Have you ever tried to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time? Tricky, eh? Well, US youth thrower Sophia Rivera did the athletics equivalent by competing in the shot put and javelin finals simultaneously at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Cali. This is how she did it.

Chucking a baseball around the back garden from the age of “three or four”, Sophia Rivera always knew she had a talent for throwing. Yet it was not until the age of eight and taking up the challenge of taking on her best friend at turbo javelin that she really knew. The fact that the friend happened to be guy made the feat all the sweeter. 

“Beating your best friend is always a very cool moment,” adds the Puerto Rican-born Rivera, who was living in New Jersey at the time. She started competing in the javelin, the shot and discus later followed after a family move to Missouri – her current home. 

That's the background info, but how did she cope with the multitasking demands in Cali?

Experience

It’s slightly unusual to double in the shot and javelin. But Rivera insists “for me, the training I do for both events complement each other”. When she was first made aware of the schedule in Cali with the girls' shot and javelin finals clashing, she didn't panic. She had previous. At the Kansas Relays in April she competed across both events simultaneously, which proved it was possible. 

 “I actually PR’d in javelin that day. It was a good day,” she adds.

I am so blessed to have competed today at the Kansas Relays and to come away with not only a win in the shot and javelin and a 7th place finish in the discus, but a great new personal record of 162'5" in the javelin!!!

A photo posted by Sophia Rivera (@javelingirl) on

The dress rehearsal at the Kansas Relays proved competing in two events at the same time is possible

Different ends of the field

On the afternoon of her finals, she received the news that the girls' shot final would take place at the opposite end of the arena to the javelin. This was a surprise, and not necessarily a pleasant one, as the men's shot final the previous day had taken place alongside the javelin runway. It added greater complexity to the challenge. 

“When I first found out, it was one of those 'darn it' moments,” admits Rivera. “Yet, I also found out that IAAF rules say that each round I could change my starting position, so this flexibility made it a much easier process to go back and forth between the two events.”

She was originally drawn at number 12 for the shot (which started five minutes earlier than the javelin) and officials suggested she should throw first. Unfazed, Sophia opted to throw second: “I get too hyped if I throw first.” 

Mental preparation

The unique challenge of competing in events simultaneously on the global stage presented a demanding mental test, but it was a challenge she was up to.

“The big thing was compartmentalising and separating the two events,” admits Rivera, who is aged just 16. “If I had thought about both events at once, I would have got overawed. I had to separate the two events and think about technique on the walk between the two events.” A walk that was taken with the help of a volunteer, while an official at each event assisted with the throw order.

She was successful in focusing on the immediate job in hand throughout – only wavering once when preparing for the shot and wondering if she was likely to make the halfway cut in the javelin.

Shoe tie

Naturally slow at tying her shoes, Rivera's technique and speed was forced to improve with the multiple changes of shot to javelin shoes and then back again she needed to make.

“This was one of the bigger hurdles I came across,” she says. “The javelin shoes with their higher ankles are a bit harder to put on. I had one close call ahead one of my javelin throws. But it really got my fingers going.” 

Sophia Rivera Podium Cali 2015 ()

A true competitor: River's final round throw in the shot was the best in her series and secured her a silver medal

Following the competition

Following two events at the same time from the comfort of the stands is tricky enough, but trying to make sense of two competitions at the same time for Rivera was not a challenge she chose to pursue too closely.

“To be honest, because there was an element of mystery [in how the competitions were going], it helped motivate me and push me on,” she says. “I asked my teammates in each competition general questions, but I didn't inquire specifically until the final round.” This gave her enough information to take her final round shot and pass her final two javelin throws.

For the record, Sophia landed a silver medal in the girls' shot tossing a best distance of 17.93m with her final throw. In the javelin she placed eighth with a best of 50.85m in round three. 

Postscript

It may not have been ideal circumstances, but Sophie Rivera has earned the total respect of the athletics world. 

“I definitely think had I chosen to focus on one event I would have maybe done a little bit better, but I wouldn’t change anything,” says Rivera, who marginally prefers the javelin but accepts that at the moment her better event is the shot. 

“If it happened again, I'd be glad to do it.”

Her series:

Shot Put: 16.97 17.66 X 15.61 16.29 17.93

Javelin: X 48.11 50.85 48.18 – –