Andersen’s Gold Medal With An Exclamation Mark

With the world hammer title already guaranteed, Brooke Andersen took her sixth throw anyway and missed her PR by just 2 inches. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

ONE MAGIC MOMENT led to another: Brooke Andersen, in the lead of the World Championships hammer, watched as Canadian Camryn Rogers, then in 2nd, took her final throw. But the leader couldn’t be sure: “I saw where it landed. I didn’t think it was further than mine, but you can’t really tell. You couldn’t really see the line from where we were.”

Then the measure flashed on the board, and she knew that no matter what she did on her final try, she would be atop the highest step of the podium. “All my emotions hit at once,” she says. “I wanted to start crying, but I couldn’t, because I had one more throw. I just knew that I wanted to try to throw as far as I could. I believed that I was still in 80m [262-5] shape. I just had to trust it. It was either going to go far or it was going to go in the net, and I was fine either way.”

She whirled, she threw, and the ball and wire soared farther than any other throw on the day, landing at 259-1 [78.96]. It was the second-farthest throw of her life, just 6cm short of the PR 259-3 (79.02) she hit in Tucson in April.

“That was literally the best moment,” recounts the Northern Arizona alum, who turned 27 five weeks later. “It replays in my mind all the time. It’s not even about just the throw itself. It’s about the atmosphere: the fans and the standing ovation I got from the fans in that stadium. Winning my first international gold medal, it was amazing. It’s a moment that lives in my head all of the time.”

Andersen’s ascendance to the top of the hammer aristocracy marks a rather remarkable year. Last August, after reaching the third-best mark in Olympic qualifying, she only managed 10th in the final. It didn’t help that she was still feeling the effects of a shoulder injury she had incurred that spring.

“The sport is full of heartbreaks,” she admits.

Turning that around became her biggest project over the last year. “The biggest thing was correcting the little things with my technique. Getting stronger always has been a goal as well. And also staying healthy.”

Her ’21 shoulder injury was just pure bad luck, the result of a fall. She explains, “I hit my head on the ground and it made my shoulder act up. I have a disc in my neck that’s a little bit smaller than the other. It caused a nerve to act up super crazy.”

Eventually that resolved, though Andersen says she has learned to be more careful with injuries. “When I had an injury pop up, I’d take care of it, but I probably pushed it a little too hard. This year, maybe a couple of times something popped up. We would take care of it right away obviously, and then ease back into training rather than me saying, ‘No, no, I’m fine’ and just going for it.”

Another big factor was the expertise of coach Nathan Ott. “I moved to Arizona to continue training with him,” she says. “He’s put in countless hours and obviously writes my training from weightlifting to throwing. He’s worked for this moment too.”

The two focused heavily on her competition mentality: “Every time I would get to the big stage, I would feel kind of — I don’t know — starstruck, I guess.” Part of the effort was making her believe she belonged on that stage, and then she and Ott took it a big step farther.

“My goal was to win the gold medal. I knew it was going to be a tough fight just because all the throwers are amazing. But every day I told myself, if the training was hard, if my body wasn’t feeling it, I would just envision that moment on the podium with the gold medal. If I didn’t want to do the last set or I was so tired, I’d think, ‘It’s for Worlds, you have to keep going.’

“That mentality is the mentality I’ve had all season. I believed I could win it. I just knew it was going to be more of a challenge because of the level that the other women are at. They’re all high-caliber. It’s just a battle to see who can get to the top on the day.”

That Andersen got there at all is tribute to how much she sacrificed along the way. She lost two of her training facilities during the pandemic, and found herself doing throwing sessions from a sidewalk into a field.

She’s never been a full-time athlete. For the last four years, she’s worked at various Chipotle restaurants. “I was going to quit right before I moved from Kansas to Arizona last September, then I decided to keep it just so I had some income because rent was a lot higher in Arizona than Kansas. I was doing 30 hours a week then I cut back when the season started. And I’ve scaled that back since Worlds.

“I still work outside of track because I believe that helps get my mind off track, so it’s actually nice, though hopefully I can transition to a remote job. That’s my next goal.” It helps her financial picture that she signed with Nike before her win at the USATF meet.

Has being a world champion changed things? Not much, she says. “My family and friends all obviously know, but they’re the only non-track people who do,” she says with a laugh. “I haven’t yet gotten any random, ‘Hey, you’re the world champion!’ comments from the public.”

She remembers some nice moments after her Worlds win, out on the streets of Eugene, when some of the meet attendees recognized her. “They were like, ‘I had never watched the hammer before, but I love it. I loved watching you.’

“So, we’re making some headway. People like watching it, but a lot of people don’t know about it. It’s not as prevalent as the sprints or the jumps, stuff like that. Some people don’t really know what hammer is. Hopefully in the coming years we can change that a little.”

Andersen is doing her part. She followed up Eugene with two wins in Europe, then finished up at NACAC in the Bahamas. The finale didn’t go to plan, with 5 fouls on the way to a silver medal with a modest 225-3 (68.66).

“I had trouble in the ring,” she explains. “The ring was slow and the net was kinda blowing into the sector. I was fighting the hammer more than anything. It’s not the way I wanted to end my season — I’ve never fouled that much in my life.”

She lost to Janee’ Kassanavoid, who had beaten her once in the early season. No other hammer thrower got ahead of her all year. Of the 10 best competitions of her life, 7 came in ’22.

“I’m really grateful for how the season played out,” she concludes. “I’ve been super-consistent around 77m — just the last few meets I fell off — and winning Worlds was more than I could ever ask for. I wish I had hit 80m [262-5], but it will come next year. I’m just looking forward to taking a little bit of time off, resting, and then getting back to it in about a month.”

Has success changed Brooke Andersen? Nah: “I still see myself like every other thrower. I just want to do my best.”

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