Arizona State University assistant track coach Dave Dumble calls Anna Jelmini “the best thrower ever to come out of high school. I could venture to say the best high school track athlete, but it’s hard to compare (the weights) with sprinters.”
The recent graduate of Shafter (Calif.) High School has the credentials to back up her future college coach’s claims. She is the only thrower in USA prep history to hold the national record in one event and No. 2 all-time effort in another, according to Mike Kennedy, women’s high school editor for Track and Field News.
The long-armed, 5-foot-9 standout holds the national record in the discus (190 feet, 3 inches) and is six inches short of the national shot put record with her toss of 54 feet, 4 ¾ inches. She has thrown the discus over 180 feet 20 times, 11 more than the previous national record.
Her discus throw would have won this year’s NCAA championship by a wide margin.
Kennedy further notes, “Chandra Cheesborough (Ribault, Jacksonville, Fla.) had the 100 meters and 200; Kim Gallagher (Upper Dublin, Fort Washington, Pa.) had the 800 and 1500; and Mary Shea (Cardinal Gibbons, Raleigh, N.C.) had the 2-mile, 5,000 and 10,000, but the latter two events were rarely run.
“All of the marks occurred in the mid 70's and early 80’s. If Jelmini were to get the shot put record, she would be the first dual-record holder since 1982.”
Growing up on an 80-acre almond farm, Jelmini’s first sport - surprisingly - was swimming, at age four. “My nickname was ‘Underwater,’ because I only came up for air,” she told MaxPreps. “As I got older I learned the techniques better. I have a bunch of swim medals.”
She actually continued to swim until she entered eighth grade. However, she also has competed in cross country, basketball and volleyball. She calls basketball “probably my most dominating sport in junior high.” As a junior, she set Shafter High scoring records with 33 points in a game and over 500 for the year.
The track portion of Jelmini’s career actually started in first grade at Rio-Bravo Greeley Elementary School in Bakersfield, Calif., where she did the high jump and long jump during lunchtime. She added the shot put in third grade and discus in fifth grade, but did not start to blossom until the sixth grade when she came under the tutelage of Dawn Godbehere, a former national throwing champion at UCLA.
“She was a really good athlete and a natural in the discus,” said Godbehere, who coached her for three years in age-group track. “I was not sure of the shot put, but she learned quickly. She wanted to be a state champion and just kept improving.”
In eighth grade she set school records in the shot put and discus.
As a freshman, Jelmini came under the tutelage of Dawn’s husband, Matt, co-head coach with Dirk McJunkin at Shafter High, a school of 1,500 students in the top four grades. The first thing he did was get her into the weight room. He said he immediately loved her athleticism, desire and competitiveness.
With basketball still No. 1 in her eyes, Jelmini entered the prestigious Arcadia Invitational the spring of her freshman year and her life began to change dramatically.
“I won my section (in the discus) on Saturday morning and got to compete with the older girls Saturday night," she said. "Nine go to the finals (earning three more throws), but I got 10th. Still, it was a good day because I PRed (personal record of 138-8). I was so happy and excited to compete against older people, because it was like a challenge.”
On that day basketball began taking a backseat to track because as she put it, “In track it’s all you and the ring.”
Jelmini closed her freshman year with best efforts of 141 in the discus and 36-10 in the shot put. However, she still was dealing with being “mentally tough” and did not qualify for the state meet because she fouled on all three of her preliminary discus throws at the Masters meet.
She discovered that nervous energy can be both good and bad. The good type, she explained, “is when you’re excited to throw.” She began “conquering” the bad nervous energy as a sophomore when her personal records jumped to 155-8 in the discus and 42-4 in the shot put. She also placed fourth in the discus at the state meet.
“The only girls that beat me (at the state) were seniors, so I was really excited for my junior year,” she noted.
And her junior year, indeed, was a banner one. She won both events at Arcadia, both at the state meet and went unbeaten throughout the entire season. Her personal bests skyrocketed to 183-11 in the discus and 50-4 in the shot put. She led the nation in the discus that year.
