This story began quaintly enough as I set out to research the history and origin of the ‘South African’ discus drill, also known as the ‘step-and-turn’; I spoke with throwers around the world tracing it’s roots all the way to Pretoria and a 73-year-old man named Jakobus du Preez. He has been at the heart of coaching South African discus throwing for the past half-century.
The ‘Step-and-Turn’, as it is known in South Africa and around the World, was created as a fast way to teach the full turn for rotational throwers. In the Step-and-Turn the athlete places their non-pivoting leg outside the ring to allow a more linear path towards the front of the ring and the end of the throw. The coaching of ‘Dup’, as he is called by his athletes, has been working in compliment with Discus Throwing Guru Kaai Preller (See Comments Bellow Article) and his discus throwers such as Frantz Kruger, the 2000 Olympic Bronze Medalist and 2006 Commonwealth Games Champion Elizna Naude, to name just a small, small handful.
During the 1950’s Fortune Gordien and Sim Iness utilized the drill to help transform themselves into two of the greatest throwers of their time; Gordien won Bronze at the 1948 Olympic Game in London, Silver in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne and Gold in the 1955 Pan American Games; additionally, Iness won the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki and was the first collegian to throw over 190 feet in the discus throw. Iness would go on to coach at Occidental College in the 1950’s where he taught this drill to a young Ken Shannon who would go on to be the Head Track and Field Coach at the University of Washington
Shannon learned the drill from both Iness and Gordien, and fortified his understanding of the drill, during a trip to Cape Town during the 1970’s. From there Shannon would teach not only his athletes but at clinics around America and even published several articles and books teaching the fundamentals and significance of the drill and throws. Over the next half-century UW would harbor exceptional throwers such as Steve Summers, Ben Lindsey, Russ Vincent, Borys Chambul, Adam Setliff, Mart Israel, Scott Neilson, Martin Bingisser, just to name a few of the successful throwers (Israel and Bingisser were students after Shannon had retired).
The drill has gone global since it’s inception and I believe most readers would be hard pressed to find a discus thrower that didn’t understand what the term ‘South African’ drill referred to and I also believe that if most readers would look above towards the timeline provided we would find that at 73 years of age Dup would have been 8 years old at the time Gordien competed in the Olympic games in London, as well as, 12 when Iness won 1952 Helinski Games and even Dup himself will say that he dreamt up the idea and constantly engineered it during the 1960’s. So what is this article about then? The witch-hunt? The destroying of a Story? Of a Man? No, it’s about the Secrets, Stories and Frontier of Throwing.
I’m going to start locally and then go global so bear with me….
Part 1: The Frontier.
Sport and America are synonymous with each over the past two centuries, why? Because American’s decided to utilize it as a mechanism of patriotism and a tool to develop future generations with qualities and traits that have found to be essential in creating a quality and successful individual and society. This is the reason for the development of games such as Basketball, (American) Football, Baseball and hence the NCAA; a judicial system to keep the programs that are shaping the youth in-line and on the correct path. With the creation of the NCAA comes an onslaught of repercussions that could fill a lifetime: we’ll focus on the ‘teamification’ of more historically known individual kinds of sports such as tennis, golf, wrestling, and of course track and field.
But the importance of sport wasn’t just at the collegiate level, it starts all the way at the youth level where, during the early 20th century, we were able to teach democratic capitalism values towards first generation children as well as continue the development of such values in families already living in America; we chose to engrain education and athletics at the core of American development and with these two a hybrid system has developed 100 years later that effects the course of lives of many potential athletes from sea to sea.
With Protestants, Lutherans and Methodists as the key influential groups in America during the early 20th century systems defined by hierarchy, competitiveness and teamwork dominated the developmental philosophies of the time and it was because of this that Catholics were able to help come to power in America and raise their social class most notably with the use of Notre Dame and American Football, during the last past half century this process of hegemony has crossed from religious boundaries to ethnic as African Americans and other minorities have been using football, basketball and baseball to help transform themselves into and above American middle class.
