One came from a family filled with top-notch throwers. The other learned from his mom by using any heavy object that felt something like a shot put. Both paths led to the same place an Olympic medal.
Ryan Crouser captured gold with an Olympic-record throw of 22.52 meters Thursday night to hold off U.S. teammate and favorite Joe Kovacs in the shot put final. It’s the first time since 1996 the U.S. has finished 1-2 in the event and gives the Americans 25 medals in track and field in Rio, including nine gold.
“You’re never happy to get second. It’s a bittersweet feeling,” said Kovacs, whose top throw was 21.78. “But it’s setting in on this walk down that I’m still bringing a silver medal to the U.S., and the gold is coming to Ryan.”
It’s not a stretch to say that throwing runs in Crouser’s family. His father, Mitch, was an alternate on the 1984 Olympic team in the discus. His uncle, Brian, competed in the javelin at the `88 and `92 Olympics. And then there’s his cousin Sam, a javelin thrower who just so happens to be his roommate in Rio.
“It’s definitely a family affair and they were all standing in the stands behind the shot put and were all wearing `Team Crouser’ uniforms,” said Crouser, who is from Gresham, Oregon. “It was pretty cool to be able to do that in the Olympics.”
Then there’s Kovacs, who is self-made in the shot put.
With a big help from mom, of course.
His dad died when he was 7 years old and his mother took on many roles, including his coach. She would go to practice with him, absorb what the coach was telling him and then instruct him on what to do the rest of the week.
“Had to do whatever she said,” Kovacs chuckled. “She was the one who told me to keep my elbow up and push the ball flat.”
In high school, Kovacs threw the shot put as a way to stay in shape for football. He would practice in the parking lot and use whatever was heaviest, including a broken weight set. And when he threw the discus _ an event he dabbled in _ now that was an adventure. He used to skip it through a nearby road.
“So we had to sneak into other schools” to practice, Kovacs said.
His mom was in the stands watching him take home a medal.
“It’s an awesome moment that we could share together,” said the 27-year-old Kovacs, who’s from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “This feels good. We showed it today. … The depth in the U.S. in the shot put is strong.”
Throw in the performance of Michelle Carter, who got the ball rolling for the Americans with a gold medal in the shot put on the first night.
“It’s really something special, and if you had written it out as a script, I wouldn’t have believed it,” the 23-year-old Crouser said.
Kovacs was the favorite, especially considering he had four of the world’s top five throws this season.
Only, he had a little insider knowledge. As they trained in Chula Vista, California, Crouser was turning in some massive throws. Kovacs knew Crouser was primed for a breakout performance.
It played out that way, too. Crouser took the lead on his second attempt and improved it on his fifth with an Olympic record throw. It broke the previous mark of 22.47 set by Ulf Timmermann at the 1988 Seoul Summer Games.
“It’s been a long road, and to get here and have everything to go essentially perfect, words can’t describe how I feel right now,” Crouser said.