Over the years, the state of Pennsylvania has produced some of the greatest track and field athletes in the history of the sport. The legendary Jim Thorpe was a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and later athletes such as Kim Gallagher, Leroy Burrell and Pittsburgh’s own Lauryn Williams went on to Olympic fame. That’s just a few of the names among many who have dominated the sport that have called Pennsylvania home.
Now there are two more athletes who are taking the sport by storm and making history along the way. In fact, both might be well on their way to being added to the long list of Olympians who hail from the state. What makes them even more unique and special is that not only do they both hail from the Pittsburgh area, they are both only high school sophomores.
Those two athletes are Knoch’s Jordan Geist and Connellsville’s Madison Wiltrout.
Geist and Wiltrout will both be chasing history this weekend at the PIAA Track and Field championships at Shippensburg University. Geist will compete in both the discus and the shot put, while Wiltrout will compete in the Javelin.
Though barely old enough to get a driver’s license (though he did pass his driver’s test Wednesday) Geist has quickly become one of the greatest shot putters in PIAA history. His throw of 69’1 earlier this month at the Baldwin Invitational is among the best throws in the country, and incredibly is over 10 feet further than his closest competitor.
In fact, Geist heads to Shippensburg with the opportunity to break the PIAA championship record of 70 feet by Ryan Whiting, who recently won the 2014 World Indoor Championships in the event and competed in the 2012 Olympic Games. Whiting is a legend in Pennsylvania Track and Field lore, and for Geist, the idea of being mentioned in the same sentence as Whiting is humbling.
“Just to be mentioned in the same sentence as Ryan Whiting is an honor for me,” Geist said. “I really, really hope I can get the kind of atmosphere to help me get that type of throw in because joining the 70-foot club would be an unbelievable honor.”
The journey to get to this point started early for Geist. His parents, Judy and Jim Geist, were both All-American throwers at Slippery Rock University and introduced Jordan to the sport at an early age.
“My parents started me with throws when I was 8 years old, and it took awhile for me to get my strength to catch up with my technique which was frustrating at times because I would often get beat because of it”, Geist noted.
Getting beat is a rarity these days for Geist. In fact, the last time Geist lost in the shot put was in February at the New Balance Indoor National Championship Meet. Since then, Geist has been on fire, consistently setting personal records, and winning the prestigious Penn Relays this past April in Philadelphia.
For Geist, much of the success he has had goes back to his mom, who not only makes sure Jordan makes the bed and does his homework, but also serves as one of his coaches.
“My mom is a great coach to have,” Geist said. “Not only does she do a great job, she always makes a point to treat me like everyone else, and she treats us all like we are her own, which is really important.”
Judy Geist certainly knows what it takes to be successful in the throws. Besides being a standout both at the high school and college level, she has coached multiple PIAA medalists over the years. Coaching her son has been especially rewarding, but makes it clear that as good as Jordan has been to this point, the future looks even brighter.
“I really try to make sure he’s doing the little things, but now he’s really great at doing a lot of it on his own,” Judy Geist said. “He really understands the importance of eating right and working hard at getting stronger, and what’s so exciting is knowing he’s got so much more potential and growth yet to come.”
Considering that no sophomore has ever thrown the shot put as far as Geist has, the future looks extremely bright for him. Beyond this weekend, a trip to Cali, Columbia for IIAF World Championships later this Summer is in the plans.
“In 2024, I’ll hopefully be three years out of college and that’s when a lot of athletes begin to peak,” Geist noted. “Right now, Boston is bidding to be one of the possible destinations for the 2024 Olympics and to me, it might be destiny for me to get there.”
If things fall into place, Geist might not be the only local product fulfilling their Olympic dream. Like Geist, Wiltrout has exploded onto the scene as a sophomore, and her performance in the javelin has been nothing short of astounding.
Two weeks ago, Wiltrout set the track and field world ablaze with a throw of 185 feet, 8 inches, to set an all-time national record. Wiltrout would go on to throw over 180 feet the following week on her way to winning the WPIAL championship. To put that in perspective, Wiltrout won the PIAA title and barely missed the all-time PIAA championship record as a freshman with a throw of 151 feet, one inch. So in less than a year, she’s improved her distance by over 30 feet.
What makes Wiltrout’s story even more improbable is she’s only been throwing the javelin for a little over a year. In fact, it wasn’t until someone noticed her prowess throwing a baseball against the boys that the idea of giving the event a try ever even came up.
“I had a strong arm and could really throw the fastball as a pitcher,” Wiltrout remembered. “My mom and I started looking at some videos on how to throw the javelin and it kind of began there.”
Though Wiltrout’s natural arm strength and competitive nature helped, it was when she was able to connect with Apollo-Ridge throwing coach Mike Coleman that she began to take big steps forward in the event.
“Coach Coleman is almost like a big brother to me,” Wiltrout said. “He makes things fun and I learn so much better when I’m having fun. He keeps things light and even when he’s correcting me, he keeps things light, which I love.”
The approach seems to be working, as Wiltrout has reached goals she never imagined would happen so quickly in her career.
“When I had that record-setting throw, I thought to myself, that was more of a long-term goal, something I might do by the time I was a senior,” Wiltrout added, “to have this kind of success right is kind of hard to believe.”
Wiltrout is quick to note that Bill Schmidt, a Canon-McMillan graduate and bronze medalist in the 1972 Olympic Games, has also done a great deal to help her take this big step in the past year.
“Coach Schmidt got in touch with me my freshman year and has helped me develop so much in that time,” Wiltrout noted. “He’s so positive and every little piece of information I get I really try to utilize and take in. Even with him being in Tennessee, he is willing to analyze videos and send me ideas and tips to help me get better.”
Much like Geist, Wiltrout is trying to enjoy every moment of her experience, but the thought of potentially pursuing her Olympic dreams is a long-term goal. However, after her record-setting throw, that dream might come sooner than she could ever possibly realized.
That’s because her 185’8 throw was good enough to provisionally qualify her for the 2016 Olympic trials.
A potential Olympian before receiving a high school diploma?
It might be a long shot, but don’t think for a second Wiltrout is waiting around to pursue her dreams.
“When I threw that 185-foot throw it was like, ‘wow, I just qualified for Olympic trials,’ and it was hard to believe,” Wiltrout remarked. “It was always more of a long-term goal, and I know I have a long way to go only being 16 but I am going to work every day to reach that goal and see where it takes me.”
For Geist and Wiltrout, the ultimate goal and destination might be the Olympics, but for now, both are focused on enjoying their experience and electrifying the crowd with record throws this weekend at Shippensburg.
Considering the incredible roll both athletes are on, no one should expect anything less.
Photo by milesplit.com