SHERIDAN — Discus throwers usually compete out of sight from most track observers. The lack of exposure may increase difficulty in understanding what the event requires — much more than a simple spin and throw.
“There are five to six complex physical movements that have to take place just to complete a good throw with proper technique,” Tongue River High School track and field head coach Steve Hanson said.
Hanson helped two TRHS discus throwers earn trips to this year’s state track and field meet. In total, Sheridan County will have 10 high school discus throwers — four from Arvada-Clearmont, three from Sheridan, two from Tongue River and one from Big Horn — competing this week in Casper.
Discus is an ancient event, dating back to at least 700 BCE. In high school, boys throw a discus weighing about 3.5 pounds, while the girls discus weighs around 2.2 pounds.
Most throwers begin facing the back of the throwing circle, with the discus arm extended and palm facing down. They then take one pivot step with their throwing foot — right foot for right-handers, left foot for left-handers — while beginning to rotate their body. Next comes a larger pivot step with the opposite foot while fully rotating their body and one more step with the throwing foot while doing a half-rotation and releasing the discus. Most good throwers have another full rotation past release.
The discus throwing circle is 8 feet, 2.25 inches in diameter. It is slightly larger than the shot put circle, but there isn’t a toe board in front of the ring to help stop an athlete’s forward momentum, making scratches — when any part of an athlete’s body touches ground outside the ring — more common. The discus must also land within a throwing sector outlined in white, otherwise the throw doesn’t count.
Unlike the shot put, where the best competitors are almost always big and strong, the discus has athletes of varying heights and sizes because technique is more important than brute strength.
Sheridan High School throws coach Marshall McEwen said balance and body control are crucial discus characteristics.
“Everybody has to rotate, so when you start spinning people in circles and ask them to hold a disc, that can be very, very difficult,” McEwen said. “The image of a thrower is this big, physical human that has a lot of weight and size. In my mind, the best throwers are your most athletic kids.”
McEwen said the release is like squeezing a bar of soap: the discus should first come off the pinkie finger, then the ring finger and middle finger. Most throwers release the discus from the index finger, though some use the middle finger. Some athletes throw the discus with so much force and friction that it results in blisters on their fingers.
SHS senior Max Myers took second in the discus at state last year. He will attend Grand Canyon University in the fall to compete in discus and shot put.
Myers set the school record in the discus earlier this season and had a personal best throw of 171 feet, 8 inches last weekend at regionals. He wants to win state this week and reach 180 feet.
Myers is still working on improving his turning motion in the beginning of the throw, a common area of concern for throwers.
“Coming out of the back of the ring really sets up the throw,” Myers said. “If you mess something up, it can really throw off what’s happening in the front.”
The discus is also a unique event because it ends quickly. Most throwers only take about one and a half seconds from start to finish. There is basically no time for adjustment.
“It’s about a muscle memory of where my feet are, how long my steps have to be, how high my feet come off the ground, how low my feet are to the ground,” Hanson said, adding that throwers must possess a patience and willingness to work on tiny details to improve.
The location of an athlete’s hips and feet upon landing mainly determine which part of the sector the discus will land.
Coaches and athletes alike said they can tell before the discus lands if a throw is good or bad based on the form leading up to the throw.
Hanson said the weight transfer is the toughest part to teach, because getting one’s hips in front of one’s shoulder while lifting the chest upward and forward is unusual.
“It’s a completely unnatural motion,” Hanson said. “We’re asking kids to create a back to front motion at an upward angle.”
Arvada-Clearmont High School track and field head coach Ross Walker agreed.
“The biggest adjustment for most kids is trying to break old habits that they’ve grown up doing that aren’t great for throwing,” Ross Walker said. “If they’re pushing on the implement, the implement is pushing back on them and they’re actually losing force and losing power.”
ACHS sophomore McKenna Auzqui finished 10th in the discus at state last year and qualified again this year. She has learned the importance of not over-exerting herself during a throw.
“If you try hard, that doesn’t mean it’s going to go far,” McKenna Auzqui said. “It’s more about the patience and the timing. It goes better if you relax, but that’s hard to do when you’re all adrenaline.”
To help beginners, coaches teach the discus technique in phases. An athlete starts by simply reaching his or her arm back and throwing with no spin. Then he or she moves onto one spin and a throw before eventually doing the full motion with one and a half spins.
TRHS senior Courtney Good, who took fifth in discus at state last year, said she didn’t use the full motion in competitions until midway through last season.
Good is much better at the discus than shot put because of her quality technique and balance. She is usually one of the smaller competitors.
“I have to think big,” Good said. “I have to pretend I’m a big person.”
Buffalo High School assistant track coach Sarah Walker said footwork is fairly easy to teach, but timing and hip movement are tough. Another common mistake is using one’s upper body more than necessary, instead of relying on the entire motion and gaining strength from the lower body.
“We talk about it being similar to a dance,” Sarah Walker said. “There’s a certain amount of rhythm; there’s a certain amount of timing, but the most difficult part is that you have to have control to do one thing with your lower body while your upper body is doing something different.”
Ross and Sarah Walker — who both threw the discus in college at Dickinson State and Arizona State, respectively — also hosted their first 307 Throws Camp last year with coaches from around the state and will do the same again this year.
Sarah Walker said there are so many minute details in the discus and that she considers it a success if she and Ross go over 10 percent of the throw in an hour long presentation.
The discus doesn’t receive much attention, but Sheridan County’s throwers have achieved plenty of success away from the crowds this season. They’ll look to carry that momentum into the state meet this week.