Missouri track and field team strives to keep throwing tradition alive

Sunday, March 28, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
MU junior Chris Holly builds up speed for the throw in the hammer throw event during Missouri Relays at Walton Stadium on Friday. Holly, a junior college national champion, is competing in his first season for the Tigers. During the Missouri Relays he threw 59.73 meters.

COLUMBIA — The throwers on Missouri track and field team have a reputation for being tenacious. A new addition to the Tigers vies to uphold the tradition and maybe break it.

Chris Holly transferred to Missouri this year from Neosho County Community College. Holly’s coach at Neosho, a former thrower on the Kansas track team, swallowed his pride and referred Holly to Missouri throwing coach Brett Halter.

Halter scheduled a visit with Holly and was so impressed with Holly's personality he asked him to be a Tiger. While Holly is new to Division I sports, he is familiar with the hammer throw.

Holly was an All-American last season after winning the hammer throw at the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association championships. As a freshman he was a junior college All-American in the discus after finishing third nationally in 2008.

“Making the change from junior college to a Big 12 Conference team is challenging because junior college was a lot easier,” Holly said. “I got to a point where if I went to a meet it was a given that I’d win it. Here it’s a lot different. Every track meet you have to fight to win. Outdoor is going to be the same because there’s going to be all those great throwers, we’re going to bigger meets, and every meet is going to be a fight.”

At 5 feet, 8 inches, Holly is shorter than the typical thrower. But the hammer throw relies on one’s ability to counter the forces being generated. It pulls the thrower in many different directions, and Holly uses his size to his advantage.

“In one capacity he is undersized, but for the hammer throw he has tremendous space awareness and his kinesthetic awareness is elite. He has tremendous speed so the two of those for this event is pretty fantastic,” said Halter, who has been coaching at MU since 1993. “He can just sit and control his mass and feel where those forces are throughout the throw and still apply velocity to the ball,” Halter said. “He approaches 200 feet in the hammer so he’ll be pushing ball speeds of about 50 mph, that’s a 16-pound cannonball which is pretty valuable to have and that’s what sets him apart in that event."

Holly's determination is another valuable asset that makes him a good fit for the Tigers. During the indoor season, he earned all-conference honors at the Big 12 indoor championships, finishing sixth in the weight throw with a personal best 18.11 meters.

"I was All-Big 12, but I was sixth and I haven’t been that far down on the podium in a while,” Holly said. “I was really upset. From where I was, third place was only like a foot away. I knew I could have gotten it but it just didn’t happen.”

Halter said this type of attitude is what he looks for.

“He is very diligent, all of the things you would expect from a high-level, high-achieving athlete,” Halter said. “Persistent, great leadership, tenacity, all those things describe Chris. He takes care of school, which I appreciate. He does every single thing I ask every single day. He’s sort of the dream. But in that capacity he’s not that much different from the other guys (MU throwers).”

Holly is vying to become part of a long line of successful Missouri throwers. In the past 17 years, there have been 36 All-Americans, 16 conference champions and eight Olympic trial qualifiers, as well as Olympic silver medalist Christian Cantwell, who repeated as shot put champion earlier this month at the IAAF World Championships.

 “There has certainly been a long legacy, a rich tradition of throwing excellence here,” Halter said. “You can go all the way back to the beginnings of the program when we had people over 100 years ago that were pushing the world record. It’s exciting to look back. The American record holder in the men’s discus was our school record holder in the discus. There has certainly been a long line of great Missouri throwers.”

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