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Taking His Best Shot: Darrell Hill Heading To Trials In Most Competitive Event

By Karen Rosen | June 01, 2021, 8:39 a.m. (ET)

 Darrell Hill competes at the The Match Europe v USA on Sept. 9, 2019 in Minsk, Belarus.

 

Most people would not look at Darrell Hill, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs about 315 pounds, and immediately think “corny track nerd.”

But that’s what Hill calls himself. He’s well-versed in the stats for track and field events across the board and learned his own event – the shot put – in an unconventional way.

“I’m the first generation of YouTube babies,” said Hill, 27.

Although he had a track coach in high school in Pennsylvania, Hill didn’t have a coach specializing in the throws. 

“I learned the sport searching through YouTube and watching videos of guys like Randy Barnes, Reese Hoffa, Adam Nelson, John Godina and Brian Oldfield,” he said. “They really taught me what the sport was all about.”

Now there are plenty of videos of Hill, who has established himself as one of the Big Three in the sport. The others are Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs, who are also the only two athletes ranking ahead of Hill in the world rankings. 

Since 2016, the Big Three have been part of Team USA at every Olympic Games and outdoor world championships and they’ll try to do it again at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track and Field, which start June 18 in Eugene, Oregon.

Crouser is the reigning Olympic champion while Kovacs is the reigning world champion.

Hill knows what it’s like to come out on top, too. He was the 2018 national champion, with Crouser second, Kovacs fifth and Ryan Whiting, a world silver medalist who is now retired and coaching Hill, in fourth place.

After studying results from every men’s event and comparing them to how close they approach their respective world records, Hill has arrived at a conclusion: “We may have the crown right now for most competitive,” he said. “What we’ve got in the men’s shot put is super crazy. I don’t think there are any other events that are competing at as high a level as we are consistently year after year after year – and with the same faces.”

When the pandemic hit, Hill decided it was the right time to make the move to Arizona to train with Whiting, a 2012 Olympian and the 2013 world silver medalist.

With meets cancelled, Hill had no competitive results in 2020, but tried to stay sharp with practice competitions featuring his training partners and some local high school athletes.

Going into this season, he was anxious to validate his hard work. Hill had a sense of what his training indicated, but said, “All athletes have this small sense of insecurity, where it’s like, ‘I need to go to competition and execute before I really believed it.’”

Hill opened his season with a throw of 21.76 meters on April 24 in a small meet in Chula Vista, California. Then at the USATF Golden Games in Walnut, California, on May 9, Hill uncorked a throw of 22.19 on his third attempt and improved to 22.34 (73 feet, 3 ½ inches) on his fourth. That was only 10 centimeters off his personal best of 22.44 from 2017 in Brussels.

“The first 22 meter throw was very emotional for me, just because it’s been a tough road to get back and see the ball go back over 22 meters,” Hill said. “Then to be able to come back on the next attempt and throw even further is a skill that will bode well for me late in the season.”

And yet that mark still was only good for third place on the world list, which makes Hill laugh at how tough his event is.

“I really do love it, because it doesn’t allow a speck of complacency to set in,” said Hill.

On May 22, the Big Three had their first throwdown of the year at the USATF Throws Festival in Tucson.

Crouser won with a heave of 23.01 (75-6) on his fifth throw to come within 11 centimeters of the world and American record set by Barnes in 1990. Ulf Timmermann of East Germany has the second-best throw of all time, 23.06 in 1988, followed by Crouser. 

Kovac’s second throw of 22.04 (72-3 ¾) held up for second place. His personal best is 22.91 (fourth all-time).

Hill saved his best for last, staking out third with a throw of 21.88 (71-9 ½) on his sixth and final attempt to hold off Tomas Walsh of New Zealand (21.62/70-11 ¼).

They have a sense of camaraderie at meets, rooting each other on, as well as a keen competitiveness and respect. With such intensity, Hill believes Barnes’ world record will fall “sometime soon.”

“When you have something like the Olympics, where everybody’s invested, and everybody’s putting their five years worth of training toward something like that,” he said, “you can see it provides an opportunity for a performance like that to come.”

Hill said he and Crouser are “like attached at the hip because we came out of high school in 2011 and we were in the same college years.”

Like Kovacs, he was raised in Pennsylvania and attended Penn State, where Whiting was training as a professional.

