It’s always something
If Ryan Crouser has been looking unusually trim on his Instagram vids, it’s not because of camera angles or a sudden embrace of the Mediterranean diet. According to Mitch Crouser, Ryan’s father and coach, Ryan “picked up a bug” just after Thanksgiving while in California filming some publicity pieces for NBC, and then came down with a nasty case of the flu while back home in Oregon for Christmas.
That made for an unpleasant and frustrating few weeks, but Mitch says Ryan is feeling well again, and either way, a bout with the flu is small potatoes compared to what they’ve dealt with in the past.
In 2022, Ryan contracted Covid just after taking gold at the Worlds in Eugene. One of the symptoms he suffered was a hellacious bout of insomnia that sidetracked Ryan’s preparation for his remaining comps, including the Diamond League Final in Zurich. He recovered in time to make the trip to Europe, then picked up a sinus infection which left him feeling like utter doodoo. But you’d never know it from the results: 22.74m in Zurich, 22.19m in Zagreb, and 22.00m in Bellinzona.
Then, last year, he developed blood clots in his lower left leg three weeks before the Worlds in Budapest, an experience that Mitch, in his understated way, calls “sobering” as it carried implications beyond Ryan’s ability to defend his title. If you follow the sport, you know how things turned out. A one-and-done 21.48m in the morning qualification round followed by a Series for the Ages in that evening’s final: 22.63m, 22.98m, 22.28m, F, F, 23.51m.
Mitch considers the 2023 Worlds to be Ryan’s finest performance, and it’s hard to disagree.. After literally limping into Budapest, he won by more than a meter against an historically tough field.
Have you seen the film Godzilla Minus One? The part where the Japanese ships drag Godzilla deep down into the ocean then quickly haul him up again so he gets the bends? When he finally pops to the surface, the Big G is looking woozy, and the Japanese commander is all like “He’s weakened! Now, we have a chance!” Then Godzilla opens his mouth and bites a battleship in half.
That’s the Budapest men’s shot comp in a nutshell.
This winter, Ryan would like to stomp over to Glasgow and snap up the only major medal–an Indoor Worlds gold–missing from his trophy case. First, he’d need to finish in the top two at the Indoor USATF Champs on February 16-17, but Mitch is not one hundred percent sure he’ll be ready by then. “We’ll see how things roll,” he said. “If his training is going well, we’ll try to go for World Indoors. Right now, we’re taking it week by week. Of course, the big goal is the Olympics later this summer, so if it doesn’t seem like Ryan is ready in February and March, there’s no reason to rush it.”
While I had him on the phone, I wanted to ask Mitch about a topic that came up at the European Discus Conference this past November. The timetable for the 2024 European Championships in Rome had just come out, and vexation ensued over the fact that the qualification and final rounds of the men’s discus were scheduled on the same day. That’s a situation shot putters like Ryan have faced regularly at Worlds–as they did this summer in Budapest–and sometimes at the Olympic Games.
One of those was the Olympics in Rio where Ryan won his first gold. “We got up at 4:00 a.m.” Mitch recalled. “It took an hour to get to the stadium. Then you warm up and compete, ride the bus for an hour back to the village, eat, turn around and do it all over again. Later on, we looked back at the outline we prepared for everything we had to do that day, and when you break it down line by line it’s insanity.”
“The people in power have no clue what they’re asking the athletes to do,” he continued. “If they want to see the biggest throws possible, having the qualification and final on the same day is not the way to do it.”
Ryan showed in Rio and in Budapest that he could handle a qualification/finals double header, and I asked Mitch if there was any secret to that success.
“We prepare for it,” he explained. “And the biggest part is the mental part. You have to be mentally in tune with what you’re going to face, and it helps to have been through it more than once. In this case, experience is worth a lot.”
Mitch actually began preparing Ryan for the mental rigors of throwing not long after Ryan first started competing as a youngster.
“We’d play little games at practice,” he says. “I’d tell Ryan, ‘This is your last throw in the Olympics’ or something like that just to up the pressure a little bit. I learned during my own career that performing well when it counts is a learned ability, that everyone at the highest level is so good physically, the big competitions come down to who can hold up best mentally.”
