Son of Rome native and three-time Olympian, Anthony Washington, continues legacy

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“As I wrote on these pages a while back, my first impression of him was that of a man amongst boys. Even in his high school years, he carried himself with a quiet confidence that foretold bigger things to come.”

… Said Joe Silkowski, long-time Sports Editor of the Rome Sentinel, of the man he called “the most imposing athlete” he met during his career in his final column, which appeared in the Jan. 28, 2020, edition, just days before his retirement after 31 years with the Sentinel … of Anthony Washington, Rome Free Academy, Rome, NY. Class of 1985.

“If his high school accolades indicate anything, it is that, with no distractions, he is bad news for the competition. Equipped with confidence … and a desire to maintain his rightful place as one of the best throwers in the country, the sky is truly the limit …”

… Said Evan Oscherwitz in his article of Jan. 26, 2021, for SPORTS360 AZ … of Turner Washington. Canyon del Oro High School, Tuscon, AZ. Class of 2017.

Anthony and Turner Washington. Father and son. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. And the tree grew up – in Rome, New York.

Anthony Washington was born in Montana, the youngest of four children. His father served in the U.S. Air Force and the family moved from Montana to Rome when he was stationed at Griffiss Air Force Base. Washington was barely three years old. So, Rome is the only hometown he has ever known.

Upon agreeing to do the interview for this story, Washington laughed as he recollected he and his brothers sitting on the front stoop of the family’s residence in Rome after walking home from school and reading The Daily Sentinel.

“It’s great to hear it still exists,” said Washington, who then mused about subscribing to the digital edition. “It would be nice to read about Rome.”

Washington recalls that everything in Rome was within walking distance. “If your parents didn’t pick you up from school or practice, you just walked home,” said Washington.

Washington “walked home” from Fort Stanwix Elementary School, before Junior High School, then Rome Free Academy.

Every bit as much an artist as an athlete, he remembered well his photography teacher and his art teacher, Claude Merrill.

“I thought they were both awesome,” said Washington.

But his favorite class was Social Studies.

“(My teacher) was tough,” recalled Washington. “He had a tough guy look - he could just give you that look and you’d say - I really gotta go after this.”

And Washington recalls “really going after” Social Studies.

“I busted my a**,” said Washington, “and had an A in his class.”

Washington remembered Giamporcaro as a “great teacher...one of the best I ever had.”

“He left an impression on me that no other teacher ever did,” said Washington. “He gave me the confidence that I wasn’t an idiot – that I could do well.”

Washington excelled at both football and track and field while at RFA; and remembers well his coach – the same coach for both sports – Tom Myslinski. 

“He was tough and fair. And he knew his stuff,” said Washington of Myslinski

He spoke of the coach’s impact on him thoughtfully, choosing the words, “just his presence…” before he trailed off.

“If you got Coach My to … I don’t know … like you? It was huge. That means you were doing your job well,” said Washington. “He was old school; not the kind of guy who would just come up to you and tell you how great you are. You could just tell … he liked you … respected you.”

While Washington went on to became an elite athlete at RFA, he recalls that “it took years!”

“I’m sure he thought I was just this scrawny little black kid who didn’t have a shot in hell of accomplishing anything athletic,” said Washington, who met Coach Myslinski when he went out for wrestling as a freshman; a sport Myslinski also coached at RFA. “I think I weighed something like 132 pounds. Yeah? I was pretty scrawny.”

Washington remembers an especially cold spring day during that same freshman year at RFA, when he noticed a bunch of kids throwing the discus in the gymnasium.

“I asked them what that was,” said Washington, who had never seen a discus before? “Then, I asked them to show me how to hold it and I thought it was the coolest thing on Earth.”

He went out for spring track that year and he did try other events, but nothing competed with the discus. He also recalled that, at the time, he felt he was too small to be really good at football, his favorite sport.

“That’s why I started throwing,” confesses Washington. “I really didn’t think I was good at anything else.”

Washington shared that, years later, Coach Myslinski confessed to him that hadn’t thought he was big enough to be a discus thrower either.

“But I didn’t know that then. I just knew I liked it and I’m gonna stick with it,” said Washington. “And I did.”

