Hagan Landry looks on at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. (Photo: Getty Images)
A year ago in Tokyo, Hagan Landry wound up and delivered what was not just a personal best in the men’s shot put F41, but also an American record of 13.88 meters.
The throw also secured the Delcambre, Louisiana, native his first Paralympic medal, a silver.
It was a moment, of course, that he’ll remember forever. The experience was also somewhat surreal. With the pandemic still affecting just about every aspect of life, no spectators were allowed at the Tokyo Games. Including fellow athletes, support staff and media, Landry estimates there were maybe 1,000 people in Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium during his event.
Not knowing anything else, Landry, 28, headed to Berlin earlier this month for a late-season competition. Little did he know what effect a teeming, screaming crowd would have on his throw.
On Sept. 4 in Berlin, Landry turned what he said had been a lackluster post-Paralympic season into gold: a new Americas record of 14.07 meters, breaking the one he set in Tokyo.
Berlin’s iconic Olympiastadion was filled with 20,000 eager track fans, Landry said. It was the perfect place to set the record.
Landry said he loves competing in Germany because of the love Germans have for track.
“I’m always treated like family,” he said.
His friend and fellow competitor Niko Kappel is German, and the two have trained together. Kappel won the Paralympic gold medal in the F41 classification in 2016, then took bronze in Tokyo.
“We push each other to get better,” Landry said, and Kappel’s supporters cheer Landry on just as enthusiastically as their hometown hero.
Berlin is also Landry’s favorite city, and being “a giant history nerd” he had wanted to compete in the Olympiastadion since visiting it as a tourist in 2018. It’s the stadium where Jesse Owens won four gold medals in 1936, striking a blow to Adolf Hitler’s efforts to use the Games to promote Aryan superiority.
As it turns out, crowds both amp Landry up and focus him. The work on his technique had paid off, he said.
“I tend to be a little impatient,” he said, and he had worked hard to control the beginning of his throw. He had the crowd on its feet, clapping for him, when he finally set the record.
Up until that point, Landry said, “it had been a pretty rough season.” He had been to Europe once this year, where he got sick with what he thinks was the flu and did not perform well. His coach, Larry Judge, with whom he recently began working with full time again, wanted him to go to the Berlin meet; Landry was lukewarm about the prospect, thinking his season was over.
“He had called me to go to this meet and (said), ‘You’re looking good, you’re throwing good, you’re stronger than ever, let’s go turn this season around,’” Landry said.
Landry said he still did not want to attend the meet, but on the morning of the competition, he said, it was like a switch flipped.
“I woke up ready to go,” he said.
On his first throw, he was a few centimeters off his personal best, the 13.88 from Tokyo.
“Then I kind of had to recalculate my energy because I got a little hyped and started doing things wrong,” he said.
In the fifth round, he threw a new personal best of 13.91. And on his final throw, he broke that record and set another at 14.07.
“It’s a personal best, but it was more so getting over 14 meters,” Landry said. “It really did feel amazing just to have my season go from honestly one of my worst seasons ever to the best season ever. It was surreal.”
He credits Judge with seeing improvements in his technique that he did not as his season progressed, and with pushing him to the success he found in Berlin.
“He tells it like it is,” Landry said. “So when he said I was improving, I was like, let’s do it.”
Post-Berlin, Landry’s taking a vacation. He’s going to Missouri, and then visiting family. He’ll resume training for a few months, then head to Barbados with a teammate over the winter holidays, while the team’s training facility in Chula Vista, California, is closed.
“And then in January, flip all the switches,” he said.
With his focus on the next world championships and, ultimately, the Paralympic Games Paris 2024, Landry wants to get as strong as possible. He knows that to best his record again, and perhaps be the first person to throw over 15 meters, he will need muscle mass. That means you can find him in the weight room in the coming months, while he’ll also continue to perfect his technique and work to control the impatience he sometimes feels in the heat of the moment.
And, it turns out, Landry knows just how he’ll perform if the Paris Paralympic venue is packed full of fans.
“I know I’m ready, because I reacted exactly how I wanted to with the major crowd,” he said.