Revered Coach Cultivates Hammer Incubator in Ashland, Ohio, by Dave Hunter
Ashland, Ohio is a fine, upstanding small town nestled right in the middle of Ohio. Ashland is well known throughout the state for its "welcome sign" that announces the city to be "The World Headquarters of Nice People." While it is unclear if Ashland's exclamation is a distinction the city has actually been awarded or is merely a self-proclamation, there doesn't appear to be any vocal faction that disputes its legitimacy.
But aside from its clean streets, absence of crime, and its courteous citizenry, there is another admirable aspect of Ashland that is not widely known. Ashland, Ohio is the cradle of top-flight hammer throw development and the home of some the country's top performers in this high-specialized - and often under-appreciated - field event.
At the foundation of all of this is Jud Logan. Logan, long-standing track and field coach at Ashland University, is a four-time Olympian in the hammer - making his fourth Olympic team in his 40's - and was the gold medalist in that event in the 1987 Pan American Games. His passion for the sport and his longevity as an athlete were unquestionably established when he set the M50 World Record in the hammer just three years ago.
Track and field has been known to cultivate wise and patient coaches who have earned respect as specialists in particular events. If you are a budding 400 runner, you may well head down to Waco, Texas to train under the watchful eye of Clyde Hart. If you are working to move to the elite level in the 110 hurdles, you might travel to Columbia, South Carolina to work with Curtis Frye, one of the best hurdle coaches in the country. If you are a great high jumper, you might relocate to Manhattan, Kansas to be guided by Cliff Rovelto and his capable staff of jump specialists. But if the hammer - or any other throw - is your event, Ashland is your town and Logan is the mentor you want.
Under Logan's guidance, Ashland University has compiled an impressive record in the throw events in general and the hammer in particular. "We currently hold the Div II national records in the men's hammer, the women's hammer, the men's indoor weight, and the men's indoor shot," notes Logan with obvious pride. "We have worked hard to build our reputation here in all of the throws - especially in the hammer. That is my background. This coming week, we have 23 athletes heading to Colorado to compete in the NCAA Div II national championship meet. Thirteen of those athletes are throwers - more NCAA championship throw qualifiers than any other collegiate program in the country - whether Div I, Div II, Div III, or JUCO."
One of Logan's current stars is Ryan Loughney. Loughney is not unlike a good number of Ashland's throwers - an athlete that doesn't exhibit the prototypical physical stature of a hammer thrower, but displays more subtle hints of future throws potential that the Ashland mentor detects - and other coaches overlook. "Ninety percent of our athletes have never seen a hammer before they get to Ashland," says Logan. "I look for athletes. Discus throwers can traditionally become better hammer throwers than shot putters. You have to have some athleticism to throw the hammer.
Many throwers have good speed - many were on their high school 4 x 100 relay teams. A lot of the kids we recruit are kids that have been overlooked by Div I schools. And then after we coach them up, these Div I schools say, 'Shoot, why didn't we recruit that guy.' Well, because you [the Div I schools] didn't want him." During his five years at Ashland, Loughney has thrived under Logan's tutelage. As his collegiate career headed toward culmination at the NCAA Div II Championship meet, Loughney stood as the reigning two-time Div II defending national champion in the hammer. At this year's Nationals, Loughney pulled off the hat trick and captured his third Div II national title. His winning throw of 70.74 [232' 1"] broke the championship meet and national record he set last year.
Logan's fraternity of throwers is not limited to undergraduates. Talented Ashland athletes often stay on after graduation to further hone their skills. Diverted by Logan upon his arrival on the campus from the football field to the shot put ring, 2011 Ashland graduate Kurt Roberts emerged as a three-time national Div II champion in the shot.
Now a teacher at a local private school, the 6'3'' 295 pound Roberts is making gargantuan improvements at just the right time in this Olympic year. At the Tucson Elite Throwers Classic earlier this month, Roberts unloaded a 69'4 ½" bomb - a PR improvement of over 3 feet. Robert's heave exceeded the Olympic "A" standard and is currently the fifth longest throw by an American this year.
On occasion, top-flight post-collegiate throws athletes make the pilgrimage to Ashland simply to train in the close-knit and focused environment that Jud Logan has created. "In the fall of 2002, Jud Logan asked me to come here for training." says A.G. Kruger, two-time Olympian and multiple-time national champion in the hammer. "Jud told me 'I don't have a job for you; I don't have food for you; I don't have a place for you to live; but come out here and train. You need to come out here thinking you're going to make the 2004 Olympic team.'" So Kruger broke up with his girlfriend, moved to Ashland, and never looked back.
In one of the larger understatements, Kruger notes, "Every since then, it went pretty well." Once under Logan's guidance, Kruger went on to make the 2004 and 2008 Olympic teams and string together 4 consecutive national championship titles in the hammer [2006-2009]. When you combine Kruger's title streak with the 2011 national hammer title captured by Kibwé Johnson - another of Logan's Ashland hammer protégés - you realize that Logan has played a critical role in the development of the athletes who have captured the national hammer championship in 5 of the last 6 years.
Jud Logan is not only respected by his athletes for his coaching acumen. The throwers he teaches greatly value the special relationship they share with the man who has helped them realize their full potential. "He and I share a special relationship that goes beyond the regular coach-athlete relationship," says Loughney. Adds Kruger, "I would never be where I am without him."
Jud Logan has been the throws coach at Ashland University for 18 years. The last six of those years he has also served as the head coach of track and field. "It has taken quite a while, but the Division I schools rarely call me anymore," says Logan. The larger Div I programs that dominate track and field and would like to lure Logan away finally have learned what Logan has known for quite a while. "This is where I want to be," he says with a smile.
There is an old, oft-repeated saying that really sets forth a type of challenge. It is: "Find something you are passionate about and love to do, figure out a way to get paid for it, and you'll never have to work a day in your life." There is a legion of throwers in Ashland, Ohio who know that their mentor has met and conquered that challenge - and they are grateful that he has.