Washington, whose parents divorced during his teen years, concluded his assessment of “Coach My” to say, “he was more of a father than my father.”

He worked to prove to his coach and to himself that he did have a shot of “accomplishing something athletic” when he accepted a scholarship to attend Syracuse University and join their NCAA Division I Track & Field team’s squad of throwers. He claimed three Penn Relay championships and was named a three-time All American in the discus for the Orange. Washington went on to compete in three consecutive Olympic games: in 1992 in Barcelona, 1996 in Atlanta, where he fell only three feet short of the Bronze Medal, and 2000 in Sydney. He was a four-time U.S. National Champion in discus and the Pan American Champion in 1991 and 1999. But, he achieved his dream of winning a world championship in the 1999 World Games in Seville, Spain, where what he called “the throw of his life” flew 69.08 – just four inches short of earning him the honor of being the first discus thrower to mark 70 meters in a major international event – but long enough to claim Gold for an American thrower in a world event for the first time since 1976 and to become the first Black American thrower to ever do it.

But Washington’s goals as he graduated from Rome Free Academy were not so lofty as his scroll of achievements reads.

“You don’t dream about the Olympics. You get to college first. That’s how I looked at it then, right or wrong,” recalled Washington. “My goal coming out of high school was just to get a scholarship. I wanted to get a college education. Yes, I had athletic goals, too. But that was my main goal: My college degree.”

He proceeded to do what he believed you do – “work hard at it” – and met each new achievement with a blend of pride, humility and surprise, then set the next goal.

“I remember when I went to the NCAAs for the first time. It was my sophomore year and I thought to myself -- if I didn’t accomplish anything else? - if this plane goes down? -- my life if full. That’s how proud I was,” recalled Washington. “I think I got 3rd place.”

Later that same year, he was named an All American.

While reflecting on the advent of his adventure as a world class thrower – now having been inducted into the Rome High School Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, the Niagara Association of U.S. Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Penn Relays Hall of Fame in 2014 - Washington offered this advice to the throwers at RFA today, working in the circle at Stadium Field, or in the RFA gym on a cold Rome winter day, or maybe even a kid who just held the discus in his or her hands for the first time …

“If this is something you really love to do and you think that you’d like to do it in college - you want to take it farther - you’ve got to get out there and throw - several days a week - work on your technique. Nothing is going to make you a good thrower more than getting out there and just throwing.”

Washington competed in his first Olympic Trials in the Summer of 1988, his rising senior year in college. The top three throwers made the ‘88 Summer Olympic team. He placed fourth … by inches. He remembers it, not with frustration, but humility again, at having been at the trials at all.

“Oh my God. My first Olympic trials, I was up against the giants of American throwing: Zach Lewis John Powell,” said Washington. “That was huge to get fourth place.”

After graduating from Syracuse with a B.A. in Interior Design in 1989, Washington moved to Arizona to train at University of Arizona in a climate that would allow him to throw discus year ‘round. It was there where he met and married his now ex-wife, Leslie, a student at U of A, where her brother had also been a varsity football player. During those years, in addition to training and competing on the world stage, he began building a career in sales that evolved into pharmaceutical management. He went on to earn an M.S. in Information Technology from Regis University in Denver. The Washingtons had two sons. The elder, Coleman, did not have an interest in athletics. The younger of the brothers, Turner, was the son who took up the torch from his father and has been on fire ever since.

Turner Washington was the No. 1-ranked high school discus thrower in the country his senior year at Canyon del Oro High School, when he was also named the Gatorade Arizona High School Athlete of the Year.

“Turner has always been great at throwing,” said Washington, who recalls his son as being a natural from the first time he picked up a discus. “I was barely known for throwing in high school. Turner was the best thrower in the country in high school.”

Though Turner shares a favorite family story being him picking up a coaster off of a coffee table when he was four years old and throwing it across the living room like it was a discus, he too gravitated toward wrestling at first. He didn’t start throwing discus until eight-grade, about the same age his father was when he held one in his hand for the first time in the RFA gym.

And from that time, through high school off-seasons and summers, his coach … was his dad.

