Years of training have Olympian Kinsley 'ready to surprise people'
Olympic story: After years of training and preparation, javelin thrower Kinsley 'ready to surprise people'
There were plenty of days when Craig Kinsley would have been well within his rights to take it easy.
Who would've known if he skipped a training session and waited for it to stop raining?
Who would've cared if he'd taken an extra day to rest his torn labrum or cut off early to grab some lunch instead of hitting the weight room?
On those countless gloomy, gray, 40-degree days in Providence, R.I., alone inside Brown Stadium, throwing the javelin, who but Kinsley himself would have known if he let his aching body -- or mind -- call the shots and go half speed for a couple of reps?
"It's mind-blowing how much stuff you need to do to get on a runway and launch a spear as far as you can," Kinsley said last week. "You can be in a crummy mood because your body hurts, but you get a PR (personal record) and it's totally worth it."
Thanks in part to all the tireless, thankless training sessions he's endured over the past five years, Kinsley, a 23-year-old Fairfield native, is going to London after qualifying for the U.S. Track and Field Olympic team last month at the national trials in Oregon.
Talk about being totally worth it.
"I consider (throwing the javelin) an incredibly lonely pursuit," said Kinsley, a 2007 Fairfield Prep graduate. "You're training for hours, by yourself. You're putting your body through a lot of stress. If you're in the U.S., especially, you're not getting any recognition. It's a lonely pursuit of a little-noticed event. It takes a lot to dedication to do something nobody thinks is cool unless you make the Olympic team. Now I have a level of recognition, but had I not made it, or missed by a little, all the hard work would have been there, but not the recognition.
"All of a sudden, it's not so lonely."
Kinsley, the 2010 NCAA javelin champion at Brown, will now get his time in the spotlight on Aug. 8 during the preliminaries -- and with some good fortune, on Aug. 11 for the javelin finals. He leaves for England Sunday and will spend the weeks leading up to the javelin throw at the U.S. Track and Field home base in Birmingham, England. In England, he'll be joined by his parents, Tom and Andrea; his girlfriend, Kat Carney; his college roommate, P.J. Fitzgerald; his coach, Michelle Eisenreich; and a friend from childhood from Canterbury Lane in Fairfield, Matt Michaelson.
In a bit of a rarity, the Olympics in London represent Kinsley's first international competition.
"I'm a total nobody on the international scene, which is awesome because I go in with very little pressure," he said. "I go in healthy and throwing the best I've ever thrown. I feel I have some big throws, so I'm ready to surprise people."
Injuries derailed Kinsley's senior year at Brown in 2011, denying him a chance to defend his NCAA crown. Undeterred, he made a life-changing decision after graduating: Acting upon his degrees in economics and geology could wait while he threw himself full-time into pursuing how far he could throw the javelin. It meant renting a small apartment near the Brown campus in Providence, living off a small stipend from the U.S. Athletic Trust and training six days a week -- sometimes upwards of five hours a day with a grueling mix of speed and strength conditioning.
Kinsley's decision paid off in early June, when he threw a personal-record 82.31 meters (270 feet) at a meet in Chicago, which hit the Olympic A-standard and gave him a top-20 ranking in the world for the first time. That put him in position to qualify at the U.S. Trials in Eugene, Ore., later in the month, where he was one of the three Americans to make the team along with Sean Furey and Cyrus Hostetler.
"It's really hard to put into words," Eisenreich said of Kinsley qualifying for the London Games. "It's a tremendous accomplishment. It's huge to be an Olympian, but at the same time ... for example, as a freshman, we said, `Hey, you'll be an Olympian.' Because he kept improving, it's felt like the natural thing -- of course he'll make the Olympics. It's not a huge effort on that one day, it's what he's been doing over the course of five years, seven years, it was a huge effort. The amount of time and personal effort he's put in is tremendous."
