Not long ago, a young German shot putter named David Storl dominated the world youth and junior scene and went on to become World champion at the age of just 21.
Now, there are two other German youngsters to watch out for – 17-year-old Patrick Müller and Henning Prüfer, both competing for Neubrandenburg in the north-east of Germany.
Storl took the World youth title in Ostrava in 2007 with 21.40m. Müller achieved 21.44m this winter, which makes him a strong contender for a medal in Donetsk, Ukraine, where the IAAF World Youth Championships will take place this July.
Müller’s 21.44m is a mark that no youth athlete has ever exceeded indoors, not even Storl, whose indoor PB with the 5kg shot stands at 21.43m. He was one of the first people to congratulate Müller on his world youth indoor best at a small event in Sassnitz at the end of January. “Jokingly, he said to me: one centimetre is not enough,” said Müller.
Henning Prüfer back in shape
His club colleague Henning Prüfer, last year’s best German youth champion and ranked number three in the world, had a slower start to the indoor season. He had his appendix removed in December and was confined to bed for almost four weeks.
Still, he managed to improve his PB with the 5kg shot from 20.16m to 20.74m. Then in Ancona, Italy, on March 2, the 2.01m/127kg giant showed what he is really capable of, launching the 6kg shot out to 20.12m. It was a European indoor junior record and an outright European age-16 best.
“I knew that 19 metres was possible,” he says, “but 20 metres really surprised me. I didn’t think I could throw that far!”
In 2012, only seven juniors in the world achieved better marks – but they were all up to two years older than the German who turned 17 a couple of days after the competition in Ancona.
Aiming for the podium
Both Prüfer and Müller hope to set PBs with the 5kg shot this summer. They also share another big goal – a place on the podium at the World Youth Championships.
“I’m very proud of where I stand with my recent performances,” says Müller. “In Donetsk, the qualifying is going to take place very early, but usually that’s not an issue for me. In the final, I’ll definitely try to get a medal,” he adds.
Prüfer, too, is aiming for the podium – in two events. With a PB of 61.38m, he is among the world’s best youth athletes in the Discus.
“If I am selected for both events, a medal in each will be a must,” said Prüfer. “But if I had to decide on just one, for Donetsk it would be the Shot. The movements are easier for me at the moment. In future, though, I definitely want to specialise in the Discus.”
Next target: 22 metres
The German talents know where they stand with their performances of the winter. Last year, only four youth athletes broke the 20-metre mark with the 5kg Shot. Apart from 2011, when New Zealand’s Jacko Gill smashed the World youth record with 24.35m, 22 metres would have always been enough to win gold at the World Youth Championships.
It’s also the mark that both Müller and Prüfer are dreaming of. But even though they share the same goal and still compete for the same club, they have chosen different paths to advance in their athletics careers, which until recently have been led by their former coach Torsten Schmidt, Olympic finalist in the Discus in 2004.
Müller’s focus is the Shot
Müller used to train for combined events with a strong focus on the Shot and decided to specialize in the Shot last autumn. His new coach, Gerald Bergmann – a 20.52m shot putter himself back in the Seventies – has, among others, been coaching 2011 European indoor champion Ralf Bartels for many years.
“Remember this name,” said Bergmann after his new protégé topped Storl’s indoor mark. But he also pointed out that Storl started putting the Shot a lot later than Müller.
Indeed, Müller got into athletics when he was just six years old before gravitating to the Shot at the age of ten, which is no surprise when you look at the family history. His mother, Ines Müller, won bronze in the Shot at the 1987 IAAF World Championships in Rome, his father was a javelin thrower and his brother Hendrik is also a talented shot putter, taking bronze at the 2009 European Junior Championships.
Unsurprisingly, Storl is Müller’s big role model. Similar to the man from Chemnitz, he is tall (1.96m) but has to work hard to put on weight. “At the moment I weigh 105kg, but I want to weigh more. Henning with his 120kg plus is massive – I have to try and catch up!”
Prüfer sees a career in the Discus
Prüfer – whose parents were rowers and whose younger brother Clemens is also a talented shot putter and discus thrower – moved from soccer to athletics at the age of around twelve. He was mainly interested in the combined events but, due to his impressive figure, soon found himself among the throwers.
To further his Discus career, this winter Prüfer joined the training group of Germany’s national junior coach Jörg Schulte. The group is based in Potsdam west of Berlin, where Prüfer now attends boarding school.
“Initially, both Patrick and I were supposed to move to Gerald Bergmann. But I would have been among only shot putters,” said Prüfer. “As I want to specialise in the Discus eventually, I wasn’t sure if this was the right step.”
In Potsdam, Prüfer is close to Discus World record-holder and national senior coach Jürgen Schult, who also keeps an eye on the 17-year-old.
Before he drops the Shot in favour of the Discus for good, though, Prüfer – just like Müller – will be following in Storl’s footsteps for a bit longer. If all goes according to plan, they will both be on the podium at the World Youth Championships in Donetsk on July 10. The friends could even be fighting each other for Gold.
Silke Bernhart for the IAAF