The 2008 USATF Region III Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships resumed Friday morning in the misty rain at Winthrop's Irwin Belk Track.
The vast majority of the events for the four-day competition are held at South Pointe High School. But Friday morning was for the hammer throw. The event requires a special cage. Aluminum poles -- perhaps 25 feet tall -- arch inward in an oval shape to a throwing ring. Heavy netting hangs from the poles to prevent the 12-pound hammers from being flung by competitors into spectators seated nearby.
One end of the oval is open, allowing the throwers a narrow target through which they can aim. The hammer, for the 15-18 year-old boys, is a 12-pound implement. The heavy metal ball is attached to a wire and handle.
The throwers wear a glove -- on their left hands, if they are right-handed -- to get a better feel for the hammer. The gloves are specifically designed for the sport. They are often made of elk or moose hide.
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The athletes begin the throwing motion with a windup, usually two revolutions over their heads. Then they spin three to four times to gain velocity before releasing the hammer into the air.
All this happens in just a few seconds. If all goes well, the hammer sails out of the cage and falls to the ground where a two-man team of officials mark where the hammer landed. Two other officials then pull a tape measure back to the throwing circle and call out the distance.
Many times the throwers' timing was off by a split second. The hammer would either smash harmlessly into the netting or clang loudly against one of the poles.
The light rain made for less than ideal throwing conditions. Several athletes lost footing in the circle, which became slick with the dampness and the thick red clay stuck to the bottoms of their shoes.
Miles Freburg of Marietta, Ga., posted the best throw of the day -- a 177-foot toss. It was well off his goal for a 200-foot throw.
"I wanted to throw 60 meters (about 200 feet) but it was raining and muddy. The conditions wouldn't permit that today," Freburg said. "It's good to come here and win."
He qualified for the USATF National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships in Omaha, Neb., later this month with his efforts. He still has a long weekend ahead of him, though. He'll compete in the shot put today. The discus and javelin await him on Sunday. Many others in the competition face the same weekend schedule.
Michael Freburg, Miles' father, watched the event intently.
"The hammer throw is like a golf swing. It's all timing," the elder Freburg explained. "You have to stay in control."
Freburg was one of many Throw 1 Deep team members. The club has about 40 members. They specialize in throwing events. They are coached by Mike Judge, a former University of Georgia standout. Judge has coached 63 athletes on to college scholarships in the past seven years, according to the club's Web site.
Andrew Dunkleberger is a Throw 1 Deep team member. He is a 15-year-old from Mableton, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. He threw 165 feet. His best is 176. He finished second in his age group.
He is the younger brother of Jake Dunkleberger, who won the 2007 NCAA title in the hammer throw. Andrew and his family followed Jake's attempt to make the U.S. Olympic team this summer. They traveled to Eugene, Ore., where Jake finished eighth overall.
"I haven't been with coach Mike (Judge) for five weeks," Andrew said. "We've been with my brother at the Olympic Trials. Up to then, I was improving every week."
The hammer throw is not a common sport. Very few states have it as a high school event mainly because of the cost of erecting a cage. South Carolina does not field the event. So having some of the top young hammer throwers in the Southeast performing at Winthrop was a bonanza for Brett Best, the Eagles' throwing coach.
"I usually have to travel to see these national events. I have been to Baltimore and Richmond, Va., and all over," Best said. "It's nice to get kids and parents out here to see our facility. We have one of the fastest tracks in the Southeast."
Best coached at two other schools (Beloit College in Wisconsin, and Virginia Tech) prior to coming to Winthrop. He has coached several All-Americans and NCAA qualifiers and knows what he is looking for in athletes. He also knows Throw 1 Deep and Mike Judge.
"The Throw 1 Deep kids have a good fundamental grounding after working with Mike. I haven't managed to land one of his kids (at Winthrop). They tend to go to SEC or ACC schools," Best said.
Best looks for the kids that have potential but haven't yet thrown long.
Brad Lindholme is not on Best's list. Lindholme recently committed to Western Carolina after finishing high school in Asheville, N.C. He came to the region meet hoping to beat his personal record. It was 139 feet.
"I walked away with a 152. So I'm pretty happy with that," Lindholme said while cleaning mud from his shoes. He will also compete this weekend in the shot put, discus and javelin.
Lindholme is headed to Omaha again, where he was named an All-American two years ago in the hammer by finishing in the top eight. He is hoping for a repeat this year.
2008 JUNIOR OLYMPICS REGION III CHAMPIONSHIPS
• Where: South Pointe High School
• When: Today-Sunday
• Starting times: 8:30 a.m. today; 8:30 a.m. Sunday
• States represented: Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia
• Admission: $5 per day. Senior citizens (55 and older) $3 per day
• Directions: The school is located off S.C. 72 south of Rock Hill. From 72, turn right, if you are coming from Rock Hill -- left if you are headed toward Rock Hill -- on Rawlsville Road (look for the green sign). Travel to the end of Rawlsville Road and turn left. You will see the school and football stadium on the left. The track is inside the stadium.