“Always Happiness” – Coach Kimmo
A mid-October weekend in the Poconos. The return of a legendary Finnish javelin coach. Another chapter in a hilariously frightful new Halloween tradition.
It must be the NSAF Project Javelin Gold’s fall clinic at East Stroudsburg!
For the fourth straight year, the Foundation’s elite prep throwers and many additional guests – ranging from middle-school age kids to post-collegians – gathered in this eastern Pennsylvania college town for just about the best coaching, training and education available in this event. They trained on ESU’s runway, bountiful athletic fields, and remodeled gymnasium and weight room. They arrived Thursday evening, October 12 and departed three days later – regenerated and fortified for the rest of their fall and winter training, with prospects of a fantastic 2018 looming ahead.
The program athletes include seven returnees – seniors Roman Mitchell (SE Raleigh HS, NC), Gavin Darcy (Dunmore HS, PA) and Lillian Hill (North East HS, PA); juniors Skylar Ciccolini (Mifflin Co. HS, PA) and Ty Hampton (North Bend HS, OR); and sophomores Joe Nizich (Central Catholic HS, OR), and Zechariah Blake (John Curtis HS, LA). Dana Baker (Olathe East HS, KS) and Sam Hankins (Manhattan HS, KS) are newcomers, having joined the Project this past July at American JavFest. NBNI Pentathlon champ and All-American junior heptathlete Anna Hall (Valor Christian HS, CO) was also on hand, training with the Project for the second time.
Coaching up the 30+ total athletes gathered were Project co-founder Jeff Gorski, 1984 Olympian Duncan Atwood, 2008 Olympic Trials finalist and local standout Barry Krammes and current elite (2016 Trials finalist) Kim Hamilton – along with 1991 World Champ Kimmo Kinnunen of Finland. Coach Kimmo makes the fall journey to ESU most years; the only other time Project athletes have the opportunity to train with him is generally the bi-annual trip to Finland.
“Having Kimmo there is invaluable,” said Coach Krammes. “He just doesn’t coach the javelin, he lives it and loves doing it. His playfulness and ability to have fun rubbed off on all of us.”
Coach Kinnunen can at first come across as a little gruff and as a man of few words to the uninitiated. But the perceptive student-athlete soon picks up on his wry sense of humor, his unsurpassed passion for and knowledge of the javelin, and that a few select hard-earned words of his praise are worth their weight in gold.
“It was my first time working with Kimmo and I loved it!” said Anna Hall. “He is tough and a perfectionist, but he also has a great attitude. He constantly had new tips or techniques and I worked really hard to please him. If Kimmo told anyone ‘good’ that was a huge accomplishment!
“During one of the last sessions I had made some progress and he said ‘Wow, high jumper that looks more like javelin.’ I laughed, and as small of a compliment as that was, it was huge for him to say something positive.”
Added Zech Blake, “Kimmo is amazing! He really doesn’t speak that much, but he doesn’t have to because the way he puts things is simple and understandable. Particularly he helped me with my block leg.”
The timing of the clinic, of course, is far from the athletes’ competitive javelin season, so the training is focused more on things like building a base of fitness and technical strength, learning and growing to understand training concepts, and developing the all-around physical and mental aptitude in the event that will benefit them for years to come.
“The main priority for this camp with regards to our Project athletes was to assess and improve upon some of their technique goals that we isolated from the Sioux Falls clinic,” said Coach Krammes. “I was quite impressed the growth of our project athletes. It was evident that they have been focusing on their individual technical and training objectives.”
Also, the nine Project athletes were not the only ones participating in the clinic. “We had an impressive group of outsiders attending the camp,” said Krammes. “Michael Shuey (NCAA All-American and USA Champs 3rd-place finisher), Michael Biddle (2015 NBNO champ as a prep) and the entire javelin team from Penn State was in attendance. Coaches from Penn State, Lehigh, and East Stroudsburg University were also with us.”
The visitors also included rising stars Chris Putnam, now a Monmouth U. freshman who set a 194-8 PR at American JavFest in July; and Gabbie D’Amore, now an ESU frosh who also joined us in Sioux Falls; and Pierce Demetriades, who first trained with us a few years ago as a middle schooler.
