Tunks trusts wife with career

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 2:07 PM ET

If Canada's leading throws athlete doesn't pay attention, his wife might send him to bed without his protein milkshake.

In a first for elite sports, three-time Olympian and perennial Canadian discus champion Jason Tunks will be coached by his wife, Lieja, in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Some guys balk at letting their wives drive the family car. Tunks is completely confident putting his career in the hands of his.

There have been instances of husbands coaching wives, but to anyone's recollection, never the reverse at the world level.

Both the six-foot-seven powerhouse and his wife admit there are minor disagreements during training, but they remain there.

"We've been doing a good job of keeping sport and our marriage separate," Tunks said.

"We don't discuss training at home. We'd probably get sick of each other if we did," Lieja said with a laugh.

Tunks, 30, spent half his life under the coaching of John Allan, who discovered a hulking ninth-grader at Banting and helped turn him into a discus thrower who often cracks the world's top 10.

The new and unorthodox coaching arrangement evolved naturally.

Tunks says there was no problem with his longtime mentor other than availability. He'd have to wait until 4 p.m. or later to work out with the Banting teacher. He now throws daily at 10 a.m., when he's fresh.

Lieja, a 14-time Dutch shot put and discus champ and Olympian, decided to take a break from a sport that has consumed her life since she was eight. With her normally busy indoor season clear, she has the time to devote to her husband's training.

How's she doing?

"She's done it off and on the past four years when John (Allan) wasn't there, so she knows what she's looking for," said Tunks, who has about 2,000 throws in under his wife's watchful eye. "She's got a personal best of almost 60 metres herself in discus."

Any complaints?

"She's a bit of a perfectionist. I have to remind her to keep things simple. She sees the potential in the total drill and the outcome rather than in a step-by-step way.

"Fights? Not really, just the same as with any coach. You have disagreements at times, but if you trust the person, you're going to listen to what they have to say."

Tunks has won the Canadian championship 10 consecutive years in a career mottled with injuries. He had bone spurs removed from a chronically troublesome ankle six weeks ago and feels his goal to exceed his personal best (68.88 metres) this year is realistic.

He speaks of "we," not "I."

"It's exciting. We aren't making massive changes. We're trying to stay down in the middle (of the throw) and get a much longer and aggressive finish. My goal is a world record and we sat down and decided how we could do it. I'm comfortable with Lieja watching and my total movement is far ahead of where it was last year at this time, which helps your confidence immensely."

He'll be testing it at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March.

Since they've trained together so long, both on the weights and in their specialties, Lieja came into the formal role as coach with plenty of knowledge as to her husband's style. Still, she added to that.

"I watched a lot of video from when he was in college," at Southern Methodist in Texas, she explained. "It's important to see the differences because the body changes and you need a lot of little details to get the whole picture."

Lieja welcomes a break that could benefit both. Presumably, she'll come back refreshed and he'll be injury-free while perfecting his throws and they'll both hit the Olympics in China on highs.


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