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Calling the Shots : Athletes Try to Hook Youngsters Early for Olympic Throwing Events

December 14, 1986|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

When Harold Connolly, a four-time Olympian with a 1956 gold medal in the hammer throw, decided to create a program to train future athletes in throwing events, he started by gathering some of nature's abundant throwing implements--rocks.

Connolly found several ideal hand-sized rocks--flat as well as round ones--on a beach in Ventura County. Now, painted and weighed, the rocks are used by Olympic hopefuls to demonstrate the shot put and the discus throw.

"Rocks are ideal because they fit better in a young student's hand and when they (are thrown), there is less chance of injury," Connolly said.

Athletes John Frazier and Peggy Pollock used the rocks last week to teach shot putting to 100 seventh- and eighth-graders at Paul Revere Junior High School in Brentwood.

Frazier is a UCLA graduate who competed nationally in the shot put. His best throw is 65 feet. Pollock represented California State University, Long Beach, and her best throw is 60 feet. Both are training for the next Olympics in 1988 in Seoul, Korea.

Their demonstration provided most of the 12- and 13-year-olds with their first opportunity to see and try their hand at an Olympic throwing event. The youths grunted and giggled as they hurled the heavy, crudely shaped objects on the grass field.

The day's event was organized by Connolly's West Los Angeles College Throwing Center, which was recently granted $46,308 by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles to identify and help develop high school and junior high school athletes to compete in throwing events--the hammer, javelin, shot put and discus.

The foundation, which has $90 million in surplus funds from the Los Angeles Olympics, makes grants to youth sports programs.

Experienced athletes who serve on the center staff are paid $30 an hour to visit area schools and demonstrate their throwing skills. Students who are interested in pursuing the sport are provided additional training at the college's training facility.

Connolly said the center hopes to demonstrate the events to more than 1,000 students before the end of this school year.

At Paul Revere, Connolly told the students that the aim of the Throwing Center's program is to "build on the successes of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and help develop the next generation of athletes in America."

Judith Pinero, vice president of the Amateur Athletic Foundation, said the throwing center was funded to help train local athletes, in part, because American athletes have not performed well in throwing events.

"The record is clear," Pinero said. "The United States has had very few world-class athletes in these events, and part of the problem stems from the fact that our youngsters are not introduced to these events early enough."

The purpose of the program, Connolly said, is to expose students to the correct technique at an early age in the hope that they will pursue the events on their own.

In East Germany and in the Soviet Union, Connolly said, athletes are picked at a young age to compete in these events. "We are not doing this in the mold of the East Germans or the Soviets, who test and pick the ones they want to train," he said.

By hiring Olympic hopefuls to coach the students, Connolly said his program also helps established athletes make ends meet. "Many athletes are training during the day and trying to survive by working odd jobs at night to support themselves," he said.

In demonstrating a shot put to her young audience, Pollock, 26, slowly twisted her body back and uncurled, releasing the put with a jump. She easily threw the small eight-pound rock 30 feet to the surprise of the students. "You see," she said, "it is like ballet."

"If you throw a shot put like you throw a ball you can injure yourself," Frazier, 23, warned. "You must use your legs. That is where you get most of your strength."

Frazier said he began shot putting in the seventh grade by practicing with similar boulders. "The shot put appeals to the type of athlete who wants instant feedback and enjoys working by himself," he said.

Blake Riggs, 12, looked at the size of a shot put, felt how heavy it was and instantly decided against it. "That thing would break my arm," he said. "I think I would like the javelin."

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