I spoke with Brown Trafton by phone in early January, 2009. In part 2 of this two-part interview, she discusses her pre-Beijing career and offers advice to young throwers and youth track and field coaches.
On how she started throwing
I began throwing in junior high school. But it was just a few meets that year. My real throwing didn’t begin until high school. I had a great high school program and I was able to win a California state championship in shot put my sophomore year and the shot put and a discus championship my senior year.
On basketball being her favorite sport in high school
“In my opinion, it was what I liked more. I was more successful at shot put and discus but I liked basketball more. It was my passion and I decided that I wanted to do it in college.
“I tore my ACL playing (college) basketball. And at that point I was kind of losing the passion that I had for it in high school. So I basically said, ‛I have to make a decision, now. Now’s a good time, now that I can’t play (basketball) for another year.’ I had to make a decision whether or not I wanted to come back to basketball, or just do track and field. ... I decided to focus on track and field.
“That year was a big change for me because up to that point I was not very coachable. I was real stubborn and it was hard for me to really be receptive to change, in terms of my technique. But that year when I started focusing on the discus and the shot put – I noticed it myself and a lot of other people noticed – I became more receptive and was able to start really paying attention to what my body was doing and kind of grew and blossomed that year.”
On her discus throw technique
“Fine-tuning the discus will take several years. You have to really develop a base for it and then, after about ten years of throwing, you get to the point where you’re really solid in the technique that you have and you just need to have your little tweaking here and there. Sometimes the littlest tweak in your technique helps out the most. For me (in 2008), it was my start. It was the fact that I went from a wind-up start – which is, you’re doing it kind of fast and you’re winding up – to what they call a static start, which is, you wind up and then you actually stop for, like, a second, maybe even three seconds, and you actually start into the discus throw from a static position. I started doing that (in 2008) and it really helped out a lot with my balance and with my feet going into the ring. So that one thing – combined with the fact that I’m a lot more fit, I’m a lot stronger, a lot more dynamic, (with improved) flexibility, agility – that, combined with the little tweak and technical change made all the difference for me.”
On whether it’s an advantage for her to be 6-feet-4
“Yes. I have a really long arm span and long levers, so I don’t need as much speed as the shorter people. But I need to be able to use my levers to the best of my advantage. So I have to keep the discus out really far and I have to create a torque, and the torque is going to create a lot more force for me than it would for someone else, because my arms are a lot longer.”
Editor’s note: Brown Trafton – then still known as Stephanie Brown – finished second at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials with a then-personal best throw measuring 61.90 meters (203 feet, 1 inch).
On making the team at the 2004 Olympic trials
“It was a surprise to me. At that point I knew that I had to have a great day to make the Olympic team. I think I was number five or six in the country – maybe not even that. But I knew there was Aretha (Thurmond) and Suzie (Powell-Roos) and Becky Breisch. All these girls are throwing consistently in the 200-feet range and I knew that I was going to have to have a really good day. And it actually happened to be, again, it was on my very first throw at the Trials in 2004. My very first throw in the final was my farthest. (Editor’s note: In part 1 of this interview, Brown Trafton discusses why her first throw of a competition is often her best.) ... If my competitors had done their homework, they would’ve known that my first throw was probably going to be good, so don’t be shocked. Because a lot of times it throws people off if the first throw is just dynamic and out there. ... So with the 2004 Olympic Trials, my first throw was a bomb – it was a bomb for me, which was a pretty good throw for everybody else – and they were kind of shocked. So I knew I had to do well, I had an awesome throw on my first throw, I fouled the rest of them because I was so excited, I couldn’t even keep my act together for the rest of the throws. That was right out of college, a year after my eligibility was up. So that gave me great experience going into the 2008 Olympic Games. It was just a great experience for me to be on the Olympic team and experience the international competition.
On her favorite memory from the 2004 Olympics
“The opening ceremony. Because I did not participate in the opening in 2008. So 2004 was my chance to participate in the opening ceremony and really feel that emotion. The unification of all these athletes in one place from all different countries and all different cultures, and just the energy that was there. It was just something that I’ll always remember and always cherish. I don’t regret not participating in 2008, because the opening ceremony takes a big toll on your body. You have to stand around for hours. Basically the whole rest of your training week is shot because you’re recovering from the night that you stood up for six or seven hours straight.”