Carrying On The Alekna Discus Tradition

His father dominated the world discus scene for multiple years and now Cal frosh Mykolas Alekna commands the yearly NCAA list. (BILL LEUNG)

UPDATE! Alekna 222-0 (67.68) on his first throw in the Big Meet, the classic fixture pitting the Cal Bears and Stanford Cardinal. That’s a new Dual Meet Record and the No. 3 all-time collegiate throw for the powerful 19-year-old Lithuanian frosh! (April 30)

CAL’S NEW DISCUS MAN on campus “has adapted exceptionally well to the college environment,” says Bears throws coach Mo Saatara. “He is a consummate student of his event and gets along well with his teammates while always staying positive and motivated.”

Saatara can say that again. One can fairly add that 19-year-old frosh Mykolas Alekna has adapted exceptionally well at every step along the way since he first picked up the platter at age 15.

Alekna’s quality as a prodigy is remarkable even when one factors in — well, a large factor. The young Lithuanian’s father is Virgilijus Alekna. That Virgilijus Alekna, 2-time Olympic gold medalist in the discus (’00 & ’04 plus bronze in ’08), 17-time World Ranker (every year in the period 1996–2012 inclusive).

In 7 of those seasons Alekna père World Ranked No. 1. During his career he picked up 4 World Championships medals including golds in ’03 and ’05. In ’00, the year of his 242-5 (73.88) PR, Virgilijus had rated as T&FN’s Men’s Athlete Of The Year, the only discus thrower ever to earn that distinction.

Tough act to follow. Well, Mykolas is taking a fantastic run at dad.

Virgilijus Alekna made the February ’01 T&FN cover a year-plus before Mykolas‘s birth.

Thinking back to the year he started throwing, after sowing his competitive oats as a soccer player, Alekna says, “I remember in 2018, I was in Berlin at the European Championships and watching Gudžius and Ståhl competing.

Andrius Gudžius, of course, is the Lithuanian who won at the ’17 World Championships, and also at those ’18 Euros. Swede Ståhl’s World and Olympic crowns were at the time as yet unrealized future achievements.

Alekna continues, “I was just thinking, ‘That’s my dream. I want to compete against them one day.’” That season he threw the 1.5kg Youth (U18) implement 168-4 (51.31).

Flash forward to June of ’21 and there was Mykolas Alekna at the Lithuanian Championships flying the senior discus 40-1 further — out to 208-5 (63.52) — as he moved to the No. 3 all-time Junior spot with the big platter and placed 2nd to Gudžius’s 220-6 (67.21).

“It was a really great experience,” Alekna says. “Actually, that really motivated me because I realized that it’s not that far and I can throw farther and I can compete against him. It just was very fun.”

The teen thrower had made enormous strides with the Junior (U20) platter as well, and when Alekna took gold at the World Junior Champs in Nairobi 2 months later his longest cast whirled out to 229-0 (69.81), just 13 inches short of Mykyta Nesterenko’s WJR.

And now Alekna has landed with a bang on the NCAA stage.

“I always wanted to go to the U.S. to do sports and also get a good education,” he says, “and my dad had been in the U.S. a few times when he was throwing professionally and he said it’s a very good place where you can go to school and also do sports at the same time. So he really just suggested me to go to the U.S. and then I just found a very good coach and ended up at Cal because it’s a very good school academically and also we have a very good coach here.”

Alekna says his training written by Saatara — who guided Camryn Rogers to the women’s hammer Collegiate Record, the NCAA title and 5th in the Tokyo Olympics last year — closely resembles what he did back home.

“That’s one of the reasons why I came here to Cal,” he says, “because I knew what was working for me.” And it continues to work. Spectacularly.

At San Diego State’s Aztec Invitational (March 26), Alekna landed his fourth throw just 3 inches short of his PR, and then in round 5… BAM!

218-10 (66.70), the No. 7 all-time Collegiate mark, and less than 5 feet short of erstwhile UCLA Bruin Julian Wruck’s 223-7 (68.10) CR set in ’13.

While Alekna is too old for U20 recordbreaking (he’ll turn 20 in September), the throw hurtled well longer than Nesterenko’s 214-3 (65.31) WJR.

“San Diego was my second competition this year and I was feeling really great, in great form and I knew that I could throw far,” Alekna says. “I did only one good throw. I mean, only one throw went over 63 and it was a 66-meter throw. So I wasn’t consistent — maybe because I was too excited to compete.

“So when I threw 66.70, I felt great.”

Three weeks later Cal and Alekna were off to Southern California again, Mt. SAC, where Part 2 of his ’18 Euros dream was realized: a competition including Ståhl.

The Swedish World No. 1 won with 221-11 (67.65), but Alekna got very close to his PR at 218-6 (66.61) in a series with five good fair throws. He finished a place and more than 9 feet ahead of ’21’s U.S. No. 1 Sam Mattis, with Tokyo silver medalist Simon Pettersson 5th.

“When I came to Mt. SAC, I was a little bit more confident with my technique and my ability to throw far,” Alekna says. “It was just an amazing experience competing against the Olympic champion.”

And likely not Alekna’s last such.

“He’s a legendary kid,” Saatara said after the comp. “This is rare territory.”

His words were echoed by those of Bears head coach Robyne Johnson: “What can you even say about Mykolas? He’s incredible. We’ll see a lot of great things from him as we progress this season.”

Alekna seems to agree, though, he doesn’t want to talk much about seasons beyond this one. “I don’t think that far ahead,” he says, “so I don’t know what’s my real potential, but I just want to compete in the Olympics first and see what I can do there. That’d be nice.”

At 6-5/240 (1.96/109) Alekna stands 2 inches shorter than his father and says, “I wouldn’t say I’m strong. I mean, especially professional discus throwers are way stronger than I am. I don’t focus on the weightroom that much because I think that discus technique is way more important than lifting. At least it works for me.”

Collegiately this year, “My goal is to win NCAAs,” he says. “I know it’s very tough and this season we have very good discus throwers so it will be a big challenge, but that’s my goal, to become the champion.”

Alekna can expect to meet NCAA favorite and defending champ Turner Washington of Arizona State at least twice along the way, at the Pac-12 and the West Regional.

Their clashes will come with something of a historical footnote. Washington’s father, Anthony, won the discus world title in ’99, the season before Virgilijus Alekna claimed his first Olympic gold. In that competition in Seville, Spain, Alekna 1.0 placed 4th.