Obviously we can trace the success of such sports that were originally designed as team sports such as football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, etc. but what of the other sports such as track? In the American High School and Collegiate levels a scoring system is used for teams to deicide the team winners of meets while at a global level we seem to utilize a more of a metal count when comparing countries success at events such as the Olympics and World Championships.
I was at a track & field meet in Ohio my freshman year of college and a legendary football coach named Larry Kehres said to our legendary track coach, John Homon, “I can’t tell who is winning the meet”. Because of this experience at the Mount Union Invitational Kehres, also the Athletic Director, had our track team schedule more dual meets for the following season so that fans could better tell who won and lost meets.
As is the case in much business and sports around the world success can be defined by winning and losing and in America winning and losing is defined by who you beat and who beats you; this can be build and destroy individuals and teams and has gone through many transformations over the decades, peaking in absurdity during the late 1990’s where in America everybody got a trophy for doing just about anything. With this evolution came the idea of success based on winning transformed to success based on beating other people transformed to success based on what trophy you have and with this came the transformation of the focus on the prize rather than the process and with the loss of the focus on the process America lost the reason to why it chose sports to help shape it’s future.
So where does this leave track & field and throwing? There seems to be two major groups of definition of greatness in throwing: how far you threw and how much you have won. Unlike other sports where fans can only fantasize of their favorite teams or players going head to head in combat throwers can look at the numbers and say he threw further, she won more Olympics, etc. (Of course everybody knows this debate is nowhere as simple as I just put it, but we’ll save that for Mac’s message board). Unfortunately what people seem to like to do more than anything is what is described above as compare and contrast and evaluate: people want rankings, people want top and bottom, people want a hierarchy and more than anything they want people to be able to fall and rise in this system.
I feel a great strong sense of this instilled in American culture and in American sports, for reasons such as a team can only have so many starters, so many players on the roster and post season play must have a tournament with so many teams participating. American’s want a champion and they only want one and they want that one to be the team that beat every other team to the top of the mountain. For countless generations this function has positively benefited societies, however, with the rise of the internet, transparency, entitlement and the loss of the emphasis on the process now moved towards the prize there has been an unstructuring of the inner-self for many teammates that is not possible in sports such as Track and Field, Wrestling, Tennis, Swimming, etc.
Laziness: athletes are losing opportunities to be champions in team sports because they are becoming too accustomed to riding the train rather than being the coal, the fire, the gears, the driver that moves the train. It’s easier and they don’t even know that they’re doing it and I see it everyday; a football team will win a National Championship and a 5th string freshmen will say that he was a National Champion. It is important to think and bond as a team but there must be a limit or extent towards the experience that shapes the individual. When that same freshman steps onto a runway, or a ring, or the mat and they believe that they are a National Champion when in reality their actions and contributions and life were not equal towards the accomplishment (when claiming from the team title), when they are alone in the ring, the mat, the runway, we see who they truly are and sometimes they succeed and other times they fail and this has consequences.
With the idea of winning coming from the experience of a team of face to face combat sport the opportunity is there to put the locus of control outside the athlete themselves (this is obviously prone in individual sports as well, but we’ll get to that in a minute) and when the power to have success and grow and change and develop is left outside that person we lose all true control and become merely a reflection of what others see and do rather than expression of what we feel and think on the inside. The opportunity to take the positive side of this experience in individual sports such as throwing is unparalleled in team sports: you are the one in the ring, you are the one waking up, taking the reps, thinking, feeling, sacrificing all yourself and when you have success you are the one to blame and most importantly when you fail you are the one to blame. The interior locus of control.
Part 2: The Stories.
But what is success and failure? To me success, to be a champion, to be a winner (in a philosophical sense) is when an individual finds an objective, sets a goal to achieve this objective, puts themselves through this process to achieve this objective and when the moment has come where they have the opportunity to transform themselves from thought to reality, from dream to history, that they take full advantage of that opportunity and use it as a substance to add to the person they are as a human being compared to who they were prior to beginning of the process. In this line of thought sometimes winners are winners and sometimes winners are losers and sometimes losers are winners and other times losers are losers.
To an extent.
