Late at night on the first Saturday of June, Newport Harbor’s Aidan Elbettar ascended the podium at the CIF State track and field championships at Clovis Buchanan High.
The Sailors’ sophomore standout had medaled in the boys’ shotput at the state meet, something that he had been dreaming about for the past couple of months.
Triumphant in the scope on his own goals, Elbettar celebrated his accomplishment by heading straight to dreamland.
“I just went home and slept,” Elbettar said. “I was extremely tired. It was about 10:40 p.m., and it was late.
“It’s really just exciting being there [at the state meet] and having to perform at your best. Continuing that for two days straight is a hard task.”
One look at the 6-foot-8, 310-pound Elbettar, and few would be shocked to see a boy of his stature in contention in the throws. The more surprising aspect of his story is the lack of prior experience.
Elbettar partook in primarily frosh-soph competitions his freshman year. His only throws in varsity competition came in league dual meets.
At the end of the season on May 5, 2017, Elbettar walked away as frosh-soph champion of the boys’ shotput (51 feet-flat, a seasonal-best) in the Sunset League.
The above date is significant, as it shows just how much longer Elbettar had to extend his season the following year.
As Elbettar embarked on the task of preparing for his sophomore season, Newport Harbor throws coach Tony Ciarelli planted the mental seed that the young giant could throw 60 feet.
Ciarelli has had substantial success in producing elite throwers, so even without much varsity experience heading into his sophomore year, Elbettar was ready to buy in.
“Knowing Coach Ciarelli, he knows athletes, and he knows their potential just by looking at them,” Elbettar said. “I had a lot of faith coming into the season, knowing that I would be throwing close to 60 feet by the end of the season.”
Elbettar cranked out a 55-foot throw for the first time in a dual meet at Fountain Valley on April 11 (55-4½). Ciarelli saw that as a turning point for his rising star.
Athletes with ambitions of making it to the state meet have to perform with consistency while also peaking at the right time. Elbettar began to post bigger marks near the tail end of the invitational calendar. He threw 56-4½ to finish as the runner-up in the Orange County Championships.
Once the CIF postseason came around, Ciarelli changed the training. In strength training, Elbettar was squatting 170 kilos, and he was also lifting 120 kilos for power clings and 85 kilos for snatch.
With a month left in the season, Ciarelli turned his focus to the science of the throw, emphasizing speed with the strength already built up.
“When we come to the end of the season, we do nothing but speed,” Ciarelli said. “That’s why we throw lighter shots, we lift lighter weights, and we want to move faster. That’s really the first primary mover of the shotput is speed of release.
“That overcomes everything. The three things as far as physics goes is speed of release, height of release, angle of release, but speed of release is the number one thing.
“As you get to the end of the season, all the strength that we developed, we want to turn that into speed.”
The pressure never comes off the thrower in postseason meets, as the competitors have to produce a quality mark within their first three throws to stay alive and move on to finals or the next meet.
Elbettar developed a beneficial habit in the latter part of the season of hitting on his early throws. His best marks in the state preliminaries and the state finals both came on his second throw.
“He’s a really good competitor, and that’s what really good competitors can do,” Ciarelli said. “In track and field, especially, some of these meets, you only get three throws. It really comes down to, ‘Can I do it on this one throw?’
“The last third of the season, he really developed an understanding of how to do that, how to reach inside himself and pull his best possible Aidan out.”
A lifetime best of 58-2¾ gave Elbettar sixth place and a spot on the medal stand at the state meet. As he stood on the podium with the other medalists, he was filled with a sense of pride.
“When I heard my name called, it felt great because my goal this year was to medal at the state meet, which I did and proved myself right,” Elbettar said. “To be the only person representing my school was amazing because I was the only one there for a sport not very many people watch.
“When you go to a high school track meet, the students from the school usually just watch the races and do not check out the field events.”
Now that he has put himself on the map, Elbettar does not want to become content. He voiced goals of throwing 65-66 feet in the shotput and 200 feet in the discus throw for his junior year.
“You have to speak a goal because if you don’t say or know anything about a goal, how are you going to reach it when you have no idea about it,” he said.
Elbettar is a quarter Nigerian, prompting Ciarelli to call him the “Nigerian Nightmare,” which was the nickname given to former Kansas City Chiefs fullback Christian Okoye.
If the new state medalist makes good on his latest goals, Elbettar may haunt his opponents in their sleep and in the throwing ring.
Born: Jan. 25, 2002
Hometown: Newport Beach
Height: 6 feet 8
Weight: 310 pounds
Sport: Track and field (Shotput and discus throw)
Coach: Tony Ciarelli (throws coach) and Nowell Kay (head coach)
Favorite food: Baked potato soup
Favorite movie: The “Percy Jackson” series
Favorite athletic moment: Elbettar said that it felt great to set his new personal-best mark in the boys’ shotput on the big stage of the CIF State track and field championships.