2023 T&FN Men’s Athlete Of The Year — Ryan Crouser

For Crouser, ’23 was a season of historic 77-footers and tribulations before the World Championships. (KEVIN MORRIS)

“I’M REALLY HAPPY,” Ryan Crouser declared after the DL Final, when his election through the vote of our expert international panel had not yet crowned him our 64th Men’s Athlete Of The Year.

Not even having just racked up his only loss of the year at that season finale in Eugene — by just three-quarters of an inch (2cm) to event great Joe Kovacs — could seriously dent his satisfaction.

“This year’s had ups and downs — setting the World Record, and then with the blood clots and all that, I had a lot of adversity and stress up and to and through the World Championships. This felt like kind of getting back out there and competing again.”

And full perspective, Crouser more than just competed at the DL Final. He launched a 75-2 (22.91) boomer that just 4 years before in September of ’19 would have equaled the No. 2 all-time put.

The 6-7/313 (2.01/142) giant whose command of the ATL only strengthened further in ’23 assessed that a split-second of mistiming on his 75-0 (22.86) final throw of the afternoon had perhaps cost him victory and an undefeated campaign. “I just didn’t stay on that ball quite long enough,” he said.

What Crouser had said 3 minutes earlier evidenced his respect for the craft and the competition: “Hats off to Joe. I mean, he had a huge throw out there. Just being a dad, traveling, all that, to still come out and finish the season like he did, hats off to Joe. He won today.”

At season’s end in ’21, the year of Crouser’s first AOY coronation, he was responsible for 8 of the 11 longest throws on the ATL, with the best 7 of these having come in that campaign.

In the year just concluded he took the World Record into 77-foot territory (77-3¾/23.56) in May and then threw just 2 inches (5cm) short of that for the next-longest all-time mark at the World Championships. He had arrived in Budapest after developing painful blood clots in his legs 3 weeks earlier. (Continued below)

Until the eleventh hour, the very prospect of even flying to Hungary to defend his title had been in doubt. Air travel can exacerbate clots, potentially even send them moving toward the heart and lungs but he said his medical team “got me safe to fly.

“… After all that it was the best performance of my life, given the health issues, the stress and all of it. It wasn’t quite a World Record but to me it was.”

After his triumphant ordeal in Budapest, Crouser could not complain about bouncing back a month later in Eugene to loft his tenth and eleventh throws of 75-0 (22.86) or longer in ’23. The seasonal total matched his production in ’21 but the average of his 10 longest throws for the year increased by 4 inches from 75-6¼ (23.02) to 75-10¼ (23.12).

Crouser explained at the DL Final that his participation for a time was no sure thing: “I went back home after World Champs and tried to just go back into heavy training for two weeks and it was just not going well — mentally a little bit disengaged and physically just not able to execute, both in the ring and in the weight room. Just everything was a little bit up and down. So I decided to taper, just continue tapering and trying to do maintenance work. So that was a little bit frustrating cuz out there today I just didn’t have the power that I would hope to have.

“But shoot, it’s September and it’s been a long season.”

One need not ask why Crouser’s take on ’23 is emphatically upbeat, albeit tinged with characteristic understatement: “Yeah, I’m really happy with the year and looking forward to next year. The step-across and the new technique is really starting to click. So if I can get back into heavy training and kind of build the foundation that I had this year, but then taper properly and not have a blood clot then I think I can throw pretty far.”

Uh-huh. “Pretty far.”

As the calendar page turns on his second AOY year, Crouser now has 9 of the top 10 all-time throws with only Kovacs’ 76-2¾ (23.23) best thrown in ’22 for company. Three throws from the Arkansas-based Oregonian’s WR series at UCLA in May hold ATL positions 1, 4 and 7.

Whereas the AOY vote outcome can’t get any closer than Crouser’s 1-point win over Mondo Duplantis (full rundown of the top 10 coming soon), the two supermen operated in rather different event landscapes. Duplantis — and it’s no smudge at all on his wow factor — for the moment climbs to altitudes beyond his competitors’ abilities.

The shot jungle is populated by more challengers for the WR holder. 76-footer Kovacs is still very much alive and dangerous, and fields are deep.

“Besides Doha [’19],” Kovacs observed after his DL Final win, “I think this is statistically probably the next best time since we all threw 22.90 and 22.91. I got the centimeter on that day [at the ’19 Worlds]. But, you know, it’s crazy cuz this year I think we had 11 guys throw 22m, and I remember in 2014 I was the only person to do it [plus Ryan Whiting indoors]. I did it one time. So the evolution of where the sport’s going and where it’s at, it’s just nuts.

“As a competitor who’s still doing it, it’s kind of annoying because you have to fight through it. But you know, there’s days that I can take a step back and be proud that I was part of this sport and see where it went be a part of the transition.

“I mean we used to come to [the Eugene DL] and they put a 70-foot line out there and Prefontaine was so proud that they had more 70-foot throws here than anywhere else in the world. Right now we don’t even put a 70-foot line out there cuz nobody cares about it.”

This fall, Crouser wrote on Instagram recently, he’s been “embracing the off-season grind. Lots of technique work while feeling beat up and sore. Distances can be humbling at this time of year, so have to find success in the process more so than the outcome.”

He says, “For me the motivation comes from the desire to be the best I can be. I’m at the point in my career where I have to really work for every centimeter of distance and that has me as motivated as ever knowing what it will take to further my best.”

As harrowing as the blood clots episode was for Crouser, he sees in the experience a silver lining for the Paris Olympic season and beyond: “It’s just not something you plan for at all. But yeah, for me going forward the biggest thing is that I know there’s more distance there. Throwing the World Record in May at UCLA while in heavy training and then still throwing almost the World Record after like 20 days of very minimal training.

“If I can kind of find that middle between the heavy training and a taper and combine — If I had the throw that I had at World Champs being in good shape and healthy, I mean, that’s a 23-high, pushing-24-meter throw. So I know that the pieces are all there. I just have to put ‘em all together.”