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World un­der-20 ham­mer gold medal­list talks to Ja­son Hen­der­son from his Louisiana State Univer­sity base

THE ME­TE­ORIC rise of ham­mer thrower Jake Nor­ris shows no sign of slow­ing down. In 2018 the 19-year-old from Wind­sor won the world un­der-20 ti­tle in Tam­pere with a UK ju­nior record of 80.65m. It was one of sev­eral Bri­tish records he set dur­ing a mem­o­rable sum­mer and he is now be­ing re­warded with a se­ries of end-of-sea­son ac­co­lades.

Last week he was named ju­nior male ath­lete of the year by the Bri­tish Ath­let­ics Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion. A few days ear­lier he re­ceived an award from the Bri­tish Ath­let­ics Sup­port­ers’

Club for best per­for­mance by an 18-19-year-old Bri­tish male ath­lete. Next year he hopes to im­prove fur­ther, too, but the ques­tion is – by how much?

“Last year I im­proved by five me­tres and the year be­fore by six or seven,” he says. “Those are huge jumps. No one re­ally does that. I think that’s sim­ply be­cause I’m get­ting older. It’s bound to slow down soon and I don’t know when that will hap­pen.”

Nor­ris is speak­ing to AW via Skype from his room at Louisiana State Univer­sity, where he has been study­ing for just over a year. A huge Union Jack flag hangs on his wall be­hind his head as he talks about his bril­liant year and plans for the fu­ture. Co­in­ci­den­tally he shares a four-per­son stu­dent flat with pole vault tal­ent Mondo Du­plan­tis, a fel­low world un­der-20 cham­pion, while

Bri­tish mid­dle-dis­tance run­ners Katy-Ann McDon­ald and Hol­lie Parker are also study­ing at LSU.

De­spite be­ing on the other side of the world, Nor­ris has re­cently been in­cluded in UK Ath­let­ics’ Fu­tures pro­gramme again. The fund­ing scheme helps him more so when he’s

back in Bri­tain. Back home he is also able to spend more time with Paul Dick­en­son, his long­time coach and an Olympic ham­mer thrower him­self.

Such is Nor­ris’s tal­ent, he edged past Dick­en­son on the UK all-time rank­ings with the se­nior ham­mer this year when set­ting a UK ju­nior record of 73.24m with it.

De­spite be­ing a long way from Wind­sor, Nor­ris is not home­sick. As we chat it is about 21C and sunny out­side his room and he says he has a per­fect train­ing en­vi­ron­ment in the States.

“There’s noth­ing to com­plain about,” he says. “We have an in­door and out­door track. We don’t re­ally need the in­door one be­cause no one hardly spends any time there be­cause the weather is al­ways de­cent out­side.”

Nor­ris is study­ing phys­i­cal ther­apy with psy­chol­ogy and has lec­tures ev­ery morn­ing with train­ing in the af­ter­noons. He adds: “Every­thing you need is al­ways nearby such as fridges with drinks and food around.

Our gym is ba­si­cally right next to the track and the phys­ios are al­ways around too.”

Nor­ris praises the fa­cil­i­ties back home too. His fam­ily live close to his home club of Wind­sor, Slough, Eton & Houn­slow where he spends spends roughly half his com­pet­i­tive sea­son. Nat­u­rally, he also owes most of his suc­cess to the tal­ent in­her­ited from his par­ents. His mother won a

Swiss long jump ti­tle a few years ago as Bar­bara Fis­cher whereas these days, com­pet­ing as Bar­bara Nor­ris, she has turned into a de­cent vet­eran ham­mer thrower.

Nor­ris says his mother was a good ath­lete and hand­ball player but broke a ver­te­bra in her back. “So she stopped be­cause she couldn’t get in the po­si­tions for long jump any­more,” he says. “When I started do­ing ham­mer she joined in be­cause she got bored watch­ing and she’s picked it up quite well and is do­ing quite well.”

Ham­mer is not an easy event to mas­ter but Nor­ris him­self also man­aged to pick it up and is do­ing rather well af­ter hav­ing spent his early teenage years play­ing foot­ball and rugby. He wasn’t an in­stant su­per­star in the ham­mer cir­cle, though.

At the English Schools Cham­pi­onships in 2012 he was only fifth, while in the 2013 English Schools he fin­ished run­ner-up to the su­perbly­named Ge­orge Marvell.

Most of Nor­ris’ do­mes­tic ri­vals, like Marvell, have strug­gled to progress, so how did Nor­ris man­age it?

“Most of it is be­cause of the way Paul was coach­ing me,” he ex­plains. “The peo­ple that used to beat me were al­most train­ing like full-time ath­letes. They were do­ing gym work and get­ting physio and every­thing at quite a young age. They car­ried on do­ing the same thing and ex­pected to carry on im­prov­ing.

“Whereas with me, in the early stages, it was all about throw­ing the ham­mer. I didn’t do weights, or do sprints or stretch. It was all about get­ting my tech­nique bet­ter,” he says, adding that he dropped the ball sports in 2015 to fo­cus solely on ath­let­ics.

“We did that un­til the World Youths in Colom­bia (in 2016) and out there I did quite well in sev­enth but be­gan hav­ing prob­lems with my back and it was be­cause I was gen­er­at­ing so much speed and force but my body wasn’t able to han­dle it any­more,” he con­tin­ues. “So that’s when we started do­ing weights. Ev­ery year we’ve been adding a lit­tle bit more in or­der to keep im­prov­ing.”

