Weighted Shoulder Throw gains acceptance at the Simplot Games

ShoulderThrow is a new event that provides indoor practice for the javelin motion. Tiler Heiney UT won the girls event with a throw of 37-3. John Dye/ESPNHS

POCATELLO, Idaho 2/19/2012 - Chris Vogel will readily admit he's not sure what the future holds for the weighted shoulder throw.

The throws coach from Spokane, Wash., developed what amounts to an indoor event for javelin athletes – minus the arm and the spear – and owns the patents on the equipment.

But it is the Simplot Games that is helping to legitimize it as a competitive event. After two years as an exhibition event, meet director Greg Burch added the weighted shoulder throw as a full-fledged event.

Stephan Smith and Tiler Heiney, both of Roy, Utah, won the boys and girls titles, respectively. And neither one of them had any experience with Vogel's event until 15 minutes prior to Thursday's competition.

"I thought it was going to look stupid, but it was fun," Heiney said.

The weighted shoulder throw takes elements of the javelin and uses the force created in "blocking" to fire a projectile called a "stone" from the athletes' shoulder.

Vogel said the idea behind the weighted shoulder throw goes back to 1992, when he was coaching a javelin thrower who was having a difficult time learning how to block. Vogel devised a contraption from an old GM seatbelt and a plastic cup, and attempted to teach his thrower the fundamentals of throwing without involving the arm motion.

In the years that followed, Vogel's device underwent a series of upgrades. The equipment used today is the fifth generation.

There is a strap, like a tight-fitting sling, that goes around the athlete's upper torso and shoulder. And on the shoulder there is a mounted a small cylinder. Into that is placed a white capsule called a "stone," about the size of a salt shaker. The stone is a 3.25-inch, 1.1-pound capsule filled with No. 8 shot. It looks like an oversized Tic-Tac.

The thrower uses the same footwork that they would in the javelin, and then at the moment of blocking, the stone flies out of its holder.

Burch said he was skeptical about adding the new event two years ago but did a little research and decided to give it a try. "It's cool for the javelin thrower who doesn't get to do anything indoors," he said. "I looked into it and thought 'this is a great deal.' It teaches a kid everything (about javelin) but using their arm."

Vogel said a study conducted by Eastern Washington University revealed a 98 percent correlation between the mechanics of the javelin and the weighted shoulder throw.

Vogel's company, BAS Throwing Systems LLC, manufactures and sells the equipment. So far, the Simplot Games is the only track meet to offer weighted shoulder throw as a competitive event. The BAS (the wrap device, pronounced "base") might find its greatest application as a training tool. It may also find a useful application as a way for amputees to participate in a javelin-like event. And if it has found a home at the Simplot Games, maybe it has a future as an indoor replacement for the javelin.

"I think the greatest (use) is as a training device," Burch said. "But what does a javelin kid have to do indoors? Nothing. It doesn't take a lot of space. It's nothing for us to put that (event) on."

Meet organizers were able to carve out a much smaller sector on the infield and conduct the competition without any logistical problems. Smith's winning throw in the boys competition was 47 feet, 8 inches. Heiney's best throw was 37-3.

"I was hoping I'd have fun with it. It was sort of strange to me. It's just missing the arm and a long stick," Smith said.

The competitors Thursday were quick to catch on to the BAS Throwing Systems slogan about throwing "sticks and stones."

Vogel said he realizes weighted shoulder throw has its skeptics and a long way to go in order to gain widespread acceptance. "I know how badly I'm swimming upstream on this," he said, referring to the track and field community's strict adherence to tradition.

Burch, for one, thinks there is a place for it. "As it gets more exposure, I think the value of it will come out," he said.