Kultan Keihas Project Javelin athletes off to super start as Youth Olympic Trials approach

by Steve Underwood

It’s one thing if a track and field athlete attends a day-long or weekend clinic and is able to learn some things that will help them in every aspect of their event.  It’s quite another if that athlete takes those great things they learned back home and commits to incorporating them into their everyday training – or even internalizes the notion that they will become a transformed athlete as a result of these things.

Better yet?  How about if a coach or coaches from that clinic are just as committed to that athlete’s development beyond the clinic, in effect saying, “If you take this and run with it, we’ll be with you every step of the way.”

Yes, if all those things above are in place – as they are in the National Scholastic Athletic Foundation’s Project Javelin – magical things can happen and athletes can begin achieving their dreams, or even beyond.  Javelin throwers like Kristen Clark (Ruston, LA senior) can get unstuck from a two-year-long plateau and not just throw over 140 feet for the first time ever, but achieve an early nation-leading 148-2 at the mid-March Neville Van Leigh Relays.  Javelin throwers like Chrissy Glasmann (Park City, UT junior), the younger sister of an international-title-winning thrower, can rise with a new commitment to the sport and a hard winter of training to a mind-boggling 25-foot PR and state record 160-6 last weekend at the Pine View Invite.

And javelin throwers like Katelyn Gochenour (Marian, NE soph), already an established star, can take the next powerful step forward from youth success to becoming prep history’s 13th-best ever with a stunning 11-foot PR at 167-0 at the Emporia State (KS) Spring Open  – yes, a new national leader, and she’s still “just” a sophomore.

Last October and December, these athletes and many others came to Chapel Hill and Coach Jeff Gorski’s Field of Dreams.  They absorbed three wonderful days of instruction each time, with a dream team of coaches that included Kultan Keihas ("Javelin Gold" in Finnish) founder Gorski, active Olympic prospect Barry Krammes, retired 2-time Olympian Tom Pukstys (December), 1972 Olympic Bronze Medalist Bill Schmidt (October) and Finnish national junior coach Kimmo Kinnunen (October).  As wonderful as the clinics are, however, it’s what has happened since – in the frequent exchange of instruction, feedback and video between Coach Gorski and the athletes – that truly makes this all so special.

These early spring explosions could hardly happen at a better time, especially for Glasmann and Gochenour.  They are both at the age to be eligible for 2nd Youth Olympics, taking place in August in Nanjing, China.  The Trials for those Games are this weekend in Miramar, Florida, and the above-mentioned two will be joined there by Project “teammates” Tairyn Montgomery (Redondo Union, CA soph), Emma Fitzgerald (Thayer Academy, MA soph) and Sophia Rivera (Brentwood, MO soph) – all stellar prospects themselves preparing for their own exciting 2014 debuts. 

Put another way, there are eight prep girls currently throwing the javelin who have hit 149 feet or better either this year or in 2013.  Four of them are Project Javelin athletes and all four will be in Miramar, hoping to earn a spot for the Games.

A closer look at Glasmann, Gochenour and Clark, whose seasons have started with such a bang:

Chrissy Glasmann: “Mentally, I became much more determined”

As one of the youngest of the javelin-throwing Team Glasmann, Chrissy Glasmann was a solid young thrower.  But as her older sister Megan had a senior year for the ages in 2013, winning everything in sight and finishing with a 176-8 at Pan American Juniors that made her #2 all-time, there wasn’t yet an indication that Chrissy might become a national elite, too.  Megan was also a funded athlete in the Project, but Chrissy was not.  Megan moved on to Stanford after Pan Ams and when Chrissy came to the first 2013 clinic in Chapel Hill in October, she looked like someone who had some skill, interest and potential, but also struggled a bit.  There wasn’t really an indication that she could be a championship contender.

