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UPDATE: Thurmond's Goal Of Medal Falls Short In Discus

Four-time Olympian from Renton High will evaluate future with coach

UPDATE: August 3, 12 p.m.

Aretha's fourth Olympics have ended short of her goal of an Olympic medal. Her second throw in the discus of 59.39 meters (194.84 feet) was not enough to qualify for the finals on Saturday.

Thurmond appeared to be disappointed after her final throw, during NBC's online coverage. Thurmond told in the Patch in an interview in July she will evaluate her future with her coach.

Her first throw was 58.38 meters (191.53 feet).

Her second throw was 59.39 meters (194.84 feet).

Her final throw was 57.81 meters (189.66)

UPDATE: August 2, 9:30 p.m.

Aretha (Hill) Thurmond goes for the gold in the woman's discus Friday beginning at 11 a.m. (Pacific Time). You can watch the entire discus event live via NBC Olympics.

Thurmond is in Group A and will throw sixth. We will update this story with results and any reactions from Thurmond.

Original story 

Four-time Olympian Aretha (Hill) Thurmond, a graduate says the discus saved her life. Growing up in the Rainier Valley it could have been easy for her to join the wrong group.

In her first attempt at organized sports she made the freshman girls’ basketball team, but it wasn’t her defensive stance or jump shot that took the notice of physical education teacher, Mark Stewart.

It was her ability to throw.

Stewart instead knew she would be good at the discus and began to tell Thurmond she should go out for track. Thurmond already made up her mind, she wanted to play softball and she was good at it.

During PE class Stewart challenged Thurmond to a game of HORSE; if Stewart wins Thurmond goes out for track; if Thurmond wins, she goes out for softball.

“I don’t know what happened that day, but he was on fire,” Thurmond said over the phone during an interview before heading to Paris for a meet before competing in her fourth Olympics in London.

“Had that intervention never happened back at Renton, who knows where I would be today,” she said.

Thurmond, who was known as Aretha Hill in high school felt throwing coach Keith Eager was just there to uphold her side of the bargain and wasn’t committed.

“I felt I had to earn coach Eager’s respect, I knew he had other athletes,” she said. “He would tell me to go practice throwing 100 times before he would let me throw with the discus.”  Her motivation to do better and work harder earned her second place at the state championships her freshman year.

Coach Eager and Thurmond’s relationship would grow stronger as the two attended summer camps to learn better ways of throwing the discus. Thurmond would go on to win three state titles and the Pac-10 championship at the University of Washington by her sophomore year. Not bad for a girl who at the beginning of her career didn’t understand the sport, let alone know what a discus was.

Olympic fever

After winning the Pac-10 championship in 1996, she qualified for her first US Track and Field Olympic Trials in Atlanta. She placed third with a throw of 190 feet, five inches; good enough to attend her first Olympics later that summer in Atlanta.

“It happened really fast,” she said. “I was hooked and wanted to learn everything I could about the sport and be the best discus thrower I could be.” She finished 34th overall.

Thurmond returned to the UW and worked with discus coach Ken Shannon until his retirement; earning gold at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada.

As Thurmond prepared for the 2000 Olympics, she lost focus at the Olympic trials, placing fourth. She feels  “you can’t train for the Olympics until you train and make the US Olympic Team.”

And with this lesson came a big decision, she needed to be in a better environment and not to mention better weather for an outdoor sport. She found Auburn University Discus coach, Jerry Clayton and moved to Alabama. Over time her mother, Susan and older brother’s family also moved to Alabama.

“It’s nice to have a support group in Alabama,” she said. But she also has other  family and friends still in Washinton state. She tries visit Seattle at least once a year.

In 2002, she broke 200 feet by winning the discus at Nike Prefontaine Classic with a throw of 208 feet, three inches. The next year she won her first US championship and defended her championship at the 2003 Pan American Games.

Her third attempt at the Olympic trials in 2004 ended golden sending the former Renton Indian to her second Olympics in Athens, Greece. Though she didn’t get out of the preliminaries that year, she had other successes winning each meet she competed in, including setting a personal best at the Marietta meet with a throw of 216 feet, one inch.

She captured her second Olympic trials title in 2008 for her third Olympics, placing 10th in Beijing.

This year she has already won two titles at the Auburn Track Classic and in Brazil. She captured second place in the trials in Eugene, Oregon last month to make her fourth appearance in the Olympics in front of family and friends including coach Eager.

Thurmond joins a small list of women who have four Olympic appearances in USA Track and Field including Jackie Joyner-Kerese and three other discus throwers, Earlene Brown, Connie Price-Smith and Olga Connolly.

Along with her other successes includes her marriage to Reedus Thurmond, also a discus thrower and son Theo, born in June 2007. Both have been along the way to watch Thurmond. In this video you can hear Theo cheer on his mom during a 2010 meet.

This will be Theo’s second Olympics: “He is excited that he gets to experience with me and super excited to get him over to London,” she said. “He is old enough, just turning five to enjoy the Olympic experience and it will be a lasting experience. It gives me pride in myself knowing I will show him if you work hard, hard work pays off and this is the platform I can show him.”

Theo has also been seen throwing the discus, a photo on Thurmond’s Flickr shows him in the circle with a discus in hand. Theo has a set of baby golf clubs to influence an interest in non-contact sports. He is not going to be forced to follow his mom’s footsteps.