Said Coach Krammes, “We had more coaches, so that allowed us to put athletes in smaller groups and rotate them more frequently. This made for more one-on-one attention and the athletes were able to not just train hard, but also get in a variety of drills. With the indoor training we had stations set up and we rotated every 20 minutes. Duncan’s station was geared towards javelin running and rhythm, Kimmo and Kim had general and specific med-ball drills, I had technical med-ball drills and plate exercises, and Jeff had single arm ball throws. I thought this worked very well.”
The station rotation is a well-honed system, perfected by a coaching staff that is at once diverse and unified. Getting feedback from different sets of eyes, yet all part of the same system, can lead to breakthroughs.
“The best part about the weekend for me was throwing in front of Duncan and Kimmo, getting a different point of view,” said Roman Mitchell, who set a new PR in winning his final summer meet at JavFest. “It really helped me understand some things I was caught up on with Jeff.”
Roman and the other athletes quickly learn the intricate benefits of different drills and exercises. “We did this drill where we would get into the plant position and be leaning back on a box with a med-ball, simulating the bow,” he said. “We would then stretch our upper body and throw an additional med-ball; this benefited me a lot because it allowed me to feel that position and become stronger in it.”
Testing was an important part of this clinic for the Project athletes, as well, as a continuation of what was developed at the Sioux Falls clinic and our partners in the Sanford Sports Science Institute there. “At the beginning of one of the indoor sessions Jeff and Duncan went over with the athletes some important tests for javelin throwers,” explained Coach Krammes. “Project athletes briefly demonstrated and Jeff gave the purpose and rational.”
It was exciting to see how much energy a heptathlete like Anna Hall has developed for the javelin. “As a multi, a big focus for me last weekend was reinforcing the basics that I learned last camp. A big focus was to be ‘a little bit angry’ and to really put power into the throw. We focused on bringing some of the power that I bring to my other events into javelin, while still doing the fundamentals correctly! I think the coaches helped a lot; they really dissect the event and pick out the little things, and so did the other athletes.”
After training on Saturday, athletes zeroed in on their mental games during a sports psychology session led by the NSAF's Dr. Margaret Ottley -- who worked with Team NSAF at the Caribbean Scholastic Invitational for years, then expanded her service to include Project Javelin more recently -- much to the delight and growth of all involved.
The weekend wasn’t just about hard work. A new tradition for the Project Javelin kids during this mid-October clinic has been a spooky adventure at “Hotel of Horror” during Saturday evening free time, a unique “bonding” experience for the kids and one that has been facilitated by Coach Krammes’ friendship with a friend and co-worker from his school district -- Anthony Massa -- who moonlights there during the Halloween season.
The “Hotel of Horror” actors have made the tour special each year and make sure the kids have stories to laugh and joke about. Coach Krammes has even gotten in on the show in the past, popping out of a faux casket in one frightful exhibit to the delight of all.
“Barry’s a good friend, and I’m glad he’s brought these kids out here to have a little break and some fun the past few years,” said Massa. “They get a kick out of it and so do we!”
Anna Hall summed up the entire clinic well, speaking for many when she said, “What I will remember most about the weekend is just how much I am learning! And it’s really fun being around athletes from all over the country. We all pretty much get to know each other and it’s cool to have friends at such a high level.”
“And it’s exciting to see some of the drills I’ve been doing pay off,” she added. “I’m excited to keep working on them so maybe someday I can hold my own with the javelin specialists!”
Photos, from top (all by Barry Krammes): Coach Hamilton, Roman Mitchell and others at clinic's end ... Coach Kimmo works with Michael Biddle on his arm motion ... Joe Nizich, Anna Hall and others listen to instruction with a smile ... Gavin Darcy with a javelin and Lillian Hill with a med ball ... Sam Hankins, Roman Mitchell and Zech Blake at Hotel of Horror ... Coaches Barry and Kimmo at clinic's end ... Dr. Margaret Ottley leads a sports psychology session Saturday evening.