In alignment with what we were talking about above with the need for one true winner, one true loser, we must realize that there are multiple ways that we must interpret all experiences and that one experience cannot negate another but that they must be appreciated with their appropriate weight and in their appropriate timeline. In America so many seasons in athletics are called thrown away or garbage or waste because they failed to win the decided championship of that organization but there are so many other important journeys that occur during the lives of individuals and groups of individuals that are so much more important than whether or not they won the Super Bowl or World Cup.
That is why I appreciate track and throwing in particular because of that struggle of that process that each athlete goes on and none of those paths should be compared because none of them are ever the same and we all have our own battles and fears and tests to face and when we throw we know what those battles are and where they came how we faired and what that lead towards developing.
The technique in the throw is such a Rorschach of that thrower, we can tell over time and in just one throw who they may be, where they came from and what has influenced them; we can see the influence of Venegas, Wilkins and Godina, Dup and Babbit, Logan, Bondarchuk, Litvinov and Sedgyk and on and on and on; we can tell from the discs we throw and points we emphasize and the visibility of careers who we are, who we were and who we want to be…some want to be invisible, others want to be the sport.
What needs to be appreciated in the sport and in all sports is that there are winners and that there are losers and both shape an individual and society with given weights and timelines but what I find to be so special and unique about championships is that the only reason they are championships is because we say they are, we only have the Olympics because we say we do and by we I don’t mean the fans I mean the athletes. There is an invisible contract signed by all athletes when they become a member of any group or society and in that contract for throwers (for example) we say that the Olympics, the World Championships, The Pan Am Games, the Commonwealth Games, the NCAA Championships, The Diamond League, whatever, athletes agree that this is what we are training for, this will be the pinnacle of our seasons and define our careers and when they all finally meet up, when the athletes all land in London and Moscow and Rio each one of them has their own life and each of their lives have been dedicated for this experience and within that dedication, that lifetime experience there have been countless numbers of moments that have helped shape not only the athletes themselves but the other individuals and groups they have encountered in their lives and this ripples on forever but when they meet at this championships and there are 20 athletes in a final there are 20 lifetimes of stories of struggles competing with each other, not against but with each other to continue to make that life and that sacrifice and that experience representative and reflective of that person and it ripples on forever.
(I’d also like to make a point to state that while we tend to focus on the accomplishments at a global or championship level that this doesn’t dismiss the importance of achievement at other levels of competition. Not everybody’s path takes them to a championship stage that is defined by society as a championship. Sometimes a person’s championship moment is at an invitational, at a dual meet or another type of function; and for that individual person that opportunity to excel in that moment can lead to changing decisions and reactions that reach much greater peaks than other athlete’s triumphs at a higher level of competition. It’s not about comparing these moments but appreciating them in their respected weights and timelines to that specific person. Just because you’re not going to be an Olympian doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue a life of throwing. That process and failures and successes can still lead to reactions that help shape you into a successful human being.)
Each one of those 20 throwers have a story and each one of those 20 throwers have mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, children and coaches that have their own lifetime and stories and the thickness in this substance is so great that we see that sport is more than just game, it is a representation of who we are. Discus, shot put, javelin, hammer; it is about how far you throw it but it only goes far because of the things you have done to put it out there and there are many actions and reactions that cause that thing to fly like it does and these catalysts come from both inside and outside the ring. Stories are what makes sports important, stories are what make people important; stories aren’t just what we hear or say they’re what we’ve done and what we’re doing and what we’re going to do and it is the story of the thrower that makes them great.
Part 3 The Secrets.
Not every story should be told though. Loose Lips Sink Ships. Is this about steroids or phantom fouls? No. This is about what this entire article is about, the process, the secret, the story and the frontier of throwing. This applies to all sport but it’s too broad for me to think of so I’m narrowing it to throwing. Over 100 years ago there were physical frontiers all across the globe, from the Ocean to America and it was within this frontier and space that people were able to escape the set structures and history of a place and define and create themselves and their environment around them…this is how America was made. A reflection of the society a group of people dreamt to live in, not a stagnant picture but an ever flowing and shape changing entity, America.