“He has been to a few track and field meets and the Olympic trials,” she said. Theo shocked many when he picked up a discus in Eugene last month and did one and a half turns and threw the discus.

“Are you serious, he knows how to throw,” Thurmond said. They never introduced Theo to the discus; but just like his mom, the discus found her, it may have found him, too.

London full steam ahead

Thurmond says she is in work mode right now, as the team will be in Birmingham England before going to London.

“The joy of it hasn’t hit me yet,” she said.

She has decided not to take in the opening ceremoines with two workouts for Friday and Saturday. Discus is the first event of for track and field August 3.

“I have done one or two opening ceremonies and they take a lot out of you,” she said.

On Wednesday, Thurmond was elected by her peers to be the women’s
track and field captain for the Olympics. She joins Angelo Taylor who will be the men’s team captain.

“It is an honor to represent such a great and strong team,” Thurmond said. “This is my third team with Angelo, so we know each other well since we were just out of college. I’m happy to be serving the team with him.”

The first day of discus is August 3 at 11:10 a.m. (Seattle time) with finals August 4 at 11:30 a.m. (Seattle time).

Social Media updates?

Thurmond has been posting photos and updates on her Twitter and Facebook pages. She says she will try to do what she can during the Olympics, but . 

Distance to win?

If you look at Thurmond’s throws in the Olympics they are often shorter than in the trials.

“There is no magic number, if you go in throwing for a number you’re not going to get the results you want,” she said.

The last two Olympics Thurmond has thrown below 200 feet.

Over the years it has transition about the performance and placement not about the distance. With this formula, Thurmond hopes to place. There are many factors that decide how far the discus will go, venue, weather, and the competitors.

“At the Olympics it’s how you compete and how you place. Placing is what matters, no one cares if you throw 150 feet and get the gold medal or throw 230 feet you got the gold medal,” she said.

And as for her fifth Olympics in 2016 in Brazil, “it’s not that crazy of an idea, but I need to take one Olympic cycle at a time,” she said. Thurmond, who turns 36 after the game, believes she has at least one more season in her. "If it doesn’t look like I can be good at what I do, it will be time to walk away. If I can stay healthy, I’ll do it until Rio.”

Other side of Thurmond

Favorite Color – Purple

Favorite Food – Anything healthy or organic

Favorite Movie – Gladiator

Favorite Subject at Renton – Math

Least Favorite Subject at Renton – Language Arts

Favorite Number – All numbers

Pregame – she admits to having a pregame, but she won’t tell anyone; because she doesn’t want her competition to know what she is doing.

By the numbers

2012: 2nd at U.S. Trials (65.18m/213-10); 1st at Brazil(61.41m/201.5); 1st at Auburn Track Classic (63.33m/207-9);

2011: 6th in Group “B” of World Outdoors (59.88m/196-6); USA Outdoor runner-up (62.87m/206-3);

2010: 4th at USA Outdoors (59.97m/195-05);

2009: 10th at World Outdoors (59.89m/196-6),

2008: 10th at Olympic Games (59.80m/196-2), 2nd in qualifying (61.90m/203-1); Olympic Trials champion (65.20m/213-11);

2007: 6th at USA Outdoors (54.96m/180-4);

2006: USA Outdoor champion (62.50m/205-01);

2005: 3rd at USA Outdoors (61.77m/202-08);

2004: Olympic Trials champion (63.55m/208-6); 10th in Group B qualifying at Olympic Games (58.82m/193-0); 1st at Mt. SAC (63.37m/207-11); 1st at Marietta (65.86m/216-1PR); 1st at Huntington Beach (65.76m/215-9); 1st at La Jolla (64.73m/212-4); 1st at San Diego (65.38m/214-6); 1st at Adidas Oregon (64.73m/212-4); 1st at Payton Jordan US Open (63.79m/209-3); 1st at Grand Prix Brazil (63.43m/208-1); 1st at Szombathely (63.23m/207-5); 1st at Thessaloniki (63.19/207-3);

2003: USA champion (63.98m/209-11); Pan Am Games gold medalist (63.30m/207-8); 1st at Carson (64.71m/212-4, U.S. Leader); 10th in qualifying group at World Outdoor (50.79m/166-7); 1st at Gresham (63.44m/208-2); 1st at Mt. SAC (63.13m/207-1); 1st at Belem (62.55m/205-2); 2nd at Monaco (65.10m/213-7 U.S. Leader).

2002: won DT at Nike Prefontaine Classic (63.48m/208-3);

2001: 4th at U.S. Outdoors (59.96m/196-09);

2000: 4th in DT finals at Olympic Trials (60.70m/199-02);

1999: Won gold at the 1999 Pan Am Games (59.06m/193-9);

1998: Threw American Collegiate Record of 215-3 in San Diego in March, only one American had ever thrown farther; freshmen year at UW – 4th at Pac-10 Championships (173-3).

1997: 4th in (190-7) at NCAA; 3rd in at Pac-10 (189-10);

1996: 3rd in (190-5) at Olympic Trials; 34th in qualifying (183-10) at Olympic Games;  Pac-10 champion (195-9).

1994: State Champion – 160-9 feet

1993: State Champion – 149 feet

1992: State Champion – 142-4 feet

1991: Second Place at state – 124 feet  

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