DES MOINES, Iowa – Darrell Hill finally believes he deserves to be included among the heavyweights in his sport.
He’s a 2016 Olympian and the 2017 Diamond League champion in the shot put, but Hill felt he needed one particular title for validation.
He got it Saturday at the USATF Outdoor Championships.
“You can’t consider yourself one of the great shot putters in the U.S. if you never win a U.S. championship,” he said. “This is my first one and it means the world to me.
“Wins don’t come easy against these guys and I’m just thankful.”
As usual, the field was stacked in the men’s shot put at this meet, which is part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
Hill, 24, defeated reigning Olympic and world champion Ryan Crouser, 2015 world champion Joe Kovacs and 2013 national champion Ryan Whiting.
“I pride myself on being able to compete against the best all the time and I just let those people bring out the best in me,” Hill said. “I work hard every day just like these guys. I know whenever I come to a competition with these guys I’ve got to be ready to be able to put something big out there.”
Hill was the only thrower to surpass 70 feet. His winning toss was 21.57 meters (70 feet, 9 ¼). Crouser took the early lead on his second throw at 20.99 (68-10 ½), but that was his only legal throw as he intentionally fouled throws he deemed too poor to measure.
Curtis Jensen was third at 20.87 (68-5 ¾), followed by Whiting at 20.79 (68 2/1/2) and Kovacs at 20.74 (68-0 ½).
Hill moved into the lead on his fourth throw of 21.36 (70-1), then improved on his fifth before fouling on his sixth.
Crouser came in with the seven best throws by an American this year and the second spot on the world list behind Tomas Walsh of New Zealand. He had the final toss of the competition, and the sixth throw has been a lifesaver for him in the past.
“Usually I get one decent throw out there, but not today,” Crouser said. “Throwing’s going really poorly for me, so at least I was able to get second and not worse than that. Just a frustrating day.”
But Crouser was happy for Hill. “Darrell’s a really hard worker and he always puts himself in a position to be in it and he did today,” he said. “He went out there and threw well and had a couple of big throws. He definitely earned it today.”
Hill kept Crouser from becoming the first U.S. athlete to win three shot put national titles in a row since Al Feuerbach from 1973-75. Shot put greats Randy Barnes, John Godina, Reese Hoffa, Kovacs and Christian Cantwell also won two in a row but couldn’t make it a three-put.
“This dude is a fearless competitor – him and Mr. Kovacs,” Hill said of Crouser. “Every time that they’ve got an opportunity to throw, you know that it’s not over until it’s over.”
When the red flag went up as a foul, Hill raced onto the track, waving his arms in celebration as he realized his name had been added to the illustrious list of U.S. champions.
“It’s tremendous,” he said. “These are the kind of things that when I came into the sport I dreamed about.”
The last three years have seen breakthrough after breakthrough for Hill. As a senior at Penn State, he was second at the NCAA Championships, his best finish.
A year later, Hill threw a personal best of 70-11 ½ – an improvement of a foot and a half in a mere two weeks – to capture the third and final spot on the 2016 Olympic team.
Although he did not make the final, he had one of the feel-good stories of the Rio Games. His father Ellis, an Uber driver in Hill’s hometown of Darby, Pennsylvania, met a passenger who spurred a GoFundMe campaign to send him to Brazil to watch his son compete.
His father was not in Des Moines, but Hill said, “I’m sure my phone’s vibrating right now with a phone call from him.”
And he added, “If you see my dad in an Uber, give him a good tip.”
Last year Hill was fourth at nationals, but still made the world championships team because Kovacs had a bye. He finished 11th in London, then went on to win the Diamond League final with a monster throw of 22.44 meters (73-71/4) to lead a Team USA sweep.
“I know whenever I’m at my best, my best is good enough to win,” said Hill, who this year began working with Greg Garza, the throws coach at San Diego State University.
Later this summer, Hill will try to defend his Diamond League title and next year he’ll be the shot putter attempting to win back-to-back national championships.
“I like to say we’re living in the most difficult time of shot putting in the United States,” Hill said. “You get so many guys who throw so far and have the potential to throw far, so every time you come out, you never know who it’s going to be.
“Right now we’ve got three guys over 22 meters personal best and we’re all young; Joe is 28, I’m 24, Ryan is 25, so we’re not even in our shot put primes yet and we’ve got some of the best throwers that the world has ever seen. So I think there’s a lot more big throws coming.”