Monday, February 1, 2010
SAN DIEGAN BRITNEY HENRY HOPES TO “NAIL DOWN” SPOT AS A MEMBER OF U-S 2012 OLYMPIC WOMEN’S HAMMER THROW TEAM
Written by Steve Corman
Photograph by Brent Haywood
For Immediate Release.
San Diego, CA – “I didn’t know how far the hammer was going to take me. I just like spinning in circles and throwing far.”
Those words from U.S. Olympic team hopeful Britney Henry, a young woman on a mission in the hammer throw event. It’s a competition many people haven’t heard much about, much less witnessed.
Yet for this 25-year-old resident of San Diego’s Allied Gardens community, it’s been a case of dedication and persistence that has her ranked as the 5th best hammer thrower in the U.S. and 36th world-wide.
She now has her eyes firmly set on making the American team for the 2012 Summer Olympics after previously coming very close to making the squad in 2008.
“I work out six days a week at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista,” Henry explains. That's the plan my coaches have laid out for me giving me best shot to make the Olympic team."
The workout is a rigorous routine over several hours. A typical workout includes a warm-up, throwing the hammer, medicine ball, general strength body weight exercises, then a lunch break for about an hour, followed by Olympic style weight training, cool down with stretching, icing and massage. Additionally, I cross train biweekly with bike sprint sessions to give me more explosive strength.
The object of the event is to throw a heavy metal ball, attached to a wire and handle, known as the “hammer,” as far as possible.
It involves considerable skill, strength and finesse, and begins with a precision-like whirling action that finishes with the ultimate toss.
The “throw” originated years ago during the Scottish Highland Games where they used to hurl an actual sledge hammer, and has been refined over the years. The women’s event uses a hammer weighing 8.8 pounds.
While men, whose hammer weighs 16 pounds, have competed in this event since the 1900 Olympics, it wasn’t added to women’s Olympic competition until a century later, in 2000.
“It’s a sport where strength in your legs is essential. That’s your driving force and involves your thighs, hamstrings and back. Your arms are there to guide the hammer as you maneuver to throw. Lots of it is muscle memory and visualizing the throw in your mind,” she adds.
“The more I throw, the easier it becomes for my body to make it happen. It’s doing the same technique over and over again and making certain you stay in sync.”
So how does someone get involved in such a unique and demanding sport during her upbringing?
Britney was born in Anchorage, Alaska and grew up in San Diego, where she went to grammar school until 3rd grade. A series of moves followed and she eventually attended Lewis & Clark High School in Spokane, Washington.
“I was a pretty good athlete and enjoyed softball most of all,” she explains. “I played catcher for a number of years and loved being involved with every pitch. By the time I got to high school though, I realized I probably wouldn’t make the varsity. That’s when I discovered track.”
“I had seen Olympic track events in past years on television and thought it was pretty amazing, especially seeing the winners getting their medals. I had visions of how great it would be if I could be in that situation some day and never forgot it,” Britney adds.
She ran both the low and high hurdles, along with competing in several other field events. But a sprained ankle at the end of a race before her junior year sent her to the sidelines.
Britney knew about the hammer throw from a track camp the previous summer and while the injury prevented her from running, it didn’t completely idle her and she made the switch to this new event.
And she was an instant hit, thanks in part to coach Arnie Tyler, who saw her potential but had to leave teaching and coaching after the 9-11 attacks in 2001 to fulfill his duty as a military reservist.
She eventually broke the Washington state record with a throw of 166 feet her senior year.
“I was determined I wanted to continue competing in the hammer in college but didn’t know if I could get a scholarship. Arizona State was my top choice and they were interested in me, but couldn’t provide a scholarship for the hammer event,” she adds.
She was then contacted by Ramona Pagel, coach at Southeast Louisiana State University, who had a scholarship for her. “Ramona, a shot-put record holder, knew how to get team members strong. I did lots and lots of squats and weight-lifting. She was always there for us and was kind of like our Mom. During that year I improved my throws to 205 feet,” Britney says, who moved to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge her sophomore year.
