With the Olympics just around the corner, it was time for me to sit down with my colleague Pat Trofimuk and come up with predictions for the throwing events. As always, predictions that turn out to be ridiculously inaccurate should be attributed solely to Pat.
Just last week archaeologists digging at the sight of the original Olympic Games uncovered a stone tablet from 547 BC predicting an American sweep in the shot put. We’re still waiting on that, but with another powerful trio of putters heading to Rio, might this be the year when the prophecy finally comes true?
Let’s take a look at the contenders.
Sports psychologists tell us that in order to excel in pressure-packed situations–say the Olympic Games, for example–you have to maintain your poise in the face of adversity. Just made a bad throw? Relax. Breathe. Remind yourself of all the times you’ve come through in the clutch. The last thing you want to do is to stomp around trying to rip out clumps of your own hair like some giant, demented opera singer. And yet, the latter approach has somehow netted Poland’s Tomasz Majewski two consecutive Olympic golds.
Injury and age have had their way with him in the four years since his 21.89m performance in London, but he is a 6’9″ glider who rises to the occasion better than anybody. Raise your hand if you are willing to bet against Majewski throwing 21 meters in Rio… I’m waiting.
My brother-in-law who runs an elementary school in Switzerland tells me that New Zealand produces the best teachers in the world. They also do a pretty decent job of cranking out shot putters, as evidenced by double Olympic champ Val Adams and reigning Indoor World champ Tom Walsh.
Walsh is sort of the Kiwi version of Joe Kovacs. Compact build. Friendly personality. Super explosive spin technique.
Unlike Kovacs, though, Walsh chose to gamble that he could peak once indoors for the World Championships and then again five months later in Rio.
His recent 21.54m performance at the London Diamond League meeting indicates that his gamble might well pay off.
Darrell Hill of the United States hit a PR of 21.63m at the Trials–a huge throw under immense pressure. He lacks international experience, but for the past year has been training with Art Venegas, the Yoda (if Yoda was perpetually chapped) of American throwing, and if anyone can get him ready to withstand the rigors of the Olympic pressure cooker it is, well…Chapped Yoda.
Ryan Crouser of the United States won the Trials with a monster put of 22.11m, a distance that will likely get him the gold medal in Rio if he can replicate it. In order to do that, he is going to have to overcome his lack of international experience. In his favor is his unique ability to throw 20 meters going half speed as he did when he won the 2013 NCAA meet with a safety throw of 20.31m–his only mark of the competition. So, we know he will get six throws in Rio. The question is will one of them be far enough to earn a medal?
Trofimuk and I first met Joe Kovacs of the United States at the NCAA meet in 2012 when he was a senior at Penn State. At that moment, he was not sure whether he was going to continue throwing. After notching a PR at the 2012 Trials, he ended up moving to Chula Vista and teaming up with Venegas. Fast forward four years, and he is now the defending World Champion and owner of five of the top ten ten throws in the world so far in 2016.
So, it looks like he made the right decision.
You could say that Joe is the American version of Tom Walsh, a great thrower and better person with one World title on his resume. The difference? Walsh’s win in Portland came against a weak field–all the other top putters (including Kovacs) sat that one out. Joe, on the other hand, took down the best of the best in Beijing, including…
…Germany’s David Storl , the two-time World Champion and defending Olympic silver medalist who since injuring his left knee in 2014 has employed an extremely reliable fixed-feet glide. I’ll bet the house, the car, and my VCR tape from 2000 on which the Olympic shot final is sandwiched between Teletubbies episodes that Storl throws over 21 meters in Rio. But the fact that he is still using the fixed-feet finish tells me that his knee is not quite right, which makes it unlikely that he’s capable of hitting 22.00.
Poland’s Konrad Bukowiecki just broke Storl’s World Junior record with the 6k shot. He is big, aggressive, and being a teen-aged male probably too dense to realize that he’s not meant to medal at the Olympics. This makes him a dangerous dark horse candidate, and Trofimuk (himself a large, aggressive Polish man) came this close to predicting a spot on the podium for him.
This was a rare case where Trofimuk and I came up with identical predictions and did not have to settle our differences with a tickle fight. We also consulted with former University of Wisconsin all-American Dan Block, who threw against both Crouser and Kovacs in college.
All of us agree that you can’t count out Storl, but with the bum knee Crouser may have surpassed him on the Freak-O-Meter. Joe may be in the perfect situation to win this thing. He has the horsepower, he has the international experience, he has Venegas in his corner.
In Rio, that will be a winning combination.