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May 10, 2010

A long throw from home - A roundtable discussion with the foreign throwers of the Virginia Tech men's track and field program

By: Matt Kovatch

Pictured from left to right: Alexander Ziegler, Denis Mahmic, Marcel Lomnicky, Igor Misljenovic, Matej Muza, Matthias Treff

The Virginia Tech track and field program has gained much notoriety thanks to the successes of women’s hurdler Queen Harrison, who won a national championship in the 60-meter event back in March. But toiling away at the Johnson-Miller Outdoor Track Complex is a group of men’s throwers who are just as impressive.

The close-knit collection of hulking Europeans features a national champion of its own in hammer thrower Marcel Lomnicky, as well as numerous ACC titles and All-America performances among the rest. Inside Hokie Sports caught up with all six of them between reps in their second home – the weight room – to gain a little insight into where they came from, what they’re doing and where they’re going.

Inside Hokie Sports: Can each of you explain where you’re from and how you got to Virginia Tech?

Marcel Lomnicky: “I came from Slovakia last year, so this is my third semester [he enrolled in Jan. of 2009] and my second season. I throw the hammer and the weight. I had a pretty long break for two years after I graduated from high school and I was looking for universities all around the United States. I had two official visits: Clemson and here. I was basically choosing between those two schools. I decided to come here because of Coach [Greg Jack] and the program.”

Matthias Treff: “I’m from Germany and I throw the javelin. I’m in my fourth semester, but I had an elbow injury last year and I couldn’t go to the national meet. I have to redshirt this year because I’m rehabbing all the time. I sent out some e-mails to coaches in the U.S., and Coach Jack responded and we got into e-mail conversations. I liked the program and Coach, so I came here.”

Matej Muza: “I’m a fifth-year senior from Croatia and I throw the hammer. I found Virginia Tech through some online throwing forums. I had heard a lot about athletics scholarships in the U.S. from other people back home who were in the same club as I was. I knew I wanted to come to the U.S., and then Coach Jack also found me in the forum and he e-mailed me and said, ‘If you come, I’ll give you a full scholarship.’ He was persistent, so I felt this was the best situation.”

Alexander Ziegler: “I come from Germany and I throw the hammer and the weight. This is my second semester here. I got the connection to Virginia Tech and Coach Jack through a former thrower, Sven Hahn, who is still the shot put record holder here. He trained at the same Olympic training center as I do in Germany. He just asked if he could make a request to Coach Jack, and we started talking about four years ago. At first, I was not very interested because I was kind of scared [to come to the U.S.], but Coach Jack was very persistent and he kept asking me and giving me more information. I finally decided to take a visit and I liked the tour, the guys, the program and the coach.”

Igor Misljenovic: “I come from Zagreb, Croatia. I found out about Virginia Tech from Matej. We shared the same coach back home. When I was a senior in high school, I threw well and a lot of people from our throwing group asked me if I had any interest in coming to the United States to a university. A couple people gave me recommendations to other universities, so I sat down and looked at some results. Matej directed Coach Jack to me, and we just started conversing through e-mails. I wasn’t really sure which university to pick, but in the end, having another thrower here from my club back home really helped. Everything I had heard about the program and the other throwers made sense to me, so I chose to come here.”

Denis Mahmic: “I am also from Croatia, and I throw the hammer. I just came here about four months ago. This is my first semester.”

IHS: Matej and Igor, how long did you know each other before you came here?

Muza: “Three or four years. We didn’t go to the same high school, but sports in Europe have club systems, so if you’re decent in any sport, you go to a club and they pull a lot of different people from different areas of the city. It’s not really related to the school or anything. We knew each other through the club, mostly.”

IHS: Did you ever think that you would meet up again over here? Was that a plan?

Misljenovic: “No, not really. It usually depends on your results as to who can offer you a scholarship. There were other kids under our coach who went to other universities in the United States, so there were different options. It just turned out that Virginia Tech seemed like the best one to me.”

IHS: Other than family, what do you guys miss the most about home?

Lomnicky: “Probably the food.”

Muza: “You know, you’re used to something your whole life, but you come here and it’s different.”

Lomnicky: “It’s the same way for an American who goes overseas to Europe. If they don’t like the food over there, they’re starving and trying to find a McDonald’s. It’s kind of the same for us.”

