Kamiakin High discus thrower dances the distance

Ballet, figure skating background helping athlete dominate sport

Tri-City Herald staff writerMay 22, 2013 

Elisa Grandemange is one of the best discus throwers in the state. The reason why she excels isn’t necessarily what you’d think. The Kamiakin High junior doesn’t have the typical body build of a thrower, nor does she have years of experience. Rather, the Kennewick 16-year-old uses her background in ballet and figure skating to dominate a sport that is nothing like the fine arts world she grew up in.

“If it wasn’t for dancing, I wouldn’t be good,” said Elisa, who was born in France. “I wouldn’t understand technique, and I wouldn’t know rhythm — because you have to have rhythm to throw.”

Elisa will compete in the javelin today and the discus Friday at the Class 3A State Track and Field Championships at Mount Tahoma High in Tacoma. She is one of almost 350 Mid-Columbia athletes who will participate in a variety of state tournaments this weekend, wrapping up the spring sports season.

Elisa started dancing as a youngster under the tutelage of her mother, Leila Grandemange, who was a professional ballet dancer for Ohio Ballet, a traveling group based in Akron, Ohio, as well as a ballet teacher in France.

Elisa eventually gave up dancing, switching to figure skating for a few years, then volleyball, before settling on track and field as a sophomore. It was a varied journey, but one that has provided her with tremendous footwork, which helps her in the discus ring to generate power.

“(Ballet) definitely teaches a child at a young age to have body awareness,” her mother said. “They understand the mechanics of movement, they understand how to transfer weight, where to put the hip and the shoulder. Discus has a lot to do with technique. Even though she is not tall, she is quick, graceful, powerful and understands technique.”

Throwing the discus is similar to ballet’s best known move — the tour jete, where a dancer jumps off of one foot, spins in the air and lands on the other foot.

“It is obviously tweaked because (the discus) is rotational rather than linear,” her mother said.

Elisa starts with her back to the discus landing area with her arms out. She then spins, bringing her arms in, does a little hop while spinning again, then unleashes the disc.

Her best throw this season is 146 feet, 6 inches, which is the second best throw in the state, and the best of all Class 3A throwers. She has the 27th best throw in the country, and already has NCAA Division I colleges talking to her.

“She is a very talented athlete,” said Mac Wilkins, a four-time Olympian and gold medalist in the discus. “She has a wonderful sense of kinesthetics, a wonderful athletic awareness in what she is doing. Throwing the discus is a skill, just like hitting a golf ball. She has a great feel for that. The basic moves that she is making right now are excellent.

“It is just a matter of time for her to become more efficient and, of course, to increase her throwing strength.”

Elisa met Wilkins at Iron Wood Thrower Development Camp at Eastern Washington University last summer, and she since has worked with him for private lessons.

The time spent in those camps, plus the hours she has poured in at practice, after practice and by studying how others throw, have all contributed to her sudden success. “She is a perfectionist,” said Cheryl Schauble, Kamiakin’s track and field coach. “She pieces everything together. She watches herself — they have someone videotaping at every meet — and she watches it and studies it and analyzes it and marks things up. She has a coach’s eye.

“She is ahead of the game, as far as juniors go.”

While Elisa owes her ballet success to her mother, she also utilizes her strong mathematics and physics skills to work on the science of throwing. Those skills she attributes to her father, Dominique, who works for Areva.

“It is fun to think of throwing. ... I think about, ‘If I put this much force into it, it will go this far,’” Elisa said. “Math is my favorite subject.”

Her skill in the discus is only just being tapped.

Her coaches think she could hit 150 feet this weekend, and after she attends more camps this summer, she is dreaming of going really big next spring.

“I’ve had coaches tell me that 180 won’t be a barrier, but because I’m short, I don’t know how much farther I can go,” said Elisa, who is 5-foot-5. “They say that it doesn’t matter if you are tall, if you have really good technique.”

Wilkins thinks with hard work and more strength training, college throwing is definitely a possibility for her.

“Typical throwers have long arms, and long arms come on tall bodies,” he said. “She is not above average with her height, but I absolutely believe that she is capable of throwing the discus in college.

“She is definitely above average (technically) and that is such a big part of it.”

-- Craig Craker: 582-1509; ccraker@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Craig_Craker

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