The shot put is one of the greatest tests of strength in an athlete, writes Jack Margaros from scstudentmedia.com.
The field event was developed in the late 1800s in the Olympics – they wanted to identify the strongest athlete of the group.
It involves the use of all limbs. In one technique, known as the spin, athletes viciously twirl their bodies to reach maximum torque before hurling a weighted metal ball (referred to as a put) into the air.
With their back turned to the field, put in hand, the athlete presses their hand against the side of the neck to load up — the opposite hand stays parallel to the put.
The right foot twirls around and plants, squaring the body to the field. Momentum spins the body rapidly 360 degrees, just in time to plant the left foot before the boundary line and shoot.
It’s a motion that happens so quickly and fluidly that it’s almost impossible not to nearly fall over after the put is airborne.
This flurry of power and speed became almost second nature to Branwen Smith-King, one of Springfield College’s most accomplished and influential athletes.
Dating back to the ‘60s, women have been involved with track and field on Springfield College’s campus.
None were better than Smith-King.
Initially, Smith-King did not specialize in the shot put. Truth is, she hated it.
“It was my least favorite event, but I loved track and field so much,” she said.
Smith-King gravitated toward any and every sport growing up in Bermuda. In addition, to track and field, she played field hockey, basketball, netball, and even rode horses at one point.
“I was always included,” Smith-King said. “We had girls teams, but we would always kick the boys out of the gym to go play volleyball. There were never any gender differences to me. I didn’t feel different because I was a girl.”
Her two brothers and cousins next door lived outdoors from sunrise to sunset. Aside from sports, the group “ran hills, climbed trees, went on the boat to fish and pick mussels” — a storybook childhood.
At the end of a successful boat trip, they’d take turns diving off cliffs.
“That’s the childhood I knew,” Smith-King fondly recalled. “I don’t think my parents knew what I did with my brothers out in dad’s boat.”
As high school came around, Smith-King’s passion for track and field intensified. She became a member of the Bermuda National Track and Field Team and her trajectory pointed towards becoming an Olympian.
She was the first in her country to win a gold medal at an international competition — the shot put (ironically) at the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) Games in 1973. She set national records in the shot put (still holding the indoor record), pentathlon, discus, long jump, and 100-meters. Her daughter Arantxa, an Olympian, broke her mother’s long jump record in 2012 with a jump of 6.52 m.
Smith-King also competed in the Pan American Games in Cali, Colombia, in 1971 as a 15-year-old and attended the Olympic Youth Camp at the 1972 Munich Games.
She was a gifted jumper but injured her knee to the point of requiring surgery. After graduation, Smith-King was set on studying Physical Education, so she applied to Springfield College.
Women’s varsity sports were implemented at Springfield in 1964. The College was considered progressive at the time, fielding women’s basketball and field hockey teams among a small group of others.
However, one thing that had not attained varsity status when Smith-King arrived on campus in 1974 was track and field, which raised the question in her head:
What do you mean there’s no track team for women?
There was the Cherokee Women’s Track Club, created in 1973 by David Harrington.
“I was actually kind of pissed off about it because I knew what I had experienced growing up in Bermuda,” Smith-King said.