Getting to the top, and then staying there, takes more than hard work. My Focus, presented by milk life, tells the stories of one area that 24 athletes are honing in on in their quest to stand atop the podium at the next Olympic or Paralympic Games.
Usually, Kara Winger already would be training seriously for 2018.
The three-time Olympian and American-record holder in the javelin has had a routine that mirrored most others in her sport. When the alarm on her internal clock would go off in October and November, she jumped.
She’s smashed the old timepiece and installed a different clock with an alarm that won’t sound until January. It’s part of her focus to restructure her training — to shift from what she’s always done — so she can peak for the biggest events, particularly the Olympic Games and world championships.
For Winger, 31, it’s uncharted territory.
“I’m fully confident in what I’m trying to do, but then every other track and field athlete on social media or whatever is like, ‘Training again! It’s time to go, blah, blah, blah,’” she said, laughing. “And I see that and I just really have to keep my wits about me and try to stay in my own lane, as they say.”
Winger, a Purdue grad who grew up in Vancouver, Washington, has had plenty of success in her career. She’s a seven-time U.S. outdoor champion, won a Pan American Games silver medal in 2015 and in 2010 set the U.S. record of 66.67 meters (218 feet, 8 inches).
But Winger hasn’t medaled in the Olympics at Beijing, London or Rio, nor in four world championships, and when she finished eighth at the worlds at London this past August, she decided she needed to make a change if she hopes to reach her goals.
“They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting a different result,” said Winger, who lives and trains in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “So yeah, exactly, at world championships it was glaringly obvious I needed to do something different and evaluate all the different components of what I’m doing.”
Part of that, she says, is being an advocate for herself and following the path she believes is best for her. She values the opinions of those close to her, but she’s determined to change her ways so she can be at her best on the biggest stages.
It’s an exciting and invigorating decision.
“I’m 31 and I’m not going to waste my own time anymore,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
For starters, Winger is adopting more of a long-range plan than she’s used before. That includes a later kickoff date for serious training at the start of each new year. That’s more in line with the major events scheduled the next three years: the Continental Cup in September 2018, the world championships in late September and early October of 2019 and the Olympics in late July and early August of 2020.
“Having an idea when quote unquote our major championships are and really focusing my training on that rather than just doing what I’ve always done is what I’m after,” she said. “I’ve always started training in mid-October, November, and then I throw pretty far in the spring, like April or May, and by the time world championships roll around I’m tired. I just haven’t been able to figure out that magic formula of training volume as it relates to performance for me.”
Plus, she wants to put more energy into improving her technical skills. She’s had to spend a lot of time recuperating and getting stronger after injuries in past years, which has forced her to use much of her time for general fitness and rehabilitation. If she can stay more injury free, her emphasis can be elsewhere, like addressing her weaknesses as a thrower.
“I’m just excited to be of an attitude where I can face those (weaknesses) head on and do all the drills necessary to address those weaknesses since I’m healthy moving into those next three years,” she said.
She’s made a point to challenge herself, competing in Diamond League meets in Europe against the world’s best. She’s comfortable going head-to-head with them and believes she has the potential to improve to their level. But she decided she can’t get there if she isn’t willing to take a new route.
“I really need to step up my game and do something different if I want to see a different result,” she said. “Because for like four years I’ve thrown 60 to 62 meters and been sixth or seventh place at all those Diamond Leagues. This summer, it was just too much. I’m looking forward to making some changes.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.