(WFXR) — Virginia Tech alum Marcel Lomnicky is the school’s first-ever three-time Olympian, competing in the hammer throw for his native Slovakia at London 2012, Rio 2016 and now Tokyo 2020 (in 2021).
He’s hoping the third time’s the charm in his search for an Olympic medal. Lomnicky sat down with WFXR’s David DeGuzman ahead of his trip to Japan. Here are some of the interview highlights.
David DeGuzman: What memories do you have of being a Hokie? And how do you think those experiences helped you and maybe laid the foundation for clearly what’s been a successful career?
Marcel Lomnicky: I mean, the whole experience, Hokie nation saved my career. I would not be throwing hammer if it wasn’t for them. It’s simple because I was not at the elite level when I enrolled at the university. I was not at the level that I could be professional, that I could make a living all from it, so I was still climbing the ladder, trying to get to the next level.
The university system in the United States gave me those couple extra years where you know, I got a full scholarship. I didn’t have to worry about food and rent and you know, paying for school so they gave me 5 years so that I could improve and that really helped so I’m really thankful.
Also, I’m not talking about the coaching staff and the facilities, and everything is just so much better than what we have here in Slovakia. It was a big upgrade for me and I’m very thankful and a lot of people go there and try to make the next step but not a lot of people are successful so I’m very fortunate that I did improve. I made my first Olympics while I was still studying at Virginia Tech so that was awesome.
DD: Any memories that stick out for you from your time in Blacksburg that you still look back on?
ML: The whole experience, the school is amazing, the campus is amazing, the food, I really love the food on campus and off campus. It’s just a great place to be for college athletes, for college students in general.
DD: How does one become any elite athlete in the hammer throw? How did you find this sport and how did you become so good at this? It’s not exactly something that someone picks up like a soccer ball.
ML: Well this is the funny thing. I haven’t picked up anything mainstream. Like mainstream in Slovakia is ice hockey or soccer. When I was six years old, my mom was you know, thinking maybe I could start playing some sports and she signed me up for figure skating, so that was my first sport.
I used to be a figure skater. I trained for five years, and I was pretty good at it but then my local club just kind of like, I don’t know, quit. Something happened with my club. So my mom signed me up for track and field and this was the thing. When I was 11, I started playing at a stadium, but I was just doing everything. I was just sprinting, jumping, you know, throwing stuff and it was just all fun and games playing around with my friends and you know, I tried everything.
When I picked up the hammer, I was the best in my group in my local club and that’s what motivates me, being the best at something. Naturally, when I was 12 or 13, I wanted to stick with it because I saw that I could throw the hammer the farthest one.
That was the first thing. Then I started improving, getting better and better and maybe the background from figure skating helped me a lot because you know, I was used to spinning around on ice and the hammer throw is a rotational technique so to me. It was such an easy thing to do, to you know, spin around four times and not get dizzy or something.
DD: Now you’re entering Tokyo ranked among the top hammer throwers in the world. What do you think has led to that kind of success, especially when you consider everyone had to pause last year because of the pandemic. You’ve had this kind of extra year for better or for worse. How do you think you’ve been able to stay consistent and now become one of the top ranked hammer throwers in the world?
ML: The thing about last year is that when it happened, I remember I wasn’t in great shape. I was training at the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, California and I think it was the beginning of April when they postponed the Olympics. It was such a hard hit mentally on me. I stopped training for three weeks because you know, at this level, you kind of lose purpose.
I had already had six months of very hard training and sacrifices behind me and now it was all gone. But now when I look at it, one year later, it helped me a lot because I could take a little rest. My body needed it after a lot of years of training and then I could change things. Because usually when there is a season, there is preparation, there is not much time that you can change major things in your technique because it can go either way. You can have a PR or you can suck.
I could make these changes and I found a good supporting team and it all led to a good performance and I was able to throw my personal best and qualify for my third Olympics. So when I look back at it, I’m thankful that I got one more year and I was able to push myself to the limit because I knew that this was going to be the hardest Olympics to qualify for so I had to be on my best.
My biggest advantage is that I’m the shortest one, for sure, that is going to be in Tokyo, 5’9″ I think. This is physics, like for hammer throw you spin around, and you try to throw it as high as possible, as fast as possible. When my competitors are higher, they have longer arms so for them it’s much easier to reach those speeds and those distances so I have to be very fast.
DD: I’m five-foot-seven if that makes you feel better. But I’m not throwing a hammer anytime soon at the Olympics. Maybe I’ll pick it up down the road. Who knows. It’s never too late right?
The podium is not out of reach for you. It’s at your grasp and anything can happen. What would it mean to you to finally, in your third try, make the podium in your career?
My personal best from last week would mean gold medal in Rio and I’m 100% sure it will medal in Tokyo again. The question is: will I be able to throw it, or will my competitors be better? I think the distance will be good enough for medal, if I throw it or if I don’t.
I’ll definitely be physically ready. It’s just going to be a mental game at the Olympics, and it will mean everything. Like I got so close in Rio, and it would make all my hard work, it would make it all worth it.
I’m not saying being three times at the Olympics is not nothing. It is a big accomplishment, but you know, when you get so close one time, you kind of want to grab one of those medals and have it in your drawer for the rest of your life.
You can watch the full interview with Marcel Lomnicky below.
For breaking news delivered to you, subscribe to WFXR’s breaking news email list
Get breaking news, weather, and sports delivered to your smartphone with the WFXR News app available on Apple and Android.