What in the…? A report on the Olympic Trials Men’s shot

Well, that certainly lived up to expectations.

First time in history that five putters hit at least 21.84m. 

Joe Kovacs showed that, as was the case in the weeks leading up to the 2019 Worlds, he is rounding into form at the perfect time.

Payton Otterdahl seized the mantle as the next potentially great American shot putter.

Oh, and Ryan Crouser broke the world record.

He foreshadowed that with a first-round toss of 22.92m in the morning qualification round, and I was very surprised to see him step in the ring for a second attempt after he had emphatically secured his place in the final. Turns out, he was thinking he might be able to get the record then and there.

“I used a static start on the first throw,” he explained after the final. “Not my usual windup and shift. A static start is safer–less can go wrong, and the point this morning was to qualify for the final. But, that 22.92m was a massive PR with the static start, so I thought I could put a little bit more on it…but then I tightened up on the second throw and only hit 22.64m. After that, I  realized that World Athletics has a new rule that they take your shoes after a world record, so I wouldn’t have the right shoes for the final, so I decided to call it after that second throw.”

Yes, you read that correctly. He had to intentionally hold off on breaking the world record so that World Athletics did not take his shoes. 

If you are asking yourself what in the hell is going on with the sport of shot putting, if maybe we’ve entered a very weird alternate universe where a guy can choose whether he wants to break a thirty-two-year-old record in the morning or the evening, imagine for a second how Joe Kovacs must feel. His best effort today of 22.34m was a monster toss, the kind of distance that only the best of the best have achieved, further evidence that Joe might in fact be the best putter that ever lived…if not for Crouser, who beat him by over a meter. 

Joe, by the way, remains confident. “I’m slow playing this season,” he said after the final. “My job here was to punch the ticket to Tokyo. I love to go crazy, but I had to keep myself regulated. Now, I’m excited to go to Tokyo.”

The drama here turned out to be the battle for third. Darrell Hill, the favorite to take that spot and a man who might one day be recognized as an all time great himself, struggled just enough to let Otterdahl, who afterwards would call this the “best day of my life” snach it from him.

Not that Darrell made it easy. His 21.13m seemed like it might have been enough to disabuse the youngsters like Otterdahl, Jordan Geist, Josh Awotunde, and Andrew Liskowitz of any notion that they might contend for a spot on the podium, but the youngsters just kept coming.

Otterdahl answered with 21.30m to seize the third spot, Darrell came back with 21.24m, Otterdahl fouled a throw near the 22.00m line, Darrell knocked him out of third with a fifth-round 21.89m, and Otterdahl came right back with a 21.92m PB that held up as Darrell finished with a foul.

Meanwhile, the other young bucks did not sit idly by. Awotunde finished with a PB of 21.84m, Liskowitz a season’s best of 20.97m, and Geist a season’s best of 20.80m.

All, too, can say they were part of history, as can the sport’s own mountain man, the venerable Kurt Jensen who himself hit a season’s best of 20.62m before being given the unenviable task of taking the throw just after Crouser’s record. He responded with a toss of 19.99m, a world class distance and a mere eleven feet short of Crouser’s mark.

Back to Otterdahl, his achievement on this night was all the more remarkable considering that he’d struggled to find his form all season, and as recently as May 22nd turned in a 20.25m clunker that got him tenth at the USATF Throws Fest. 

In the intervening weeks, he and his coach, Justin St.Clair, spent some quality time ironing out a few technical flaws, the fixing of which, in the words of Justin, “boosted the mental confidence.”

Truer words…

There is much else to report from this momentous Day One of the Trials, including a seventy-meter bombola from Val Allman, but that will have to wait for another day.

Right now, it is off to sleep for me, and likely a night filled with dreams of Joe Kovacs, Ryan Crouser, Payton Otterdahl, going crazy, godzilla style on the rest of the field in Tokyo.

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