Coach Mo Saatara Talks Discus Prodigy Alekna

He won’t be seen in Cal kit this season and in ascending to No. 10 all-time he wore generic Nike gear, but watch for Mykolas Alekna competing for Lithuania in Paris. (KAZUAKI MATSUNAGA/AGENCE SHOT)

THE LONGEST-THROWING 21-year-old the world has ever seen is Cal junior Mykolas Alekna, who at the Brutus Hamilton Invitational spun one out to No. 10 all-time territory, 234-2 (71.39).

No. 10 performer, that is. Only 18 throws have ever soared farther — and the two next-youngest discus men ahead of Alekna on the list had both celebrated their 24th birthdays before throwing farther than the young Lithuanian has. Their names, lest you’re curious: Russian Yuriy Dumchev in ’83 and… well, Kristjan Čeh last year. Surely you’ll recognize the  name of the ’22 world champion. Both Čeh and the late Dumchev are posted to the ATL at 235-9 (71.86),

Alekna, the son and heir of discus royal Virgilijus Alekna — who World Ranked No. 1 for 7 straight years starting when he was 26 — has yet to win an NCAA title. Cal throws coach Mo Saatara, who is working with Mykolas through this redshirt, Olympics-mindful season, says his charge will probably get back to the collegiate title pusuit next year. Alekna is a serious student with plans to major in psychology.

First he’d like to take a serious stab at upgrading from World Champs silver (at Oregon22) and bronze (Budapest ’23) to gold in Paris.

Following Alekna’s imposing opener at Hamilton, Saatara, now in his 11th season coaching the Golden Bear throwers, offered observations in a phone interview.

Saatara: Obviously, Mykolas is going through becoming a more mature thrower, the technique is advancing very well. I think he is more rhythmic than he was in the past, kinda figuring out how to work with his throw more. Obviously this takes a very long time. But obviously he’s a very exceptional athlete, so he’s kind of going through the stages of, “OK, now I have the positional points that I need to achieve and know how to move the discus” and how do we put a rhythm together at a very high level to really maximize his ability?

So that’s sort of where we’re at with it and it’s showing some really good dividends.

T&FN: He obviously had a great series and I saw the video of the 71.39. He appeared to release really fast on that one— At least, to my not-a-coach’s eyes.

Saatara: He’s a very explosive athlete. Super, his coordination is great. He has a lot of throwing power and his throwing — I don’t know, there’s not too many people on earth that can do that, that have that kind of ability. So it’s been really good to see that development mature as time goes on. I think he’s got a very, very long road of development and lots of great things in front of him, so it’s good to see that kind of coming together.

T&FN: Has he made strength gains this year? He told me last year he’s “weak,” his word, compared to older elite throwers, but that this didn’t concern him.

Saatara: No, he’s kind of just moving as he develops. And then I’m not really big into pushing things up too much. I think if you start pushing athletes too much, and especially in the strength development, you start getting into risky things.

He’s pretty young, you know, 21 years old, he’s really very young for discus. So I think over time he’s obviously going to get stronger, more powerful and things like that. And for us it’s more managing that so everything that he’s doing is helping the throw. That’s a very big part of our training ideas: is what you’re doing helping the throw? Or is it detrimental?

Maybe you can increase the weightroom a lot — I don’t think it’ll be a problem for him to do that, actually — but is it helping you be a better thrower? Maybe, I don’t know. Maybe a 500lb bench press or 700lb squat might help somebody, but I think for discus, I don’t know if that’s really helpful. The discus is only 2 kilograms so how much power do you need? How much maximum strength do you need? I think flexibility and explosive movement, those kinds of things, are way more important for discus than anything else.

T&FN: You mentioned he has two more meets ahead in April. Mt. SAC, but before that the Ramona Throws Festival in Oklahoma. That’s where “the wind comes sweeping down the plain,” as my colleague Jeff Hollobaugh quipped in our April issue. You and Mykolas have said before that honing technique, not wind chasing, is your passion. So why Ramona?

Saatara: I mean, we’re always interested in, What are you gonna do in the big stadium, the big time, right? That’s what we really focus on. Obviously, the Oklahoma meet was an opportunity. They reached out to us and said, “Hey, we’re gonna have this big meet with all the guys coming to compete.” We’re more interested in competing with the other guys than chasing some conditions. He’s going to be going against some of the great throwers. I think some of the great Americans are coming, Alex Rose is coming; some of the other guys are exceptional competitors.

And obviously it’s going to be good conditions. So let’s see what we can do in something like that.

But the main focus is still, What are the steps we need to take to be prepared for Paris? And going back, we saw what we did last year in terms of the season and Budapest and things like that. We obviously evaluated all that stuff, and we looked at, “OK, what are the things that we’ve got to get better at for when the time comes to get in a big meet with some of the greats — Kristjan Čeh, Daniel Ståhl, some of the other guys that are coming up?” They’re really superb athletes, superb competitors and throwers. So what characteristic do we need to have to be able to be victorious in that situation?

“It was good to see Daniel Ståhl win the championship last year. I don’t think anybody was gonna beat him that night. I think if he had to break the World Record, he probably would’ve broken the World Record. Conditions or not, doesn’t matter, He was gonna win. He had that mindset you can see in somebody who’s a great champion that’s gonna do something. So our thing was, How do we go into a meet where somebody’s in that mind frame and how do you go and compete with them? And then you do what you need to do.

That’s what we’ve been really thinking about and working towards. ◻︎