The 2019 New York Yankees have put together the type of lineup that could give a guy a bladder infection. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Edwin Encarnacion, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, and Gleyber Torres can all hit the long ball, so you have to sip your beer slowly at a Yankees game. Head to the bathroom, and you risk missing something spectacular.
Same thing this Sunday during the 2019 Prefontaine Classic men’s shot.
Olympic champion Ryan Crouser (22.74m PB) leads a stellar field of putters including 2017 World champion Tom Walsh (22.67m PB) 2015 World champion Joe Kovacs (22.57m PB), 2017 Diamond League champion Darrell Hill (22.44m PB), and 2018 European champion Michal Haratyk (22.08m PB).
Add in 2019 NCAA Indoor champion Payton Otterdahl (21.81m PB), former World Junior champion Konrad Bukowieki (21.97 PB), five time Brazilian national champion Darlan Romani (22.00m PB), and World Indoor bronze medalist Tomáš Staněk (22.01m PB) and you have one outstanding group of shot putters.
Any one of these gents could mash a huge throw on any attempt and all of them enter Sunday’s competition with something to prove.
In his short career as a pro, Crouser has accomplished a lot. He’s got an Olympic gold and the Olympic record. He doesn’t have the American record yet, though, which also happens to be…I’m not going to to say it…I refuse to say it…if I say it, I’ll jinx it…the WORLD RECORD. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. No pressure, Ryan, but I did fly all the way from Chicago to see this meet, so if you could maybe toss one out there around 23.13m I would appreciate it.
One person who seems to have had enough of this world record talk is Crouser’s rival, the courtly kiwi Tom Walsh who, in a recent interview, took pains to remind the mammoth American that he is not the only big dog in the kennel.
Walsh took a while to get rolling this season. His inability to hit the 22-meter mark early on prompted his coach, Dale Stevenson, to describe his results during the winter months (summer in the Southern Hemisphere) as “disappointing.”
They spent, according to Stevenson, “about six months in a holding pattern before making the necessary changes.”
Those changes paid off starting in May when Tom hit 22.06m at the Doha DL meeting. He has maintained a nice groove since, going 22.18m and 22.27m in two competitions leading up to the Pre, and there is nothing he’d like more than to interrupt Crouser’s march to the…you know what.
Back in 2015, talk of the “you know what” revolved around Joe Kovacs as he won his World title and gained notoriety for a massive warmup throw (at an earlier competition) well beyond the “you know what” line. He took the silver behind Crouser in Rio and the silver at the 2017 Worlds behind Walsh. Joe told me yesterday that he is “slow playing” things this year with the Worlds in Doha still three months away. But he is a fantastic thrower in the middle of his prime and a highly competitive young man. If people start dropping bombs Sunday, he will not sit idly by.
Nor will defending USA champion Darrell Hill.
His season so far as been fairly quiet. Like Kovacs, he appears to be “slow playing” in preparation for what promises to be a hellacious battle at the US Championships in late July. But he has gone 21.72m this year and is a big man with a big personality who loves a big stage. As he did at the Diamond League final in 2017 when he knocked out a huge 22.44m, he’d be quite happy to preempt the Walsh v. Crouser show.
The athlete in Sunday’s field with the most to prove is one with the least experience competing at this level.
A few months ago, Payton Otterdahl, a senior at North Dakota State University barged his way to the top of the world shot put rankings when he posted indoor marks of 21.64m, 21.81m, and an Indoor NCAA winner of 21.71m.
He maintained his form as the outdoor season got rolling, hitting 21.37m and 20.75m in the month of April.
Unfortunately, a lower back injury sustained while lifting weights just prior to the Drake Relays in late April forced him to curtail his training.
A couple of weeks later, just as he started feeling better, Payton aggravated the injury while warming up to throw the hammer at NDSU’s conference meet
After that, according to his coach Justin St. Clair, Payton had to drop serious weight lifting from his training. Even worse, he could barely throw in practice. During the two weeks between the conference and regional meets, Payton had “maybe two” throwing sessions.
In order to maintain his feel for the throw, St. Clair said that Payton needs to do a lot of full non-reverse throws, “to make sure that his balance and direction are all in line.” Payton also normally took a lot of throws that St. Clair calls “up and overs,” basically non-reverse attempts that he would finish by stepping over the toe board.
He could do neither of those once his back flared up.
The lack of training made it difficult for Payton to maintain his mojo as the outdoor NCAA meet approached.
St. Clair says that physically Payton felt pretty good when they arrived in Austin, “but his confidence wasn’t where it needed to be.” The day before the shot put competition he threw twenty-two meters in training, but the fact that Payton wanted to throw the day before he competed told St. Clair that “he wasn’t confident. Traditionally, we will never throw the day before a meet, but he felt the need to go throw, and that tells me he was doubting himself.”
The next day Payton managed a best of 19.89m, a fine throw but good for only fourth in the hyper-competitive men’s shot competition.
To his credit, he followed that up with an outstanding discus performance two days later, his third-round toss of 62.48m snagging him second place, just five centimeters behind the winner.
After that, he and St. Clair returned immediately to hard training, as the US Championships and a chance to qualify for Doha loom.
He received an invite to the Pre, his first competition as a professional, after two-time World champion David Storl of Germany had to bow out with a back injury of his own, sustained, according to Storl’s coach Wilko Schaa, just before the Doha DL meeting. Storl went five weeks without being able to take serious throws, so he is now focused solely on preparing for Doha.
For Payton, throwing at the Pre offers a huge opportunity. A solid performance might get him invited to more DL meetings, which would give him a chance to prove that he belongs among the world’s best, which would bolster his case when applying for a USATF grant, which could make or break his ability to focus on training during the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.
Bottom line, as Payton said recently to Coach St. Clair, “If I want to be a big dog, I’ve got to show I can beat the big dogs.”
The kennel will be filled to bursting on Sunday. Tune in.