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Man behind the world record: Ryan Crouser looks for gold in shot put final

By Andrew Kurland, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication | Aug. 03, 2021, 9:34 p.m. (ET)

U.S. shot putter Ryan Crouser prepares before an attempt at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials in Oregon.

Olympic dreams for a fifth-grader are often just that: dreams. For young Ryan Crouser (Texas, track & field), the dream started there.

But he wasn’t like others who had aspirations to compete in the Games. The Olympics ran in his blood.

His father and coach, Mitch Crouser, served as a discus alternate for Team USA in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. His uncle Brian Crouser competed in the Olympics twice, and his cousin Samuel Crouser most recently participated in the 2016 Games, both in javelin.

Ryan Crouser’s path to excellence wasn’t as clear as his family before him. Shot put didn’t come naturally. 

Yet here he is, set to compete for Olympic gold on Thursday after qualifying for the finals with a throw of 22.05 meters.

“I really had no business throwing the shot,” Crouser said, cracking a smile in a Zoom call ahead of the Tokyo Games. “I came in as an underdog and won the state meet as a freshman.”

The 6-foot, 170-pound freshman attended Sam Barlow High School in Gresham, Oregon, and trained at a location that would grow to be very familiar to him: the University of Oregon’s renowned Hayward Field. 

Before his time competing at the University of Texas, Crouser spent a fair amount of his high school career training at Hayward. Flash forward 10 years to the summer of 2021: Crouser, who hadn’t seen his family since 2019, was on the verge of history once again at Hayward Field. 

“To come back to the place where track really started for me, and throw a world record in this new stadium that still resembled my childhood stadium was such a special moment,” Crouser said. “It felt like all these pieces that I'd been juggling for so long finally came together.”

Crouser’s throw – 76 feet, 8¼ inches – at Olympic Trials was more than enough to qualify for this second Olympics. As Crouser, 28, prepares for the shot put final in Tokyo, he remains cautiously optimistic about repeating his world record performance. Unlike the trials, Crouser’s Olympic goal remains simple: go for gold. 

“The main thing at the Olympics or any major is winning. I do always want to go out there and compete against myself but I feel like the main thing at a major competition is to get gold.”

In order for Crouser to break his own world record, he’ll have to be the best he’s ever been under less than ideal circumstances. 

“Everyone wants to throw a (personal record) at a major, but you have to be a lot better than that to be able to do it there,” he said. “(The conditions) are definitely not optimal. You go out, warm up at a separate facility, then walk or take a bus to a holding room, and then you get out onto the field after sitting for 45 minutes.” 

It’s clear this year’s Olympics look different. From empty seats in the stands to families watching from home, athletes have had to adjust to unusual conditions. Despite the restrictions, Crouser is one of the rare athletes who will have family at the Games. 

“My dad will be going as my coach, so it’s nice to have him there. I work with him remotely most of the time so it’s going to be nice to be in the same place.” 

Crouser is disappointed the rest of his family will miss the Game The competitor in him, however, sees it differently. 

“As an athlete, in a strictly professional sense, it is like you're in a bubble. So I’ll miss them, but I won't know that they're not there,” Crouser said.

In 2016, Crouser spent 15 days in Rio preparing and competing in the Summer Games.He did not see anyone outside of his training bubble, he said, which included his father and several other members of the coaching staff. 

“I’ll actually probably miss them less because I'll be in there a much shorter amount of time than I was for Rio,” he added. 

The best piece of advice he has received was “expect something to go wrong because something will go wrong.”

 In a year where so much has already been unpredictable, Crouser expects the shot final to be the same. 

Andrew Kurland, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Andrew Kurland is a journalism student at Arizona State University. This story is part of a collaboration between the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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