When asked about the role his father played in his development as an athlete, Turner recalled “great bonding time.”

“He would be at work, I would be at school,” said the younger Washington, “but then an hour a day, we would be out in the circle throwing.”

Turner’s characterization of his father’s support shows shades of Washington’s recollection of loving having his mother attend his meets.

“The reason I wanted my Mom to come watch me throw was more about our relationship than needing her to watch me compete,” said Washington.

In addition to the bonding, Washington also recalls the challenges of coaching his son.

“Three years ago, he didn’t even know what the shot put was. We fought all the time about it,” groused Washington about the event in which Turner set an NCAA record when winning the indoor national championship in March. “I’d tried to school him - no one is going to offer a scholarship for one event? He didn’t want to listen to me. He only wanted to throw discus.”

And the younger Washington did get a scholarship just to throw the discus, to University of Arizona, a beloved family alma mater on his mother’s side of the family. But the transition to college track was not as smooth as his father’s had been. A clash with coaching philosophies and inconsistent performances in meets made for a challenging first college season and pushed him to consider other options.

Washington recalls his son struggling to perform his freshman year at University of Arizona and, near the season’s end, turning to a coach to set goals for the coming year, and being “unconvinced” by his response.

“Something must have been bothering him, because he decided to look for someplace else to go to school,” said Washington.

Washington also felt that Turner’s value of family played a role in his choosing Arizona. His family in Arizona were “huge U of A” and his uncle, an alum and former football letterman for the Wildcats, was ill at the time Turner was choosing from a feast of college offers.

As for Turner, he deemed the biggest challenge he has faced thus far to be “throwing like crap” his freshman year. When asked what he knows now that he wishes he knew in high school, he responded, “that I should’ve gone to Arizona State.”

“Years ago, when he was really young, I told him … It’s tough. Tough to be a thrower. Your mind has to on all the time,” recalls Washington. “The kid’s had a lot of ups and downs and he’s gone through some of the biggest highs and lows that a thrower does.”

While Washington used care to allow his son to navigate his transfer on his own terms, when asked for guidance, he didn’t hesitate to endorse his former Olympic teammate, Arizona State Track & Field Coach, Brian Blutreich

“When Turner said he wanted to go to a different school, I immediately thought Arizona State because I thought Brian was one of the best coaches in the country,” said Washington. “Why go anywhere else?”

“Knowing his father so well, he has so many mannerisms like his father, it’s almost scary,” said Bluetreich of Turner Washington in an interview with azcentral.com. “When I started working with him, I was like, Oh my God. He’s definitely not adopted. That’s for sure!”

Turner Washington his thrived at ASU ever since. And His father’s former Olympic teammate was able to convince him of something that his father tried and failed to convince him of – that he should throw the shot put.

Turner could not compete during his first year at ASU, so he used the time to acclimate to his classes, where he was majoring at the time in Conservation Biology and Ecology, and to take a deep dive into flaws in his form that he felt had held him back in discus competition during his freshman year. Blutreich also used that year to coach him in the shot.

“A lot of the reason why the shot was really able to take off was that, coming in, I didn’t really have that many bad habits with the rotational shot,” said Washington in an interview with Jeff Hollobaugh of Track and Field News.

Bluetreich recalled a conversation with his former teammate where the father forecast that the son might be a better shot putter because of his size; Anthony Washington stands at – according to him – “barely 6’1”” while his son towers at 6’5”.

Turner Washington went on to command the NCAA Indoor Nationals in Fayetteville, Arkansas in March of this year, winning the national championship in the shot put with a throw of 21.36 meters. At the Outdoor National Championships in Eugene, Ore., in June, he scored a second national championship in the shot on his third and final throw of 21.10 meters.

“If you told me four years ago, I’d be a national champion in the shot, I’d tell you you’re crazy,” said Washington.

Before grabbing either gold, he broke the NCAA record in the shot put at the Texas Tech Shootout meet in Lubbock back in February, when he sent the shot 21.85 meters (71 ft, 8.25 in.), eclipsing the throw of prior record-holder, Payton Otterdahl of North Dakota State, who took the top spot with a toss of 21.81 meters in 2019 and achieving Turner’s personal goal of breaking 70 feet. Of that throw, Turner humbly told Greg Hansen of Tuscon.com, “records get broken all the time, but national championships are forever.”

