In so very many ways.
He has put up 570lbs.
He is a two-time All-American.
He is a former Junior World Champion in kickboxing.
Hmmm. A couple years ago, you might have had a chance. But since Stipe and his coach at the University of Florida, Steve Lemke, decided sixteen months ago to focus exclusively on that event Zunic has made quite a bit of progress.
At the time, Stipe was recovering from shoulder and elbow surgery and Coach Lemke hoped, with a lot of hard work, to help him become an 18-meters-plus shot putter who could score points for his team at the 2014 SEC meet.
Turns out he did score points at that meet. In fact, he ended up winning…with a toss of 20.52m.
Then, last August he upped his PR to 20.68m and finished fourth while representing his native Croatia at the European Championships .
After a fall and winter spent refining his technique (Coach Lemke says that Stipe can be inconsistent with his sweep coming out of the back and sometimes gets a little tall in the middle of the ring) Stipe returned to Europe two weeks ago and set a new Croatian national record of 20.67m during the prelims of the European Indoor Championships in Prague.
The Stipe Express was briefly derailed by a jet-lagged night before the finals spent staring sleeplessly at the walls of his hotel room–he finished a disappointing 7th place with a throw of 20.28m–and who could blame him if he showed up at the University of Arkansas for the NCAA Indoor Championships a week later throwing like a man greatly in need of some alone time?
With triple NCAA champion Ryan Crouser of Texas leading a loaded field into Fayetteville, I’m not sure how many people other than Stipe figured he had a chance to win.
But, Stipe’s greatest asset right now in the shot (aside from size, strength, balance, and ridiculous hops) might be the fact that he is so new to the event it doesn’t occur to him that he should not be…well…great at it just yet.
I asked Coach Lemke if he and Stipe were worried about the surface of the ring in Fayetteville (it was apparently quite rough) and he said that when they practiced at the facility on Thursday the condition of the ring never came up.
“Stipe has great balance and plenty of horsepower,” Lemke told me later,”and he is so new to the event that he didn’t know to worry about the surface of the ring. We never even discussed it.”
Apparently there was no need to, as during the competition on Saturday Stipe broke 20 meters on each of his six throws, including a third-round 20.85m which put him solidly into first until Crouser answered with 20.90m, and a fifth-round 21.11m which put him back into first and allowed him to hold off Crouser’s round six toss of 20.93m.
So when will Stipe finally get some well-deserved rest?
With only two weeks until the Texas Relays and two months before another outdoor SEC meet and three months before the outdoor NCAAs and six months before the World Championships in Beijing?
That’s a lot of asses waiting to be kicked.
Rest will just have to wait.