Hill feels Whiting can help him shoot up the all-time rankings, where he currently sits at 15th -eighth among Americans.


With that combination of strength and speed and power, I think you would consider us to be some of the most powerful athletes that ever walked this earth.

Darrell Hill, Track and Field

But he has had to “trick myself” to understand that he doesn’t need to do as much as he did as a young athlete. 

“These guys are pushing the limits so far, but I’m getting old fast,” Hill said. “My body is breaking down so I have to make sure I manage my load, so I train two or three times a week throwing.

“I’m not really chasing big numbers in the weight room. I’m more focused on fine tuning my technique and executing in competition.”

He said when people see shot putters spinning in the circle and throwing a 16-pound ball, they obviously know these athletes are strong.

“But I think people underestimate just how we cover every base as far as strength, speed, athleticism,” Hill said, “and I would consider me and my U.S. teammates to be some of the most powerful athletes in the world - not just in the strength world, not just in the speed world. 

“With that combination of strength and speed and power, I think you would consider us to be some of the most powerful athletes that ever walked this earth.”

As the youngest – and biggest – of six kids, Hill played basketball, football, wrestled for two years and even tried baseball. “You don’t know as a kid growing up that that kind of background is perfect for a shot putter,” he said.

While attending the same high school as sprinter Leroy Burrell, an Olympic gold medalist, the coach asked Hill to come out for track to help in the league championship.

“I wasn’t that good,” said Hill. “It’s not that crazy success story, where you just come out and throw 50 feet. I just had a good time with my teammates.”

And then he got home and went on his computer. He was especially taken with Reese Hoffa.

“I see another black man who looks like me, wearing a headband,” said Hill. “He’s yelling he’s screaming and I’m studying all these dudes, and I’m like, OK, this is pretty cool.’”

On the vision board in his bathroom, Hill has simply written “Olympic gold medal.” 

In 2016, Hill was part of one of the heartwarming stories of the Rio Games. His dad, Ellis, who was working as an Uber driver, met someone who set up a GoFundMe account to send him to Brazil. While Hill was disappointed in his performance, with his best throw 2 meters off his Olympic Trials performance, he said in hindsight it “might have been one of the greatest things that happened to me.”

It made him even more dedicated.

But during the pandemic, he did find room for other interests.

Now in addition to YouTube videos showing Hill in action in the ring, a search of his name reveals he also has a YouTube cooking series called “Feedin’ the Streets with BIGHOMIE.”

That’s been his nickname since college. “In a lot of urban areas that term is given to somebody who is like the overseer, a guy who takes care of the people around him and who looks out for everybody,” Hill said. “And that’s who I always wanted to be.”

When Penn State joined the Big Ten Conference – styled B1G – he adapted that to his Twitter and Instagram handles.

Hill takes viewers step by step through recipes such as SUPER Stuffed Shells, Beef Short Rib Tacos, Smothered Chicken and a Chedder & Green Onion Chicken Biscuit Sandwich.

The biscuit is his favorite. “You gotta check it out,” said Hill. “It’s really good.”

He said at some point he’d like to open a restaurant specializing in wings, so he took down his recipe for sweet heat wings in order to keep it secret.

Because of recent stomach issues in which he became gluten and lactose intolerant, Hill had to change what he eats. But he said he has adapted well and his strength obviously has not suffered.

Being such an imposing guy, Hill is invariably stopped in airports by people who say, “Hey man, what team do you play for?” 

“Everybody wants to talk to me because they think that I might be an NFL star,” said Hill, who once dreamed of being just that.

Sometimes he tells them he is an Olympian, but other times, he said, “I don’t feel like talking, so I’m just like, ‘Nope, I don’t play football,’ and I just leave it at that. Then they’re like, ‘What do you do? You gotta do something.’

“I’m just like, ‘Well, I throw shot put.’ And sometimes they’re just like ‘Awwww.’ Or, ‘That’s nice, but that’s not as cool.’”

But Hill, Crouser and Kovacs are making shot put cool.

“I believe so,” Hill said. “I really do believe so.”

 

Karen Rosen

Karen Rosen has covered every Summer and Winter Olympic Games since 1992 for newspapers, magazines and websites. Based in Atlanta, she has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.

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Darrell Hill