SURE BEATS BASS FISHING. At least if field & track is your favorite sport. With no meets on the schedule since February, Ryan Crouser found an outlet early this summer in the competitive bass tournament scene near his Fayetteville, Arkansas, base. “It’s been nice feeling like I’m competing; it might not be track & field but still getting a little competition in,” the shot’s Olympic champion told T&FN as July began.
However, competition opportunities with the iron ball arose on the next two weekends when an American Track League series was announced for this pandemic summer and after a 10-hour drive to Georgia, Crouser capitalized on them. His outdoor opener at ATL #1 (Marietta, July 11) saw the 3-time No. 1 World Ranker raise Tom Walsh’s world lead by 5 inches with a 71-7½ (21.83) second throw and then improve to 71-9 (21.87) in round 5.
The next Saturday at ATL #2, Crouser long-bombed an astounding 75-2 (22.91) PR at the tail end of a series that built from a 72-8 (22.15) opener through four increasingly better efforts. The sixth-round mark raised his best by a centimeter from his final-try silver medal effort at the World Championships in October. The new PR took the 27-year-old Oregon native to =No. 2 on the all-time list, on par with Italy’s Alessandro Andrei (who set a World Record with that mark in ’87), and Joe Kovacs, who attained the distance to claim his second World Champs gold in Doha.
“It was a really, really good time for me,” Crouser acknowledges. “Throwing-wise I’m really happy with it. It was almost a little bit of a surprise. I mean the opener wasn’t bad, 21.87. But I felt like I definitely left a lot on the table after last Saturday. So I felt like, ‘I’m going to get out there and, kind of having shaken the rust off last weekend, execute a lot better technically.’”
This has been anything but a normal year since Crouser won the USATF Indoor with a 74-1¼ (22.60) undercover PR. He filled the competitive down time with upgrading his bass boat and productive carpentry so he could practice his vocation.
“I built a portable ring with a shot toe board on it just out of a couple sheets of plywood and was able to come up with a recessed ring,” he says. “So it’s worked well and I’m able to still get throws in that way.
“It’s definitely much less forgiving with my footwork. If I’m throwing well it shouldn’t affect me ’cause I should go right down the middle with my feet at the front lined up in the center of the toeboard. So when I’m throwing well, it doesn’t matter, but if I’m struggling or having some problems technically, then I can kind of get into trouble a little bit. So if anything, it’s helped me be a little bit more disciplined on the throws that I’m taking and making sure my footwork is cleaned up a bit.”
Perhaps the imposed discipline partially accounts for his all-fair throws en route to the new PR. It was one of the greatest series ever seen, averaging a stout 73-0 (22.25): 72-8, 71-½, 72-11¾, 71-7½, 74-7, 75-2 (22.15, 21.65, 22.24, 21.83, 22.73, 22.91).
In any case, Crouser headed to Georgia with atypical emotion for an opener. “I actually kind of had a lot of just nervous energy for the first meet,” he says, “but it was not exactly the best feeling just because I had been so long without competing and hadn’t really done a whole lot of preparation in terms of throwing hard in training.
“I’ve been getting a lot of work in throwing-wise, but it’s all been kind of lower intensity and mostly just trying to stay in shape, build a good strength base. And so going into the first meet, I didn’t really know what to expect and definitely didn’t execute very well technically but had a lot of power to put into the ball. So I spent a week kind of just working on that and then in the [second] meet really just kinda tried to work rhythm and timing.”
Second-year pro Nick Ponzio, who is extending his limits in this strange season (T&FN story coming soon) placed 2nd in both meets, equaling his PR of 69-2 (21.08) at ATL #1 and throwing 66-1½ (20.15) in the second.
Headliner Crouser, admitting to some surprise, continues, “I really just came together well and managed to get two big throws out there on the 22.73 and then a PR with the 22.91.
“So I knew I could throw far. I wasn’t expecting to really throw that far. The goal was to go in and have a series with the majority of the throws over 22m [72-2¼]. At any time early like this there’s gonna be some inconsistency just throw to throw. So I just wanted to execute well and the strength training and the work I’ve been doing really kind of showed up really a bit more than I thought. I knew I could throw far. It was just a matter of getting the power I’ve been working to develop to go into the ball.”
What next then? “It’s still up in the air a little bit at this point,” says Crouser, who helped pack up vaulter girlfriend Megan Clark’s poles and drove back to Fayetteville on Sunday. “The American Track League series there at Life [University], they are still at this point planning on running meets each Saturday till the first weekend in September. I see that as an option. There’s a couple of meets in Phoenix, as well, that Ryan Whiting is trying to put together.
“As for me personally, it’s going to be go back to training and I really want to get in one month of kind of almost like a preseason prep phase. It’s just been off-season training without really anything on the calendar. I didn’t know about these meets until 10 days before so I didn’t really get to prep for them like I normally would like to. And so now it’s going to be go back, get in kind of a solid month of a prep phase that is actually prepping me for some meets. So I’m really excited for that just to see what I can do when I’m actually properly prepared.
“For me, writing all my own programming and stuff, at least I have flexibility, but there’s nothing that can really take the place of a true couple months, or in this case it will probably be 4 weeks, of a good prep phase. I’ll start working more plyometrics and dynamic ballistic type training, which really for me is a lot of my bread and butter. But I don’t want to wear myself out doing that not knowing if I’ll have a meet, so hopefully we can stay on the schedule with the pandemic and everything.
“Hopefully we can continue to have meets and it’ll be good. I’ve now really set a high bar but to go back and really prep myself and then hopefully I have a couple of meets first in August—and there’s nothing confirmed but possibly a meet in early- or mid-September where USATF is hopefully gonna put on something that kind of resembles the U.S. Championships if they’re able to.”
Throwing just a centimeter shorter at the Worlds last fall than he threw in Marietta set a high bar as well—one Crouser sees as informative.
“I was really happy with how I came through in the sixth round,” he says of Doha. “Obviously one more centimeter would have been nice, but it was good. And the biggest thing for me, the takeaway, was that I really didn’t hit that throw especially clean. It was just a lot of adrenaline and in the moment I just told myself, ‘Be aggressive. Don’t be passive,’ because a big, big thing for me was technically just working on executing for the whole meet.
“And then it was the sixth round and I was like, ‘OK, I’m just going to let loose and see what happens.’ And I kind of missed that throw a little bit. It definitely wasn’t my technical model that I was really going for. If you watch the film, I lost it out to the right side. For me, my farthest throws are always centered to slightly left of center. That one was right of center.
“It was unusual to have a far throw [with that execution]. So going forward, I know that I can throw farther than that. That was a pretty good takeaway.
“And then it kind of showed up a little bit indoors [last winter] on a shortened training season coming off of Doha so late in the year. I took a normal amount of time off, so really didn’t start training until mid-November, which was real late, and did my full normal fall conditioning all the way into the winter. So I had a really limited number of throws and not much speed work or anything, but still managed to throw a 22.60 there in Albuquerque indoors and only 6cm off the World Record with almost minimal training. That was, I felt, a really good indicator of where things were kind of headed before everything kind of got put on hold.
“So I’m trying to stay motivated, keep my head up and keep moving forward and trying to continue to progress and build a foundation now that’ll carry me hopefully to a few meets in the fall. But the biggest thing is preparing for 2021.” And, of course, his Olympic title defense.