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Together at the top

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Sophomore Joe Zimmerman and senior Kyle Nielson are javelin throwers on the UW track team. They have become good friends who have pushed each other to the top of the NCAA rankings.

Joe Zimmerman and Kyle Nielsen seem more like brothers than teammates.

Sharing a constant, goofy grin, it’s clear the pair have a lot in common: friends, interests and, oh yeah, they’re both among the top collegiate javelin throwers in the country.

While Nielsen is a senior and Zimmerman is just a sophomore on the Washington track and field team, the pair’s career seems joined at the hip. At last year’s NCAA championship, Nielsen finished third overall and Zimmerman was right behind him in fourth place.

Zimmerman has always been good at the javelin, but nobody knew just how good he’d be. In high school, he focused on football, which he says tightened him up.

“I was super tight,” Zimmerman said. “I didn’t really have any technique, I’d just arm it. That’s a major change this year; I got a lot worse before I got better.”

Once he started focusing on the javelin, his marks shot up.

“He hadn’t had the level of coaching, whereas I’d been throwing since the seventh grade,” Nielsen said of his teammate. “I think Joe had a couple coaching sessions in high school, him being that raw coming in but such an overall good athlete, I think it was the perfect fit.”

Throughout the course of his freshman season, he improved by 40 feet, an improvement that can be greatly attributed to Nielsen. Zimmerman credits not only his improvement to Nielsen, but also the fact that he’s at the University of Washington in the first place.

“Kyle is the main reason I came to the UW,” Zimmerman said. “When I was in high school, he threw 240 [feet]. My other choice was Washington State and they didn’t really have anyone, so I figured I’d come here and he’d show me what to do.”

Now the two of them push each other. They’re both very accomplished, earning All-American status last year; by competing against each other on a daily basis, they can keep one another focused.

“It keeps you on the edge and always competitive, which is a good thing in any training environment — when you’re interacting with friends, then it’s not frustrating,” Nielsen said. “We’re always pushing each other in the weight room and everything else we do.”

For his part, it wasn’t as much of a question whether Nielsen would come to the UW. He grew up in Langley, British Columbia, and staying close to home was important.

“My dad was my coach up until college,” Nielsen said. “He still works with me now, and I’ll probably work with him after college; that close connection with him was a big thing.”

The proximity that landed the Huskies one All-American, but to get the second, Nielsen had to do a little bit of selling.

“I tried to show him what a day in the life of me was like as a javelin thrower,” Nielsen said. “We definitely hung around with the throwers and tried to show him that we have a lot to teach him, and that there was definitely a spot for him.”

Two years later, they’re very close. They make the same jokes, and when asked for a funny story they both laughed and replied, “Nothing we can tell The Daily!”

“I mean he comes over to my house like four nights a week,” Zimmerman said. “We’re like best friends, pretty much.”

It’ll be their last year together as athletes at the UW, but the friends will be able to push each other toward similar goals. They’re both contenders — and rivals — for a national championship this year, but it won’t be easy.

“The two guys who finished ahead of me are coming back,” Nielsen said. “I know it’ll be a tough battle, but hopefully I can get that No. 1 spot.”

But whatever happens, the two fun-loving javelin throwers will have each other’s backs as friends, teammates and rivals.

Reach reporter Jacob Thorpe at sports@dailyuw.com.

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