Turner told Track and Field News that he enjoyed the call with his father to share the news of breaking the record … in the shot put.

“He likes to remind me of how I didn’t like to throw the shot in high school and that he made me, so he got a kick out of it.”

When he learned of his son’s statements about championships – and how they last forever – the elder Washington agreed.

“Hell yeah, they do!”

For all of Anthony Washington’s remarkable accolades, including being named a three-time college All American, four national championships, three Olympic games, two Pan American championships and a world championship, an NCAA championship eluded the father. So, his pride is poignant that it has not escaped his son.

“Obviously, Anthony was a great discus thrower,” said Blutreich, “but it’s nice knowing you have a different event than your father – and you’re way better than your father.”

His father agreed with that, too.

“His first throw was beautiful,” said the elder Washington, who saw his son’s shot put sail in person at famed Hayward Field at the University of Oregon. “I’m just glad I’m not in college right now. I’d be worthless!”

Still, as apples are known for not falling far, Turner Washington is quick to remind that he still thinks of himself as a “discus thrower.”

Two days after he won his second national championship in an event where he also broke the NCAA record, all in a single season, he affirmed that we should all still think of him as a discus thrower when he won his third NCAA national championship, his second in as many days, when he dished the discus 63.42 meters, translate 208 feet, 1 inch.

When asked the predictable question of the former Olympian around being there to see his son command not one, but two NCAA national championships - “How did you feel?” - the father predictably reached for the right words. Then he offered one. “Amazed.”

“The kid amazes me,” he said.

Washington goes on …

“When I see him out there, I feel his accomplishment… I feel his joy … I feel it in my bones.”

Turner Washington qualified for and chose to compete only in the discus in the Track & Field Olympic Trials, which almost immediately followed the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon. He is the same age as his father when he took his first try at joining the Olympic team. And, like his father, he didn’t quite make it. Not this time…

“Turner had an amazing year throwing the discus - he blew my mind away,” said Anthony Washington of his son, practically pointing out from very personal experience that there are so many factors influencing your performance at any given meet … and that Turner still has time.

“If he can stay healthy,” qualified Washington, “and if he loves what he does.”

Like his father before him, every bit as much the student as the athlete, Turner Washington will enter his redshirt senior year at Arizona State University this fall. He has already earned his Bachelors degree. He now aspires to pursue a career in sports law and has been accepted to Arizona State University Law School, where start his post-graduate program while finishing his collegiate track & field career next year.  

With Turner having already won three NCAA championships, Anthony Washington sees the next goal before his son as a simple one.

“I expect he’ll throw farther,” said the elder Washington. “Once you reach the highest mark of the NCAA, that’s what it’s all about - how far you can throw.”

There are many differences between the famous father and his now storied son. Turner grew up in the southwest in metro Tuscon, AZ. Population almost half a million. Anthony grew up in the Northeast in Rome: Population about 30,000. Turner is a country music fan, citing his favorite song by his favorite artist to be “Bury Me in Dixie” by Riley Green. Anthony, a professed reggae fan in college, more likely would have cued up Bob Marley, which probably explains why that artist’s son, Ziggy Marley, was Turner’s first concert. The father passed time indulging in the visual arts and dreamed of being an architect, but ended up pursuing business. Turner started college imagining a career in forestry management, and is now pursuing law. The son loves to spend his down time hunting and being outdoors, calling opening day of deer hunting season his favorite holiday. It does warrant mention, though, that his father’s artistic bend may have influenced Turner sharing that historical event to which he’d wish to bear witness would be Jean Michel-Basquiat painting his piece, Skull. The acclaimed neo-expressionist artist created Skull in 1981, right around the same time that Anthony Washington held a discus in his hand for the very first time.