What a different six months can make.  When a transformed Chrissy Glasmann stepped on to the runway last Saturday, her sister’s state record was suddenly in dire danger.  Coming to the line with a PR of 135-0, she started with a breakthrough 147-8, another PR at 147-10, then 145-4 and 146-9.  She then opened eyes further on throw five with another big PR of 154-8. 

“All of the throws seemed different from how I had ever thrown before,” Glasmann said a few days later.  “I knew something big was going to happen after I had my first practice throw.”

Then came her final attempt.  “My last throw was awesome, and as soon as it left my hand everyone watching just knew that it had broken the record,” she said.  “Technically, I think all of it just finally came together, and I didn't even feel anything as I hit the block and the release.”  The javelin landed 160-6 away and Megan’s Utah state record of 156-3 (UHSAA only counts state-season marks) was history.

“The whole idea of me throwing 160 and breaking the Utah state record is just starting to set in,” she says now.  “It’s amazing.  I can't wait to throw again and improve the mark.”

After that stellar sequence, it wouldn’t have been surprising if a familiar rival from a neighboring school had walked up to her and said, tongue in cheek, “Ok, who are you and what did you do with Chrissy Glasmann?”  Make no mistake, this is a different thrower.

“At the end of my sophomore year, I was a little disappointed,” Glasmann admits.  “I wanted to throw farther than I did ... (and) after the fall clinic, javelin became much more of a priority in my life.  I realized that I wasn't going to improve my throws unless I put hard work and effort into it.  Mentally, I became much more determined.”

First, with a fall volleyball season and then with the cold and snowy Utah winter, Glasmann wasn’t able to do much outdoor throwing until recently, but she did everything else.  “Instead of working on it once or twice a week, I put many hours in trying to adjust and fix the little (and big) problems with my throw,” she continues.  “Most practices were the med ball drills from the javelin clinic and working on my approach.  I've also started to run, and lift more, in accordance with the javelin clinic recommendations.  Recently, we have been throwing more, as the weather has improved (some days are better than others), going from standing throws into three steps and finally throwing with full approach.”

No doubt, the commitment to training and determination has paid huge dividends and, as it turned out, sister Megan had flown home to watch Chrissy throw last weekend.  “Having her there was amazing,” said the new record-setter.  “She was so supportive. When I broke her record we jumped around in a hug.  It was awesome. I wish she could come to every meet.”

There was no question that the Park City and Project Javelin alum was thrilled.  "I must say that I am a very proud older sister to the newly crowned all-time Utah state record holder," said Megan.  "All through high school, I held the spotlight and often felt guilty of overshadowing Chrissy, who was very capable of doing great things ... (she) deserves every bit of the limelight she is receiving after her spectacular performance.

"After her first warm up throw, we all knew it was going to be a good day. One after another, the throws kept coming, and I kept getting more excited, but the last throw was surreal. A large portion of the Park City team was watching, and the rest of the competitors and spectators had grown quiet. When she released the throw, and it landed past the flags at the end of the field, it was apparent that she had done it. With the announcement of the distance, I jumped into the air, ecstatic and quickly ran to give her a hug. I couldn’t be more proud of my sister. She is an amazing person and a fantastic javelin thrower."

Finally, Chrissy Glasmann acknowledges her mom, Niki, who started it all as an elite javelinist herself.  “My mom is the main reason I started throwing.  She is the most supportive mom in the world.  Win or lose, she comes to every meet to coach, and to cheer me on.  Without her, the Glasmann girls would have probably never even thrown the javelin.”

Katelyn Gochenour: “With age comes wisdom”

Katelyn Gochenour may be “just” a sophomore, but she’s a Kultan Keihas veteran, has been at the elite level longer and even has had international success, such as her MVP honor last year at the Pihtipudas meet in Finland during the Project’s trip there.

