Last year, the toil of more than a decade paid off for Ramona Pagel. For 11 years straight she had been ranked in the top two Americans in the shot. Any coach and any athlete will readily admit that the shot is not an event in which an athlete can fake fitness. That many years near the top means Pagel has worked hard at her throwing for a long time. For what? She and husband/coach Kent Pagel are not exactly rolling in the money; female shot putters are pretty far from being sports celebrities in the United States.
Last year wasn't even Pagel's best year. She threw 62-7.75, a mark she has bettered five other seasons. She won the USA title indoors, but not outdoors. The difference came in the World Championships at Gothenburg. There, Pagel threw 61-8.5 for 7th place, the highest U.S. finish in an outdoor championship shot since 1960. She got her reward with her first World Ranking, No. 10. Rival Connie Price-Smith ranked No. 6 globally; not since 1960 (Earlene Brown) had any one American world-ranked, let alone two.
Says Pagel, "I think I should have thrown farther, but other than that, I pretty much accomplished everything I set out to do in 1995. I was real pleased with it. It kind of gave me an indication of what I could do this coming year."
The coming year, 1996, will be Pagel's last as a shot putter. "I'm trying to put everything into one year and go out with a little bit of a bang," she says. "This is it. I'm 34; not old in the real world, but in the athletic world I'm getting up there."
Pagel threw only 46-6.25 in high school (1979) with the lighter, 8-pound shot. That fall, after her first semester at Cal State Long Beach, she married Kent Pagel. He had been a thrower at UCLA, with a best of 62-9.75 (1977). The two have worked together at the event for more than 15 years, and the resulting consistency has been a tribute to their work ethic and marriage. Pagel threw 49-0.25 as a frosh, 52-2 as a soph. Thus began her steady climb to the top. In the following years she improved like clockwork: 53-4, 54-10.5, 58-8.25. Then, in 1985, came her big breakthrough.
"I know it's not going to survive," Pagel told Howard Willman of Track & Field News, referring to Maren Seidler's six-year-old American Record of 62-7.75. It didn't for long. Pagel nailed it in May at Westwood with a toss of 62-9.25. She followed with her first USA title. After four years of lower U.S. rankings, Pagel climbed to No. 1.
For four more years Pagel dominated the shot in the United States. In 1987, she popped a monster throw indoors, 65-0.75; it remains the American Indoor Record. The next year, she showed her readiness for the Olympic Trials the following month by pushing the iron ball out to 66-2.5 at San Diego. She followed with a win in the Olympic Trials, but in Seoul she could manage only 15th in qualifying. Perhaps she was frustrated not to better the 11th-place finish she had achieved in the Los Angeles Olympics, but that finish came in the absence of the powerful Eastern Europeans.
Pagel's biggest challenge has come in the person of Connie Price-Smith. In 1990, Pagel lost her first national outdoor title in six years. She dropped to a No. 2 U.S. ranking. The next year, however, Pagel bounced back to win the USA title again.
Nicknamed "Minnie", Pagel moved last year from her southern California base to Kent, Ohio, where Kent has taken a job as the throws coach at Kent State. She took with her the collection of 50-plus Pooh Bears that had made their presence known in every room in her previous house. Last winter was the first she had endured in the snow belt. "We're learning all kinds of new terminology, like 'lake effect snow,' and the difference between 'hail,' 'sleet,' and 'freezing rain,' " she says.
Over the years, Pagel has thrown a mean discus, also. She has ranked as high as No. 2 in the U.S, in 1986 and in 1988, the year she finished 15th in qualifying at the Olympics. Her best of 203-2 came in 1987. In 1993, her last year of throwing the discus, she reached 192-0. Since then she has concentrated on the shot. "I got hurt in '91," she explains, "took a year off and tried to come back. My back started to go with it. I'm getting up in age. I can't do everything. I wasn't quite as good in the discus, and I decided that was it."
Pagel plans to remain active in the sport after she puts her shot down, either as a coach or an administrator. "I'm going to have to find something to do around here," she says. "Somebody will want me." With her impending retirement, she has become reflective on her career: "On the whole I don't think I could have asked for much more. I learned so much on the way. Things have fallen my way in some instances and haven't in others. I've worked hard at what I've accomplished. It's taught me a lot of things about the world and about myself, and I think that's probably the most valuable thing I've gotten out of it."
Born November 10, 1961 in Los Angeles, Ca 5-11.5/1.82m 180/81kg Schurr HS (Montebello, Ca) '79 Long Beach State '82 San Diego State '84 Nike PRs (outdoor): SP--66-2.5/20.18 '88 (AR) DT--203-2/61.92 '87 JT--150-2/45.78 '84 PR (indoor): SP--65-0.75/19.83 (AR) Major Meets: 1979 9)USA Junior SP 1979 5)USA Junior DT 1980 10)AIAW DT 1980 11)USA SP 1980 14q)USA DT 1980 15q)Olympic Trials SP 1981 9)AIAW Indoor SP 1981 5)AIAW SP 1981 7)USA SP 1981 14q)USA DT 1982 9)NCAA SP 1982 7)USA SP 1983 5)USA SP 1984 1)NCAA SP 1984 4)NCAA DT 1984 3)Olympic Trials SP 1984 10)Olympic Trials DT 1984 11)Olympic Games SP 1985 1)USA SP 1985 6)USA DT 1985 6)World Cup SP 1986 1)USA Indoor SP 1986 1)USA SP 1986 2)USA DT 1987 2)USA Indoor SP 1987 6)World Indoor SP 1987 1)USA SP 1987 3)USA DT 1987 1)Pan-Am Games SP 1987 16q)World Championships SP 1987 5)GP Final SP 1988 1)USA Indoor SP 1988 1)Olympic Trials SP 1988 2)Olympic Trials DT 1988 15q)Olympic Games SP 1988 15q)Olympic Games DT 1989 1)USA Indoor SP 1989 9)World Indoor SP 1989 1)USA SP 1989 3)USA DT 1989 6)World Cup SP 1989 5)GP Final SP 1990 1)USA Indoor SP 1990 2)USA SP 1990 4)USA DT 1991 2)USA Indoor SP 1991 9)World Indoor SP 1991 1)USA SP 1991 8)USA DT 1991 3)Pan-Am Games SP 1991 13q)World Championships SP 1991 7)GP Final SP 1992 2)USA Indoor SP 1992 2)Olympic Trials SP 1992 11)Olympic Games SP 1993 2)USA Indoor SP 1993 2)USA SP 1993 9)USA DT 1993 12)World Championships SP 1993 8)GP Final SP 1994 1)USA Indoor SP 1994 2)USA SP 1995 1)USA Indoor SP 1995 2)Pan-Am Games SP 1995 2)USA SP 1995 7)World Championships SP 1995 8)GP Final SP 1996 2)USA Indoor SP