Only 10 years ago, Maggie Malone had never competed in javelin. Now, she has a chance at calling herself the best in the world.
In the coming weeks, Malone will compete for a gold medal in the women’s javelin at the Tokyo Olympics. Tokyo is the largest city in the entire world, with an estimated 37 million people living within the city’s urban area, but Malone’s Olympic journey began on a much smaller scale.
It all started in Geneva, Nebraska (population 2,071), where there’s hardly a javelin in the entire town. Malone was a three-sport athlete at Fillmore Central, and her name is still all over the school’s record books in basketball, volleyball and track and field. Because javelin isn’t a part of high school track and field in Nebraska, it was never a consideration for Malone at that age.
But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t training for it.
“I can look back and see my little house in Geneva, and my dad standing in our side lot where we’d play catch for hours, just back and forth, back and forth,” Malone said. “Even that was javelin training, and I’m so thankful I got to do every sport, because all those skills culminate for javelin, too.”
It was a natural fit for Malone to continue her track and field journey at Nebraska, given her parents’ status as former Huskers themselves. Her father, Danny, played football and her mother, Nancy Kindig-Malone, competed in heptathlon for NU.
With experience in jumping and racing events from high school, Malone planned to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a heptathlete. However, when she began practicing javelin as part of the event, multi-event coach Kris Grimes saw a spark of potential and encouraged Malone to stick with the javelin.
It’s safe to say she did just that.
“My life is changed because of him, 100 percent,” said Malone.
Despite displaying an initial talent for the javelin, the road to success isn’t always a smooth one for Malone. When her family moved to the College Station, Texas, area and Grimes left Nebraska for Texas A&M, Malone had to make a difficult choice — she was coming, too.
After all, it had been hard being separated from her sister and self-proclaimed best friend, Audrey. While Maggie had always been ahead of Audrey in school, they both joined Texas A&M in 2015 and soon began supporting each other just like old times.
“I followed her because she’s the most determined girl I’ve ever met; we truly got to do it together,” said Audrey Malone.
“That’s the greatest thing that you can ask for in life, to be able to do it with your best friend, your sister and succeed together,” added Maggie Malone.
Throughout her track and field career, Malone has always believed that others can help her grow. Her mom and dad were her earliest coaches, then Grimes, and it was at Texas A&M that she found a new ally: Juan De La Garza, a former Mexican national champion in javelin.
When Malone went through a difficult junior season, she relied on De La Garza, whom she calls “Chico,” to help her see the end goal of their process. After a particularly disappointing ninth-place finish, Malone recalls De La Garza telling her she was capable of winning nationals and throwing 60 meters.
Malone had rarely thrown farther than 55 meters at the time, and she laughed him off. However, at the end of the 2016 season, Malone won a national championship with a collegiate-record throw of 62.19 meters. A few weeks later, she took first place at the Olympic Trials and just like that, Malone was an Olympian.
“I’ve been surrounded by coaches who truly believed in me and my ability, and just cultivated it and nurtured it, and I’m so thankful for it because I wouldn’t be here without those guys,” Malone said.
At the 2016 Olympics, Malone was alone and unsure of what to do in her first international competition. She placed 25th overall, a finish that has motivated her greatly over the following five years. Since then, Malone has improved her mental approach to javelin, something she credits to her faith.
Malone is deeply religious, and she believes God gave her a gift in javelin for her to do great things with it. As such, she counts on her friends and family to be “prayer warriors” for her before competitions, something that has paid off in recent weeks.
Malone once again placed first at the Olympic Trials, and she recently set an American record with a throw of 67.4 meters. She was set to arrive in Japan on Sunday, over a week before women’s javelin competition begins on Aug. 3.
There will certainly be plenty of eyeballs on javelin in Geneva and in Texas, where custom shirts are on their way for Malone’s most hard-core supporters, who also have a watch party in the works.
“She has a way of bringing people together, and this is just one of those ways,” Audrey Malone said.
Malone’s goal for the Olympics is to become the first American woman to make it to the javelin finals, with thoughts of a medal only coming when a finals appearance is secured. If Malone were to reach the final podium, it’s safe to say she might think about her parents, who encouraged her athletic journey and never put too much pressure on her.
She might think about her boyfriend, Sam Hardin, who helped coach her leading up the Olympics, and of all the former coaches who meant so much. And last of all, Malone might think back to the days of simply playing sports with Audrey, and a time where she likely would have never imagined all she would accomplish in the future.
But it all started there, at the Malone family home in Geneva.
“I’m so thankful to have grown up in Nebraska and in Geneva, and I’m so thankful for the way I was raised and the people that I got to be around because I think I’m better for it,” Malone said. “To know I have all these prayer warriors in Nebraska who are committed to praying for me and encouraging me along this journey means everything to me. People don’t get that when they live in huge towns or cities.”