“I WAS FINALLY ABLE to tap into this potential that I had never done before because of the fact that I became more of a well-rounded athlete.” So says Nick Ponzio, the 25-year-old who this year—awful, weird year though it may be—has thrown himself into the mix of a supremely robust U.S. men’s shot corps and into the 70-foot club. The 71-foot club, to be precise, as he lofted the ball out to 71-3¼ (21.72) a day after this article’s initial publication.
Ponzio, an ’18 USC grad, has done so under the tutelage for just over a year of 2-time World Indoor champion turned elite coach Ryan Whiting—who also guides heavyweight Darrell Hill. The results of Whiting’s collaboration with Ponzio showed up rapidly. After first breaching the 19-meter barrier in ’15, his redshirt season as a Trojan, and topping out that season at 64-1 (19.53) with an 8th-place NCAA finish, Ponzio went past 20m with a 65-7½ (20.01) last June and ended ’19 PRing at 68-¼ (20.73) in Greece.
Says Ponzio, who led the ’13 U.S. prep list at 69-7¼ (21.21) in his senior year at Great Oak High (Temecula, California), “I just think that it’s been a long time coming. You know, ever since high school I’ve always wanted to throw really, really big marks with the adult weight. I’ve always wanted to be a part of the circuit and do things that I know I can do.”
In ’20 he has exceeded his ’19 level, in the winter throwing 68-5 (20.85) for 2nd at the USATF Indoor and edging over 21m with 68-11¼ (21.01) a few days later. The initial months of the pandemic paused his progression until June 28 when he punched the ball out to 69-2 (21.08) twice—breaching an Imperial barrier.
This month, in Georgia for four meets in two weeks, he matched his best on July 11, and the next day upgraded his PR to 69-11 (21.31)—past the Olympic Q standard (if WA were counting marks this summer) and an inch shy of the fat, round Imperial number, 70. Ponzio spent the ensuing week training with Ryan Crouser before the ATL2 meet where the Olympic champ lifted his own best.
A Big Man With Nicknames: Ponzio, @chubbydiamonds on Instagram, lists the monicker “Nicky Two Chins” in his profile. Proud of his Italian heritage, he describes himself as a “Full-Time Paisan/Phat-Time Model.”
“It’s great now, you know,” says Ponzio, “after however many years it’s been to finally start to see some semblance of success at this point based on the hard work and effort that I’ve put in,” he says, having spent the week following his latest advance training. But there’s still so much to go and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m the type of guy who’s definitely going to be the workhorse and I never want anybody to outwork me, so I’ll do whatever I gotta do, but I’m really looking forward to things moving forward.”
Accomplished mentors have been in on the Ponzio project for some time now. Great Oak coach Doug Soles is renowned as a developer of distance talent, “a genius coach,” says Ponzio, who “ does such a good job of keeping everybody sort of in that mindset of this being a team and a unit.”
As a college frosh Ponzio landed at Florida but didn’t stay as he sought a stronger throws emphasis. “It was tough to leave Gainesville, Florida, ’cause I really enjoyed Florida and I really enjoyed the culture down there,” he says, “but I ended up transferring to USC after my redshirt freshman year and I started four years at USC.”
A three-time All-America for the Trojans, Ponzio’s guide there was respected throws assistant Dan Lange, whose many successes include shepherding Balász Kiss to ’96 Olympic hammer gold. “For me it was kind of a no-brainer,” Ponzio says, “especially because USC is such a historic track & field team.”
Lange wrote the program for strength development that sent Ponzio to Whiting last year primed for his next step up. “For me coming out of high school, I’ve always been a little bit of a bigger guy,” says Ponzio, now 6-0/315 (1.83/143). “Like I said, I was a football player at first. So for me the fact that I had higher strength levels made the transition to the 16 a little bit easier than for others. But for the majority of my career, I was still a little bit naïve. You know, a lot of kids think that it’s just about lifting really heavy and getting really big and that’s what’s gonna make the 16 go far.
“And so for the majority of my development up until I got to Ryan, it was mainly just about let’s just get big and strong and fast. And let’s just try to put the ball as far as we can.
“The best part about Ryan is that Ryan has implemented so many different facets of training a lot of coaches don’t understand or think are unnecessary, such as plyometrics, different horizontal and vertical plane movements, a lot of things to make you an overall athlete.”
The plan is to make Ponzio a yet better overall athlete. “I’m still growing in that facet, as well,” he says, “because a lot of that stuff takes years and years and it happens over time. But Ryan has it down to almost a science—especially because of the fact that he’s been to the top of the sport, as well, as a 2-time world champion. He’s able to give me insights into my physical development, how I should feel, how periodization should be, when I should be peaked, how I should be feeling on certain days and when ultimately I’m going to be throwing really far.”
Every great putter will tell you, though, about that other crucial component that’s not exactly the same for any two athletes, the mental side. Says Ponzio, “A lot of kids get so frustrated because, like I said, there’s this mindset that we all have that if I just work harder and I kind of dig deep and make it kind of dark, that will attribute to some success. And that does, in some fashion.
“But Ryan is able to reach into Pandora’s box, I should say, with my mind and is able to tap all of this potential, allowing me to feel so much more confidence and motivation within myself that I never had before.”
Ponzio foresees more barrier-breaking ahead. “I’ve thrown over 22m in training with the 16-pound ball multiple times,” he says. “So for me, I mean, there’s just such a different mindset in training. You’re able to kind of be loose and efficient, and in competition sometimes you kind of tighten up and you’re trying to hammer it. So I’m trying to get to a point where my training is replicable in a meet, and I feel that I’m really close to that. So I think it’s only a matter of time within the next month or two where I’m going to really surprise people.”