July 6, 2016
Three Missouri natives will compete in the hammer throw Wednesday at the USA Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Or. The trio will need top three finishes in the field of 24 athletes to earn a spot on the US Olympic team for the Rio Games next month, while Warner will also need to improve on her personal best by just over five feet to meet the Olympic Games qualifying standard.
Gwen Berry of St. Louis and Deanna Price of Moscow Mills, should be in the mix with solid chances to make the team. Berry was an All-State triple jumper at McCluer High while Price earned All-State honors in the shot put and discus at Troy High School. Both went to Southern Illinois University in Cardondale to compete for St. Charles native and four-time Olympian Connie Price-Smith and her husband John Smith.
The hammer throw is competed on a limited basis among high schoolers in the U.S., most athletes are introduced to it in college. It’s a very technical and even dangerous event. For women, an 8.8 lb metal ball is attached to a handle by a steel wire that’s less than four-feet, while the athlete usually spins three to four times in a seven-foot circle before releasing the hammer that needs to land in a 35-degree sector. Being big and strong doesn’t mean one will have success in the event. Successful hammer throwers are good athletes that possess strength, balance, and good body awareness.
Berry was primarily a jumper at McCluer while competing occasionally in the shot put and completing one pentathlon. She finished fifth and third at the Missouri State Track and Field Championships in the triple jump in Class 4 as a junior and senior at McCluer. At SIU, Berry started out competing in the jumps, hurdles and throws as well as the pentathlon. However, Berry eventually excelled in the throws and it did not take long before she left the other events behind and focused on the shot put, weight throw, and hammer throw.
As a junior and senior, Berry had become one of the best throwers in college. The 20lb weight throw, is similar to the hammer throw, in that it is a weight attached to a handle, though the two are attached by chain links or straps that are just a few inches long. The weight throw is an indoor event, almost exclusively competed in the U.S., and like the hammer throw, athletes spin in a circle before releasing the weight.
Berry was a Missouri Valley Conference Champion and several time All-American, earning honors in each of her three events. Berry, 26, finished her eligibility in 2011 at SIU, and is now sponsored by Nike and the New York Athletic Club. She is one of the top Americans in the weight throw and hammer throw. She has won three US Indoor Weight Throw titles. She has represented the US twice, earing the bronze in the hammer throw at the 2010 North American Central American and Caribbean Under-23 Championships in Florida. In 2014, she won the hammer at the Pan American Sports Festival in Mexico.
Berry now trains in Oxford, Ms., following Coach Connie Price-Smith and throws coach John Smith as they took over at the University of Mississippi last summer. In March at the USA Track and Field Indoor Championships in Portland, Berry won her third US weight throw title. Then this spring Berry had a amazing start to her season. She posted the World #1 mark of 246-5 in the hammer throw in winning the Memphis Tiger Invitational April 29. A week later, she won the Jamaica International Invitational with a 242-2 mark. Then on May 21, despite her allergies acting up, Berry launched the hammer 250-4, to set the American Record by almost two-feet. The mark currently puts her second on the world performance list. Unfortunately, a week later the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) contacted her.
Berry says she has dealt with asthma for most of her life, but never got treatment for it until after college. At the US Indoor championships in March, Berry declared the use of inhaler, but it contained the prohibited substance Vilanterol Trifenatate. Berry didn’t test positive for the substance at USA’s or at the Tucson Elite meet where she set the American Record. After reviewing the case, including Berry’s medical records, USADA accepted her explanation that the inhaler and prohibited substance was not used to enhance her performance, but as prescribed medication in a therapeutic dose under the care of a physician. USADA imposed a three-month period of ineligibility that began March 29. Instead of fighting the ruling, Berry accepted the sanction, which would allow her to compete at the Olympic Trials. It did wipe out her performances during the three-month time span, which included her American Record toss. It also meant forfeiting $30,000 of prize money and bonuses she had earned during that time.
Berry was obviously not happy about the situation, saying a U.S. swimmer was recently caught in the exact same situation and was dealt just a warning. Berry said there was no certainty that if she would have fought the sanctions, that the process would conclude in time for her to compete in the Olympic Trials. Berry said about her decision “it was either (the American) record or (Olympic) trials, money or making the Olympic team…At the end of the day, I know I can make history when I make the team, so that was more important to me. It was disheartening… If anything was lost, it was the money and my (reputation) for a little while, but knowing that I did not test positive, I didn’t care what people thought, I just wanted to compete at the Trials. Berry’s honesty of declaring the inhaler cost her the American record and $30,000.
Berry says while she’s disappointed, because the record wasn’t ratified yet, she says she’s not too upset because she didn’t officially have the record yet, she didn’t really lose in a sense. “I can’t truly miss something I never had, but now I have confidence because I know I can throw that far.” Berry feels good going into the trials, she says her confidence is up and she’s ticked off, so watch out.
