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Interval Session #38 - Becky O'Brien

February 27, 2008

In the last year, the shot putting career of Greely ME senior Becky O'Brien has been on a meteoric rise not unlike one of her signature throws.  O'Brien has been steadily ascending the high school ranks since last winter, when she placed a respectable 7th at Nike Indoor Nationals, behind such luminaries as senior Kamorean Hayes and junior Karen Shump.  By the time Nike Outdoors rolled around, O'Brien had climbed all the way to second, with a throw of 48-05.25 that trailed only Hayes' 50-06.75.  She'd also earned herself a place on a World Youth team bound for Ostrava, Czech Republic.  There, O'Brien was a revelation on the world stage, placing 8th in the discus and 4th in the shot put (her 49-00.25 tieing for 3rd, but losing out on the second-best throw). 

That World Youth Championships experience catapaulted O'Brien into her senior year campaign, where she has weekly been competing for the top shot put marks in the nation.  At her Western Maine conference meet she surpassed 50 feet for the first time (US#1 50-6), only to see PA star Karen Shump achieve a farther mark later the same day.  Then last weekend, competing in the USATF Indoor Championship, O'Brien again resumed the US lead with a 50-11 toss that earned her 6th in the senior-level event.

DyeStat assistant editor Dave Devine roams the sector and dodges the shots in an effort to discern the secret to success for this Maine throws star.

1) It's been a back and forth battle with you and Karen Shump this winter, as each of you has traded the US lead in the girls shot put and inched over 50-feet. But last weekend you regained the lead with that great showing at the USATF Championships. Can you talk about that Boston series and how you were feeling as you moved through it?

I felt like training had gone really well between my state championships on Monday and the USATF championships on Saturday. Starting off the series above the 15m mark was a relief and I was able to go after the rest of my throws from there.

2) You were one of only a handful of high schoolers participating at USATF Indoors. What led you to seek entry there, and were you at all intimidated by competing against more seasoned women throwers? Did they offer any advice or encouragement?

Being on the same competition field with women like Jillian Camarena, Kristin Heaston, and Liz Wanless was an amazing experience. They are all living the dream that I am chasing -- being a thrower for a living. I knew ever since I threw 14.94 meters last summer that I wanted to hit that 15.00 meter qualifying mark and compete against the best. Living in Maine, it made it easy to get to the meet and I have been to the Reggie Lewis Center quite a few times before. I didn't feel intimidated because I know everyone I compete against is human. They are great throwers and are at a point where I'm working towards every day and every year.

3) In one of the photos from USATF (left), it looks like you're drawing a sight-line along your pointed finger, with one eye closed. It reminded me of the way Kamorean Hayes used to prepare for throws last season, and I wondered if that's something you learned from her, she learned from you, or something that many shot putters do before a throw? For the uninitiated non-throwers, what's the purpose of that particular maneuver?

I learned it from Shelton Harrison, who was Kamorean's coach and who I have trained with a few times in the past year. It is very easy to get caught up in the moment and lose focus, especially in the bigger competitions, and taking those few seconds to focus on my mark gets me in the right place mentally where I am totally focused on what I need to do and how I need to do it. When pointing, I am able to then block out everything that is going on around me.

4) When runners compete against each other on the track, they can judge how they're doing against the competition by their relative position. For throwers, it's different. How do you gauge where you stand against your fellow competitors over the course of a series? Do you keep a mental note of certain marks or distance points, and aim beyond them when you put the shot? Can you briefly discuss shot putting from the perspective of staying competitive in a hot event?

One of the key points which I have learned in the past year is to make it my competition and not worry about my competitors. If I can stay in my head and concentrate on doing my best, the good throws will come. In my freshman, sophomore, and part of my junior year, I wasted a lot of energy worrying about my competitors and how they were doing, if they were beating me, and by how much. My parents always keep track of the other throwers for me so that after round three I can get a signal from them to know whether or not I made the finals.

5) You had a fine junior season, but seemed to really take it to another level at the World Youth Games in Ostrava. Can you talk about that experience, what it meant to you as a thrower, and what you've carried forward from the summer into this senior campaign?

Being given the opportunity to represent the U.S.A. was the highlight of my career thus far. I felt a great deal of responsibility wearing the red, white, and blue and knew that I was going to do the best I could to represent my country. Being in a competitive atmosphere like in Ostrava really taught me how to mentally prepare so that I could go after a big throw. After coming within 6 centimeters of 15 meters, I knew that I was going to have big goals my senior year. I've been chasing the magic 50 foot mark all season and finally put things together on February 9th. Now that I have reached that milestone, I have much bigger goals in mind to keep working toward the end of the indoor season and certainly the outdoor season.

6) It's been great to see how many of the "Ostrava-alums" have done exceptionally well this winter. Do you keep in close touch with anyone from that trip? Are there specific memories that stand out from competing internationally for the US? Funny stories or travel adventures?

I do stay in touch with some of my teammates. I like checking the headlines of Dyestat and it's always great to read about other "Ostrava-alums"!

7) When we posted your college signing photo on DyeStat, you might have won the award for most people assembled in a signing photo. Looks like you get a lot of support up there in Cumberland ME. Can you talk about that support? How do family, coaches, teammates etc feed into your success?

I can't thank my family and friends enough. I know that without the continuous support, I would not be anywhere close to where I am today. My parents have never missed a meet, my brother has taught me to be the competitive person that I am today, and all my friends and other family have been such a huge support base for me! My entire high school track team came to my signing, along with my parents, a few people that I have coached, and some of the school faculty. It was great to have everyone there!

8) I just watched a YouTube video of your 50-6 effort from the Western Maine meet. That's a great throw and a, um...impressive yell.  Do you have to psyche yourself up when you step into the ring? How does your persona in the ring correspond to your everyday persona walking the halls at school? Do you have to bring a different energy, or are you a fairly energetic person all the time? Any other favorite hobbies or pursuits?

Intensity is one of my strengths when it comes to throwing and the adrenaline rush that I am able to get before a throw helps me to elevate my meet performances to about two feet further than my best throws in practice. That being said, the way that I compete and train are quite different from my personality outside of throwing. Most of the time, I'm a pretty laid back person. : ) As far as hobbies, I love coaching! It has been a great way to learn my events better and also watch younger kids succeed!

Photos: (top) Vic Sailer - Photorun.net, (bottom) O'Brien Family

Interval Sessions Indoors 08