Avana Story finds her focus

Avana Story wins weight throw at 2012 Simplot John Dye/ESPNHS

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POCATELLO, Idaho 2/16/2012 -- The Queen of Launch remains inspired by the King of Pop.

Avana Story, the nation's top weight thrower who is making a career out of unleashing massive heaves in the throws ring this winter, continued her dominating athletic prowess on Thursday night -- with an assist from Michael Jackson.

Competing at the 34th annual Simplot Games, the Woodward Academy (Ga.) senior let loose a monstrous toss of 58 feet even in the girls' 20-pound weight throw during the opening round of the finals to overtake one of her training mates and claim the title.

Story's authoritative missive in her fourth attempt of the evening proved just enough to best Monica Phillips, who finished in second with a toss of 57-10.75. Both train for the Marrieta-based Throw 1 Deep Club, which swept the first four places.
While unable to match her spectacular nation-leading seasonal mark of 61-3 set at a meet in Marietta last weekend, Story still came away pleased with her performance.

"The biggest thing was to get the win," she said. "To be able to come from behind and do it is always extra fun and rewarding."

With the meet-leading mark, Story now has 5 of the top 7 indoor/outdoor throws in the nation this year, a huge improvement over 2011, when she barely made the awards podium (sixth) at Simplot with a mark of 45-01.50.

Story credits her eye-popping development over the last 12 months to a shift in priorities and a change in focus.

No longer does she divide her time among softball, basketball and track and field, saying her "triathlete" days are officially over.

Now she's a 'quad-athlete,' fixating all her energy on four throwing events: the weight throw, the hammer throw, the shot put and the discus.

"The biggest difference now is that I'm fully committed, from the weight room to the workouts, to the time in the ring… Coach (Mike Judge) has really challenged me to focus myself," she said.

Part of that mental re-wiring is put on display before each foray into the ring, as Story closes her eyes and brings her fingers over her ears to block out auditory distractions and focus within. She says her coach asks her to then concentrate on something that gets her emotionally cued in to herself and her physical power.

What she centers on is music. Specifically, a Michael Jackson song.

" 'You Are Not Alone.' That's the song that gets me emotional and strong," Story said. "It channels my energy."

Thus far this winter, that energy has resulted in lifetime-best throws improvement of nearly three yards over a year ago, when she topped out at 52-09.75.

Story says her epiphany came during last softball season, when she hyperextended a knee while sprinting to first base.
Realizing she almost forfeited her track and field season because of the softball injury, she dropped the latter sport. That re-prioritization has paid off, landing Story a scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill next fall on a track scholarship.

"Everything is good now," adds Story, who competes in the shot put here on Friday and plans to compete at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York in mid-March. "All the work is paying off."

Boys weight throw

Josh Whitener was looking forward to taking his final three attempts after hitting 69 feet twice in qualifying. On his fourth attempt, Whitener lost his balance in the ring and fell on his final spin as he let go of the 25-pound weight.

Whitener felt some swelling and pain in his right foot and didn't take another throw. He won the meet by a comfortable margin, nearly seven feet over Throw 1 Deep club (Georgia) teammate Chase Carroll.

"I sort of flew back in the cage and hit (my foot) with a lot of pressure," Whitener said. "I sort of wonder what it's going to feel like tomorrow."

Whitener, a junior at North Paulding (Dallas, Ga.), nearly matched his personal best but was hoping crack the 70-foot barrier with his final attempts. He is also entered in the shot put Friday, but his participation may depend on how his foot feels.