Like most American track athletes, Kinsley didn't begin giving the sport serious thought until high school. Up until the eve of his junior year, baseball was his primary spring sport, but a broken pinky ended his career in center field and got him to pick up the javelin for the first time. He was quickly a Connecticut scholastic champion, as if a natural for the sport.
Yet it wasn't until he got to Brown when he realized how far he'd have to go to get the most out of throwing the javelin -- his sophomore year alone, he gained 41 feet on his best throws. For comparison's sake, his best throws nowadays are nearly 100 feet better than what he was doing as a high school senior five years ago at Prep, where he set a school record with a throw of 185 feet, 10 inches.
Perhaps the most important lesson Kinsley learned is that launching a javelin at full speed is nothing at all like throwing a baseball -- or anything else for that matter.
"It's like a firework going off. It's not like throwing a baseball. It feels like crashing a car into a wall. It's explosive and violent," Kinsley said. "You're flying down a runway at whatever speed you can handle. You're trying to put all these pieces together at perfect timing, turning your hips with torque, planting your left foot. It's like you drive your car into a brick walk without a seat belt. You're driving your body and the brick wall is your left leg ... it feels like hitting a brick wall."
The violent motion involved with every single throw of the javelin takes its toll on a thrower's body. That's why Kinsley says you need a bit of good luck to survive the season in shape and head into the important meets at the top of your game from both a technique and physical standpoint.
Kinsley also says there's a fine line for any prospective Olympic athlete between pushing your body to the limit to where you're in constant pain during training and pushing too far where you injure yourself. The torn cartilage in Kinsley's right labrum sounds like it would be the kind of injury to derail an athlete, but he says it falls more within the line of pain than injury, and through rehab -- and a lot of Advil -- he's been able to get through it.
"I have a large slap tear, which means the labrum is sheered. When I saw the MRI, I could see what was wrong," he said. "It hurts a lot when I throw, but the power in my throw is still there. For now, I'm going to keep throwing, I can deal with the pain. As long as the javelin is going far, I don't care how much it hurts."
The fact it's an Olympic year, too, factored into Kinsley's decision to power through the pain and stick to his goal of competing in London.
"There's an awful lot of people out there who say to themselves, `I'm going to do what I can to make the Olympics.'" he said. "It's realistic, but it's such a lofty goal that you're working so hard to get there and it's so dramaticized that it only really sets in when you get close."
Kinsley admits it's been difficult to articulate specifically what it's meant to qualify for the Olympics. Like countless others his age, his first Olympic memory is from 1996 watching American sprinter Michael Johnson winning multiple gold medals in Atlanta, and he thought to himself how cool it would be to do something with USA across your chest.
But having an Olympic dream and attaining it almost operate in different realities. It's not like you snap your fingers and you're instantly in the Olympics.
Due to all the work that's gone into achieving his goal, Kinsley is more contemplative and philosophical about going to London.
"More than just being surprised that it happened or amazed that it happened, after I threw at the trials, I was thinking when can I throw next because I'm throwing so well and know there's bigger things to come. I'm excited my next meet isn't at some small place in the U.S., that it's in London," Kinsley said. "You know that it's there, but until you get incredibly close and do it, it doesn't fully set in. It happens all of a sudden. It just happened for me. It all pieced together and, man, was it good timing for me."
Once he gets to London, Kinsley hopes he can surprise some people and put his name on the international stage. Although he might not have the longest personal record going into the games -- the best throw of 2012 belongs to Czech Vítzslav Veselý at 88.11 meters -- Kinsley's attitude is that all it takes is one good throw on the given day to make history.
His realistic goal -- besides finding time to sneak away and check out Stonehenge -- is to find a way to place in the top eight of the preliminaries and then take his best shot in the finals, where anything can happen.
"I feel I have some big throws, so I'm ready to surprise people," he said. "People probably don't know who I am, but I'm ready to throw the best I can."
And if it all goes according to the plan he's hatched inside his head?
"I'll jog a lap with an American flag, give a hug to my parents and friends. It might be a long shot, but that's my goal. We'll see."