All the land has been found, all the ocean’s mapped and we’re not capable of moving to space like we were able to cross the sea, yet, and because this the great frontier that helped shape America and societies across the globe vanished and then reappeared and transformed itself into sports. Sport is the great frontier for a great amount of global citizens around the world for the past century, some have science, others religion, etc. but a ridiculous amount of people around the world have chosen sport as the great frontier. It’s both a vacuum and the greatest stage in our global society today. Sports.
For every athlete, for every person exists their own personal frontier and when we find that true authentic frontier we are able to fall into an abyss and grow and shape and change ourselves into whoever we want to be and because of this sport is amazing, throwing is amazing…people can be amazing. This frontier is harder experienced in a team sport setting because within a team we must conform to certain principles and rules but in a vacuum of individual sports we must create our own and I think both are important towards healthy growth as humans.
In throwing people have been able to find themselves, to find god, to find philosophy; they’ve been able to transform themselves, to move socio-economic class and to do other things that I can’t begin to imagine that they could use throwing to help change their lives into and that is the point of the secret. The point of the secret is not to keep another down or prevent another from succeeding; rather, I see a secret as an opportunity to dive into success.
When it comes to secrets and throwing the hot topic of the decade is Dr. Bondarchuk and people think the reason for the secret is so that his people can throw far and your people can’t…the reason for the secret is so that you can earn it and when you earn it not only do you get to fully experience it but it means infinitely more to yourself…in fact Bondarchuk has published many books that flat out tell you what he does, Martin and Kibwe share it every week with you what it is and what you fail to see isn’t that Bondarchuk is snaking around the topic he’s giving you enough information to shape your own program and training and philosophy…too often in school kids say just tell me the answer and what they fail to realize it’s not about the answer it’s about how you got to the answer and how you can apply that to other facets of your life.
Secrets are great because they allow the individual person to develop an authentic-self rather than franchise their frontier experience. I hate when I hear throwers say “I’m doing Bondarchuk training” or I’m doing “Godina Training”, unless those individuals are actually programming for you, you aren’t. You are merely doing an interpretation of such training and don’t be upset by that, be proud, do your own training, do your own research, live your own experiments and shape your own experience and not only will learn a great deal but it will be much more important to you and your life. Spread the Secret. Do it Yourself. Ask for Directions. Don’t ask to be carried. You’re the only one allowed in the ring.
It’s amazing, I think, that in vacuum, in secret that two people on the other side of the world can come up with the same idea. While it did happen in the discovery of the HIV virus. Who is to say that Dup didn’t invent the ‘step-and-turn’, who is to say that some guy in Texas 20 years earlier didn’t invent it…what does it mean to invent something? To be first? I don’t care who was first what I care about is that two or more people across the globe saw the same problem and came up with the same solution to fix the problem and I don’t care if it was decades apart and in fact it makes it even more amazing to me because it shows the universalism and timelessness in throwing, in humanity, it shows the ability of people to come to similar conclusions through similar processes…
…but you might not think so….
Some time, some place, somewhere, more than once, somebody invented the shot put, somebody invented the hammer throw, somebody invented javelin and discus and somebody figured out a way to throw it far and all around the world at all times of the day from a thousand years ago to a thousand years from now people you know and people you don’t know will be standing in a ring or a runway just the same as you with the same but different shot put on their neck, with the same or different grip on the discus and the same or different shoes on their feet and they’ll turn and they’ll glide and they’ll spin and they’ll run and they’ll move just as you do and you’ll never know it but you’re all doing the same thing, thinking similar things and having the same questions and problems and coming up with some answers the same and some answers different and you and they will have an experience and from that experience they will make a decision and some of these decisions will come in the past and others in the future and some will be same and some will be different but they’ll all be for the same reason, they’ll all be from the same words, from the same thoughts and process and that is to transform ourselves into who we want to be and that’s a lot like what you’ve read above and that’s a lot like you’ve done in the ring and the sooner you learn to translate these concepts and processes to other areas in your life the better you will be able to transform yourself and the world.
It could manifest itself in Seattle, Washington or Pretoria, South Africa it could be the at the same time or different it doesn’t matter who does it first…what matters is that it happens and we continue to progress…the process…the throw…the life…the words…transfer…connect…learn.
Or maybe it’s just us throwing weights into the air, could be that simple.