The United States has no shortage of stand-out female throws athletes. In the past calendar year, six young women added their names to the U.S. top 10 all-time list in the shot put, javelin, hammer throw and discus: Sophia Rivera, Elena Bruckner, Alyssa Wilson, Nickolette Dunbar, Haley Showalter (now a freshman at Wisconsin) and javelin national record holder Madison Wiltrout.
But perhaps none are shining as brightly right now as Rivera. The senior from Brentwood High School (MO) and three-time national champion recently posted a nearly 20-foot season best and five-foot all-time best of 180 feet, four inches in the javelin to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
In 2015, the University of Wisconsin commit took home silver medals at the IAAF World Youth Championships, Pan-American Junior Championships and USATF Junior Nationals. With a potential Olympic berth on the horizon, 2016 could be even bigger. Read the Q&A below to learn more about the rising star.
Jojo: Congratulations on your new javelin PR and qualification to the Olympic Trials! What does this moment mean to you?
Sophia: Going to the Olympics has been a dream of mine since I started track in fourth grade. In the past couple of years, that dream has become more achievable than ever. My first major step toward making my dream a reality was last summer, when I made both the World Youth and Pan-American Juniors teams. That was an amazing experience. But the feeling I got hitting 180'4" was in a league of its own.
When did you first start thinking of the Trials as a realistic opportunity?
I would consider last year to be my breakout season, and I think that's when the Trials really became a realistic opportunity.
What was your timeline? Are you ahead of where you thought you might be at this point in the season, or on-target? How do you readjust your goals now?
I was definitely hoping to hit the standard sometime this season, but I wasn't expecting it to come until later on. So yeah, I would most definitely say I am ahead of schedule. Because of that, I've had to change my training schedule around a little bit. My coach and I are working toward peaking for the Trials now.
What did it mean to hit this mark at your home invitational? You travel often for competition.
To be able to hit the Trials-qualifying mark at my home meet was unbelievable. It's a blessing to be able to travel for competitions, but it is hard to beat the feeling you get when your friends and family get to see you throw, especially when it turns out as well as it did. I was glad that I got to celebrate this moment with my school right there cheering me on.
What did you execute differently to set a new PR?
I have really been focusing on keeping my arm back and relaxed. On my third throw, I felt like it stayed back and my hips turned through at just the right time.
What do you want to improve upon?
There is always work to be done, so I'm going to keep working on holding my arm back longer and staying relaxed throughout my approach. I try to focus on just one or two things at a time so I can really put my energy into perfecting that part.
You successfully compete in a number of events: the javelin, shot put and discus. Which is your favorite? How do you balance training for each?
Javelin is by far my favorite event. Don't get me wrong, I love shot put and discus, but I started my throwing career with javelin, so it definitely wins the favorite event category. The balance between the three could be described as heavily weighted towards the javelin with an emphasis on shot put and an accent of discus.
Describe a typical week of training.
Monday: Technical focus in the shot put and discus
Tuesday: Focus on javelin technique, and shot put
Wednesday: Shot put and discus work; javelin foot work; strength training
Thursday: Light javelin work; shot put foot work and positions; light discus
Friday: Light work in all three events, or off depending on preceding workouts
Saturday: Speed and core work
Sunday: Javelin, shot put, and discus work; emphasis on technique
What's the hardest workout you've done this year?
The hardest workout I've had this year was a strength and conditioning workout during indoor season. It seemed like my trainer was just making up drills as he went. It started off normal with a general warm-up and dynamic stretching. Then we moved to speed and power work, which included box jumps, ladder work, and other drills, but then we went into core work, which included roman chair work, roll-outs, and some machine work.
Normally, we have two focuses in a workout, so I wasn't ready when my trainer told me we were doing high-pulls and posterior back work.
What colleges did you choose between and how did you decide on Wisconsin?
When the recruiting process began, it was overwhelming how many phone calls and emails I was getting, but it was the most humbling process as well. When it came time for visits, I couldn't narrow my choices down to five, so I decided to take two unofficial visits in addition to my five official visits.
My officials were at Duke, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. I unofficially visited Alabama and Georgia. All of the schools were amazing, and I can honestly say this was the hardest decision of my life. In the end, I believe I could have done well at all of these schools. All of them have top-notch coaches, but I just felt the most comfortable overall at Wisconsin.
You had a stellar 2015 that included appearances at the World Youth Championships in the shot put and the javelin... in fact, you're the first athlete in history to compete in two finals concurrently at an IAAF championship event! What did you learn about yourself and what was your favorite moment?
2015 was amazing. As an athlete, I learned how to adapt to the situation you are given. This comes mostly from competing in the two finals simultaneously. The IAAF let me switch my position in the lineup so I could make it back and forth between shot put and javelin.
A small thing not too many people think about in that situation is having to switch shoes between events, but that was definitely challenging for me because I wasn't expecting to have to budget shoe-tying time between throws.
Being able to travel so much last summer to places like Cuba, Cali, and Columbia was really humbling. A lot of times, it is easy to take for granted what we are blessed with in the United States. The most basic things we take for granted, like toilet paper in public bathrooms and safe drinking water, are absent from these modern communities. Personally, I learned not to take anything for granted and to be more thankful for everything I have.
Out of the many amazing parts of last summer, I would have to say my favorite was standing on the podium at the World Youth Championships, knowing that I had represented my country to the best of my ability and had done something no one else ever had. In that moment, I was so grateful for everything I had accomplished and for all of the people that helped me get there.
How can 2016 top 2015? Or, has it already?
2015 was an amazing season and one I will never forget, but so far, 2016 is off to a great start and there is no telling where it will end. I can say that if I were to make the Olympic team this summer, 2016 would most definitely overtake 2015.
The Olympic 'A' standard for the women's javelin is 62.00m/203-5.