Misljenovic: “But I don’t think anyone has to starve over here. It’s just different than when you’re at home and your parents cook for you.”

IHS: It sure doesn’t look like you guys are starving. Who can eat the most out of the group?

Everyone: “Igor.”

Misljenovic: “I think I take the title there. I’ve pushed the limit once or twice.”

IHS: You all specialize in different throwing events. For those who might not know how they all differ, what does it take to succeed in each?

Muza: “I think you have to be a well-rounded athlete to do any of the events, but probably for events like the shot put, discus and javelin, you also need to be tall with long levers. The hammer throw may be more focused on being quick and coordinated and being able to have a good rotational speed. A lot of people who are fast runners can’t really spin that fast. I guess that’s one unique ability that you should have. For javelin throwers, they probably differ most from all the other events because they have to be the most in shape with running and conditioning.”

Treff: “You also need to be flexible in the shoulder, with strong hips and abs.”

Muza: “Yes, and arm speed is important, too.”

IHS: How about the shot put?

Misljenovic: “It definitely helps. The biggest thing with the shot put is to be tall and strong. The bigger you are, the farther it will go. There’s just a natural advantage to it. It’s the same with discus throwers. If you have a really big wingspan, that helps you out tremendously. You may not be able to spin as fast as everyone else, but just because of the leverage you have, you can develop much more force on the throw. It just flies farther.”

Treff: “And in all events, you also have the technical aspects. As an athlete in the throwing events, you peak really late. You not only have to build your strength, but you need about 10 years to really optimize your technique. In a sport like swimming, you might peak when you’re 18, but with throwers, it might not be until you’re 26 or even 30.”

IHS: Did you guys try any other sports before settling on track and field? You could probably form quite the offensive line in football.

Mahmic: “Soccer and rugby.”

Misljenovic: “I was a handball player for a long time before I switched to track and field. I even tried out some gymnastics when I was kid. (Everyone laughs.) I know it doesn’t seem that way now, but I was a really small kid back then.”

Lomnicky: “When I was really young, maybe 10 years old, I was doing figure skating. (Everyone laughs again.)”

IHS: What about other events in track and field? What would you do if you weren’t a thrower?

Lomnicky: “High jump.”

Misljenovic: “I guess I’d do the high jump if I was a lot skinnier. Definitely not long distance.”

Treff: “I would probably do the multi-event, like pentathlon and decathlon.”

Ziegler: “I’d like to do the long jump.”

IHS: Coach Dave Cianelli suggested before the season that you guys might be the best group of throwers in the nation. Would you agree with that?

Misljenovic: “I guess it depends on how you look at it. I’d say we’re pretty deep.”

Muza: “I think we definitely have the most high-level athletes. There are schools that might have better athletes, but they only have one or two. We basically have six guys who are all pretty good and who all can potentially score points at the championships. I don’t think any other school has that. I guess we can compete with anybody, but there’s not really a way to measure it.”

IHS: Some of you are seniors and some of you are only freshmen, but what are your goals for the rest of your time here?

Treff: “I want to throw over 80 meters and get a national title ring.”

Muza: “I’ve got only a couple of meets left, which includes regional and national championships. I guess my goal is to finish in the top eight at nationals again and be an All-American.”

Ziegler: “I just want a ring. That’s what I’m here for.”

Misljenovic: “I’d like to be an All-American and get that out of the way. I’d like to break the school record in the discus, too. I’m pretty close to it, but I’ve still got to work to get there.”

Mahmic: “My goal is to get a gold ring and throw over 72 meters.”

Lomnicky: “I have two more seasons, the last in 2012, which is an Olympic year. I want to go to the Olympics and maybe do some damage there. We’ll see.”


Matej Muza - Senior - Zagreb, Croatia
Two-time All-American, Hammer throw

Igor Misljenovic - Senior - Zagreb, Croatia
ACC champion, Discus

Marcel Lomnicky - Sophomore - Nitra, Slovakia
National champion, Hammer throw

Matthias Treff - Sophomore - Burgthann, Germany
ACC champion, Javelin

Alexander Ziegler - Freshman - Dischingen, Germany
ACC champion, Weight throw

Denis Mahmic - Freshman - Zagreb, Croatia