Coached via Skype, Percy proves seeing is believing
Young discus thrower is tearing up the record books as he makes it a perfect 10
DISCUS is one of the most ancient athletics disciplines, as Myron’s 500BC Discobolus statue testifies. It’s also one of the most technical, yet for Nick Percy who recently smashed his 10th Scottish record, it’s also technologically challenging.
His coach, Vesteinn Hafsteinsson, lives in Sweden. Percy is a second-year student at the University of Nebraska, yet every morning he trains under the Icelandic guru’s watchful eye, thanks to Skype.
Glasgow-born, he lists Bearsden as his home town, but the family home is in Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight, and he has been coached like this since he lived in the village which predates the Domesday Book.
“It’s second nature,” he tells me, on Skype from the university in Lincoln, “but you have to be very organised. I train at 8am, the only time it works for him in Sweden.
“I grab my phone and stand, set up everything, then warm up. We have 4G here, so the image is always very clear, no delay, always a strong signal, and I have a portable battery so my phone never dies. He will watch me throw for an hour, and I then send video.”
Hafsteinsson competed in four Olympics and five World championships without winning a medal, but during the 12 years he coached Gerd Kanter, the Estonian won Olympic gold in Beijing and bronze in London; plus World gold, silver twice, and bronze once.
The long-range arrangement seems to work. A fortnight ago Percy became the first Scot beyond 60 metres, with 60.48m, and threw 60.00m in a subsequent round.
Subject to correct documentation it will replace Angus McInroy’s national record of 58.77. Colin Sutherland reached 59.84 in 1978, which was never ratified.
Percy believes lack of hands-on coaching hinders him. “He can only try to explain what I’m doing wrong, or what I have to do; can’t demonstrate. I get about 70 per cent of the real-life experience, but I see him about five times a year, for two or three weeks.
“The record was a big shock. The Tuesday before the competition I tore my left calf.
“My technique wasn’t very good, with the calf heavily strapped. I could barely move my left foot.
“I’ve been chasing 60 metres for two years. It’s comforting to do it twice on half a leg.”
It surpasses his season’s target, while the European Championship qualifying of 63.00m beckons. All this at 21 in an event where the best mature around 30.
He discovered the discus almost by accident. “I tore a tendon throwing the javelin, so tried another event.” Now it is funding him on a five-year scholarship, majoring in health, exercise, and nutritional science. Support is boosted by the fact that he also throws the hammer.
Ranked fifth in the world, he attracted 45 US college offers. With Nebraska charging $750 per credit hour to out-of-state athletes, academic costs alone can be $8000 a year.
Percy was a finalist (eighth) at the World Junior Championships and World Youths (seventh), and silver medallist at the 2013 European Juniors. He has been British youth champion in discus and hammer, and junior champion in the former. He improved the Scottish junior record three times in one afternoon in winning discus silver at the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games where he also took hammer bronze.
In that discipline he twice broke the Scottish under-20 record now held by Ciaran Wright.
He won the English Schools discus, and is UK youth record-holder, as well as setting three Scottish under-20 records in discus and hammer. He threw a Nebraska college hammer record last month (67.56m, the UK’s third best this year), and set three British under 100kg power-lifting records for 17-year-olds.
At 6ft 2ins and 122kg, he is seven kilos heavier than in Glasgow 2014. “I was a skinny guy until I started gaining weight at 17.”
He began throwing at Ryde School with Upper Chine, but the circle, in the corner of a field, was for the shot – too small for discus.
When he moved to a new coach it involved a one-hour ferry trip and three-hour drive both ways, from Bonchurch to south London and back: “10 hours including the session, every Saturday and Sunday, and once during the week – then back in school next day.”
The weights room on the island would have 50-year-old men lifting. “Then all of a sudden you are in a weights facility here that costs $4m or $5m.”
HISTORY MAKER: Curry’s throw will break Angus McInroy’s 38-year-old Scottish national mark when it is finally ratified