That summer she began competing in big meets outside of California. She won the Junior Nationals (ages 17-19) discus in Columbus, Ohio, with a 173-1 heave to qualify for the USA team. She also placed fourth in the shot put – one place out of qualifying - with a PR of 50-4.
She was losing the discus by one centimeter until she uncorked her final throw – and won by seven feet!
Jelmini’s trip to Poland with the U.S. Junior World Team was rather disappointing because she finished seventh in the discus after entering as the favorite.
She also had the privilege of competing in the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., against much older, more experienced throwers. She placed 19th in a power-packed field and confessed, “I felt so young and a little awe struck. I was the youngest person there by about four or five years. Here I am with all these great throwers. I would have done better if I was a little more focused.”
Matt Godbehere called it “truly her break-out year. She put herself on the map both nationally and internationally.”
The rising superstar launched her senior year by competing in her first-ever indoor meet, the prestigious Simplot Games in Pocatello, Idaho. There was no discus competition, but she won the shot put with a career-high toss of 51-5, even though throwing on a wooden slab for the first time.
She then repeated her double victory at Arcadia, setting a meet (and PR) record with a discus throw of 185-5 and was named girls MVP.
At the Triton Invitational – an open meet in San Diego - she competed unattached and exploded, with four of her six throws soaring over 180 feet. Matching up with college and professional standouts, she placed only fifth, but her top effort of 188-4 tied the national record set by Suzy Powell of Downey (Modesto, Calif.) in 1994.
Still, the best was yet to come. At the Sequoia Sierra Finals, she blew everybody else away with a national-record discus toss of 190-3 and a shot put effort of 54-4.75, which broke a 26-year-old California state record and was No. 2 all-time.
It might have been the most incredible single-day performance in prep track history.
She recalled, “I started with really far throws in warm-ups. My discus was really powerful. When I got the record I was really ecstatic. I just wanted the record to be mine by myself.”
Ironically, previous record holder Suzy Powell is somewhat of an idol to Jelmini, who met her at the Olympic Trials but “was too shy to ask her for her autograph. After I broke her national record, she called and congratulated me.”
Matt Godbehere also was ecstatic over his protégé’s national record, but even more so he was relieved. "I’m more focused on her training so all the other things could come together. That takes (record search) out of the equation. I knew the talent was there, but I didn’t want to let her down," Godbehere said.
Jelmini carved out an outstanding 3.95 GPA at Shafter. She belonged to the Associated Student Body, which was in charge of rallies and other sports activities.
She likes to draw cartoons and has won several awards. One of her greatest treasures – a red Mustang – also has produced some of her greatest frustrations. “Every time she turns around, the brakes go out or something else happens,” says Dawn Godbehere, “and she has to drive another car. Her dad (Richard) probably is more frustrated.”
Adds Matt Godbehere, “She’s a big fan of 1980’s movies, pop-types like the Breakfast Club. She’s definitely a movie goer.”
Jelmini will be competing at the Junior Nationals next week in Eugene, where she will be hoping to qualify for the Pan-American Games in Trinidad.
"After the state meet we cleaned some things up technically,” Matt Godbehere pointed out. “We’re back in the weight room. I don’t really feel she’s done this year. There’s a lot more in her to accomplish at Eugene and Trinidad.
“She’s going to have a lot of success at the next level. She’ll be an immediate factor at the NCAA level (at Arizona State). She would have won the discus by at least four feet this year.”
Jelmini says her goals at ASU will be to “win an individual title in both (events) and a team title. I definitely want to go to the Olympics. Last year showed me than I can make the Trials.”
ASU coach Dave Dumble, who is Dawn Godbehere’s brother, wants to train Jelmini to break the NCAA records and he believes, “Her potential is limitless.”
His sister adds, “She is a phenomenal athlete. If she stays healthy, she can be an Olympic champion and American record holder.”