This weeks interview comes courtesy of Don Babbitt, Throws Coach at the University of Georgia (BIG THANKS to Don!). The name Brian Miller doesn't come to mind right away when discussing American shotputting. But at the '97 Nationals, right behind Barnes, Toth, Hunter, and Godina was Mr. Miller with a 67' throw. Brian's story is about a love of throwing, perserverance, and the sacrifices made to chase a dream. I think in Part 1 of this interview, you'll find that Brian is someone you'll want to cheer for!
Long & Strong: How were you first exposed to track and field?
Brian Miller: My first year in junior high I tried out for the track team in the shot and got cut. Then my freshman year the track coach, Glen Gibbons, saw me in the hall and convinced me to come out for the team. I have a lot of respect for my high school coach. He had only coached one or two spinners before me, but he was very open-minded and patient.
L&S: Can you give us a progression of marks, honors?
BM: I can remember throwing 29-30 feet early in the spring of my freshman year. By the end of my freshman year I threw 42 feet, sophomore year - 49 feet, junior year- 57-8 feet, and senior year- 60'5". Also, during my senior yearI had thrown the 16 ball 55 feet on a few occasions in practice, so it was very upsetting for me my freshman and sophomore years in college to throw only 53'10" and 54'2". While I refuse to let the coaching situation at the time off the hook, I do realize that my rookie attitude also played a part in these perfomances . Anyway, my junior year I decided that I needed to stop worring about things that were out of my hands. This allowed me to be more focused on my training. My junior year, I went 57'1" outdoors. My fourth year I threw 59'4 1/4" and redshirted my outdoor season. Andy my senior year outdoors I threw 61'.
After my senior year I went to work for a construction company as a laborer to get by. I was working hard-labor 8 hours a day and then trying to work-out for 2-3 hours every evenining/ Needless to say, overtraining would be an understatement. I quit the construction job a couple months before the '96 trials. My best throws that spring had been in the 60' range. at this time I was facing the decision of leaving the sport, after training as hard as I did that year and seeing almost no improvement the shot was going to have to start flying soon or I would have to face the facts.
About 3 weeks before the trials my friend Cameron Wright, a '96 Olympian High Jumper, and I took a trip to California to hit a few meets and get some good weather. I knew John (Godina) and Art (Venegas) were at UCLA and I was hoping to be able to train there and pick up a few pointers. A couple of days before one of the meets I was at UCLA throwing the 14 lb shot and Hohn and Art came out to throw. Before that day I had never thrown the 14# shot over 64-65'. Within 20 minutes Art had me easily throwing 69-70' EASILY. At this point I was ready to move to LA and camp out on Art's porch until he agreed to help me. Fortunately for Art, my financial statys made that impossible. So I went to the trials and threw 60'4" in the qualifying and 59'7" inb the finals and came out 9th. After the trials I went home for a for a very long and boring summer. I signed up for my last few classes and got hired as a part-time assistant at my old school, SIUC. Late that summer, I called Berry Schriber (who runs UCLA Bruin Track Clun) who I had met while in LA that summer. Berry told me about one of Art's former throwers who was coming out to Georgia, Don Babbit.
Berry took my name and number and said he would contact Don for me. A couple weeks later Don called me and agreed to help me out. Up to this point I had not done much of the Olympic lifts. Don spread my lifts out through the week and implemented the clean an snatch. In addition to the lifting changes, we also increased my running and plyometric training. For technical work I drove down to Geeorgia every couple of months and sent film to Don when I could. I would get pointers and try to concentrate on them until the next time I could see Don. The next indoor season I opened up at 63'9 1/2", almost a four foot indoor PR. I went on to the USATF Indoor Championships and took 6th place with anohter PR of 65'1 1/4". Most of my early meets outdoors that year were in the 64' range. During my annual trip to California before the championships I took 5th with another PR of 67' 1/4". And finally, at the end of the summer I took the Bronze medal at the World University Games with a throw of 64'8 1/2". I wasn't real happy with the throw at the W.U.G. because I felt great, but without many meets in the almost 3 months since the championships and without much contact with my coach I guess I'll live with it.
L&S: Why did you become a spinner?
BM: I am a spinner because my high school coach wanted to try me out on it. And I now look back and consider myself lucky, because from what I've seen you need to be a lot stronger to throw equal distances from the glide.
L&S: You are a post-collegiate thrower. How do you balance elite-level throwing with making a living?