That was also a good experience for Britney but they eventually eliminated the hammer event from the track program.
“Before I knew it, I was recruited by the University of Oregon, a perennial track and field powerhouse.
My coach there was Lance Deal, the men’s silver medalist in the men’s hammer throw at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia,” she explains.
“He helped me a lot in college and still works with me, providing lots of good advice on what you’ll feel as you compete and how to overcome obstacles. I send him video on a regular basis now and try to get to Oregon each month to have two or three training sessions with him.”
Britney was a standout at Oregon, winning the Pac 10 Conference title in 2007 and finishing 5th in the NCAA Championship meet, held at Stanford. She was an NCAA All-American that year and her throws began regularly surpassing 220 feet.
“Britney is one of the most determined and tenacious young athletes I’ve ever worked with. It’s a pleasure to see her drive and desire,” Deal explains.
She also works with her former Olympic Training Center coach, Dan Pfaff, who now lives in England. He writes her workouts and they communicate regularly by e-mail.
Britney graduated from Oregon in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology and a minor in business. She was considering graduate school but felt it would be in conflict with her training for the 2008 Olympic team.
"Two days before the Olympic trials in Eugene (OR), I threw the Olympic A standard. At that moment I realized I was a contender and no longer a little girl throwing. It was an emotional shock I was not prepared for, I couldn’t focus on the day of the actual event and fell short. It was a major eye-opening experience and has greatly helped me grow and mature,” she recalls.
“I’ll never forget that time and how excited she was about making a throw that would have secured a spot on the team,” coach Lance Deal reflects.
“As exciting as that was, the letdown that followed was tough for her and all of us around her,” he remembers. “But I can’t praise her enough for the way she’s gotten back up and is still determined to be on the 2012 team.”
So Britney is now totally focused on winning a trip to London as an Olympian. She moved back to San Diego, the city where she spent her early years and where many family members live.
“I love spending my one day off each week and any other time I might have with them. We’re all very close and they’re incredibly supportive of me, especially my grandmother,” Britney says.
She also works part-time in ticket sales and community outreach for the San Diego Padres baseball team and emphasizes how accommodating they’ve been in terms of her schedule. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with such a great organization. When I finish competing and am retired from the hammer throw, I hope to eventually work with a sports franchise in some capacity. I hope to mentor young women interested in doing what I’ve done. It’s always great to give back,” she adds.
But the business at hand is the upcoming summer Olympics and the incredible amount of work involved in preparing for the trials.
To get there she needs to make the Olympic A Standard, currently at 230 feet (70 meters), which she’s very close to.
“I have great confidence in Britney’s ability to hit that mark and go further. That’s just the way she is, so dedicated and focused,” Lance Deal adds.
There are several other American women with the same goal in mind and only three will make the team. Primary competitors include: Amber Campbell from Coastal Carolina, the top U.S. finisher in the 2008 Olympic event, Jessica Cosby from UCLA, Erin Gilreath from Florida and Loree Smith from Colorado State. She knows them all very well and considers each one a very worthy opponent.
From an international standpoint, Anita Wlodarczyk (Poland) holds the current world record of 77.96 meters (over 255 feet). She most recently won the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Germany.
Britney’s main focus in workouts is refining her technique and gaining strength, hopefully resulting in greater distances.
“Your throw doesn’t need to be perfect. There’s never such a thing as a completely perfect throw. In practice I want to make it perfect. That’s the perfectionist in me, but I also know it’s what I’ll be working on the rest of my career. Your limits are what you make of them. I love winning and I want to go out and win everything, but I am happiest if I make a perfect throw."
"I love to throw far and win. It’s what I try to do each time I go out and compete,” she concludes.
With Britney’s strong work ethic and positive attitude combined with her engaging personality and contagious sense of humor, Lance Deal strongly believes she has what it takes to reach her goal. He’s shared many special times in her competitive career and training and is proud to say, “From the time I first met Britney Henry, my life has been full of Britney Henry moments."★
For immediate release.
For additional information contact: The Britney Henry Project