LIKE HIS OLYMPIAN FATHER, Turner Washington made his name in the discus. Now the Arizona State soph is making his headlines in the shot.
The powerful Sun Devil has been on a tear this year, scoring absolute PRs in his first three outings, most recently with a Collegiate Indoor Record 71-8¼ (21.85) at the Texas Tech Shootout. “When it happened, I was in shock for a little while,” he says of his last-round comethrough. “I wasn’t throwing at my best the whole meet, and when I saw it land, I was like, ‘Oh that’s pretty far.’
“I wasn’t completely sure it was a national record and then [coach Brian Blutreich] told me, and I was, ‘Dang, this is wild.’ I gave myself 24 hours to really enjoy it and now it’s time to move on and get back to work.”
Washington entered the season with a lifetime best of 68-3¼ (20.81) from his redshirt season in ’19. He opened up indoors at 68-8½ (20.94), then threw a 69-1½ (21.07) outdoors 10 days before his record. Still, a 2½-foot (78cm) jump is significant.
He explains: “A lot of the reason why the shot was really able to take off was coming in [to Arizona State] I didn’t really have that many bad habits with the rotational shot.”
Blutreich, himself a ’92 Olympian in the discus, says that Washington’s emergence as a shot guy was always coming: “It didn’t surprise me. I was actually telling some of the other coaches there that if he executes his technique, he’s going to throw really far. He’s a very gifted person.
“When [USC’s McKay Johnson] threw his personal best over 70-feet and Turner had never thrown over 70, I knew it was going to be a different deal than Turner just going out and throwing.
“I think he learned more about competing than actually learning to throw far. I know his training, and I knew he was capable of it.” (Continued below)
That need to learn how to compete stems from Washington’s being so dominant as an Arizona prep. “Growing up in high school, I never really had to compete against anyone because I was always throwing a lot further,” he explains. “Even last year I still had that problem, of someone coming up on me, what do I do.”
The son of 3-time Olympic finalist — and ’99 world champion — Anthony Washington, the 6-5/250 (1.96/114) Turner won silver in the platter at the ’17 Pan-Am Juniors, the year before he moved to No. 4 all-time among preps with his 227-10 (69.44) with the lighter implement.
A blue-chip recruit to Arizona, he focused solely on the discus there, hitting 185-4 (56.50) and finishing 19th at the NCAA. Then came the transfer to in-state rival Arizona State, followed by a redshirt year in ’19. Then of course, the pandemic. Long story short: he hasn’t left the discus. He just hasn’t had a chance to throw it since he came to Tempe.
He notes that his dad got a kick out of the phone call about the Collegiate Record: “He was pretty pumped up. He likes to remind me of how I didn’t like to throw the shot in high school and he made me, so he got a kick out of it.
“I still like to think of myself as a discus thrower,” he explains. “I’ve had the opportunity to grow since I was at Arizona, and it’s progressing in the right direction.”
When the season moves outdoors, the 22-year-old Washington will be doing both throws. He acknowledges that despite his recent shot breakthrough, the pathway to Tokyo is probably more promising in the discus. “Making the American team in the shot put is super-hard,” he says of his Olympic prospects. “I’d like to follow in my father’s footsteps, but one day at a time.”
Notes Blutreich, “The goal is to make it to the Trials, but as Turner said, in the men’s shot you have the World Record holder, you have the World Champion and you have another guy who was ranked in the top 5 in the world. So we’ll work on that as the time comes.”
Right now, everything is pointed at the shot at the NCAA Indoor. “These next four weeks, we want to maximize what we can do,” says Blutreich.
Washington agrees. “I’m really just focusing on this upcoming national championship. I’d like to execute the technique and improve enough to win the NCAA championship, which would put me in a better position to do well at the Olympic Trials.”
“We’re just kind of starting to understand the event, which is kinda scary,” says Blutreich. “I think there’s more. Just knock on wood that we stay healthy. He’s not done, that’s for sure.
“When we start the discus, that becomes a little bit trickier because we’re now going to be focusing on two events instead of one. Two different techniques, two different timings, two different rhythms. So he’s going to have to start learning the difference between the two and stay at a high level, whereas these other guys pretty much do just shot only.
“I think that’s his next challenge, to learn how to compete in both. He hasn’t competed in two years in the discus, so I’m really looking forward to what he can do there.”
The plan from the athlete’s perspective is pretty simple. Says Washington, “I’d like to win NCAA indoors and outdoors. Basically, keep winning, that’s the main goal. At the end of the day, throwing far is great, but winning is 10 times more important.”