Javelin is second sport for UK record-setter Dykstra

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMay 12, 2014 

  • SEC Track & Field Championships

    When: Noon Thursday; noon and 6:15 p.m. Friday; 1 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. Sunday

    Where: University of Kentucky outdoor track and field complex

    All-session tickets: $20 for ages 19-64, $10 for ages 3-18 and 65-over

    Single-session: $10 for ages 19-64, $5 for ages 3-18 and 65-over

    Thursday's session: Free

Raymond Dykstra was in ninth grade when he was cut from the soccer team at Grimsby Secondary School in Ontario, Canada.

Fortunately, he was needed in another sport. Now he has become the best javelin thrower ever to come through the University of Kentucky.

"The track coach came up to me in music class and ended up saying, 'Hey, I need some relay guys for my team,' and she heard I was a sprinter," Dykstra said of high school. "So I took it. One thing led to another. Went to track practice one day and saw somebody throwing the javelin."

The coach agreed to let Dykstra try the javelin.

His first attempt, with no knowledge of proper technique, matched his teammate's personal best.

His coach urged him to continue in the event and said that, if he could place among the top three in the Ontario provincial championship, she would buy him his own javelin.

At the Ontario Federation of School Athletes Association meet, "there's a kid who broke the provincial record before me, and he was four throws ahead of me," Dykstra said. "The old record was 51 meters (167 feet, 4 inches) and he ended up throwing 54 (177-2), so he broke it pretty much by a significant difference.

"My throws coach came up to me and he was barking at me. 'Are you going to let him take your win from you?' I never liked losing by any means, so I got out there and kind of pumped myself up. And four throws, right after he broke the provincial record, I went out there and broke his record by an additional four meters. He ended up throwing like a 54-something and I threw 57.95 (190-1½ ). So I smashed it."

He's been smashing records ever since, most recently the UK stadium and school records with a toss of 250-2 at last month's Kentucky Relays.

His personal best ranks second in the Southeastern Conference to the 256-10 recorded by Tennessee's Kyle Quinn, setting the stage for a showdown when UK hosts the SEC Championships, Thursday through Sunday.

Dykstra, a junior majoring in kinesiology/exercise science, will have the home-field advantage.

"Wind is usually a huge factor here. Not a great wind for the javelin," he said. "So I'm practicing with that and I'm getting a huge head start on actually how to throw in the wind, so that's a huge advantage that nobody else has. I definitely think being here on home turf, and the crowd cheering for me, I'm definitely excited for that, and I definitely think I've got a huge advantage over everyone."

So what drew the soccer player-turned-sprinter to the javelin?

Dykstra calls himself a fan of Greek mythology. His interest was spurred by watching movies in school.

"We watched the movie Troy with Brad Pitt, and Achilles and everything throwing the javelin spear, so I thought that was cool," he said. "Then we watched 300 in class, too. ... So I was like, 'OK, I'll go try and throw the javelin.'"

He wound up winning provincial championships as a freshman, sophomore and senior. He finished eighth at the 2009 World Youth Championships in Bressanone, Italy, then placed fifth at the 2011 Pan American Junior Championships.

At UK, he placed sixth overall and was the top freshman in the 2012 NCAA Championships. He also placed second in the SEC Championships and, at the Texas Relays, threw a school-record 247-5.

Last year, he placed fifth at NCAAs, second in SEC and won three of five competitions entered.

He also transformed his technique and his body shape. He dropped from 270 pounds after the 2012 Christmas holiday to 230 pounds now.

"I was probably the fattest javelin thrower (the coaches) have ever met," Dykstra said.

His technique went from "lock and load" as a freshman to a student of finesse as a sophomore. His seasonal best distance went down from one year to the next, but he is getting the desired results now.

"When we first came in, he was very, very raw," said Andrew Ninow, UK's throws coach. "He just wanted to chuck it, basically."

Ninow and head coach Edrick Floreal pushed Dykstra to completely change his technique.

"So instead of being this power guy trying to muscle it, he's more of a finesse guy," Ninow said. "He's learned to throw with his body rather than just his arm, and that's been kind of the big difference this year."

Dykstra's dramatic weight loss helped him increase speed and decrease wear and tear on his knees and back.

"In the end, it's about the conversion of momentum," Ninow said. "No matter how strong your arm is, if you can run 15, 20 mph and stop on the dime and have everything move first but your arm, you're going to convert a lot of momentum into the javelin."

Dykstra's potential exceeds what it would have been without a technical change.

Now, it's not out of the question to see him become an 80-meter thrower. That's 262 feet, 5 inches.

As he improves, technique becomes increasingly important. Small flaws can make big differences.

The javelin is about timing. But it's also about working your speed, and "waiting" on the javelin as long as possible, Dykstra says.

"I think there's definitely more to come," he said. "I'm a little excited. I had a pretty big foul at the last meet. It was definitely saveable. But I was actually too relaxed to save it. So I think if I push my run back a little bit, I'll be able to throw it. But there's still a lot of things to work on, too.

"Like I said, I don't have a perfect technique, so there's always technical stuff to work on. And you can always get stronger, too. So with better technique and with strength, and still can get faster too — I can't say I'm the fastest person in the world, either. With all those three things, I could probably throw it a little farther."

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @markmaloneyhl. Blog: Markmaloney.bloginky.com.

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