AFTER WINNING 2 World Championships gold medals in the shot, Chase Ealey is ready — more than ready — to go after her first Olympics.
For the 29-year-old, past Olympic Trials have been an exercise in frustration. In ’16, as an Oklahoma State senior, she threw a PR 60-6¾ (18.46) at the Trials. While it’s hard to complain about a PR in the big meet, she knew there was more in her potential than a 7th-place finish.
Five years later she had worked herself to a point where she knew she could be a contender. She had thrown a PR 64-6¾ (19.68) for 2nd in Zürich in ’19 — ranking No. 3 in the world that season — and won the USATF Indoor in ’20 before COVID shut that season down. But in the months before the postponed Trials of ’21, she contracted COVID herself.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. A shadow of her usual self, she could manage only 60-4 (18.39) for 5th.
Now she sits atop the world, the winner of the Diamond League Final with an American Record and yearly world leader of 68-1½ (20.76). Her motivation couldn’t be stronger. She describes herself as a “completely different person” than the one who showed up for past Trials. She explains, “I’m mentally stronger. I’m training different, I’m training harder. I just think I’m a better athlete now than I was then. And despite being sick back then, I think if I dealt with the same trials now, I’d be able to handle them better. I’m so ready for Paris and the Trials and everything.”
Getting to this point has been a process of years of fine-tuning and even reinvention. At Oklahoma State she was good by any measure, but in her time there she never won a Big 12 title, let alone an NCAA crown. In her final collegiate meet in ’16, she managed to get 2nd at Nationals with a PR 59-¼ (17.99).
“I knew I had more than what I produced in college,” she says. “I knew I could do more, so I kept fighting for it, and I had the right people trying to help me and support me through it. I always knew there was more. The peak of a thrower’s life is typically not in college. So I never thought it wasn’t possible just because I’d graduated.”
For the next two years, though, Ealey didn’t see improvement. But then coach Ryan Whiting — himself a 2-time World Indoor gold medalist — worked with her to switch from the glide to rotational technique. “If I hadn’t switched, I wouldn’t be here at all. It changed everything for me. If I wasn’t rotating, I wouldn’t be talking to you for sure.”
The results came fast, with that ’19 season being her breakout year. She won her first USATF title and put together a solid DL campaign before placing 7th at Worlds in Doha. She was perfectly positioned to qualify for her first Olympics. Then the pandemic hit, causing a 1-year delay for the Games. She had a difficult battle in her second bout with the virus. She lost 40lb (18kg), and the recovery took months. She wasn’t quite herself yet at the Trials.
Though she bounced back, hitting a season best 63-9¾ (19.45) three weeks after the Trials, she found herself ready to reinvent herself again. That opportunity came when she spent some time at training camp in England with British thrower and friend Sophie McKinna. She met coach Paul Wilson and decided to work with him for a while simply because of the ease of having a European training base during the latter part of the season.
Before long she was spending more and more time at Wilson’s throws academy in northern England’s York. “I just felt happier out here. I got some friends and… yeah. It’s definitely a different place. It’s smaller, it’s quieter and I miss the U.S., but that’s part of the sacrifice of this sport. If something works, you just kind of do it.”
Wilson, she says, “Is a diamond in the rough. He’s one of the only coaches I’ve ever met who puts their ego aside for their athlete. If I don’t like something or I think something different, he’s totally open to discussing it with me, whether it be changes in the weight room or changes in technique. So it becomes more of a partnership than a dictatorship. And that’s what makes him so perfect for me.”
Always one of the faster throwers — as a New Mexico prep she won a state title in the 100 and has a 12.27 best — Ealey started working with Wilson on a new entry position to the ring that would maximize that speed. “As a sprinter, out of the blocks, everything’s very down and loaded… chest down and push through the ground, you know? I think my issues in the shot put stemmed a lot from that because my base of athleticism has always been sprinting-type things. In the shot, you want to be up and over certain angles.
“With Paul, the very first thing we did was fix my entry and it changed everything and helped me see throwing differently and technique differently. It was just about staying up — everything’s more up and into the speed rather than down and driving.” (Continued below)
That technical change made Ealey more dangerous on an international level. In ’22, she put together a dream campaign. At World Indoors she tied Michelle Carter’s American Record of 66-3¾ (20.21) in capturing silver. Outdoors she went undefeated, throwing a career best 67-3½ (20.51) to win the USATF title again and nearly matching that 67-2¾ (20.49) with her Worlds win. That was, incidentally, the first time the WC shot had been won with a first-round throw. She would be an easy pick for No.1 in the World Rankings.
The difference wasn’t only technique. She also credits her sports psychologist, Lenny Waite: “I was struggling with lots of things, but she helped me out of it. What’s funny is that I hadn’t talked to her in a while because I just felt I was too busy and I had all these excuses. And then when I finally started chatting with her again and getting back on it, it was right before Worlds. It showed me how important it was.
“When you get out there in competition, the training is there, but 95% of that day is going to be in your head because you’ve already done the training. It’s all just mental.”
The ’23 campaign, she says, “was definitely a rougher season, but I’ve had rougher for sure. I’m really happy with how it ended. It all came together when it counted, so I guess that’s all that matters.” From a hurt rib indoors to a blazing finish outdoors, topped by a successful Worlds defense and the DL title with an American Record, she saw it all. “I had 6 weeks or so that I just really pushed hard and we worked on some technical changes and they all went really well. It was just one of those, ‘Sit back and listen to your coach and it’ll work out.’
“I remember thinking, I really want the AR. Going into Pre, I was telling my coach, ‘I want the record. I’m going to get it,’ and he was like, ‘OK, go get it.’ It was one of those steps you take, the bigger and better things you want, and your national record is obviously one of those things you always want. I’ve been chasing it for a while and to finally get it was pretty amazing.”
With a goal of making the top of the podium in Paris, Ealey sees her job these days as fairly clear-cut: “I just need to do everything that’s in my training journal. As long as I do all the things and do everything I’m supposed to, I think that gold medal is mine. It starts with Glasgow [World Indoors] and then it goes to Paris and you know, I want 2 more golds for my collection. I’m not afraid to say that because I assume everyone’s out there for the same things. I know all my friends are saying the same to themselves, and all you can do is train as hard as you can and do all the changes you need to do.”
Ealey and Wilson are working on one of those changes currently: “I have a pretty big technical change happening right now. The only reason it’s happening this close to the Olympics is because we tried it a little, we tinkered with it and it actually was working well and I’m doing well with it. It’s more about being dynamic, is pretty much what I’ll say about it, throughout the throw, from start to finish, trying to be more dynamic.”
But that’s all the details she’s going to offer up at this point. “I’m on that grind right now, so everything’s a bit secretive and spicy. We got to wait till that first competition.”
Plus, she’s got a January wedding coming up. Her fiancé, Mitch Jackson, a British Strongman competitor who plays a part in designing Ealey’s weightroom routine. “It’s stressful,” she says of the nuptial planning. But the match couldn’t be better. “Me and the girls always say you can’t date a normal person — for lack of a better way to say it.” She laughs, and adds, “It can be hard to date someone who doesn’t understand sport.”