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Interval Session #123 - Justin Shirk

By Dave Devine - May 28, 2009

In an event which regularly witnesses big-splash performances from athletes finally finding their groove, one where stars can be born with 20-foot PR's on a single throw, Central Dauphin PA senior Justin Shirk has been a big name performer for a long time.  After setting the still-standing freshman class record of 207-5 in a dual meet three years ago, Shirk finished third in the 2006 Pennsylvania state meet, and repeated that placing in that year's Nike Outdoor Nationals, reaching 196-3 for '06 NON bronze as a ninth grader.  In 2007, Shirk moved to the top of the podium in Pennsylvania, a position he's refused to yield for the ensuing three seasons.  He was fourth at Nike Outdoors that sophomore season, and last summer elected to compete in the USATF Junior Nationals instead of NON, where he landed 14th with a single legal throw of 186-5.  The summer of 2008 was nonetheless a success for Shirk, as he was invited to join a team of high schoolers traveling to the Caribbean Scholastic Invite in Puerto Rico, and took the javelin on a final throw effort of 194-1.

Shirk's senior swansong has been something to behold.  He won the Penn Relays jav competition with a then-US#1 220-03, and on May 2nd catapaulted himself to #2 all-time with the "new" high school javelin by launching the spear 235-03 at the Cedar Cliff Relays.  Last weekend, at the Pennsylvania AAA State Meet, he faced down two other 210-footers and powered his way to his third-straight state title.

DyeStat senior editor Dave Devine heads back to his home state of Pennsylvania for a chat with the nation's top javelinist.

1) Congratulations on your third-straight javelin state title in Pennsylvania.  This year you were looking at one of the best classes of throwers in recent PA memory, with three guys over 210-feet this season.  Did that intimidate you at all, or cause you to prepare differently?  What was your mindset heading into the competition, and how did you feel about the outcome?

There was no intimidation involved, but it did give me the butterflies more than usual. My mindset coming into the competition was to get a big throw right off the bat to put the pressure on the other two competitors. I ended up hitting a 207 on my first throw, which didn’t satisfy me. I was hoping to hit a mark closer to the state record, which is 224’2”, and then go after the national record after that. I was happy and disappointed about the outcome. I am the first person to win the state javelin title 3 years in a row, which is really cool and was one of my goals coming into it, but I also wanted to throw really far and get the state and possibly the national record. 

2) Rewinding just a bit, can you talk about the throw that grabbed everyone's attention this year, the 235-3 at the Cedar Cliff Relays?  Can you describe how it felt when you released it, what the conditions were like that day, and what you thought when it was measured out?

Well, the conditions when we were throwing were ideal. It was sunny, warm, slight tail winds, but towards the end of the competition the sky started turning dark as a storm was approaching. When I was warming up, the javelin was jumping off my hand really well and carrying nicely. I had a good series of 213, 222, then the eventual 235’3”.  Since it was a relay event we only got 3 throws, but I wish we could have had 3 more because it was one of those days I was really feeling like everything was working on all cylinders.
3) You're someone who first made an impact in the jav as a freshman, setting the freshman class record and finishing 3rd at Nike Outdoor Nationals.  Has it been hard to continue a steady upward progression after making such a strong initial impact?  What things have you added each year to make sure you've seen improvement all the way through?  Have you become more of a student of the sport than you perhaps were back in those ninth grade days?

I don’t know if it has been hard, since there are so many factors that play into the javelin to add so many feet here and there. I just have been working on technique, speed, and explosiveness over the last few years. What has really helped me through all these years with getting better is the desire and determination to do better. I’m one of those people who doesn’t dwell on past accomplishments; I keep setting more goals to go after. I guess you could say I have been more of a student of the sport as of late, because I understand what is going on better than I did freshman year.

4) I was at the Oregon State Meet last weekend, when Sam Crouser reached 231-1 in the javelin.  Is he someone you've heard about or followed at all?  Did word reach you at the PA State Meet about that throw, or is it something you learned about in the days since?  How driven are you by things like national rankings or possible matchups with other top throwers?

Yes, Sam is someone who I have heard of over the past couple weeks and followed.  He is doing something that I wanted to accomplish during my junior year, which is throwing over the 70-meter mark. Right when I came home after states I went on Dyestat and saw that he threw the 231’1”. National rankings and matchups against the top throwers really drive me, because I want to be the best and stay on top.  With him throwing that far, it will only push me to throw farther. The sky is the limit right now. I have had people tell me that I have barely scratched the surface of my ability to throw the javelin because of the technical stuff I still need to learn and perfect.
5) I know you were part of the team that traveled to the Caribbean meet last summer, and ended up winning the javelin at that competition.  Was it fun being part of an international team traveling to a meet, and can you share some of the highlights and experiences you had there?

It was an absolutely amazing experience and something I will definitely never forget. Being on a team with some of best kids around the country in their respective events, and getting to know and interact with them, was a blast. While we were in Puerto Rico we got to tour the island a little bit, view some jungle life, and learn the culture of those who lived there. If anybody is selected to go there and compete, I would definitely suggest it, not only for international experience, but a chance to experience another culture and lifestyle.

6) A lot of people have been talking about how this is the Year of the Thrower, with huge marks coming, not just in the javelin, but in the shot, hammer and discus too.  Are you someone who follows the other throws at all, and if so, what do you think about all these big marks?  Who, among the throwers out on the HS scene, are you most impressed with right now?

I follow all track and field events, especially the throws. All these big numbers everybody is putting up in throwing events are crazy. Mason Finley is just ridiculous, along with Anna Jelmini. This is truly the year of the thrower, no doubt. The most impressive, I think, would be Anna Jelmini, because she has the national discus record and she is No. 2 all time in the shot put. She is definitely a specimen with amazing ability and talent on her side.
7) I've read where you're signed to play football and compete in track at Division 2 Bloomsburg.  I'm sure the opportunity to play football weighed into that decision, but with the marks you've hit in the jav, you'd surely have a chance to compete in a D1 program in that event.  On the flipside, some great throwers have emerged from all divisions of the NCAA to make an impact while in college and post-collegiately.  Can you discuss your own journey toward selecting a college, some of the factors that might have weighed in, and how you're feeling about things now as you wrap up your high school career?

Well, at first I chose Bloomsburg because it was the most sure-thing at the moment, and they would allow me to do both football and javelin. You never know what will happen any given day of your life, so instead of waiting to see if I would hit a huge mark I took the most sure-thing. Since then, and once I hit my 235’3” throw, I have been getting a lot more attention from big D1 track programs again. I knew coming into the season that 230-feet was the magical mark where I would start seeing bigger numbers being thrown around for scholarship money. With all the attention again, it had me thinking on what is best for me and what is more realistic, the NFL or the Olympics. After thinking about it I decided to go the Olympic route, so I asked for the request for release from Bloomsburg, and now I am back on the market looking at schools such as Oklahoma, Arkansas, LSU, Virginia, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, and Georgia, just for the javelin. As my high school career ends I am very pleased on how it went and all the accomplishments I was able to achieve. I still have one goal left, which is the national record of 241’11”.

Photos: top, 2008 USATF Jr. Nationals by John Nepolitan; bottom, 2009 PA AAA State Meet by Kristen Holzherr

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