It’s not easy being a shot putter these days.
Think of Joe Kovacs.
He fought his way to a World Championships gold in 2015 and established himself as one of history’s great putters with a massive PR of 22.57m.
But a year later, Ryan Crouser comes along, blasts out an Olympic record of 22.52m in Rio, knocks Joe down to second, and gets us all talking about a world record with his unprecedented combination of size and agility.
Of course, Crouser maintained his domination in 2017, right?
Nope. Sorry, mate, but New Zealand’s Tom Walsh, who finished third behind Crouser and Kovacs in Rio, stepped up to defeat them both that year at the London Worlds.
Which left Tom alone atop the shot put world for about three weeks, or until Darrell Hill bested him, Crouser, and Kovacs with a 22.44m PB at the Diamond League final in Brussels.
Crouser seized the spotlight again this season by surpassing twenty-two meters twice indoors then putting together a monumental series in Long Beach in April that culminated in a new PB of 22.74m.
So, heading into yesterday’s Pre Classic, Joe, still in his prime and still quite capable of mounting his own assault on the world record, was not part of the hype surrounding this meet.
As it turns out, he threw quite well—21.39m, a distance which not too long ago would put a guy on the medal stand at a major championship.
Yesterday at the Pre, it got him fifth place.
When I spoke with him after the meet, he had to remind me that throwing 21.39m in June with a couple of fouls in the 22.00m range is a pretty positive development when the World Championships is still three months away.
As always Joe, like Michelle Carter a great ambassador for the sport, provided a thoughtful take on his career and his season so far.
As for Crouser…
…he opened with a nice, smooth 22.17m and struggled from there. He never improved on his opener, and ended up finishing second.
It cannot be easy when folks expect you to threaten the world record every time you compete and are disappointed with a measly 72’9” effort, but that is the world in which Crouser now exists.
I have to say that based on his post-meet comments he’s handling the pressure quite well. It was fun talking technique with him, and he shared some interesting insights about how gliding during his formative years influenced his approach to spinning.
As with Kovacs, Tom Walsh seemed to be this close to smashing one yesterday.
Tom is a classic example of the downhill racer nature of the rotational technique. Once you tip out of that starting gate and start zooming down the mountainside, a little shift in balance one way or the other can make the difference between triumph and disappointment.
As evidenced by this practice toss taken the day before the meet, Tom relies on speed to make the shot go. In yesterday’s competition, the speed was there but he couldn’t quite get everything lined up.
Like Crouser, Tom is at a point in his career where a 21.76m toss (his best yesterday) seems pedestrian. The day before the meet we spoke about his season and his prep for Doha, and based on that conversation and on his natural buoyancy I expect that he will shake off his third-place finish at the Pre and come out ready to rumble at the Worlds.
As it turns out, he better be.
As if Kovacs, Crouser, Hill and Walsh weren’t enough to give each other and any other putter with pretensions of medaling at Doha vivid nightmares, along comes Brazil’s Darlan Romani.
It’s not that Darlan was invisible prior to yesterday’s meet (he finished fifth in Rio and fourth in the 2018 Indoor Worlds) but you tell me, were you looking for him to break the Diamond League shot record, put together one of the great series in the history of the event (full results here), and move up to tenth place on the all time list?
As you can imagine, his performance raised quite a stir among us folks in the grandstands overlooking the shot ring, so I was really anxious to talk to him after the competition.
Unfortunately, Darlan does not speak English, and I do not speak Portuguese.
Fortunately, he had a friend with him who stepped in to translate. I think you’ll find the resulting interview quite charming. Being surrounded by a pack of suddenly curious reporters firing questions at him in a language he does not understand was clearly not Darlan’s idea of a great way to celebrate a life-changing performance, but he showed a lot of class in humoring us as long as he did, and in the process won himself at least one new fan in the US of A.
The question of whether or not he can recapture in Doha the magic he found in Palo Alto will be one of the more intriguing subplots at the Worlds.
But for his American competitors, it’s on to Des Moines first. There they must pass through the crucible of the US qualification system in order to earn another whack at Walsh, Romani and their like.
Like I said, it’s not easy being a shot putter these days.