Joe Kovacs celebrates his championship in the Men's Shot Put at 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on Oct. 05, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
In the final throws of a monumental shot put competition, Olympic silver medalist Joe Kovacs went from fourth to first and won his second world title in Doha, Qatar on Saturday.
It wasn’t easy.
“The whole goal going into this competition was to come away with a personal best and try to come away with a medal,” Kovacs said. “The previous three majors, I had a medal at all of them, so the goal was to try to get a medal at this one even knowing that the competition was going to be at such a high level.”
Sitting in fourth place behind defending champion Tom Walsh of New Zealand, teammate and reigning Olympic champion Ryan Crouser and Brazil’s Darlan Romani, Kovacs stepped up for his last throw. He congratulated teammate and fellow former Penn State standout Darrell Hill, who just finished strong with his farthest throw ever for fifth place at 21.65 meters, then prepared to give it one last shot at getting into medal position.
Kovacs turned, launched the shot put and let out a series of roars as it landed. The 30-year-old from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, moved into first by one centimeter with a distance of 22.91 meters, equaling the third-longest throw in history.
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“On that last throw, I felt loose, I felt connected,” Kovacs said. “When the ball came off my hand – I’ll be honest – I didn't know how far it was. It felt like it was a PR. I didn’t know it was going to be 75 feet 2 inches, and take the lead. So that feeling was pretty incredible when I saw it pop on the board. But I still had to watch the other two guys take their last throw. Ryan, he almost tied it on the last one.”
Crouser had the longest throw in the world for most of the season following his personal-best performance back in April with a throw of 22.74 meters, the longest in the world since 1990.
However, with Walsh already ahead of that with his best throw of 22.90 meters on his first and only attempt of the competition, and, now, Kovacs also surpassing that mark, Crouser would need to be even better.
He couldn’t quite match his teammate, but he did match Walsh with a throw of 22.90, and, because Walsh only had one legal throw to that point, Crouser took over second place and bumped Walsh to bronze. Walsh would have had to beat either both athletes or Crouser’s second-best throw of 22.71 meters to take second, and that didn’t happen.
It was one of the deepest fields ever for the men’s shot put final with nine athletes capable of throwing past 22 meters. Only four of 16 world titles before Saturday were won with throws in excess of 22 meters.
“If Ryan or Tom would have came away throwing a little bit farther, I would respect them for it just like they came up to me right after super happy for me,” Kovacs said. “To be honest, it’s really hard to throw a PR at a meet like this, even though we all just did it. Those really crazy records tend to come from smaller meets with no pressure. So I think it’s actually more impressive that we all did it today than a world record at a small meet.”
Kovacs won his first world title in 2015 and took silver behind Walsh in 2017 following his silver-medal performance at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
“I’m just proud I was able to stay in my own head and not watch Ryan and Tom throw so far and get tight,” Kovacs said, “because being a shot putter, it’s really easy to get tense, but you really just want to be intense and loose.”
Meanwhile, this is Crouser’s first world championship medal after a sixth-place finish in 2017.
“That was a battle out there tonight,” he said. “I executed really well. I wanted to open big and put the pressure on early, and I did that with a 22.30-plus throw in round 1. Unfortunately, the pressure didn’t work on Tom like I had hoped, seeing him throw 22.90 first round.”
Crouser said he continued to build and make sure he was in medal position.
When he saw the distance of Kovacs’ final throw, he said, “This was absolutely madness. But seeing Joe do that, I was just like, ‘No point of holding back now, I’m in third at 22.71,' so I was aggressive.”
And that was enough to take a silver medal in a competition in which the top three were separated by only one centimeter.
“We’ve never seen depth like that before,” Crouser said. “I was honored to be a part of it. And any time you throw a lifetime best, you can’t be upset.”
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.