ALBUQUERQUE, N. M. -- Looking at Wisconsin weight and hammer thrower Michael Lihrman, it’s hard to imagine the chubby middle-schooler he once was.
The 6-foot-5 junior triumphed big on the first day of the 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Indoor Track and Field Championship, winning the weight throw with a top distance of 76-03.50 feet.
His new reign as a Division I individual-event champion caps what has been a stellar season to date. Lihrman entered the two-day competition at the Albuquerque Convention Center as the top-ranked thrower indoors, and, with good reason.
Not only is he is the 2014 Big 10 champion and Field Athlete of the Year, he also holds the Wisconsin school record in both the weight throw and the hammer. More significantly, he set a new Division I record of 79-7 ½ during the Red & White Open on Feb. 21. It’s the top collegiate throw this season, and a person, school and facility record.
Lihrman didn’t set any records Friday – the NCAA Division I indoor meet record is 78-9.75 – but he was thinking about it.
“Since freshman year, every year I’ve gone up about 10 feet,” he said of his distance progress. “This year I went up 11 feet. So that peak still hasn’t hit. I’m thinking next year, if I can improve just like this, I’m going for the world record.”
And, why not?
Perhaps he was aided by the venue at the Albuquerque Convention Center, and the small but healthy crowd that filled bleachers and peered over roped barriers nearby.
“I like how secluded it is and the best part about it is you’ve got all these people watching – right out of the back of the ring,” Lihrman said of a thrower’s view. “That’s not always the greatest thing, but it’s just great to have people watch you.
“I’ve had so many meets this year where it’s been in a completely separate area and you’ve got just coaches there with you and it’s super-quiet. I love this – this and Big 10, the environment’s awesome.”
Although Lihrman put in an awesome Friday performance, it’s been quite a journey to the top of the collegiate ranks.
As an overweight pre-teen in his Wisconsin hometown of Rice Lake – he says he topped 300 pounds and endured teasing – track and field prowess wasn’t foreseeable. But during his sophomore year in high school, illness combined with the end of a relationship to cause him to shed significant weight.
During his junior season at Rice Lake High School, he played football and joined the track and field team. He immediately liked the later, but didn’t progress enough by graduation to attend a Division I school. So, Lihrman opted for Wisconsin-Stout, a Division III program, where he participated in all throwing events.
“And when I picked up the weight throw in my indoor season, I knew right away that I understand the event,” he said. “I understand what’s going on and I know what’s going to make it go far.”
Subsequently, he dropped all throws except weight and hammer, although he competed in the discus in the 2011 Division III outdoor championships, finishing 17th. Along the way he acquired a personal coach, Deren Wilder of Cameron, Wisc., who prodded him to transfer to a Division I program. Lihrman heeded the advice, becoming a Badger and sitting out the 2012-13 season following the transfer to Wisconsin.
“He’s always a great supporter of me,” Lihrman of Wilder. “He knew how good I was going to be. He pushed me to go to Division I even though I was uncomfortable with it. And I just kind of trusted him. And I knew I had to do it even though I didn’t want to do it and lose all my friends from Stout. But I forced myself to do it and have no regrets at all.”
Lihrman said Wilder helped him rebuild his technique from scratch, no small task considering the former’s height. He says many successful weight and hammer throwers usually average around 5-foot-11 or 6-feet, and that’s considered an advantage.
“But I don’t believe that to be true because the taller you are, the more weight you can hold,” Lihrman said. “And the more weight you can hold, the more you can counter. So in my opinion, I really think that the taller you are, the better off you are. The world record was set by a guy who was 5-11, in the hammer. I’m going to re-write that. That’s what I’m hoping to do.”