Kara Winger’s retirement plans are on hold.
So, in the meantime, the three-time Olympian is spreading awareness about the javelin in her Colorado Springs, Colo., neighborhood.
During the current stay-at-home order, Winger goes to a neighborhood park near her home to work on her throwing technique.
“It’s been kind of fun,” Winger said. “I feel like I’m building awareness of the javelin with my neighbors. A lot of people here have not seen a javelin thrown in person because it’s not a high school event in Colorado. People have stopped to ask questions. My coach is there with me, 10 feet away the whole time. She’s really good about telling them who I am, which is kind of embarrassing, and what we’re doing.”
A 2004 graduate of Skyview High School, Winger went on to become an All-American in the javelin at Purdue University, an eight-time U.S. national champion and the American record holder in the event (218 feet, 8 3/4 inches in 2010).
She qualified for the Olympics in 2008, 2012 and 2016 with a best finish of 13th in the Rio Games in 2016.
Winger entered this year with a plan to qualify for her fourth Olympic games in 2020, then retire as a professional athlete after the 2021 World Championships in Eugene, Ore.
But the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the Tokyo Games to 2021 and the worlds in Eugene to 2022.
So Winger, who turned 34 earlier this month, decided to push her retirement plans back one year.
“It’s still the Eugene world championships that I’m interested in going to and then be done,” Winger said. “So I’ll keep going an extra year.”
For an athlete approaching retirement age, it would stand to reason that Winger might be concerned about a rapidly closing window athletically.
But she sees it as a new opportunity.
Winger began working with her current technical coach Dana Lyon in 2018, then enjoyed two of her better seasons internationally in 2018 and 2019.
“So that fact that we’ve done well in only two short seasons (working with Lyon), and now we have extra time to do technical things even better, I get really excited about that,” Winger said. “She’s been such a blessing to my career. If we can keep working together longer, then that’s only a positive.”
Additionally, Winger said her strength coach, Jamie Myers, completely rewrote her training program in 2018, and she’s started to see improvement from that as well.
“This really surprised both of us: what my body could keep doing with a little bit of change,” Winger said. “So I’ve been really happy and pleasantly surprised by my body the past couple of seasons. And I don’t see why that can’t continue.”
In the meantime, she continues to train from home. Because her original plan was to begin competition this season in late May, her training schedule hasn’t really changed much yet, apart from having to cancel trips to a pair of training camps this spring.
“So it still doesn’t feel real that there won’t be a season in any normal kind of way because it’s still supposed to be training time for me,” she said. “I think the novelty will wear off sooner or later of this home-training thing. Then it will become more clear that it’s a totally different situation than it’s ever been before.”
As a track and field athlete, Winger considers herself fortunate that her at-home training isn’t a huge departure from what it would look like under normal circumstances.
“Being in Colorado Springs, I’m surrounded by other kinds of athletes,” Winger said. “I do feel lucky to be a track and field athlete and be able to do pretty much everything I need to outside. I train around swimmers and judo athletes and gymnasts who need really specific equipment. And that’s not true for me. So I have a lot more flexibility to do what I need to do outside of an indoor space.”
And she also has a partner at home to assist with her training, her husband Russ Winger, a retired professional track and field athlete.
“I married a guy who’s incredibly talented with building stuff,” Kara Winger said. “He’s putting the final touches on a (weightlifting) bench he built and welded together in our garage. So I couldn’t have a better partner in quarantine. He makes my life so much easier.”
Winger said the postponement of the Olympics was “the right call” and added that the postponement, in addition to the absence of a normal track season in 2020, will afford her more time to focus on her goal of returning to a fourth Olympic games in 2021.
“When the lay person is thinking about the Olympics, they always say ‘Ah, you’ve been training for this for four years,’ ” Winger said. “And while that’s true, we also have a regular season every year. Every Olympic year, honestly, it sneaks up on you every single time. And I think I’m not alone in that thought process. So this is an opportunity for everyone to have an extra year to prepare.”
And that’s even true for an athlete approaching retirement.
“I know I’m older as an athlete, but by no means am I the oldest javelin thrower out there,” Winger said. “I don’t see why I couldn’t keep being pleasantly surprised by what I can do.”