BM: Not very well. I was lucky enough to get a job as an assistant coach here at Southern Illinois University. Last year the former assistant took a head coaching job at another university. At that time Cameron Wright and I took the position and split it. The whole thing seemed perfect at the time. Cameron would coach the jumps and I would coach the throws. It all started out great, we put in a couple of hours in the office and a few in the field every day and still had time to concentrate on ourselves. But this year has been a lot harder with the bills piling up, spending more hours in the office, a lot more time recruiting, having more athletes expecting more from me, and a constant feeling of guilt from neglecting either myself of my athletes, the job is really becoming a heavy load. I love coaching, and I think I can be very good at it, but my goals right now are in throwing and i am going to have to make some very hard decisions soon.
L&S: Do you throw for a track club? If so, without giving financial totals, how does the association work?
BM: Right now I am with NYAC and they will pay for some of my travel expenses. And I am happy to have the help.
L&S: Did you participate in other sports?
BM: I played football in high school and summer league baseball. Unfortunately for my football career I grew very fast in high school and had very bad knees.
L&S: Can you give us some strenght numbers for yourself in the major lifts?
BM: I never max out in the power lifts and right now I am the strongest I have ever been. My best bench , so far this year is 425 X 3, squats 550 X 5, cleans 335 X 5, snatches 230 X 4.
L&S: How far do you usually throw from a standing position? How much do you get from your spin?
BM: Contrary to some rumors of 60' stands at the '97 USATF outdoors, I have only stood 56', and I have only done that when I a m peaing. From day to day in practice I stand from 49' ti 52', while training hard. This year my goal is a 58' stabd, And I usually add from 10-12' with my spin.
L&S: Can you give us some brief impressions of some of your competitors?
BM: BARNES- I'll be glad when he retires, because when he's on, he's untouchable. TOTH- Powerhouse. HUNTER- One of, if no the best, finishers ever. PARLIN- I'm glad I have this year to develop while he's injured....if he comes back and wants it as bad as he did last year he will be right with the pack. GODINA- John is a great guy, very exciting to watch, and from what I hear, he's going to put on a show this year.
L&S: Do you believe there is a threshold above which additional strength has no value?
BM: I am not sure. But I do believe that some people spend too much time trying to increase their lifts and not enough time working on technique and athleticism.
L&S: What has your weight training plan been this winter? How will it change once the outdoor season begins? And what about your training outside the weight room?
BM: We started off in the late fall with some conditioning. Through the winter months I have been weight training very hard 5 days a week, periodized, along with throwing 3 days a week. As I start the indoor season, I will be doing fewer reps in the weight room and increasing my running and plyometrics. With my throwing I am focusing on technique out of the back of the ring as opposed to power in the front.
L&S: What are your long-term plans?
BM: If I can get myself financially stable somehow, I am going to throw ery far for many years to come.
L&S: If you could change one thing about the present day state-of-affairs in the throwing community, what would it be?
BM: IGNORANCE. There are two many people out there that think you have to use drugs to throw far. Its tearing our sport apart. Throwers today are paying dearly for the rampant drug use of our predecessors. I'm not saying there are no drugs in track anymore, a few people get caught every year. But I think the important thing to remember is that they are getting caught. You are not going to get to the point in this sport where you can make any money without getting tested numerous times. So, if someone uses drugs to get to this level, how well do you think they are going to do when they can't use them any more? And yes, there is no avanced notice drug testing in the off-season also. Unfortunately, throwers today are "guilty until proven innocent" with no way of being proven innocent. You can go your entire career without a positivie drug test and you would be consdiered just one smart s.o.b.
Personally, I got my first taste of public accusations last summer in the form of a post sent into THE RING by a guy named Shawn Johnson. Ripped me a new one...if you know whant I mean. the guy said, " everyone knows when you get over 19 meters, improvements come in inches, not in feet...whod does he think he's fooling...he's on drugs just like the rest of them." When I first saw thepost I could've torn the guy limb from limb. When I finally calmd down I was just confused. It sure did put a damper on my feelings of accomplishement. I hit a six foot PR in one year because I got lower, torqued and trained explosively. My entire career I had beeb throwing tall and open (61'). And by the way, I still have a lot of room to improve, and I will.
BM: Finally I would like to say to all those out there who believe you can't htrow far without durgs, get out of the sport. For the good of the sport and yourself. After all, its the guys who believes he can't do it clean that uses the drugs. And by all means, if you are willing to open your mind, learn, and do the work I wish you the best of luck.
L&S: What are your strengths and weaknesses as a thrower?
BM: STRENGTHS- Consistency and (knock and wood!) not choking. I may not PR in every single big meet but so far I have been able to put up solid performances. WEAKNESSES- Right now my biggest weakness is not being able to concentrate on my training 100%.