|Amber Campbell competes in the women's hammer throw final during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field at Hayward Field on July 6, 2016 in Eugene, Ore.
EUGENE, Ore. – Ask Amber Campbell to explain the hammer throw, and she nails it.
“A whirling, twirling dance of crazy,” she said. “And let it fly.”
Campbell let it fly Wednesday at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field, winning the hammer throw on her sixth and final attempt with a personal best of 242 feet, 10 inches.
“The goal was always to win it,” said Campbell, soon to be a three-time Olympian whose Twitter handle is @usahammerhottie. “It’s a competition. I don’t want to just be here and look cute! I want to go for the win. I want that record. I was really hoping for the American record, but we’ll see if I can get that in Rio.”
Campbell won her fourth national title and is the fourth-best American of all time.
“To be your best on the best day possible is mind-blowing,” she said.
Thanks to a big fourth throw, Campbell, 35, already knew she was in the top three and would make Team USA, but that wasn’t enough. She wanted to regain the Olympic Trials record she’d lost a few minutes before.
“I think it brings out the competitor in all of us,” said Campbell, whose throw of 235-6 in the 2012 trials was the previous record. “I went from first to third very quickly and I was like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no, no, I’m not letting that happen.’ So you just have to get back in there and fight. It produced some amazing results for all of us.”
Gwen Berry, 27, also saved her best for her final throw, moving into second place at 239-9. Although DeAnna Price, a 23-year-old NCAA champion from Southern Illinois, also threw 239-9, Berry had a better back-up throw. Both will be first-time Olympians. Amanda Bingson, who holds the American record of 248-5, was fourth at 230-8.
The men’s and women’s hammer throws were the only events scheduled Wednesday, where they were held inside Historic Hayward Field for the first time. There was no entrance fee and the west grandstand was full, with some lucky spectators watching from bleachers on the track. Usually, the hammer throw is held outside the stadium.
Unfortunately, no one in the men's field met the Olympic qualifying standard. Rudy Winkler was first at 251-10, followed by Kibwe Johnson (246-5) and Conor McCullough (243-4). USA Track & Field will wait to find out if the IAAF issues an invitation. Johnson, who won the Olympic Trials in 2012, is 5 centimeters – not even 2 inches – shy of the qualifying standard of 252-7.
The women made the most of their time in the cage.
“That was such a blast!” said the perpetually cheerful Campbell. “I had so much fun. I was just trying to dig deep.
“We don’t get to feel that magic being out in the back field. So being able to compete in the center at Hayward, in the middle of the day with an amazing crowd, there’s nothing like it. Well, maybe Olympics is something like it, but this is awesome, too!”
Campbell was also thrilled to be the third leg of the Chanticleer Triple Crown. So far, her alma mater, Coastal Carolina, has won the College World Series while Dustin Johnson, another alumnus, won the U.S. Open golf tournament.
“It’s been the year of the Chanticleer,” Campbell said. “I just want to put that out there.”
It’s definitely been her year.
“It’s been my best year so far and it feels like it’s just getting better,” Campbell said.
She has a lot of years to choose from.
Campbell competed at her first senior national championships in 2001.
“And I’m still here,” she said. “So, kind of awesome and I’m really proud of it. It is not easy. It’s a blessing to have been this healthy this long and to make a third team is beyond my wildest dreams.”
Campbell was third in the Olympic Trials in 2004, although she did not have the qualifying standard and could not go to Athens. She then competed in the first of her five world championships.
In 2008, Campbell finished second in the trials, then won the trials in 2012. In London, she had the best finish by any American female hammer thrower at the Olympic Games, missing the 12-woman final by one spot. Natalya Lysenko, the Olympic champion from Russia, has been banned and may be stripped of the title, which makes missing the final feel like “a kick in the pants,” Campbell said.
But she stays upbeat.
“I can only control me,” she said. “Anything that happens on the outside, while it’s frustrating and it can be really, really tough at times, I can only control what I do and how I present myself to the sport.
“I love what I do. I get to wake up and chase my dream every day. Not everybody gets to say that.”
Campbell even wore an earring that said “LOVE” in her left earlobe and an earring that was a heart in her right.
But Campbell didn’t know she’d love this event when she arrived at Coastal Carolina and David Vandergriff, a volunteer assistant who is still her coach, wanted to teach her the hammer throw.
“I thought it was going to be a really weird event that I wouldn’t want to do,” she said. “I was a shot and a discus thrower – that’s what I did – and then I found the hammer and it was a whole different story.”
Campbell also learned the javelin and the 20-pound weight throw and competed in all five events in college, but the hammer hammered out a place in her heart.
“It’s so much fun and it’s so obscure,” she said. “Most people can’t throw a football that far. This is a nine-pound implement that I’m throwing almost three-quarters of a football field. Pretty cool.”
The hammer is like a shot put, but with a wire attached to it that ends with a handle. Throwers spin around a few times and let go. Sometimes they let go at the wrong time and the implement hits the netting of the cage and goes no further. Other times it flies end over end down the field.
“No one is a natural hammer thrower,” said Campbell, a long-time volunteer assistant coach at Coastal Carolina. “That’s not a natural motion. That’s not something that you regularly do in everyday life. You have to put in the blood, sweat and tears to be good at it.”
Berry especially had tears going into trials. She thought she had thrown the American record of 250-4 in late May, but found out she had tested positive for a banned substance in an inhaler at the U.S. indoor championships in March. Her record result was thrown out, she lost her bonus money and she served a three-month doping ban that ended June 29.
“I cried for days and weeks knowing that everything I had worked for was taken away from me in two days,” Berry said. “But I decided to not let that kill me.”
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency determined she was using the medication to treat asthma, not as a way to enhance her performance.
Berry said she decided not to fight the case because the ban would be over before the trials. “Competing in Rio for my country and my family, that was more important,” she said.
“I feel like a lot of things were taken from me this season. I was having an amazing season and I got in trouble for something small. I just wanted to take it all back and I wanted to make the team to prove to the world that I was here because of my talent and because of God and not because of an inhaler or any doping – and that’s what I did.”
Berry said she wasn’t happy with her performance because she wanted to break the American record again. “I‘ll get the record in Rio,” she said. “I know it’s my record. I’m going to get it again when I can.”
Unless Price gets it first.
“I’m the newest one coming in,” said Price, who made her senior international debut at the 2015 world championships, “but don’t count me out because I’m a fighter.”