Jason Morris takes a deep breath as he readies himself for one of his last hammer throws at practice.
He grasps the handle to the apparatus with both hands and then swings the ball and chain around his stationary body in a counter-clockwise motion. Gradually he builds the momentum needed to start one of his four turns.
One, two, three ... the turns get quicker, and by the explosive fourth turn the coordination and precision he needs to keep his feet from becoming tangled is clear. He lets out a primal yell as he releases the hammer. It flies an impressive distance before violently crashing to the ground in a spray of grass and dirt.
“When you get the perfect throw, it will almost feel like you’ve done nothing,” Morris says.
Morris, a junior, is the best hammer thrower on the Missouri track team. He holds the school record with a throw last year of 218 feet, 11 inches. This year, Morris has twice thrown 200 feet, a mark he has accomplished 12 times in his career. He is only one throw off Russ Bell’s school record, and he still has one more season of eligibility. Morris also owns Missouri’s top six hammer throw marks.
Morris was overlooked during high school, however. Morris attended Priory in St. Louis, a school of only 394 students. While many throwers are recruited during their junior year or sooner, Morris wasn’t noticed until his senior season. Then he had to walk on at Missouri his freshman year.
Throws coach Brett Halter recruited him, but Morris was told there was no scholarship available. Morris joined an accomplished group of throwers including Christian Cantwell, now one of the leading shot put throwers in the world. Morris had to try to stay humble while trying to make the team.
“I was really happy to be a part of this team. It was my dream,” he said. “I knew I was coming in as not as good a thrower as everyone else.”
Morris also lacked the size of a thrower his freshman year, and he knew he had to gain muscle mass. He trained throughout the year trying to build his body and joined Tyler Dailey as one of the only two throwers to stay in Columbia for the entire summer.
“(He started) being the first one to practice and the last one to leave,” Halter said. “If I don’t tell him to stop, he’ll keep going till his feet are bleeding.”
Morris knew the hammer was his best event when he threw 207 feet in the opening meet last year in Arizona. The throw was a vast improvement from his redshirt freshman season when his best throw was more than 20 feet shorter.
The difference was Morris’ week of training with Yuri Sedykh, the world-record holder in hammer and two-time Olympic gold medalist. Sedykh convinced Morris to add another turn to his throw. After that week, Morris trained with Halter to develop the turn.
“If you look at the world’s elite, almost all of them do a four-turn,” Morris said. “I was ready to make that jump.”
To add the turn, Morris repeated the new movement multiple times without a hammer in his hands. Halter said it was a while before Morris was ready to try it with the hammer.
“Jason has probably done well over 100,000 turns to do a four-turn technique,” Halter said.
Adding the fourth turn allowed Morris to emphasize acceleration and speed instead of strength. It seems to have worked.
Last year, after winning three events, Morris placed second at the Big 12 Conference
Championships and qualified for the NCAA Championships. This season, he has won the Missouri Relays and the Tom Botts Invitational.
As Morris’ impact on the Tigers has grown, so has his role as a leader. Morris has tried to help freshman thrower Andy Oaker get used to collegiate track as well as help the rest of the team with the hammer throw.
“Since he’s really new to the college meet, I’ve been showing him like where to check stuff in,” Morris said. “And also with the hammer, if someone asks for a critique, we’ll try to help them out as much as possible.”
Halter said that Morris has become a source of inspiration after overcoming his size to earn what he has accomplished.
“He’s a guy who was told he was too small, and he just doesn’t listen to those people. It’s almost like he has to show them up,” Halter said. “I think he’s a great role model.”