It would be easy to classify Woodland High School graduate Nick Olson as a natural because he does have considerable athletic ability. But it’s his work ethic and dedication to his craft that netted him first an IHSA state championship and now, a spot in one of the most prestigious collegiate track and field events in the country.
Only for the latter, it's not in the event for which he’s known.
Olson, who claimed the Class 1A state championship in the shot put for Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland just 11 months ago, will be competing for Western Illinois University in the legendary Drake Relays in Des Moines, Ia. this weekend, only not in the shot put.
Olson will in instead be throwing the javelin, an event he just picked up in his freshman year with the Leathernecks and for which he found he had a natural talent. His season-best toss of 167 feet, 4 inches at last week’s University of Missouri Tom Botts Invite earned him the berth.
“I’d thrown one a few times over the year, but never in competition,” said Olson. “They encouraged me to try it and and I found I liked it and had a talent for it. I’m a little surprised at myself that I was able to qualify for the Drake Relays so soon, which is a great honor. I’m going to go out there and do my best and see what happens.”
Olson has approached his new event the same way he did the shot put and discus when he was in high school, by doing a lot of film study. He credited his repeated viewing of YouTube videos of the greatest shot putters in the world with his title, so precisely honing his technique that the 5-10, 190-pounder beat out other finalists most with at least 30 pounds of bulk on him, some up to 50.
While he has put on 25 pounds of muscle of his own through increased weight training and better diet, he is still only 215 pounds because he knows that size is not the way in the javelin, revealed to him in his film study of current world record holder Jan Zelezny of Germany.
“You can’t throw it like a baseball. You have to throw through the point of the javelin to get any distance at all,” Olson said. “Much like the shot put, the javelin is all about doing it right. It seems like the athlete with the better technique will win just about every time. It’s all about knowing how to throw it, which has been my biggest struggle so far, but I’m getting it and slowly getting better at it.”
Rest assured, Olson has not set aside his shot put and discus careers, though they seem to have taken a back seat to his new-found proclivity. In fact, he competed with all of WIU's squad at the Simpson College Invite, a precursor to the Drake Relays held on Friday in Indianola, Iowa.
Overall, he has a season-best put of 14.8 meters, or just a hair under 48 feet, 7 inches, achieved at the Illinois State University’s Redbird Invite in Normal on April 14. That may seem a far cry from the 53 he won the state meet in Charleston last spring, but college is a different game with the ball four pounds heavier.
His best in the discus is a 119-8 at the Joey Haines Invite in Cape Girardeau, Mo. on March 30.
“The general thought is that you’ll drop eight to 10 feet (in the shot put) your first year at the college level and that’s right where I’m at now," said Olson. "I’m hoping for 50 feet this weekend and eventually to hit 53 outdoors this season. That’s my goal.”
Another goal still possible is qualifying for the NCAA outdoor regionals and then nationals later next month. He has a few meets, one of them the Missouri Valley Conference Meet at Terra Haute, Ind. on May 11-13.
"I’m not sure I'll make the NCAA regional this year,” Olson said, “but ultimately I’d like to make it there some time. Right now, I’m happy with how I’m doing. I think I’m on the right path to get there.”