By Peggy Shinn | July 27, 2019, 12:28 a.m. (ET)
Ryan Crouser competes in men's shot put at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships on July 26, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa.

 

DES MOINES, Iowa — Ryan Crouser already has an Olympic gold medal — and an Olympic record (22.52). Now he would like a world title — and, if possible, a world record.

At the 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, Crouser made a step in that direction. The 26-year-old Olympic champion, who’s 6-foot-8 and huge, put the shot a huge 22.62 meters in his fifth (of six) throws Friday. It’s his third national title, and this one did not come easily.

“I’m happy with that today,” Crouser said, then admitted that it’s been a tough couple of weeks dealing with injuries to his hand, arm and rib. “It seems like it’s been one thing after another. I just wanted to go out and execute and make the team. At USAs in a world championship year, that’s always the goal.”

For much of the evening, it looked like former world champion Joe Kovacs would win with a big third-round throw of 22.31. It was a season’s best for the 30-year-old, who won the world title in 2015.

Darrell Hill also threw a season’s best of 22.11 for third place and a world championship berth. The same three men competed at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, with Crouser and Kovacs going 1-2. Hill calls them the Rio Trio.

“The guys made it tough out there,” said Crouser. “Three over 22.10-plus. I think it’s the first time it’s ever happened at a U.S. champs, one of the few times it’s ever happened, ever, three over 22.10. So it was hard fought out there, and this one meant a lot to me.”

For Kovacs, it was a sign that he is on track for another world championship medal. He has competed in three major meets for Team USA — 2015 and 2017 world championships, and the Rio 2016 Games — and won medals in all three. But this season he had doubts.

With world championships scheduled so late this year (late September and early October rather than in July), Kovacs had not yet ramped up his training. He was also training in a new location. He had moved from California to Ohio, where his wife coaches shot put for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

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In Diamond League meets this season, while Crouser would win (and he won almost every meet that he entered), Kovacs was not putting his shots the same distances.

“The hardest part about this year is that I haven’t tried to throw far this year,” Kovacs admitted. “It’s a weird season, it’s a long season. It’s mentally tough. I’ve gone to meets and thrown 70 feet (21.3 meters), and 70 feet’s not what it used to be.”

“Everyone was telling me I’m an old horse who should be taken out back and turned into glue,” he added with a laugh. “I’m like, I’m only 30.”

At the U.S. championships, Kovacs was happy with his consistency. He logged distances between 21.28 and 22.31 on every shot and never fouled.

Between now and the world championships, Crouser, Kovacs and Hill are focused on more than their shot-put technique. Crouser wants to win the Diamond League title. If he does, he will get a bye to the world championships, and his spot will go to teammate Jon Jones, who finished fourth at nationals with 21.40.

“All of us Americans have a job to do to win the Diamond League to make sure Jon Jones comes with us on the team,” said Kovacs. “He’s had a hell of a season. He deserves to go. You don’t throw 21.50 for three of your meets and not go. That’s the blessing and curse of being a U.S. shot putter. It’s the hardest team to make.”

As for Crouser’s pursuit of the world record, he is focused in the near future on getting healthy. Then he knows the world record will come.

The record is 23.12 set in May 1990 by American Randy Barnes, the 1988 Olympic silver and 1996 Olympic gold medalist in the event. But that record is clouded in doping allegations.

So how close is Crouser to the shot-put world record?

On April 20 this season — 28 years, 11 months to the day after Barnes set the world record — Crouser, a human cannon, threw a personal best of 22.74. It was the farthest any man has put the shot since Barnes’ historic mark. 

In other words, Crouser’s personal best is one foot, three inches shy of the world record.

“I think it will come when it comes,” Crouser said. “It’s possible now. I know I can do it. It’s just letting it happen and not forcing it. The thing that’s hurt me a little this year is I’m so focused on 23.12 when at the end of the day, I should focus on moving my PR out there, and if I throw enough PRs, eventually I’ll get that 23.12.”

A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.