Powerful Stuff: Feats of Strength, Part II

We're picking up where we left off in the last entry, which began a look at the “urban legends” of the throwing community, specifically the stories -- inflated or not –- of super human feats of power or strength.

One of the more amazing exhibits of power (in a number of areas) that I’ve seen was when I saw a pair of great German javelin throwers, Raymond Hecht (300-foot thrower) and Peter Blank (288-footer), perform their “pud” throwing tests. On one of my trips to Baton Rouge, La. to work with Tom Pukstys, who I was coaching at the time, Peter, Raymond and Boris Henry were spending February and March with Tom to train in warmer weather.

The pud was a 16-pound iron ball with a handle welded to it. These guys had a 16-exercise routine that they did with it. For nearly three hours they put on a display of the most impressive raw physical power I’d ever seen. With the possible exception the hamstrings I think every body part was involved in some way in these tests.

Some were “traditional” moves: backward overhead throws, forward from a squat. Others were a bit more specific: single-arm discus style throws (both left-and right-handed), squatting two-hand “chest passes,” two-turn hammer-style (again, both sides), and reverse discus-style throws. Others were downright bizarre: hooking a loop on their foot and slinging the weight forward, a standing “punt snap” between the legs (at great risk to future fatherhood!) I lost count of the number of “heaters” they burned through during that (and other) high intensity training sessions. Not far behind was the pull-over weight Boris Henry was using for reps of 8-10. The total was more than 260 pounds, so much that Boris needed someone to sit on his hips to keep the weight from pulling Boris off the bench.

A bit north of the Fatherland is the javelin haven of Finland. Any fan of World’s Strongest Man competitions on ESPN will remember the number of top strongmen that came from Finland. There have been some pretty special javelin strongmen from the Land of the Midnight Sun as well, but the acknowledged champion of “Suomi Power” is Seppo Raty.

The stories of Seppo’s feats are so widespread that the Finns have a ready disclaimer when they are discussed: “Seppo not normal.”

Seppo had numbers in the weight room that were plenty impressive (440-pound bench; 395 clean and jerk; 330 snatch!) his legendary strength was in the special javelin power areas. The “Kari” or “skin-the-cat” snatch (a snatch without a catch at the top, but letting the bar pass overhead and hang down below the butt, then pulled back over head to starting position) that Seppo hefted with did this with 220 pounds. He could throw a 4-kilogram shot, soccer throw-in style (a standard Finnish javelin test) more than 75 feet. No other Finn has ever got to 70. And standing single arm throws: Seppo owns a best of more than 150 feet with a 1.6-kilo ball. Seppo not normal!

Back on this side of the pond a couple stories recently related to me surely fit into this topic ...

A pair of elite shot and discus athletes (I’m protecting their names here) who started a personal training and supplement business had a meeting with the strength coach of a very successful NFL team. After their meeting they toured the facility, especially the weight room. Prominently displayed in the gym was a wall plaque that listed the top performers in their testing battery: incline bench, clean and vertical jump. Both of the guys were still training pretty seriously (but not throwing at high competition levels) and asked if they could get in a workout. No problem, they were told.

Once the scoring system was explained to them they played with the idea of trying the test to see where they would land on the list – if at all. The strength coach was dismissive of the pair. How could a couple of “track guys” perform at the level of millionaire NFL players?

Pretty easily, it seems. Both of them blew away the top scores by a wide margin without reaching their personal bests in any of the testing exercises – to the disbelief of the NFL “strength” coach.

And finally, the story behind the photo shown here: During a tour of Europe by the old Pacific Coast Club, one of the great old athletics clubs of the 1950s-70s, the gang was in Italy for a meet and some extended training before their next stop. While the reason for the challenge is a bit murky, one of the shot/discus guys felt compelled to lift the Fiat he found conveniently next to him as they exited the local pub. With double Olympic high jump medalist Dwight Stones observing/judging the “event,” the shot guy settled into position and slowly lifted the car free of the ground.

Challenge issued, Munich Olympics javelin bronze winner Bill Schmidt calmly wrapped his fingers around the bumper of the car, lowered his hips and hoisted the Fiat higher than the shot putter did, even as Bill gave up six inches in height and 50-60 pounds of muscle mass.

Schmidt not normal.

Note: Jeff Gorski is a throws addict who mainlines javelin.... he has coached national champions and record holders and also high school and post-collegiate athletes. He ran the USATF Javelin Development/High Performance programs before starting Klub Keihas as a way to help grass roots through Olympic level throwers (including the NSSF's current Kultan Keihas Project). He also has a throwing equipment business: JAVELAND