DOHA, Qatar (AP) – The very first time DeAnna Price tried to throw the hammer, it smacked her in the head.
She figured that’s the end of that.
Good thing she kept on trying.
The former softball standout, who used track and field only to stay in shape, put America on the board in the quirky little world of the hammer throw, winning the country’s first world championship medal in the event Saturday – a gold one , at that.
Words you never expected to hear: An American will be among the favorites in the hammer next summer in Tokyo.
“It’s been such a crazy journey,” the U.S. record holder from Missouri said.
Even though there’s netting to hem in wild throws, the dangers inherent in hurling a nearly 9-pound weight across the middle of a jam-packed stadium often relegates hammer throwers to off-site venues. Or leaves them to compete before the runners, jumpers and throwers – and fans – even show up.
Very few get famous in this sport.
So, what made Price decide it was hammer time?
A four-sport athlete in high school, she was focused on softball, but then it got dropped from the Olympic program for 2012 and 2016. So she decided to try something else.
Early on, it was the 800 meters. But that changed when she was invited by a coach to give the hammer a go.
It didn’t go well.
“He handed me this thing, and I didn’t know what it was. It was the hammer,” Price recalled. “At 16 years old, I don’t know what to do with this thing. The first time I wound it around my head, I hit my head with the handle, right on the forehead. I remember literally dropping it and saying, ‘I’m never doing this again. I’m done.'”
Idle threat, of course.
Price became a two-time NCAA champion at Southern Illinois. To take it to another level, she took off 50 pounds in 2015.
“I was just trying to be as strong as I can,” she explained. “So I changed my diet. It’s been going pretty well.”
This spring, she ran into a mysterious back ailment. She thought it might be mono. It wasn’t.
She grew more and more frustrated.
“Basically, I was throwing 76 and 77 meters earlier this year and then all my numbers just dropped,” Price said. “I couldn’t throw over 70 meters. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me.’ I felt like I had a harness on and couldn’t throw.”
She saw a chiropractor who gave her exercises that did the trick – and saved her season.
“That’s why this is so emotional,” she said.
On Saturday, Price wrote a few tips to remember in Sharpie on her left arm: “Relax my left arm. Walk straight back. Keep my head back on entry.”
She followed through.
Price started off with a throw of 251 feet, 11 inches (76.87 meters) to take the lead, which was followed by a foul. She unleashed a throw of 254-4 (77.54) on her third attempt. It was good enough to hold off runner-up Joanna Fiodorow of Poland. Zheng Wang of China was third.
The other American in the final, Pan Am Games gold medalist Gwen Berry , failed to get a clean throw in the final Saturday.
The event was missing the gold standard: World record holder and Olympic champion Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland. She didn’t compete at worlds due to an injury.
Price recalled being in awe of Wlodarczyk in 2015 when she made the world team that year.
“I remember actually sitting next to Anita and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m sitting next to someone who can throw 80 (meters),'” Price recounted. “I never thought this opportunity would come. Now I’m throwing 78 (meters).”
She joked with Fiodorow and Zheng at the post-race news conference. As Price was talking, Fiodorow gave her rabbit ears behind her head. Price proceeded to give Zheng an embrace.
It’s true – hammer throwers are one, big happy family.
A growing family, perhaps?
“I’m hoping that with my story that people can see you don’t have to start out really young,” Price said. “You can start in high school, or college and you can be a world-class athlete as long as you put in time.”
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