When asked if he won the lottery, what he would do with the money, Turner said he would buy 1,000 acres in Texas. When his sons were both out of high school and on their paths, Washington had earned the enviable right to choose where to ‘begin again.’ He chose to return to the Northeast after almost 30 years and settled in Philadelphia, a major coastal city rich in culture and the arts and full with career opportunities. Washington also prioritized picking a place that was “not too far from home” – Rome.

As for differences in their throwing styles, Anthony Washington declares that “almost everything is different.”

“The way he lines up; the way he initiates his entry into the center of the circle. He’s got a crazy awesome right foot that I never had. He really rotates exceptionally well on that right foot,” listed Washington. “It’s good. Every thrower has their thing that makes them unique.”

But the two American throwing champions also share much in common.

“Certain basic things in technique,” said Washington. “There are things – I would tell him – I don’t care who you are? If you don’t do them, you’re never going to be a good thrower.”

The one detail about Turner’s style that Anthony claims in common is the way he shifts his weight.

“I think he has a tendency to shift his weight to the left side,” said Washington of Turner’s wind-up. “That’s definitely something about his style – textbook – that is similar to something I’ve done in the past.”

But the elder Washington emphasized that, when he coached his son, he would never have him do any moves that were unique to his own.

“I wanted him to have his own style,” said Washington.

“But he’s got that drive, like I had,” added Washington. Then, after a pause, “he’s got a really nice drive.”

Anthony and Turner Washington also share in common a reticence and reserve, an enormity of work ethic, an abiding integrity, a value of scholarship, as well as athletic excellence, the achievement of the status of elite American athletes in the same sport and a common event, together with a rare balance of pride and humility.

What they do not share in common is a personal best in the discus. At least, not yet?

To date, Turner Washington’s personal best in discus was 66.26, which he threw in the West Coast Classic meet in April of this year, also at Hayward Field. Anthony Washington threw what now stands as his personal best of 71.14 meters in Salinas, CA on May 22, 1996, at qualifying meet for his second Olympic games in Atlanta.

One could almost hear Washington smile at imagining his son besting his own personal best.

“He should be able to do it? Sure,” said Washington. “Why not?”

Anthony Washington took a moment, after reflecting so deliberately upon his own journey behind him and his son’s journey, where so much still lies ahead.

“It’s a very lonely experience being a thrower,” said Washington, before another pause.

“Because I am a former discus thrower, I know the pressure, the pain, the desire, the goals...to see my kid go out there and do it – is like I was out there with him.”

The father states unequivocally that if the son were to tell him tomorrow that he never wanted to throw again, that would be fine with him.

“My only desire is for him to get out of the sport whatever he wants out of it,” said Washington.

“At no point in my entire life did I think that either of my boys would be a nationally ranked track and field athlete,” said Washington. “Turner got there and I just think it’s fantastic.”

Washington says his ultimate wish for his son … is to want “whatever he wants. Whatever makes him happy.”

On July 14, Turner Washington was named one of three finalists for the most the most prestigious award in collegiate track & field – The Bowerman Award.

Among Turner’s achievements listed in the announcement as earning the three-time All American student athlete the honor of that nomination were his eight of the top 10 throws this season in discus, seven of the season’s top 10 throws in outdoor shot put, and four of the top 10 throws in indoor shot put, with the cachet of setting a new collegiate record in the event. Add his three NCAA national championships.

His 66.26 meter hurl of the discus ranked him seventh all-time in the event in collegiate history and he stands the only male thrower in collegiate history with same season top-10 throws in both the discus and either indoor or outdoor shot put, let alone both.

Washington was undefeated this season in both indoor and outdoor events, a perfect 14-0. He broke and set the Arizona State University discus record, then broke his own record three more times.

Turner Washington holds a bachelor’s degree, three NCAA national championships, an NCAA record, and two designations as the Western regional Male Track & Field Athlete of the Year and the honor of being named a Bowerman finalist. He looks forward to beginning his post-graduate study in Law, “throwing farther” in his final collegiate track & field season at Arizona State, and one day – like his dad – being a member of the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team.

The stellar scholar athlete was recently asked who had the greatest influence on his career.

His response?

“My father.”

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Mark Arner

Wonderful story, beautifully written. Keep up the good work!

Sunday, July 25