A better half and even better throws!
American shot put world champion Joe Kovacs has found a perfect life partner and coach in Ashley Kovacs and the couple are powering full steam ahead.
There are not too many examples of women training elite male athletes around the world. A rare exception is former French tennis ace Amelie Mauresmo, who coached several men including Briton Andy Murray.
In Doha, one such partnership was on display at the Khalifa International Stadium, during the just concluded IAAF World Championships.
An emotional Joe Kovacs, fresh after being crowned shot put world champion, ran up to the stands to tightly hug his wife and coach Ashley.
The American won the world title (22.91M) by the shortest margin in history — one cm — ahead of compatriot Ryan Crouser and New Zealand’s defending champion Tomas Walsh (both 22.90M). Crouser finished second for having the second-best throw (22.71M to Walsh’s 22.56M).
A small verbal cue from Ashley, just before Kovacs’ final throw, proved to be the difference between fourth place and gold.
Taking instructions from Ashley, who also coaches at the Ohio State University, has always come easily to 30-year-old Kovacs. It is not just because of their bond, but also due to her in-depth knowledge of the sport. Ashley holds two masters degrees – in ‘human development and leadership’ and ‘sports coaching.’
“I didn’t go to Ashley in Ohio to become her student, I went to marry her. By then, she was already a heck of a coach with two Masters degrees and two shot putters with 20M plus throws. So, listening to her came easy,” he said.
“When Ashley initially started training me, she was scared to tell me some things because she felt being the ’15 world champion, I knew what I was doing. But very soon she realised I didn’t and things fell into place,” he said with a laugh.
Ashley said the comfort level between them made things easier.
“Spouses can be great coaches for their better halves because of their mutual trust. I’ve unshakeable faith in Joe and he reciprocates the feeling. Knowing each other at such personal and intimate levels helps. We’re always there, doing our best for each other,” she told Inside Qatar.
Joe’s easy acceptance of Ashley may also be due to the immense importance he places on the women in his life. After losing his father Joseph to colon cancer at age seven, his mother Joanna had raised him.
She became his first coach and was a regular part of his athletics life until he began training with renowned American coach Art Venegas in ’12. Venegas coached his ward to the world title in Beijing and a silver medal at the ’16 Rio Games and the ’17 London Worlds.
In ’18, Kovacs went into a transition period after moving to Ohio, and his career nosedived. Though he contemplated retirement, his wife talked him out of it. Ashley, who helped engineer the comeback, felt Joe’s early coaching interactions with his mom made things easier for her.
“His mom raised Joe, and she also coached him in the beginning. He doesn’t have a bone in his body that makes him feel like he shouldn’t listen to what I say as a coach. When people see him being respectful to me, it’s also inspiring other women to take up coaching men,” she said.
Acknowledging Joanna’s importance in her husband’s life and career, she said she had forged a special bond with her.
“I talk to Joe’s mom about most aspects of his training. She once knew how he ticked, and she motivated him to be successful. So we talk all the time about his training and other stuff, and we’re quite close,” she said.
Joe said he always thrived on personal connections with the closest people in his life.
“My mom was my earliest coach, and now, Ashley is. Though I don’t trust people easily, I’m all in when I do. If they ask me to do something, even if it makes zero sense technically, I’d still do it to the best of my ability,” he said.