of mind of what I was doing at that time was the best I could do, and having it lock down during the early season. So my technique during the 1999 season felt like I was fast coming out of the back but under control and very strict; a quick and seamless entry into the center with a nice gathering, or build up, and then a quick left foot plant followed immediately by a quick rotation to the front, with a hard-blocking left arm and highly leveraged following motion with my right side of my body, and then a save. For me the most important parts of the technique were a very strict and deliberate movement out of the back, a smooth seamless center, and a very strong, blocking left arm and right side follow through.
L&S: Which of your competitors impressed you most and why?
AW: I have to say the 1999 World Championships, which is probably not a surprise. First off, I won the meet with a record-setting throw. I did it on my last throw coming from a fourth-place position, much like the position I was in during the 1996 Olympic Games, so finishing in fourth again weighed heavily on me. I knew I had a better throw in me at the time since I had caught a couple good ones earlier on in the meet but was missing the finish each time. I felt if I could hit the middle just right and square up properly and follow through at the finish, Iíd get a better throw and possibly be in the top three. The distance impressed me due to the fact that it was hot and humid, and being within an enclosed stadium with no wind blowing, it was easily my best throw ever given the conditions and competition.
L&S: What coach(es) influenced you the most, and in what ways?
AW: All of the coaches Iíve been fortunate to have worked with helped me in various ways, dating as far back as high school. Iíve also been quite fortunate to have had fellow throwers assist as well. I believe the best assistance I received from the coaches I worked with was their ability to let me explore various technical and training practices, ideas that, more times than not, worked best for the type of thrower I was at the time. I had no illusion that the coach is supposed to know everything there is to know about discus throwing and training methods. I needed to be the expert about my technical, mental and nutritional planning and execution. I didnít believe putting my future in the hands of only one person was the way to go. Of note, I spent the last seven years of my career without the supervision of a coachÖwatching the flight and direction of the discus can help tell you what you did right and what you did wrong, as well as where my body ended up at the end of the throw, as in was I in the middle, left or right of the center line.
L&S: Can you tell us about your Ďcivilianí life since your retirement?
AW: After retirement, I continued to work for Qwest Communications for several years, until I was offered the opportunity to find work outside the company. Qwest had been downsizing their workforce for some time and I had an idea that my time was coming; the company wasnít doing well since it bought US West Communications, the discovery of accounting fraud, and executive mis-management had taken its toll on the company. After that I spent about 3 years in positions that didnít fit my skill set, before finding a more relevant position at a medical device company.
L&S: What were some of your measurable(s) at your peak in the major lifts? How important was your weight training to your overall development? What were your most effective exercises?
AW: My best efforts for the traditional lifts are as follows: Bench = 285 lbs, Squat 650 lbs, Clean 325 lbs, Snatch 260 lbs. For non-traditional lifts: Clean pulls 385 lbs, Single Leg Step up onto box, 315 lbs, Half Squat 700 lbs. I had problem reaching decent strength levels in the clean due to wrist problems; therefore, I did clean pulls, which doesnít involve catching the weight. My bench was fairly poor due to bicep tendon problems. For the snatch I didnít take the weight from the floor; Iíd hold it just under my waist and snap it up. Weight training was important, but wasnít the focus of my training; specific strength, sprint, and polymeric work, were far more important. Iíd try to spend as little time in the weight room as possible during the last eight years of training. I believe my most effective exercise was the hang snatch, I felt it was a lift that worked very well for the discus - quick, explosive, and powerful and for the most part, it was the only lift Iíd do late into the season.
L&S: I understand balancing your academics and athletics was quite a challenge at Syracuse. Can you talk about how you handled that?
AW: You do what you have to do with the time youíre given; I didnít do anything different than thousands of athletes have to do every year. I had a few unfortunate issues with a couple of professors who didnít share the same passion for sport I did; I guess it happens from time to time, and you have to deal with it. I received my degree so it all worked out in the end.
L&S: Which of the competitors from your era did you admire/respect the most? Were you friends with any of your peers or keep in touch with them?
AW: Iíd say my era lasted long enough to have thrown against some of the best. I admired all of the usual suspects from the late seventies through the eighties, as well as most of the European guys during the nineties. I canít say I respected one more than the other, each brought their own unique persona to the field, and really made the sport exciting and very challenging. There is probably one guy that was around during the eighties and the nineties that was truly an amazing thrower and a nice person to be around. I was and still believe Iím friends with many of the guys I threw against. There was one guy I never really connected with; it was probably a language thing, but in the end I believe he felt he was above me in every way, which was probably true, but just the sameÖ
L&S: Why do you think the U.S. is such a force in the menís shot, but not the discus? (No Olympic gold since Wilkins in Montreal (í76), no WC gold since í99)
AW: I donít know, I often ask that question to myself. I think acceptance of the rotation style in the shot took hold here long before it did elsewhere and we have developed it into a core competency which is transferable from coach to thrower, thrower to thrower. As for the discus I can only speculate that the direction many of our throwers take in regards to technical development and strength training is possibly the reason the U.S. hasnít performed as well as weíd like nor has progressed the sport over the last two decades. It appears that a lack of strong support for athletes who are no longer in the university system may play a role as well. Throwing the disc requires a decent circle and field. Being transfixed on the technique and the training regime of whoís leading the world or the idea that only one particular style is best for the Discus doesnít help. Maybe this approach can work in some way with the Shot, since the body of knowledge is squarely in the U.S., but the Discus, from my perspective, has such varied approaches itís hard to say that a particular tactic is required. I also think that young throwers need to have a realistic approach to reaching long throws, understanding that it can take a number of years before they can reach consistent long throws during competitions. Hitting a PR in a windy meet doesnít mean youíve reached a certain level of throwing. With the shot you donít have the advantage of wind to impact your throw. A good wind can be a welcome advantage or something that makes you believe youíre something youíre not. I think our discus throwers will rise to the occasion once we realize that throwing the discus starts at the back of the circle and not the front, at least for me it did. Throwers need to know their liabilities and work to make them assets. Of note, one of the things that held me back for years in the big world class events was my inability to accept track meet structure, and organization; itís funny to think that even small and seemingly inconsequential things can impact your performance. *L&S*