Mac Wilkins is one of the greatest discus throwers in U.S. history. A member of the U.S. Track & Field Hall of Fame, Wilkins competed in three Olympics, winning the gold medal in 1976 and the silver in 1984. Additionally, Wilkins broke the world discus throw record four times within a week, including a remarkable meet on May 1, 1976 in which he topped the world mark on three consecutive throws. He currently coaches throwers at Concordia University, and at his own Mac Wilkins Throwers Academy in Oregon. Wilkins was interviewed in February 2012 while attending the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association’s annual track and field clinic.
About.com: How did you get your start in throwing?:
Mac Wilkins: “I wanted to be a miler and go to the University of Oregon and run for Bill Bowerman. And my junior high track coach let me run the hurdles, because I could, and he had me throw the shot, because I was tall and fairly coordinated. You usually put kids in events where you think they’ll do well, and I did well in the shot put and never got a chance to run a distance race. And after the shot put in high school they threw the discus, and then I picked up the discus and I could do fairly well at both the shot and the discus, and I never got back to the long distance runs."
Was there any key moment when things came together for you as a thrower?:
“I think some of the key developments for me as a younger thrower were opportunities that were given to me by people in positions of coaching. My college coach, who offered me a scholarship. The coach who showed me how the discus should be thrown and gave me an idea of, ‘Here’s what the technique is like.’ When I graduated from college there was a local high school coach who provided me with training facilities that I couldn’t get at the university. Those are the kinds of things that made differences in my career.”
What did your college experience at Oregon mean to your development?:
"I went to Oregon as probably an all-around thrower. I just did a little bit of javelin in high school, but also threw the shot and the discus, and was suddenly very good as a freshman. I threw 257 (feet) in the javelin. And the next year as a sophomore I blew out my elbow, and so as a junior I had to go back to throwing the discus and the shot. The discus was my second best event. And that wasn’t a whole lot of fun because I really wanted to throw the javelin. And one day I just decided, ‘Well, what happens if I try a little harder (at the discus)?’ And I did a little better and I enjoyed it and so I kind of got on a positive trend. And when I was a senior in college the next year I won the NCAAs and I won the U.S. national (discus) championship, and that was a whole lot of fun, and I wanted to continue that. And I tried to arrange my life after that, so that I could continue training and throwing."
What was it like throwing all four events during your early college years?:
“It was hard work. I know that after a competition throwing the hammer, the shot and the discus I lost eight pounds every day. I did that and was exhausted and it took a couple days to recover. But I did it because it was fun. I did it because I knew I could get better. I knew I could improve. And that was my motivation all the way through my career.”