EUGENE, Ore. – Throwing runs in the Crouser family.
Ryan Crouser isn’t the first of his clan to make a U.S. Olympic team, but he’s the first shot putter. He stunned a field that included two Olympic medalists and a world champion to win the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field on Friday with a monster throw of 72 feet, 6 ½ inches.
Crouser’s uncle Brian made the U.S. Olympic team in the javelin in 1988 and 1992.
His father Mitch was fourth in the discus at the 1984 Olympic Trials, missing the U.S. team by one spot.
And cousins Sam and Haley Crouser are following their uncle Brian’s example by competing later this week in the men’s and women’s javelin throws, with Sam posting the second-best throw in the field.
Ryan Crouser received a text from Brian on Thursday night around bedtime.
“He said he remembered his night before the trials like yesterday, he was climbing up the walls,” Crouser said. “It was tough for me to fall asleep last night. He said to go out and compete. In a great competition, you do your best and you walk away.”
Crouser, ranked No. 8 in the U.S. last year, showed an inkling of what was in store when he had the best throw in the qualifying round 68-9 ¾.
In the final, Darrell Hill had the heave of his life, 70-11 ¾ on his second attempt. Crouser answered with his own personal best, which was only two centimeters shy of the world-leading mark set by world champion Joe Kovacs.
In the sixth and final round, Kovacs uncorked a throw of 72-¼ to overtake Hill for second place, but he couldn’t catch Crouser.
“It was the biggest competition of my life,” Crouser said.
It was also his first major competition apart from college. Although he threw in the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field in late May, he said, “The guys didn’t have the energy like they have here. This is the hardest team to make.”
Reese Hoffa, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist was fifth behind London teammate Ryan Whiting, while 2004 Olympic gold medalist Adam Nelson, who came out of retirement at age 40, was seventh.
However, Nelson did get to stand on the victory podium. He originally placed second in Olympia, Greece, 12 years ago, but when the Olympic champion was disqualified for doping in a 2013 retesting of samples, Nelson was moved up. He formally received his medal in an emotional ceremony before the trials began Friday – and then retired again after the competition.
For Crouser, 23, Kovacs 27, and Hill 22, this will be their first Olympic Games, but likely not their last.
“For all three of us, there’s more in the tank,” Crouser said. “There are three great competitors here and I think we’re a team the rest of the world is going to be watching.”
Traditionally, the U.S. has been both strong and deep in the shot put. Nelson and Hoffa have been staples of the event for so many years that Crouser remembers seeing them compete at a meet in nearby Mount Hood when he was in the fourth grade.
“It was a pretty cool atmosphere between the older guys and the younger guys,” Crouser said, “a relatively seamless shift in the guard. Adam and Reese have done so much for the sport. I grew up watching those guys.
“I told my dad this morning, ‘I hope I make the final.’ I wanted to say at least one time in my life I got to throw against Adam. It was a great experience.”
Crouser, who went to high school in nearby Portland, competed in both the shot put and discus in college at the University of Texas.
“The thing that makes me throw far in shot is my worst habit in discus and vice versa,” he said. “Shot’s been going so well, it’s been hard to put it down.”
Crouser trains at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. Kovacs and Hill, who both went to Penn State, also train there.
“I always knew I was physically capable of doing something like this,” said Hill. “This is stuff that we talked about for months on end going in and it just happened. After you execute it, you kind of look at your training partner and say, ‘Hey, we did it.’”
Kovacs said that the trials are merely a qualifying round for Rio. “I know I’m ready to go,” he said. “We’re not trying to win in June or July. We’re trying to win in August.
“I can’t be playing defense. That’s what I learned today. It’s about breaking records and going for big throws and I’ll have that mindset when we get down to Rio.”
Asked about the potential for an Olympic sweep, Kovacs didn’t hesitate. “Let’s do it.”