MISSOULA — Ask Mike Lyngstad about his three straight Big Sky Conference javelin titles or setting the conference record, and he’ll be pretty succinct.
“That’s all past history,” said the 72-year-old, who is retiring after a long career as a track coach. “I’m more interested how my kids have been doing over the past 20, 30 years of coaching.”
One of only two male student-athletes to ever win the conference javelin title three times, Lyngstad’s athletic achievements are more numerous than he might let on. He hit a Big Sky record-breaking throw in 1969 of 253 feet, 9 inches, which capped a three-peat in the event.
He might have improved even on that, but he was drafted into the United States Army as the country was in the midst of the Vietnam War. It also dashed another dream, as Lyngstad had played his first season of football for the Grizzles in 1969 and was looking forward to another.
"I really wanted to play football coming out of high school, but I was really small. I was 5-foot-nothing, 220 pounds and my high school coach was Stan Renning, a Hall of Famer at the University of Montana, and he was a pro player,” Lyngstad said. “He told me, ‘You just have to have the guts to do it, Mike.’ So I did and walked on. I was very lucky to be a part of it, and it was a very enjoyable experience.”
While Lyngstad was drafted, he ended up as part of the United States International Military CISM team. CISM (Conseil International du Sport Militaire) is an organization that hosts military competitions between different countries.
While the organization was a little different when Lyngstad was part of the team, it has become the second-largest international sporting consortium after the International Olympics Committee (IOC).
In order to get on the team, Lyngstad had to finish in the top two of the intra-military track meet. He did and got to be part of what would become Team USA, which now has its Olympic training facility located in Colorado Springs.
However, that was still in the future. For Lyngstad and the other javelin and discus throwers, training camp meant Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
In between training, Lyngstad and the other military athletes would travel to different competitions abroad, including Italy, Germany and Finland.
It was in Helsinki, Finland, where Lyngstad came into contact with something that would change his life.
“That’s where I learned my coaching technique,” Lyngstad said. “They’re the best throwers in the world … they used their body to throw instead of just their arm.”
Scandinavian throwers have dominated the Olympics for years, and this “full body” technique is why.
Commonly taught javelin style in America is different.
“We have a tendency here in the United States, at least I think so, to power throw,” Lyngstad said. “America feels like they’re bigger, faster and stronger than everyone, so they teach it a little bit differently, they teach power throwing instead of body and speed.
“Consequently, we haven’t done very well at the Olympics.”
Following his time in the Army, he decided he not only wanted to coach but teach this different style as well. From Columbia Falls, he returned home to Montana to finish a degree in mathematics education.
He said he originally wanted to be an accountant, but at the time, the only way to be a prep track coach was to work at the school. At stops in Sweet Home, Oregon, and across Montana in Whitefish, Wolf Point, Hamilton and then Darby, he taught his craft as he worked through a career as a teacher and then administrator.
For the past five years, he has been an assistant with Columbia Falls, mentoring one of the greatest track athletes the state has ever seen in Angellica Street. Headed to Texas A&M on a scholarship, Street would have been among the best female high school throwers in the country this year.
Street's best mark in competition is 158-8, which is very close to a qualifying mark for the United States Olympic Trials. Street won her final 21 javelin competitions at the high school level and finished with two Class A state titles.
With the Olympics pushed back to 2021, there is a very real chance Street could qualify for the games during her freshman year of college. If the games are then held in 2024, which would be her senior year, Lyngstad thinks she will have a very good shot to make the team.
More or less his protégé, Street picked Texas A&M in part because the coaching staff was willing to work with her somewhat unique throwing style. Despite the coronavirus, Lyngstad has still been able to work with her several times a week.
He is also excited about watching her throw in college. Lyngstad’s daughter lives in New Orleans, and it’s only around six hours to College Station, Texas.
“It’s totally amazing,” Lyngstad said. “You just don’t become the best javelin thrower in the country your senior year in Montana. It just doesn’t happen.”
It did, though, and Lyngstad is a big reason why.
Street’s final year was also set to be his last hurrah coaching, but with the season shut down due to coronavirus, he unknowingly already had his final coaching stint.
Lyngstad plans to move to Hamilton from Columbia Falls in the near future, saying his children always come down to the Bitterroot Valley to visit their friends when they’re back in Montana. Laughing, he said he’s excited because he will get to see a little more of his grandchildren.
Coaches still will call him for advice, and he’ll still enjoy track meets, but it will be a little different now.
“I’ll be 73 in June,” Lyngstad said. “I’ve had a lot of years, 50 or so years of coaching. It’s time for me to step off to the side and watch.”