WATERVILLE — On a good day, a strong high school javelin thrower can throw the spear more than 170 feet. Saturday was not a good day.

At the Waterville Relays, one of the bigger early-season meets, javelin throwers dealt with a strong headwind. When it let up, the wind simply pushed throws to the right. When it picked up, the wind turned javelins into wobbly acrobats, twisting and tumbling through the air, or abruptly stopping, as if it hit an invisible brick wall. Many javelins landed with a clatter and slid to a stop rather than planted in the turf.

“You hit a gale and it turns completely vertical in mid-air,” Cole Butler, a senior at Auburn’s Edward Little High School, said.

Even on the calmest of days, throwing the javelin is not easy. It takes power and speed, but without the proper form, power and speed goes nowhere.

“Form is very important. You could be the strongest kid in the world, if you don’t have the form, you’re not going to throw very well,” Waterville Senior High School junior Zach Smith said.

Smith and Butler are two of the better javelin throwers in the state. Smith placed fifth at the Class B state championship meet last year with a throw of 145 feet, 3 inches. Competing for the Maine School of Science and Math in Limestone, Butler won the Class C state title with a throw of 171-9 last year. In 2014, as a sophomore newcomer to the event, Butler won the Class A state javelin title for Edward Little with a 170-7 throw. This year, Butler is back with the Red Eddies, and hopes to reclaim the Class A title.

Even Smith and Butler weren’t at their best on Saturday. Part of that was the wind, and part of that was it’s simply early in the season. You want to be at your best in late May and early June, not late April.

Javelin is one of the oldest, but isn’t one of the most popular track and field events. Because of the inherent dangers that come with throwing a sharp spear hundreds of feet, many states either don’t offer the javelin as an event, or compete in a modified version of the sport, with competitors throwing a javelin equipped with a rubber tip. Here in Maine, increased safety often comes by tucking the javelin competition in a lonely corner of the meet, as far away from everything else as possible. At Waterville’s Drummond Field, that’s impossible. Javelin throwers compete on the infield, in an area roped off to prevent wayward participants from walking into the line of fire.

Butler began throwing the javelin as a sophomore, when he grew tired of playing baseball. A former pitcher, he quickly learned that throwing a baseball and throwing a javelin are completely different.

“No, I learned the hard way. I learned pretty quick my aggression doesn’t make up for technique and knowing what you’re doing,” Butler said.

Butler’s throw begins approximately 20 yards from the line. Butler cradles the javelin in his right hand, slighly higher than shoulder level. Just before he begins his sprint, Butler does a couple of quick bounces, and he’s off. Gaining speed, he approaches the line and brings his right arm back, so far it looks like his shoulder wants to pop out of its socket. The hips twist, the right leg plants, and the left leg pushes and provides more power as Butler twists and throws. Butler emits a growl as he lets the javelin go. So much has to be in sync for a good throw, and if he’s doing it correctly, Butler isn’t thinking of any of it. Thinking is for practice, where he might only throw the javelin five times in a workout session.

“When I throw, everything kind of goes blank. I rely on my training. If I think about it, I’m going to screw up,” Butler said.

Smith started throwing as a freshman, at the suggestion of Matt Gilley, Waterville’s throwing coach and football coach. Smith describes the power behind his throws as a tension in the upper chest. When the arm goes back, he wants to feel that tension from shoulder to shoulder.

“So when you throw, you release the tension and it goes,” Smith said.

Smith smiled. When it goes, it’s beautiful.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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