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Interview With Discus Champion Stephanie Brown Trafton, Part 1

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Interview With Discus Champion Stephanie Brown Trafton, Part 1

Stephanie Brown Trafton celebrates her gold medal performance.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Stephanie Brown Trafton didn’t quite come from nowhere to win the 2008 Olympic women’s discus gold medal, but it was close. A 2004 Olympian, Brown Trafton owned the world’s longest throw for about six weeks in 2008. But she’d never won a U.S. championship, never competed in a world championship and placed third at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. In Beijing, Brown Trafton was one throw away from not qualifying for the discus final. But her last attempt in the preliminary round traveled 62.77 meters (205 feet, 11 inches), beating the automatic qualifying distance. Then she made history with her first-round throw in the final, hurling the discus 64.74/212-5, a distance that stood up and made Brown Trafton the first U.S. women’s discus gold medalist since 1932.

Brown Trafton was born on Dec. 1, 1979, in San Luis Obispo, Calif. She won state championships in shot put and discus at Arroyo Grande High School, but entered Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on a basketball scholarship. She played one year of college basketball but suffered a torn ACL in her knee and decided to focus on track and field thereafter.

I spoke with Brown Trafton by phone in January, 2009. In part 1 of this 2-part interview, Brown Trafton discussed her 2008 Olympic experience.

On the 2008 Olympic Trials
“It was probably the most nerve-wracking meet of the year, because just one bad day could ruin your whole year, almost. ... But I knew that I definitely had the ability to make the team fairly easily. My competitions all year showed that I could. It was just a matter of actually getting the job done.

“The preliminary day, (my) first throw was good enough to make it to the finals. It was the top mark in the preliminaries ... so I was number one going into the finals. But the finals is kind of where I wavered a bit in my confidence. The first two throws weren’t as good as they needed to be to actually make it to the top eight. (Editor’s note: Only the top eight throwers continue to the last three rounds of the final at the Olympic Trials.) So it came down to one throw where it was either make it or break it. That was almost like the first hurdle of the year, was just getting this throw, just making it to the final round for the discus in the Trials. Then once I hit that throw, it kind of gave me some more confidence, which led me in to a good enough throw to make the Olympic team. For a lot of people going for the Olympic team in the USA, just making the team is the hardest part. As long as you make the team, you kind of pat yourself on the back and say, ‛OK, let’s move on to the next one.’

“From that point I had six weeks to prepare for the Olympics. And it was almost like a whole new season. It was like, ‛OK, this is a new training cycle, it’s like a real short, six-week training cycle.’ And you have to kind of deal with the emotions of making the team and then you have to deal with all the travel plans ... and after that it’s just going over there and performing to the best of your ability.”

On her mind-set in Beijing
“My mind-set going in was that I could possibly medal; I had the ability, especially given the fact that I had the top-ranking mark of the year for six weeks running. I had three out of the top ten throws in the world at that point (for 2008). I had consistency all year long and I was really good at the higher-end (meets). Basically, it was almost like, ‛OK, here’s another hurdle that I have to get over.’ And the first hurdle was just making the finals.

“The Olympics (preliminaries) was the time where, up to that point in the season, was the most stressful time. It’s almost like, each meet after that point was even more stress. But I had two (poor) throws in the preliminaries – my first two throws weren’t good enough to make the finals. So at that point it came down to one throw. And I literally just thought about my season in the past, and I thought about what the future could bring, depending on if I did good or bad, and I actually just let the whole thing go at that point. I concentrated on just that one throw at that one time. I let the past go and I let the future be – I didn’t worry about any of the past or the future. ... Just being in the moment for that one throw. And that throw ended up being the farthest throw of the preliminary competition, setting me up for the final round. And even at that point I wasn’t really sitting very comfortably because, looking back at the statistics, the number one thrower in the preliminary for the women’s discus had never medaled. I was like, ‛Oh, this is not a good thing.’ Even though I had the top mark, statistically speaking, this is not so hot. So at that point, it was like, I have more work to do, I have another hurdle to jump over. The work is not done yet. So it’s basically, just keeping the focus there and not allowing the distractions of everything to get to me.”

On whether she thought she needed a big first throw in the Olympic final
“Not particularly. That’s not my strategy. But it turns out that that’s not very uncommon for me. I have a pattern in a lot of my competitions where my first throw is the best. So I would like to work on that and be more consistent and get better throughout the competition. But statistically, in my own particular pattern, that’s what I do. But I don’t come out like that. I don’t come out thinking like, ‛Oh, I have to hit a big one right now.’ But the way it is with me is that, my first throw – I don’t have to worry about what I did on my last throw. Because that can really get to a lot of people. You’re always kind of thinking about the last one that you did and how you can make it better or you how it should’ve been better. So my first throw, there’s no prior thing to compare it to, there’s none of those thoughts going through my head. Which is kind of like my own explanation for why my first throw is usually pretty good. But this year I’d like to get better at being able to clear out the past and the future and just concentrate on that one, particular event or that one particular throw.”

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