Opponents used to snicker when UNLV hammer thrower Amanda Bingson stepped into the throw ring.
At 5 feet 7 inches tall and 195 pounds, the Silverado High product was not among the most intimidating figures in a sport dominated by burly 6-footers.
But no one was snickering Friday when Bingson was awarded with All-America honors after placing seventh in the weight throw at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Nampa, Idaho. Bingson has used talent and technique to overcome any physical shortcomings, and she did it last weekend in her secondary event.
"To be honest, it was a really big surprise," said the Rebels senior, whose best weight toss sailed 65 feet, 6¼ inches. "I really don't practice it that much. I obviously want to do well indoors, but we definitely pride ourselves as an outdoor team."
Bingson is not a stranger to success in the hammer throw, her primary event. She finished fourth in the outdoor championships last spring to claim All-America honors in her best event. But there is no hammer event indoors, due to the smaller size of the facilities.
"I thought going into this year that I could be an All-American again," she said. "But to get it in the weight throw, I would have thought it was a joke if someone would have told me I was going to do that."
But Bingson has proven herself to be an adaptable athlete. Though Bingson won four regional and two state discus titles in high school, the UNLV coaching staff recognized that her smaller size could present a problem.
"Discus throwers are usually tall and lanky," she said. "Shot putters are more muscular and aggressive. The hammer is more about rotation and technique."
Bingson switched to the hammer as a freshman and immediately showed signs of promise. She set a school record in the event just three months into her training and has since broken that record six times. Her current mark is 229 feet.
Bingson said she was astonished by the early success.
"Amanda just had a connection with the hammer," UNLV assistant coach Enoch Borozinski said. "When that happens, you don't ask why. You're just glad they've got a feel for it."
Bingson confessed it was a connection she never knew she had.
"In high school, I thought I was going to be mediocre (in college)," she said. "I think I had the mindset that I was just going to kind of tag along. But the coaching staff capitalized on my talent, and I think they're even shocked by how well I'm doing."
Bingson, who has Olympic aspirations, plans to cap her final college season with another NCAA appearance.
"I'm a senior now, so it's all personal," said Bingson, referencing the fact that Dorotea Habazin, a native of Croatia attending Virginia Tech, won last year's national championship. "We want to prove an American girl can actually win nationals."
Bingson had the same goal last year, but said she lacked the maturity at the time to get the job done.
"I definitely think I can win it this year," she said. "It's all in the mind. I thought I was capable of winning it last year, but I let the mental state overcome me. That's something I underestimated last year."
Borozinski thinks his standout thrower will make the most of her second chance.
"There's no doubt she can do it," the coach said. "Last year, she was definitely a favorite, but at that level, it can come down to who's on that day. She's got to be considered a favorite again this year."
And possibly for years to come.
"In the hammer throw, world-class athletes are usually in their late 20s or early 30s," Borozinski said. "To be where she's sitting now at this age, there's no reason she can't go on to do something special."
Bingson and the Rebels return to action this weekend in San Diego for the Aztec Invitational. The NCAA preliminaries are May 24 in Austin, Texas.
Jeff Wollard is a freelance reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.