WORLD CHAMPS GOLD, World Indoor silver, USA Trials win with the No. 2 all-time U.S. shot mark, 7 throws in the all-time U.S. top 10 (see box). Chase Ealey has much to celebrate as she contemplates the ’22 season nearing its completion, but none of these accomplishments specifically move her the most.
“You know,” Ealey says, “I think I’m most proud of coming out of my rut, for lack of a better way to say that. I feel like I’ve gone from feeling like being at the bottom to finding myself again. And I’m just so happy with it. Regardless of performance, I’m just happy with where I’m at mentally and physically now.”
Now 28, Oklahoma State alum/New Mexico native Ealey is undefeated in 9 straight meets since the World Indoor, recharged with confidence and loving her craft. She’s in the shot wars for the long haul.
“I’m going till I break,” she says. “Hopefully it’s a long time.”
Surely her throws since the World Indoor — topped by her USATF and Worlds winners, 67-3½ (20.51) and 67-2¾ (20.49) — have been flying long. Ealey’s eight longest career heaves, all spun out this season by the first rotational thrower to win a women’s world title, average 66-5 (20.24).
Ealey has done it all since undertaking a bold relocation to Loughborough, England, last January. Originally planning a short training camp, she flew to Blighty at the invitation of British thrower Sophie McKinna, whom Ealey met and befriended at the ’19 Worlds.
McKinna told her, ‘Manchester’s out here, it’s a Gold level indoor meet. You should come train and then we’ll go to Manchester together. It should be fine.’ It was [planned as] 2½ weeks.”
Nine months later England still is Ealey’s training base and Brit Paul Wilson is the coach who has guided her progress.
This has been a massive season for Ealey, a triumphant return from the deep valley of ’20 and ’21, which followed a breakout year in ’19 when she and her coach at the time, Ryan Whiting, chanced a technical switch from the glide to rotational throwing.
Coming from a prior best of 60-6¾ (18.46) set as she placed 7th in the ’16 Olympic Trials while a Cowboy senior, Ealey spun to national crowns indoors and out in ’19 and boosted her best to 64-6¾ (19.68) placing 2nd to world champion Lijiao Gong in the DL Final.
A 7th-place WC finish in Doha failed to meet Ealey’s expectations — she was throwing to win — but making the final is not exactly chopped liver for a first-timer on that stage.
Ealey came off the season primed to get it right in the scheduled 2020 Olympic year. She whirled into it full tilt wracking up a second USATF Indoor win.
And then came COVID, the disruptor.
Ealey threw 63-8¼ (19.41) to win her lone outdoor meet of ’20. “But,” she says, “I think there was so much that was mentally negative for me in my training environment — and it was mainly focused on me obviously.
“I still really like Ryan Whiting. We’re super cool still, but [the issue] was more personal. I found myself not being able to get past how rough 2020 and 2021 were for me.”
In late ’20, Ealey contracted COVID-19 and the virus stuck around wreaking havoc — multi-dimensional havoc.
“Physically I had lost a lot of weight and I was struggling,” she says, “but my strength levels didn’t vary as much as I thought they would. They went down like maybe 5%, so nothing crazy, but I was still throwing 20m [c66ft] in training and having some good sessions.
“But then when 2021 happened it came down to the mental aspect of competition and coming back; I was gone. I was still training super well. I’d be with Ryan throwing 19-high, 20m having really good days and being like, ‘Heck, yeah!’ And then it was just like the confidence of competition just flew away on me. I just lost it.
“I think a lot of it stemmed from mental issues and that’s why I’m a big advocate for sports psychology and stuff — cuz I feel like without my sports psychologist I probably wouldn’t have been able to come back.”
All the way back and further, in fact, to the top rung with her Worlds win.
“I forget sometimes,” says Ealey. After the Olympic Trials in ’21, she almost couldn’t imagine such a rebirth.
“I think I was trying to ‘fake it till you make it’ kind of thing,” she says. “But I think personally with the level of shot putting that happens in the U.S. you can’t really fake it. You have to be there.”
Also, Ealey acknowledges, the U.S. Trials system is a pressure cooker for one and all. “We don’t select teams, you gotta earn that spot,” she says, “and it’s just a different level. Just that whole concept is daunting, and I wasn’t really there, I don’t think.
“I really was trying to fake it. I walked in there, like, ‘I had a good training session, yeah, yeah, yeah!’ And then the crowd and the lights and the big throws from everyone and I just collapsed cuz I just wasn’t strong.”
The two longest of Ealey’s three fair throws in the OT Final flew 60-4 (18.39), a meter-plus down from even her ’20 best. Placing 5th elicited pain: “I think I would already be an Olympian by now and that kind of hurts.”
Little did she know that flight to England would alter everything for the better.
Ealey says, “I came out here for the little camp and then it just felt like my mental fog started to lift and everything just kind of felt good again.
“I wasn’t throwing particularly well, by any means. I was throwing like 17m [c56ft], but mentally, where I was head-space wise, I felt more potential for growth.”
Ealey called Whiting — twice a World Indoor champion and the newly hired throws coach at Arizona State — and told him, ‘Man, I’m loving it here. I feel right.’ And he said, ‘I’m the first person to tell you, you gotta do what feels right for you. Do it if you feel right. Just move, do whatever.’
“I knew he would support that decision, cuz he always told me, ‘Do what’s right for you.’ He always says this is an individual sport, you’re in this alone. You can’t think about anybody else or how they’re gonna feel.”
Slowly at first, the waters parted for Ealey.
“By USA Indoors, Paul Wilson was my full-time coach. And you know, I can be a bit much and he is very chill and stuff. So I think we balance out perfect. I have a lot of energy and I’m very hectic sometimes and he’s just calm and chill.”
Finding her own eye of the storm was toughest for Ealey when she flew back stateside for the undercover nationals.
“I have to say USA Indoors this year was probably the most nervous I’d been,” she says, “because I knew I’d seen some big throws again finally and I knew I was in a good position. But the nerves of making a team to kind of redeem what had happened to me in 2021 were really intense.”
Ealey placed 2nd to Olympian Jessica Ramsey, nonetheless, and earned the World Indoor berth from which she mined that silver and pushed past the 20m barrier to 66-3¾ (20.21).
“In practice I’d thrown 20 plenty of times,” Ealey says. “When I was in Arizona it’d be here and there, though. But leading into World Indoors I had three training sessions where I had pretty much every throw over 19.50 [63-11¾] and multiple throws over 20 [65-7½].
“And so it wasn’t just like, ‘Ooh, I threw 20.’ It was like, ‘I can consistently throw this number. I’ve got this, I can do that.’ It’s more real. The confidence is there for that number when you’ve seen it more than just like a splatter of times.”
Here again, in partial explanation of the season that has followed and the goals she plans to knock off in future, Ealey asserts that for her the mental component drives the physical.
“Me and Ryan have actually talked about that,” she says. “I told him how I always say the mental thing made me a better athlete and made me more coachable and he was laughing.
“He said, ‘These are all basic things I tried to coach you in.’
“I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s just I can be coached now.’”
Ealey’s edge, mental and physical, is so sharp that in Eugene she dealt defending champ Gong and the rest of the field the knockout throw in round 1 and kept cool enough to banter lightheartedly with the Olympic gold medalist.
When two of the Chinese putter’s throws landed within inches of the lead in the fourth and fifth rounds, Ealey joked that Gong should consider knocking off early: “I told her, ‘Take your shoes off.’ She said no [laughs]. I tried, I tried to get her to stop, but she didn’t accept it.”