Nor­ris cuts a re­laxed fig­ure as he hap­pily and pa­tiently chats about his de­vel­op­ment. He talks in a mea­sured, thought­ful fash­ion and his pas­sion for ham­mer throw­ing is clearly ev­i­dent.

Dur­ing 2018 he split his sea­son into two parts. Firstly he threw with a se­nior 7.26kg ham­mer and then in the sec­ond half with a ju­nior 6kg ham­mer.

“I can’t be any hap­pier about the sea­son but look­ing back I think there are ways I could have done bet­ter in every­thing,” he says, show­ing a quest for per­fec­tion­ism that is also part of his make-up.

“You can’t get every­thing per­fect. I know that. But there are many things I could have done bet­ter.”


JAKE NOR­RIS, on his ham­mer throw­ing sea­son

He elab­o­rates: “In the 7kg part of the sea­son there was a bit in the mid­dle where I hit a wall. I felt good but my per­for­mances weren’t match­ing how I felt. Not sure why but we man­aged to fix it any­way in the end.”

On the 6kg part of his sum­mer, he says: “I felt my rhythm was a lit­tle bit off. Get­ting back from the US in June I had a month to change my rhythm from the 7.26kg ham­mer to the 6kg one but I strug­gled a bit. To­ward the end of my 6kg sea­son things got a lot bet­ter, though, which co­in­cided with the World Ju­niors.”

He adds: “I feel like I turned more into an ath­lete this past year than any other years, mainly re­lat­ing to how I han­dle things and ap­proach train­ing.”

As for that vic­tory in Tam­pere, he re­mem­bers: “I didn’t care about the dis­tance or the weather or any­thing. I just wanted to be on top.”

The weather was good for his com­pe­ti­tion in the Fin­nish city but rained heav­ily just af­ter he won. “It was dur­ing my in­ter­views. I was drip­ping wet but didn’t care.”

Ham­mer throw­ers ob­vi­ously can­not throw in­doors, but un­for­tu­nately for Nor­ris he’s been asked to do the weight throw – an in­door equiv­a­lent of the ham­mer. “So I have an in­door sea­son which I’m not ex­actly happy about,” he smiles. “It’s fun ev­ery now and again but ac­tu­ally throw­ing it de­stroys your hand be­cause it’s so heavy.

“Even though I hate it, I still don’t like los­ing so I’d like to make the NCAA in­doors. Then, when we go into out­doors, I want to come top three at NCAA out­doors again. Ob­vi­ously the Eu­ro­pean Un­der23s are def­i­nitely on the cards.

“As for Doha, I’m not sure about it yet. If I man­age to im­prove at the rate I’ve been go­ing, I should be able to make the team. But if I don’t hit a dis­tance that will get me there, I won’t be do­ing tri­als be­cause tri­als are go­ing to be when my classes start back here again.”

Did he shock him­self with his progress in 2018? “I sur­prised my­self in the first com­pe­ti­tion when I went over 70m for the first time,” he says. “But af­ter that it wasn’t so un­ex­pected.”

What does it feel like to re­lease a throw which you in­stantly know is a great one? “It’s a hard feel­ing to de­scribe but feels like a spring,” he says. “If you’re not bal­anced, the spring will bounce and go any­where. But if you re­lease it right it’s like a ‘ping’ in the right di­rec­tion. So that’s what I try to chase most of the time.”

Bri­tish ham­mer throw­ing is do­ing well right now. Nick Miller has been in great form lead­ing the men’s rank­ings and win­ning the Com­mon­wealth ti­tle, while So­phie Hitchon took Olympic bronze in Rio.

So while they train hard in Cal­i­for­nia, Nor­ris will also be work­ing hard in an­other part of the US as he com­bines his train­ing with stud­ies.

On his train­ing right now, he ex­plains: “I throw four times a week and lift three times a week. The lifts are quite heavy, slow lifts for raw strength. But closer to the sea­son I will do more power lifts such as cleans and snatches. Then when the sea­son starts power will still be the main part but with more speed things thrown in too.”

He en­joys the throw­ing and lift­ing but isn’t a fan of all types of train­ing. “I def­i­nitely don’t like it all!” he laughs. “I’m not too keen on things like med ball cir­cuits and ‘sta­di­ums’, which are aw­ful.”

These ‘sta­di­ums’ in­volve sprint­ing up the steps in LSU’s gi­gan­tic foot­ball sta­dium – a 102,000 ca­pac­ity arena in Ba­ton Rouge which is called Tiger Sta­dium but some­times nick­named ‘death val­ley’.

“It’s like a bowl and goes up and gets steeper the higher you go,” Nor­ris winces. “So at the start it’s easy but gets harder as you go on. And it’s a big sta­dium!”

It sounds painful, but with ses­sions like this the world un­der-20 ham­mer cham­pion is set to con­tinue his re­lent­less progress in 2019 and beyond.

World un­der-20 cham­pion:Jake Nor­ris took the ti­tle with a Bri­tish record throw

Re­lent­less im­prove­ment: Jake Nor­ris isadding me­tres to his PB ev­ery year

Study­ing in Amer­ica: Jake Nor­ris com­bines ath­let­ics train­ing with phys­i­cal ther­apy and psy­chol­ogy lec­tures

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