LEADING UP TO the Penn Relays, javelin training had been far from ideal for Skylar Ciccolini (Mifflin, Lewistown, Pennsylvania). Coming off a harsh winter that compromised outdoor workouts, the 17-year-old star was still fine-tuning changes to her technique and was dealing with ongoing back and hip soreness. So it was a surprise that her opening throw in Philadelphia sailed out to a PR 184-2, trailing only fellow Pennsylvanian Madison Wiltrout’s 185-8 on the all-time high school list. It’s also the No. 3 mark ever by an American Junior (U20).
“I’m surprised that throw occurred at the time that it did,” says Sonny Ciccolini, Skylar’s father and coach. “I thought from her practices and the way she’s been training for the last 8–9 months that it was definitely a possibility hitting the mid-180s if the conditions were right. [But] our practices had been limited and they had been very low intensity, so we didn’t really anticipate all the pieces coming together at the Penn Relays.”
But months of focusing on her block, the final two steps before releasing the spear, finally paid off. “My energy transferred from the ground up to my arm and to the javelin a lot quicker than it usually does,” says the 5-foot-11 senior, whose previous PR was a 177-0 from ’18. “It was a lot more energy-efficient, you could say.”
The back injury—most likely caused by participation in the long jump and triple jump—forced her to pass three of her throws at Penn. That cautious approach, along with regular chiropractic adjustments to deal with a misalignment of her hips, will hopefully keep Ciccolini healthy for the remainder of her prep season, as well as summer championships. She is taking a hiatus from the horizontal jumps, but expects to continue competing in the high jump, where her 5-4 PR is a state-qualifying mark.
You could say that the javelin is in her genes. Both Sonny and his wife Danielle, who also helps with Skylar’s coaching, competed in the event at Cornell. Over the last few years, they’ve studied the event meticulously to mentor Skylar and her younger sister, Taylor, a soph with a 138-8 PR. Skylar gravitated towards track in the 8th grade after playing softball and football, and initially focused on the high jump. After qualifying for State with the spear as a frosh, however, she began to focus more on that event. “She’s always had a very long throwing motion, even when she played softball or football,” Sonny says. “She’s very flexible and fairly tall, which lends itself to javelin. You don’t have to be incredibly strong to throw far, you just have to be fast and flexible and hit the right positions.”
Now she’s focusing on getting to a bigger stage. Before heading to Missouri in the fall, Ciccolini will compete at the USATF Juniors in June in the hopes of landing a spot on the U.S. team for the Pan-Am Juniors in Costa Rica. She’s already had a taste of international competition at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires last fall. Throwing the lighter U18 spear she placed 7th in the unusual 2-day cumulative format, reaching a best of 180-8.
Also on her summer schedule is the USATF Senior meet. Her Penn mark put her No. 3 on the yearly U.S. list, so she expects to be competitive in Des Moines. “It’s going to be neat to be around those really incredible javelin throwers,” she says. “I think that will help me and push me. Every time I go into a meet, I know I can only control what I throw, so it doesn’t matter if I’m at a really small dual meet or USA Seniors.”
Sonny hopes his daughter will be fully healed soon in order to resume robust training, but knows she can handle the pressure at USATF even if she’s not at 100%. “I don’t think the mental aspect of that meet will be a detriment to her,” he says. “That 184 at Penn Relays came off of two or three weeks of struggling with her throws and limited practices. She has managed to show herself that she can have a big throw even when she’s arguably not prepared at all for it. She has that level of confidence.” ◻︎