NSSF "Projects" explore new way forward

U.S. high school record holder Avione Allgood peers through a wall of javelins at the Project Kultan Keihas clinic in October. Jeff Gorski

A new approach to developing talented young Americans in a pair of field events where the U.S. has fallen behind internationally took a few steps forward this week.

Project Kultan Keihas (Finnish for Javelin Gold) and Project Triple Jump both took a step forward this week when some of the nation’s top high school athletes attended specialized camps designed to keep them engaged, and learning, about their events.

Both projects are part of a re-seeding effort undertaken by the National Scholastic Sports Foundation, the North Carolina-based non-profit that puts on the New Balance Indoor and Outdoor track and field championships. The NSSF has a mandate to re-invest its surpluses into junior (20 and under) track and field.

The javelin and the triple jump events are where this initiative starts. By inviting a handful of the country’s best throwers and jumpers to clinics that are part cultural exchange, part social networking, part training camp – the hope is that the athletes can accelerate their learning curves.

It started with the javelin. In October, six of the top throwers in the country – including national record holder Avione Allgood – were flown to Jeff Gorski’s Field of Dreams training facility in North Carolina. Two dozen additional throwers paid their own way. The camp offered three days of immersion and instruction by Finnish coach Kari Ihalainen, Gorski and 1972 Olympian Bill Schmidt.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re on a little bit of an island, with no one to relate to or talk to,” said Dean Crouser, who attended the October camp with his daughter, junior Haley Crouser. “When you come to something like this you see other kids doing the same thing and build some camaraderie.”

Allgood, of North Las Vegas, Nev., Crouser (Gresham, Ore.), Christine Streisel (Tamaqua, Pa.), Sean Keller (Vancouver, Wash.), Jon Strauss (Lehighton, Pa.) and Kyle Felpel (Cocalico, Pa.) all returned to North Carolina for a Dec. 27-30 camp designed to keep the ball rolling with more work on proper technique. All six athletes are expected to maintain regular contact with Gorski so that he can review video of their workouts and offer feedback.

And the reward for that work – in addition to improved track seasons – is a summer trip to Finland to see first-hand javelin’s global hot spot. Details of a competition between the young Americans and their Finnish counterparts are still being worked out.

In terms of helping some of the country’s best javelin throwers get better, the project seems to be working.

“(Avione) is understanding more about the mechanics involved in the javelin and what she needs to do with her feet,” said Allgood’s mother, Gloria. “She picked up some drills and so many things we hadn’t been doing (at home). She had fun and liked it.”

For someone like Allgood, the clinics are a chance to nurture a talent when resources and competitive opportunities are scant in her home state. Fewer than 20 states in the U.S. sanction the javelin – and Nevada is one that does not.

As the javelin group explores how to do things better by studying the Finns, the Triple Jump Project began this week by studying in the Bahamas. Seven athletes traveled to the island nation with outsized success in the triple jump to learn from Peter Pratt, one of the world’s leading authorities.

Devin Field (Dallas), Chris Brown (Charleston, S.C.), Carla Forbes (Newtonville, Mass.), Melodee Riley (Riverhead, N.Y.), Jennifer Madu (Plano, Texas), Cierra Brown (Dayton, Ohio) and Molly Shapiro (Troy, N.Y.) took part in classroom discussions, drilled on sandy Cabbage Beach and saw how the Bahamians train.

“It’s a cultural exchange and a chance to see how other people see the event,” said Project leader Cedric Walker. “Maybe one of these (athletes) will be the first U.S. woman to make 47, 48 feet. Maybe a program like this will help.”

In the Bahamas, the triple jump holds a special place in the nation’s collective heart. Frank Rutherford gave the country its first Olympic medal in 1992 when he took bronze in the triple jump at the Barcelona Games.

Joining the Americans this week were Latario and Lathone Collie-Minns, the 17-year-old Bahamian twins who earned gold and bronze at last summer’s World Youth Games in Lille, France.

The idea of bringing together the top young athletes in the U.S. and offering them exposure to some of the world’s most renowned coaches is overdue, Gorski said.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve requested (something like) this and it got shot down,” he said. “You pick the kids, you find the coaches and put them together. Maybe three to five years down the road we will see the impact. That will be the litmus test. Maybe we’ll see it at World Juniors (in 2012).”

In the meantime, Gorski hopes that the program builds momentum and grows to include funding for more athletes.

“This makes sense,” he said. “It’s like Christmas morning for a javelin guy like me. Get the talented kids motivated and get them the stuff they need. Our long-term goal is to be making the finals at the 2016 Olympics and be medaling in 2020.”