At the same time, she’s known that to go from her (2013) 156-8 PR to a level where she can compete for prep championships, prep records and international teams would require a new level of commitment.  Gochenour was solid during the fall clinics, but has since pushed herself in different ways with the goal of taking that next step.  Last Saturday, at the Emporia Open in Kansas, her sacrifice was evident:  An early-season series that would have been very solid, with three throws in the 145- to 152-foot range, became next-level with a stellar 4th throw of 167-0. 

“It felt satisfying,” she said.  “I was ready to come out strong this year.  Technically, I threw through the point and hit the best block I have ever hit.  But after reviewing it, there is still a lot of room to improve.”

And improvement’s been what Gochenour’s been all about this winter, even as the brutal weather along the Iowa/Nebraska border bluffs has prevented much in the way of outdoor throwing.  She’s had to be the ultimate gym rat.  “The main goal of every practice was to get some sort of throwing in, in order to enforce muscle memory,” she said.  “Although it isn't exactly the same as throwing a real javelin, I was able to consistently practice throwing using medicine balls, weighted balls, bungees, etc.

But that’s just the beginning.  “I was able to consistently work on such things as endurance, strength, and flexibility,” she added.  “When I speak of endurance, I am referring to running: running long distance, running with a javelin, sprints.  Also, many practices included bounding drills, bounding on both legs, one leg, backwards, alternating legs.  This was also the first year that I started off training with lifting weights.  In the weight room, my routine consisted of a lot of core work, squats, cleans, presses, and exercises for my back.”

Before Gochenour was exposed to the javelin, she was already quite the all-around athlete.  With increased dedication to the javelin has come the continuation of some of her endeavors ... and the ceasing of others.  “For flexibility, the main thing I do is dance (I've done dance since I was four). I also make sure to stretch as often as possible, making sure that my muscles never get the chance to tighten up ... (but) I gave up basketball for the first time (a sport I will always hold dear to my heart) in order to focus completely on (javelin) training.  Giving up basketball allowed me to truly focus on the javelin, which has definitely brought to life some goals that I would have found unattainable before.”

That factor begins to zero in on the other big aspect of Gochenour’s progress.  “I think a lot of my improvement has to do with mental development.  Naturally, with age comes wisdom, but more than that, with the many wonderful experiences I have been blessed with through NSAF, my mind matures.”

Kristen Clark: “I have always known I was capable”

Kristen Clark won’t be going to the Youth Olympics Trials this weekend.  As a senior, she’s outside that age-range to be eligible.  But if she continues the progress she’s been making, a trip in July to Eugene for the USATF Juniors (trials for World Juniors) is not out of the question.  That’s something that probably wouldn’t have been in the conversation for her until the last few months.

It’s not that Clark couldn’t throw 140 or 150 feet before.  She’s been able to do so in practice, at least on occasion, since her freshman year.  As is the case for so many, it’s been a matter of doing so in the pressure cooker of competition and having the mental fortitude that makes the difference.  “I have always known I was capable of throwing that far it has always just been an issue of putting it all together during a meet.  I somewhat feel like 140 was a mental block for me and ever since I got over it once, I have been getting over 140 consistently.

“I think one’s mental state has everything to do with how they perform,” she continues.  “I think after I signed this February, I just felt a huge weight lift off my shoulder because the ‘impressing people’ stage was over; my college decision to Texas A&M was made.  As well as that, just hitting my 148-2 PR has shown me how much I am capable of.  I no longer see the 150s and even the 160s as ‘out of reach.’  I feel like they are perfectly in reach ... Even this last weekend, I was asking my coach here in Louisiana about some drills I could do and he simply told me that I know what to do, and my body is ready to do it – but I just have to clear my mind when I get ready to throw.  I tend to throw my best when I am thinking about absolutely nothing.”

There’s even more, though.  Clark’s reaching a new level has also been all about prioritizing, a stronger focus, and a new commitment to strength and fitness.  “This is my first year to not play basketball, so having all of that extra time to really focus on getting stronger and simply spending more time with the javelin has helped a lot.