And about former training partner Deanna Price, Berry says “When we both make the team, I know we’ll both be happy, cause that’s our goal.” Berry’s qualifying mark from last year makes her the fifth-seed.
Deanna Price was a Class 4 Missouri All-Stater at Troy High School in both the shot put and discus. She accepted a scholarship to throw at Southern Illinois over a scholarship to play softball at Lindenwood University. It turned out to be the right decision. As a freshman, Price placed second at the USATF Junior Nationals to earn a berth on the World Junior Championships team where she placed 18th in the hammer throw in Poland.
After 10th and eighth place finishes in the hammer throw at NCAAs her first two years, Price missed most of her third year with injury. But things blew up for Price her redshirt junior year. At the 2015 NCAA Indoor Championships, Price placed third in the weight throw. Three months later, Price won the 2015 NCAA Division I hammer throw title with a meet record of 234-6, beating the field by almost 14-feet. A few weeks later, Price placed second at the US Championships to earn her second Team USA berth. At the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, China last August, Price finished 15th.
This year, Price had outdoor eligibility only. She dominated the hammer throw like only few others have dominated an event in NCAA history. Price posted four of the top-10 marks in collegiate history. Her 238-5 toss on April 29 is the second furthest in collegiate history and the American collegiate record, just 11-inches behind the overall record. At the NCAA Championships, Price bested her meet record with a 234-8, beating the field by more than 19-feet. Price says she had two bigger throws that landed foul. Price was named a semi-finalist, one of ten women, for the Bowerman Award, which goes to college track and field best athlete.
While Price lost coaches Connie Price-Smith and John Smith to Ole Miss, former SIU All-American and volunteer assistant J.C. Lambert took over the SIU throws coaching position. Lambert will compete in the men’s hammer throw at the trials, right after coaching Price.
Price says she feels good going into the trials, “What we always say is whenever you start getting consistent, there is a big throw coming. That’s why I’m excited about (the Trials). We’re ready to go and ready to do this. Putting up big number looks great, having the American (collegiate) record is great, but there is still room for improvement, still more room to be the best you can be. “
Price will look to sign with an agent after the trials and seek sponsorships.
Price is a patriotic person. If she makes the team Price says “I will definitely be crying. I was able to listen to the national anthem today and I just started crying, it was such an amazing feeling. Sitting there listening to that song, knowing people have fought for us, for us to give back to them-if I place top three, that’s huge. To represent our country and fight for a medal is what I can do to give back to what the country has given to me. If I make the team I’m going to be crying, if I don’t make the team I’m going to be crying.”
When asked about when she first considered becoming an Olympian was possible, Price said “I never thought I had the chance of doing it, until last year, when I made the World Championships. Sitting there going ‘Oh my gosh’, these are Olympians, that have thrown ridiculous (lengths), and I’m here with them. At that moment, I said I can do this. I can be an Olympian.
Price remembers joking about it with coaches her freshman year. “‘We’re going on the road to Rio’ I’m sitting there going this could be a reality for me. It’s insane thinking about it. Me being in the ranks with the (country’ best) it’s a dream come true. Price is the third seed in the event.
More about Price’s mental toughness: mcthrows.com
Heavin Warner competed for Benton High School in St. Joseph, Mo. She was a two-time All-Stater in the shot put and state qualifier in the discus. Warner also ran some sprints and ran at least three seasons of cross country. Her high school career, while decent, never would have foreshadowed what she would do over the last five years at the University of Central Missouri. Warner is coached by Tucker Woolsey, a former Excelsior Springs state champion thrower, who was an All-American at Northwest Missouri while also playing on the national championship football team there.
Warner is a 10-time NCAA Division II All-American. She won the last three NCAA DII hammer throw titles. She holds six school records and is a two-time Academic All-American. Warner dominated the hammer throw the last few years in Division II, like Price has in Division I. Warner has the to 12 throws in the hammer in Division II history. Her personal best came at the Division II national meet in May when she went 227-5, beating the field by more than 32-feet. At that meet, Warner also placed third in both the shot put and discus. She has personal bests in those events of 53-3.5 and 180-5. With her performances, Warner was name the NCAA Division II female field athlete of the year by the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
Warner is the 10th seed in the event. She’ll likely need to improve by 10 feet to be in contention to make the team. If she does that she’ll meet the Olympic Games qualifying standard of 232-11.
All three compete in the second flight of the hammer throw. The first flight will start at 3:00 p.m. CT, so the second flight should start around 3:45 p.m. CT. The finals will start at 5:00 p.m. CT.
Live Results: http://trialsresults.usatf.org/