Ryan and his fellow Americans will get plenty of practice at holding up under pressure in 2024. At last year’s Outdoor Championships, the US got to fill four slots in the men’s shot for Budapest with Ryan receiving a bye as defending World Champ. There are no byes for the Olympics, so a country which last year had five of the world’s top eleven men’s putters will have to whittle it down to three for Paris. The Olympic Trials will take place June 21-30 at Hayward. Mark your calendar!
Thar she blows
The recent volcanic eruption in Iceland has gotten a lot of attention, as volcanic eruptions often do, but fortunately it does not appear this one will be nearly as disruptive to the rest of the planet as past outbursts. In 2010, for example, the volcano known as Eyjafjallajökull (If you say that out loud three times, I’m pretty sure a gnome or fairy will appear) blew massive amounts of ash into the atmosphere and bollixed up international air traffic for weeks.
John Dagata has vivid memories of that incident, which he shared with me during a recent conversation. John, who currently trains World Champion Laulauga Tausaga, was at the time coaching for Great Britain, a pressure-packed assignment as the Brits were determined to make a strong showing at the 2012 London Olympics.
The day the 2010 eruption began, John was in Faro, Portugal, for a training camp with twenty-two British athletes. They were meant to head home the next day, but when Eyjafjallajökull caused the grounding of all flights in the region, John tried to extend their stay until he could figure out an alternative method of travel.
Unfortunately, the person in charge told him the facility was fully booked and the Brits would have to leave at their appointed time.
“I was walking back to my room,” he recalled, “thinking ‘How are we going to get back?’ when I noticed there was a bus depot right across the street.”
John stopped in to inquire about possibilities and ended up leasing a bus to transport him and his squad to the town of Roscoff on the coast of France. From there, they would take a ferry across the Channel to Plymouth.
There was one problem.
He needed to come up with 28,000 Euros to cover the costs.
After briefly mulling over his situation, John devised a plan. His training group consisted of approximately twenty-five athletes and coaches. That left plenty of empty seats on the bus he’d leased. Might there be other people stranded in Portugal desperate enough to pay a premium for a chance to get home? John was determined to find out.
The team manager at the time was a man named Mike Delaney. After securing the deal for the bus, John went to him and said, “We need some cardboard.”
They made signs advertising seats on the bus to Roscoff for 1,000 Euros each and took them to the airport. “There were thousands of people stranded there,” John recalls. “The place was packed. People were sleeping on the floor. Nobody had any idea when planes would be allowed to fly again.”
They quickly sold twenty-eight spots, and later that night John and Mike stood at the front of a packed bus. Mike spoke first. “Welcome to Icelandic adventures!” he announced.
Then John explained the ground rules. They would travel the entire length of Portugal, northern Spain and France, with no breaks other than a quick fifteen-minute stop every three hours.
“Anyone who causes problems,” he warned, “will be shown the door.”
A couple began bickering shortly after departure, sending John into “Don’t make me come back there!” mode. Other than that, the fifty-hour trip passed smoothly.
By the time they reached Roscoff, John says the bus “looked like a bomb had gone off. People were laying everywhere.”
He boarded the ferry to Plymouth with 28,000 Euros in a bag, which he later handed to his astonished boss. “I’m pretty sure,” he says looking back, “I’d have been fired if we hadn’t scraped together that cash.”
The Federation sent a bus to fetch the squad from Plymouth. John could finally relax as they settled into the last, easiest leg of their long journey, a four-hour drive to London. Ten minutes later, the bus ran out of gas.
In December of 2020, Roger Einbecker, Vésteinn Hafsteinsson, and I agreed to collaborate on writing a book. Three years later, we’ve got one! During that time, we faced and overcame many obstacles, and more than once I thought to myself, “Geez, this is what it must be like to give birth!”
I was too smart to say those words around my wife, an actual woman who has given birth, but to my amazement, she said them to me not long ago. Her name is Alice Wood, and she has produced two books and three children, so you can take that analogy as fact when she utters it.
Here’s the deal on our current book about Daniel. Vésteinn trained him for ten years, during which time Daniel won World and Olympic gold along with a Worlds silver. The book is a deep dive in to the plan Vésteinn used for Daniel during the 2020/2021 season to prepare him for the Tokyo Games.
Vésteinn analyzes at least one sample week from each phase, with anecdotes and lessons he learned during his thirty years as a coach.
This book is currently available on Amazon, and our next book–the story of Vésteinn and Daniel’s collaboration–will be ready soon.