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Stephanie Brown Trafton (born December 1, 1979) is an American track and field athlete who won the discus throwing gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. She was a somewhat unusual modern athlete in that she had become a two-time Olympian before she had competed at a World Championships. Her first World Championships in 2009 ended with a sub-par performance in the discus final.

Pre-Olympic career

Brown Trafton has said she was inspired to become an Olympian as a 4-year-old watching Mary Lou Retton perform in the 1984 Summer Olympics.After a youth of attempting several different sports, she eventually divided her time between athletics and basketball. She competed in the discus and shot put at Arroyo Grande High Schoolmarker, and was the California State high school champion in shot put in 1996. After placing second in 1997, she recaptured the California shot put title in 1998. At the same meet, she added the California discus title to her resume. As of 2008, her throw to secure victory remains one of the 10 best American high school discus throws in history.

Nevertheless, she seemed to be headed towards a career in basketball, after being awarded a scholarship for both basketball and track and field to Cal Polymarker. Her career was ended in that sport prematurely by a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Thereafter, she concentrated on track and field. She competed at the collegiate level in shot put and discus from 1999 to 2003, but missed 2000, while recovering from the knee injury. Brown-Trafton was named as an NCAA All-American 6 times in her college career, two times during the indoor season as a shot putter and four times in the outdoor season for discus and shot put. Her highest finishes at the NCAA Division I national championships were second in discus in 2003 and fourth in shot put in 2003.

2004 Olympics

Stephanie competed in the 2004 Olympic Trials in Sacramento, CA in both the shot put and the discus throw. Her best throw coming in to the discus competition was 192 feet. In the first throw of the discus final, Brown threw a 9 foot personal best of 201 feet 3 inches, surpassing the international A-standard mark, and qualified for her first Olympic team.

In August 2004, Stephanie Brown competed at the Athens Games, and her best mark in the qualifying round failed to advance her to the finals. She placed 22nd with a throw of 192 feet even (58.54 m), under her 203 feet 1 inch (61.90 m) personal best at the time. She has expressed contentment with her performance there, saying, "2004 gave me an awesome experience. I came to the Olympics just out of college."

The 2008 Season

In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, Brown Trafton made what observers called "stunning improvement".She began 2008 with a personal best that was unchanged from 2004. However, she improved that mark in March, April and May 2008. Coming into the Beijing Olympics, her personal best was 217 feet 1 inch (66.17 m), achieved at the Hartnell Throwers Meet in Salinas, Californiamarker.

Until a June 21, 2008 mark of 218 feet 1 inch (66.51 m) by Romanian Nicoleta Grasu,this throw stood as the longest on record anywhere in the world in 2008. Moreover, it was the third-best American throw of all time, behind efforts by Suzy Powell and Becky Breisch.

Prior to Beijing, she had placed third at the U.S. trials with a throw of 205 feet 5 inches (62.63 m).

Asked to explain her dramatic improvement, Brown Trafton pointed to a key difference in her training regimen. Unusually for her, she did not take time off between the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Instead, she spent what would have normally been the season hiatus working on the "supplemental training" of "balance, agility and flexibility" with Tony Mikia, a physical therapist/sports performance trainer at Sacramento-based Results Physical Therapy and Sports Performance.

2008 Olympics

Performance

Although called by the mainstream American sports press "an unlikely savior of U.S. pride" and a "field filler more than a medal contender", a radically improved Brown Trafton actually came to Beijing with a reasonable possibility of winning. She had executed the second-best throw posted in the sport in 2008. And she had progressively upped her personal best by over 4 m across several meets during the 2008 season.

The first of her six throws displayed her progress to her competitors in Beijing. At 212 feet 5 inches (64.74 m), it bettered the field by almost two meters. She threw into the net on her second and third throws, then posted a 191 feet 7 inches (58.39) and a 201 feet 1 inch (61.30). By the sixth round, it was unnecessary for her to throw to win the gold medal, as the two remaining competitors had not bettered her initial mark. In the end, no one got within a meter of her first throw.

An American breakthrough

On a personal level, her victory in Beijing was the culmination of a number of months of steady improvement for the athlete, after years of steady progress but nonetheless inconsistent throws above the 60 m mark. It was also the United States' first track and field gold medal of the 2008 Olympics, after a few initial days of failure. But Brown Trafton's gold medal in Beijing was more broadly notable for being the first American gold in the event for 76 years.

It was only the second American medal in women's discus at a fully-attended Olympiad, along with Lillian Copeland's silver medal at the 1928 Games in Amsterdam.

It was the second American gold in the event, after Copeland's gold at the Depression-handicapped 1932 Summer Olympics. It was the fourth medal in American history, behind Leslie Deniz' silver won at the politically-boycotted 1984 Summer Olympics. Additionally, it was the first American medal in the sport won outside the city of Los Angelesmarker since Copeland's silver medal in Amsterdammarker.

Global perspective

Despite the significance of the victory to the US Track and Field program, Brown Trafton's winning distance of 212 feet 5 inches (64.74 m) caused one track and field reporter to label Beijing a "low-standard competition". It wasn't a personal best for the athlete. Nor was it an Olympic record, as Copeland's gold had been in 1932. And it failed to approach Gabriele Reinsch's 1988 world record of 251 feet 11 inches (76.80 m). In fact, not only was Leslie Deniz' 24-year-old silver medal-winning throw longer than any throw of the 2008 Olympics, but no gold medalist since Lia Manoliu in the 1968 games had posted a shorter winning distance. Only 2 of the 12 finalists at the Beijing Olympics had a personal best under Brown Trafton's winning throw, and the average personal best of the field was 219 feet even (66.75 m). However, she was peaking when most of the field was in personal decline. When viewed against the prism of 2008-only performances, the only members of the field other than Brown Trafton to better the winning 212 feet 5 inches (64.74 m) mark were Aretha Thurmond, Nicoleta Grasu and Yarelis Barrios. In fact, only six women other than Brown Trafton had thrown better in 2008, and they weren't all present in Beijing.
Matters weren't helped, as one commentator noted, by the Beijing weather. The windless, humid conditions on the evening of the competition were hardly ideal for discus throwing. And maybe, as Brown Trafton herself remarked, the competition was "a little more open" thanks to the banning of the prohibitive favorite, Russian Darya Pishchalnikova, for suspicion of doping.


Impact on personal life

Unlike many 21st century American Olympians, Brown Trafton had a day job as she prepared for the Beijing Games. Using skills rooted in her undergraduate degree from Cal Poly, she worked as a computer-assisted designer for an environmental consulting firm in Sacramentomarker, Californiamarker called Sycamore Environmental Consultants, Inc.

She and her husband are both recreational hunters. She quipped to reporters that the downside of the Beijing Olympics was that they occurred just as hunting season opened in Californiamarker.

Post-Olympics

Brown Trafton confirmed her intention to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics immediately after winning in Beijing. Noting the difficulties her sport has had with doping, she set a personal goal for the future of being "the first world-record holder that's a clean world record".

The following season, she won her first national title in the discus, and as a result she qualified for the 2009 World Championships in Athletics.

See also

References

  1. In reality, Brown Trafton had posted the third best throw of 2008, and Grasu, the second. But Darya Pischalnikova's 67.28m on 7 June 2008 was clouded by a doping allegation. As of 19 August 2008, it is unclear whether that throw will stand uncontested.
  2. USATF biography of Lillian Copeland



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