Which Throw Best For Alyssa Wilson?

For now at least, UCLA triple-threat Alyssa Wilson lists the hammer as her favorite. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

ONE OBVIOUS QUESTION that seems to surround UCLA soph Alyssa Wilson is which direction she will go with her prodigious throwing talents. Last year she was the only woman to compete in all three heavy-throw finals at the NCAA when she threw the shot, discus and hammer. Then she did a triple again at the World Juniors (U20) in Finland, earning a silver in the hammer to go with the shot bronze she had won at the ’16 edition of the meet.

Most recently, she had a huge weekend at the Beach Invitational. On Friday she won the hammer at 224-11 (68.56), her second-best throw ever (her PR 231-8/71.63 from 2 weeks ago made her the No. 9 collegian ever). On Saturday she threw a co-Collegiate leader 59-1½ (18.02) in the shot and followed that up with a PR 185-9 (56.83) in the discus.

So which way does she go? Is the shot her best event? Does she have more to get out of the discus or hammer? The thing is, the 20-year-old New Jersey native isn’t ready to narrow down her focus, she has no timeline on settling down in one throw. As she sees it, she doesn’t have to. “It’s definitely hard throughout the week, balancing the practice schedule with lifting and studying, but I have a passion to do all three,” she explains. “I just set everything aside and focus on one at a time, whether they are all three in one day or spread out. I’ve always been a three-event thrower, going back to high school. I didn’t throw the hammer as much then, but I’d throw it a couple of meets a year.”

In fact, she doesn’t see throwing three different implements as an impediment. She sees it as an advantage. Going from one ring to the other doesn’t tire her, it keeps her fresh. “That’s part of what I love about it,” Wilson says. “If the first event doesn’t go well, there are always the other two to fall back on. If I’m off a little in the discus, I can put it back together in the hammer.”

She’s putting it all together, and at the right time. Wilson is entering that always-exciting moment when potential and expectations start to align with reality. The national HS recordholder in the shot, both indoors and out, when she was already a 3-throw star, Wilson came to Westwood as one of the country’s most celebrated preps. She was No. 2 in the HS Athlete Of The Year voting, trailing only Sydney McLaughlin.

Her recent showing at the Beach Invitational was particularly exhilarating, she says. “That’s something that’s been a long time coming, to break 18m in the shot. I had been throwing really far in practice, I just hadn’t been able to connect in a meet, bring it in competition.” As for her new lifetime best in the discus, she says, “I’ve always wanted to be great at all three, dominate all three events. Having that extra PR in the discus, it was satisfying. It showed me I can do anything.”

She can do just about anything because of the work she puts into it. Along the way, she’s gotten a feel, honed for years now, for how to balance three different throws. Juggling three events is as hard as it sounds, but “I’ve learned to love it, I’d rather be out practicing than doing anything else.”

Here is what she means by that: “I throw the hammer 5–6 days a week, then the shot and discus I flip each day. So every day with the hammer, Monday, Wednesday and Friday with the shot put, Tuesday and Thursday with the discus. I’ll throw the hammer for about an hour and a half, then an hour and a half, two hours with either the shot or disc.”

So three hours, plus lifting, plus being a student at UCLA. “I just set aside the time and do it,” she says. What’s she doing with that time is improving on some technical issues: “In the shot and disc, staying on my left side a little longer to get the maximum lift on the shot or disc. In the hammer, working to keep the speed throughout the throw.”

As for goals, she’s dreaming big. “I want to throw 18.50 [60-8½] in the shot, that’s the Olympic standard,” she says. “Then 72m [236-3] in the hammer, 60m [196-10] in the discus. Overall I’d like to qualify in all three again for outdoor nationals, then be All-American in all three. Hopefully it happens.”

In the summer beyond NCAAs, she can see the national lists and knows her best chances at USAs are in the shot and hammer. That meshes with her preferences anyway. “The hammer is my favorite, but now the shot put is getting back up there,” she says. “But the hammer is my favorite.”

Actually, her favorite thing is practicing and working hard, which is why it all comes together for her in three different events. ◻︎