An Olympic Outlook – University of Oregon Athletics
As part of a series for Black History Month, we’ll be highlighting the stories of several past OregonTF standouts. This week, we caught up with Jillian Weir and among other things, explore navigating the global pandemic while maintaining focus on the Tokyo Olympics plus returning to Eugene for the first World Championships—Oregon22—hosted on U.S. soil.
It’s 2000 and for a second time in her young life, a seven-year-old Jillian Weir is in Sydney, Australia, to watch her father Robert compete in the Olympics for a second time. With a role model already in place, the inspiration and goal was clear.
“I was definitely old enough to know what was going on,” Weir said. “To be amongst Olympians—not just track and field but all sports—I thought was really inspiring and opened my eyes to ‘hey, this is what I want to do.’
“Even in my fifth-grade yearbook…I wrote down ‘I want to be an Olympian’ so it’s been something that I’ve always been working toward since a young age. Being exposed to it at a high level and seeing my dad do it was definitely a big inspiration.”
Weir had also been in the stands for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta to cheer on her father. Robert Weir was a three-time Olympian—also competed in 1984—for Great Britain, a six-time World Championships participant and a three-time NCAA champion during his collegiate career at SMU.
So if she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps, Weir had an incredible guide and well-traveled path to follow.
“It’s fun to have that family connection,” Weir says of the relationship with her father. “I talk to my dad all the time and he definitely like to keep tabs on how things are going. It’s nice that I can lean on him for advice. To have a family member, someone so close to me like my father having been there and done that to lead the way and answer any questions that I have, is really special.”
As a self-professed “pretty scrawny kid,” Weir started competing in track and field and, like most at an early stage in the sport, was doing a little bit of everything from hurdles and long jump to her ultimate passion in the throws.
In a sign of her overall athleticism, Weir also lettered in basketball and water polo in high school along with her track and field prowess.
Weir began her collegiate career at Long Beach State where she finished third in the shot put at the Big West Championships as a freshman. At this point, she was focused on the shot put and discus before being introduced to the hammer—the implement that would take her to the Olympics 10 years later.
“It was going ok but I was still very much a shot put and discus thrower,” Weir said.
Between her freshman and sophomore years, Weir transferred to the University of Oregon where things ramped up a bit in regards to the hammer. She used that 2011-12 season as a redshirt year and was able to put in the work necessary to become an elite-level hammer thrower.
The work paid off.
“Within a year of really practicing it,” Weir recalls, “I was better at the hammer than I was after doing shot and disc for years so I guess I would say it kinda picked me. I was open to it and wasn’t completely focused 100 percent that ‘this is going to be my event’ but I just got better and better. Before I knew it, it was my best event so I just ran with it.”
She ran with it to the tune of becoming Pac-12 champion in 2014 but it was the conference meet the year prior where Weir really thought things started to click. She went to the 2013 Pac-12 Championships “not on anyone’s radar” and came away with a fourth-place finish.
Aside from the points for the team, Weir recorded a then-personal best of 64.70m/212-3 to surpass her previous best by 15 feet and secure the first 200-foot throw of her career.
“That took me from ‘hey, this kids not even going to regionals’ to making the (NCAA) team so that was a breakout year for me.”
Weir’s winning mark—67.43m/221-3—from the 2014 Pac-12 meet still stands as the No. 2 figure in UO history. She ended her collegiate career at Oregon as a three-time NCAA qualifier and twice earning All-America status including a career-high fourth place at the 2015 national meet in Eugene.
Stepping into her professional career, Weir finished third at the 2016 Canadian Championships followed by a runner-up finish in 2017 where she also qualified for the World Championships in London, her first-career appearance on the senior national team.
The progression continued with a national title at the 2018 Canadian Championships and a silver-medal performance at the NACAC Championships in Toronto.
All things were trending toward an Olympic opportunity before the world stopped in response to the global pandemic.
“I was definitely ready for (the Olympics) in 2020,” Weir says. “That fall and winter going into the 2020 season that was supposed to happen, I was hitting really good numbers in training felt really confident so I like to think I would have been selected and qualified for the team anyway but with it postponed, it did give an extra year to get better.”
For Weir, the goals weren’t changing, they were just moving.
In some respects, that was quite literal as she had to find a new place to continue training. Weir had been training at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta but facilities were shut down in wake of the pandemic. As it turned out, she knew a guy.
Weir was able to leave Canada and move to Missouri where she could continue training with her dad. You remember him. The three-time Olympian who was now coaching at the collegiate level.
“I didn’t compete at all in 2020,” Weir said. “I know some people did some random meets here and there but for me, it was just a period of some growth. It took me back to that year when I redshirted because you may not be competing or you may not be on a team but there’s still work to be done.”
With a new date now in place for the Tokyo Olympics, Weir competed in eight meets in 2021 prior to the Olympics. Along the way, she had three wins and produced a season-best mark of 72.29m/237-2 in late April.
Typically there would have been a Canadian Championships to determine the Olympic Team but due to various travel conflicts and restrictions, participation wasn’t required for the 2021 national meet and Weir was able to qualify via her world ranking.
When did Jillian know she was an Olympian?
“I wouldn’t say I was in a safe position like top 10 but I was in a good spot,” Weir recalls. “The deadline passed and they sent out an email but before I even saw the email, my physiotherapist in Toronto had actually sent me a congratulatory message. She must have sent it within minutes of the official release.”
Despite the limited experience of having no fans, Weir made the most of her first Olympics and when not competing, she and all other athletes and coaches had access to watch the other events. She was there for the 100-meter final and the men’s high jump final.
If you’ve ever paid attention to a field competition, throws in particular, there is a seemingly built-in cheering section within the group of competitors. Weir says spending so much time in competition during the meet can lend itself to creating those bonds.
“To be out there and become friends with your competitors makes it a much more fun environment,” Weir says of the relationships among throwers. “You can say ‘I want to beat you’ but still be happy for that person if they get a personal best. If I get a personal best next to some of my good friends while competing, there’s nothing more you can really ask.”
Flipping through the global calendar, an easy place to highlight is the World Athletics Championships—WCH Oregon22—in Eugene, taking place July 15-24 at Hayward Field.
Weir notes that she’s never actually thrown inside the facility with the hammer ring situated just outside the stadium, even during her collegiate career at Historic Hayward Field. As she aims to qualify for the World Championships for a second time in her career, it’s an opportunity she’s had circled for awhile.
“As far back as when it was announced that they were even going to put a bid in (to host) and before the renovation of Hayward, I was super excited to have a World Championships in North America and to have it at my alma mater is definitely a big deal.”