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Retrieving a hammer, photo by PhotoRun.net


Eugene, Oregon

Most of the pre-event talk surrounding the women's hammer throw centered on collegiate leader Brooke Pleger and defending champion Julia Ratcliffe. But when the money was on the table, Southern Illinois junior DeAnna Price - coming in at #4 on the collegiate leader board - came through big time to snatch the victory with an NCAA championship meet record winning heave of 71.49m [234'6"]. Ratcliffe [67.30m/220'10"] grabbed the runner-up position; Pleger [67.03m/219'11'] took 3rd ; and Oregon's Jillian Weir [66.74m/218'11"] finished 4th.

Price's first two throws were unremarkable and offered no hint of what was to come. But Missouri native's third round mark of 67.33m [220'10"] gave her paper-thin lead of .03m - just over an inch - ahead of Ratcliffe.

Throwing last in the finals and invigorated by mid-competition conversation with her SIU coach John Smith, the Southern Illinois athlete got down to business. Her fifth round heave of 68.33 [224'2"] increased her leading margin over Ratcliffe to just over a meter. And when Ratcliffe's final attempt was not an improvement, the Saluki had her crown - and one final attempt in the ring.

The title was hers, but the Southern Illinois junior was not going to squander her last throw before the sizeable crowd that had gathered to witness the hammer final. "When I was there, I just thought of what my coach was telling me: 'Get the ball back. Set it up. You can do this,'" Price shared. "And I just got really pissed off. I thought, 'I throw 71 at practice almost every day. You're telling me I can't do it at this meet? OK, you already have it [the win]. Now go after it.' So I set it real nice. Right off entry you can tell when that ball's going to go. It just set up nice and perfect. And I just ripped into it. And when I did, I just popped it. And it went 71 and I was like, 'There we go. That's what I'm talking about.'" And with a smile, she added, "I liked being the dark horse. A lot of people did not expect me to do what I did today."

Price's monster final throw set a new NCAA championship meet record of 71.49m [234'6"] - taking down the prior record toss of 72.94 [232'] set in 2007 by University of Georgia athlete Jenny Dahlgren. "I knew off the first turn. I could just feel it stretch," she outlined. "And when I felt the stretch, I thought, 'That's it. This is my chance.' And then I just really relaxed and went after it. And I popped it. And I was like, 'Yes! Finally! There it is!'" Price's throw was personal best by nearly 4 meters.

In the afterglow of her first national championship, Price was fully animated in the mixed zone. "Coach Smith really got me ready for this meet. He told me, 'This is it. It's the highest stakes meet. You go after it with everything you have,'" explained the new champion. "The first three I couldn't feel the ball - which is a good sign only if you know what to do with it. So that means the ball is feeling light so it's traveling faster. So he had me set up in the finals to set it back. In the finals, the first one was 66, the second one was 68, and the last one was 71."

Price's road to the NCAA hammer final was not an easy one. The SIU junior spent the fall recovering from various injuries. "I slightly tore my MCL and stretched out my ACL and TCL and I didn't recover until December." But slowly Price began to regain her form. "And my hammer ball just started taking off. I am really lucky to have such a great support system. I really appreciate everyone."

As his athlete completed rehab and began getting stronger, Smith - sensing another possible NCAA appearance by Price - pressed her to strive for better throws. "Coach John told me that to get a good seeding at the NCAA's I needed to get a better mark. He was on my butt. "Come on, you do this every day. Have fun with it; go after it; be aggressive like I know you can be." And I was like, 'OK, I'm going to go for it.' I went for it - and I got it! It was the biggest relief when I finally hit over that 70 meter line. It was like all this weight was lifted off me. And I just started crying. I was so happy."

Before she left to be with her teammates, Price shared the novel manner by which coach Smith inspired his hammer throw protégé and her teammate Raven Saunders, a shot put specialist. "Our thing right now is that if me and Raven both get national championships, Coach John is going to shave his beard off," Price exclaimed. We have never seen him without his beard!" What would she say to Raven before her afternoon shot put final? "I'm going to tell her, 'I got mine. Now it's time for you to get yours.'" And when later in the day Saunders completed the Saluki Slam by capturing the women's shot put crown with a prodigious final attempt put of 18.35m [60'2½"], Smith was alerted to look for his razor.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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