Ryan Crouser celebrates after the Men's Shot Put final during day nine of 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 at Khalifa International Stadium on Oct. 5, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
Olympic champion Ryan Crouser’s first competitive throw of the year wasn’t just off the charts – it was almost off the mats.
Crouser smashed the 32-year-old world indoor shot put record with a toss of 22.82 meters (74-feet, 10 ½ inches) as soon as he stepped into the ring Sunday at the American Track League meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The 16-pound shot landed at the very edge of the mats put down to protect the track infield. Just to be on the safe side, officials subsequently added more mats to the throwing area.
“It’s a pretty good start to 2021” said Crouser, who spun to the world record while wearing a baseball cap. “First meet, first throw… usually it’s a rocky start.”
The previous world record of 22.66 meters was set by Randy Barnes of the United States on Jan. 20, 1989. Crouser exceeded that by about half a foot.
Two throws later, Crouser uncorked the second-best indoor throw in history of 22.70 meters. After fouling his fourth and fifth throws, which were also in the same general area, Crouser finished with a 22.48-meter toss. Only Barnes, the 1996 Olympic champion, and Ulf Timmermann, the 1988 Olympic gold medalist from East Germany (22.55 in 1989), have thrown farther indoors.
“I feel like there is more there,” said Crouser, which surely bodes well for an Olympic year – with the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 postponed until July.
Crouser, who set an Olympic record to edge teammate Joe Kovacs for the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro, hopes to become the first American to win back-to-back Olympic titles in the shot put since Parry O’Brien in 1952-56. Team USA has won 18 of the available 29 gold medals in the event.
The meet was part of the 2021 World Athletics Indoor Tour series and is the first of four made-for-TV meets with no fans in attendance at the University of Arkansas facility.
Crouser will have a chance to break his world record next Sunday and then again on February 14 at the Randal Tyson Track and Field Center. He’s very familiar with the venue since he is a volunteer assistant coach with the Arkansas Razorbacks.
None of the other four competitors on Sunday could even surpass Crouser’s worst throw of 21.03 meters.
Chukwuebuka Enekwechi of Nigeria was second with a best of 20.65 meters, followed by Payton Otterdahl of the United State at 20.60.
Crouser’s previous personal best indoors was 22.60 meters (74-1 3/4), which he posted to win the USATF Indoor Championship last February, and he came close to that with a toss of 22.58 meters (74-1) in Manhattan, Kansas, last December 5.
During the pandemic, meets have been few and far between.
“It feels like it’s been a long road just to get back to some normal competition,” said Crouser, who turned 28 in December. “First throw, I felt really nervous actually just having been training for so long by myself or with just a training partner. So it felt like I had a ton of energy and my biggest thing that went through my mind was just to relax, feel a rhythm. I lined that first one up and indoor PB for me, just off my outdoor all-time record.”
Crouser said that he’s happy to see track and field making a comeback “and setting a foundation that we can have track meets again. They can be fun, and they can be safe. That’s what I’m most excited about.”
Despite the abbreviated 2020 outdoor season, Crouser set his personal best of 22.91 on July 18 in Marietta, Georgia, which put him in a tie for third on the all-time list. Barnes still holds the outdoor world record of 23.12 meters (75-10 ¼) from 1990, which makes it one of the oldest existing men’s track and field records.
After that throw last summer, Crouser said on Instagram, “The last few months have been tough, from building my own ring to be able to throw and improvising ways to adapt my lifting to fit in a garage. I’m so happy to have the opportunity to compete and to hopefully inspire other athletes to persevere and adapt during this difficult time.”
Crouser, who competed in college for the University of Texas and has a master's degree in finance, has produced more 22-meter throws than any other shot putter in history. At the Drake Relays last August, he became only the second man to exceed 22 meters on all six of his throws, with his best 22.72 in the second round.
Known for the black stetson hat that he wears during his celebrations, Crouser said throws like the ones Sunday are usually what he’d see in June or July. He added that he is excited to see what happens “when we do more speed work and decrease the load in the weight room.”
While Crouser said the indoor world record has been a goal, he added, “It’s almost more like a stepping stone to the outdoor world record and that 23-meter mark. Obviously, I’m ecstatic to throw this today and really, really happy with where I’m at, but it still just feels like a building block to getting 23.12 for the outdoor world record.”
On Instagram, Crouser thanked the American Track League and the people who have helped along the way. “We’re just getting started!” he wrote, “2021 is looking bright!”