“(Also), I have never done a real “weight program” before this year and I feel like that has helped tremendously!  I started CrossFit Ruston in October and I have been going 3-5 times a week ... It has helped me get in better shape, given me a stronger base, become a better all-around athlete and prevented me from developing injuries such as a sore back.”  In fact, the CrossFit program has been a competitive outlet for Clark, as well, perhaps filling a bit of the void left by basketball.  “I go into each workout not only competing with myself, but with the insanely fit people in my classes.”

In addition to all of this, the coaching and support system is really paying dividends for the Ruston senior.  “After the December camp, I drove to Tyler, TX to throw with Tom Pukstys while he was in town and I really feel like that has helped me a lot.  He gave me some very useful tips and helped me get my run-up down pat.

“(And) I know that one of the main things that has pushed me is knowing that the people behind this wonderful foundation believe in me.  When I have felt it was extremely obvious that I was the worst one in the group, that never changed the input I was given or the way I was treated by both the coaches and the foundation.  The NSAF has been so good to me and I am so blessed that they can see my heart and passion for this sport.  The fact that God matched me with this group has pushed me more than anything, because I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”

Exciting times for the coaches, too

Kultan Keihas Coach Jeff Gorski could hardly be more thrilled to see Glasmann, Gochenour and Clark explode out of the gate – after two clinics and a several months of the long-distance flow of instruction and feedback.

A few of his comments:

On Chrissy Glasmann:  “Chrissy is one of the kids I've really enjoyed seeing blossom this spring.  At all the camps she came to there was just an extra sparkle in her eyes ... she also impressed me as being very tough; not outwardly, but I felt that there was a burn or desire inside her that would push her further ... ”
“She had always impressed me as an athlete capable of much more than she had shown or done.  To me, the main problem was her power application to the javelin and that alignment of both.  Her 120-foot throws were just so badly aligned and flighted, so I'd try to work with her on improving that aspect.  That she's made such a great commitment to javelin now, and spending more time on specific drills and training, have given her more correct reps – so the positions and feel of a well-aligned throw are not random luck, but planned performance ... It's no accident, either, that both Megan and Chrissy have bloomed under Niki's direction; Mom knows lots and her daughter’s ‘bought in’ fully!”

On Kristen Clark:  “Kristen had been to a couple of the camps prior to being invited to join the group.  I could see she had a pretty good ‘gun’ (throwing arm), but relied on it way too much.   She had quite a good coach her freshman year in HS but he moved after that year and Kristen struggled a bit; no real regular input on things to do or how to fix problems.  She had also been to see me for personal training sessions, and her throwing then was usually good because she had direction and knew what to do.  But when you're home and trying to remember this or trying to figure it out, it can be difficult and frustrating. 
“The regular feedback she got all year from the video clips she sent; the time and effort she put in to becoming a better, more fit athlete; and having a real plan to follow and support to work – that plan has really paid off for her.  And, there’s more to come!”

On Katelyn Gochenour:  “Kate’s a pistol ... wise and mature, well beyond her years, as some of her comments indicate.  Like Kristen and Chrissy, Kate came to her first training camps on her own; her mom and dad were her coaches and they felt (correctly) they had a diamond in the rough and wanted to get some help and direction ... Honestly, she was a bit awkward at first, not comfortable with the flow and ‘dance’ of javelin ... But two months later at the 2nd camp, there was amazing improvement ... This was more impressive when you consider she was in 8th grade at the time!  That summer she topped 150 feet and I wanted to be sure she was included in our program!
“Kate might be the most mature of the group ... it takes a special athlete to give up that (other HS sports) to venture out solo.  But it sure seems to be working.  I actually fear for other throwers now that things are warming up and Kate might actually get to throw a javelin much more regularly!  While her opening PR is quite impressive, looking at the video I see things that she can improve without major issues ... The efforts and support of her parents and sister, Kenna (who will be a fine thrower soon herself), have done wonders.”

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