When shot putter Payton Otterdahl tossed a world-leading 71-0 (21.64) at Nebraska’s Colligan Memorial, it was the culmination of a technical change that started his sophomore year at North Dakota State. Says the Bison senior, “That’s kind of the centerpiece.” The centerpiece finds him at No. 3 on the all-time collegiate indoor list (see sidebar), just 3½ inches off the CR.
A 61-½/177-7 high school thrower coming out of Rosemount, Minnesota, Otterdahl had two state titles to his credit. As a frosh in Fargo, his biggest improvement came in the discus, winning the ’15 USATF and Pan-Am Junior titles. “Back then I would have said the discus was my best event, But things have changed a little bit,” he says.
He reached a notable 59-5 (18.11) with the international ball that year, but he wasn’t happy using the glide. “It was just much harder on my body and it was hard to make the technical changes that I needed to.”
ND State throws coach Justin St. Clair explains, “He was a glider in high school and that transition that first year, it’s pretty tough. I thought it’d be wise to stay with the glide throughout the year. But he kept poking at me, ‘Hey, I want to try spinning.’ I was saying, ‘I don’t know, man, I’m not sure if you’re really a spinner or not.’ But we just kind of went at it and it clicked right away.”
By ’17, a year in which he redshirted his outdoor season, Otterdahl had improved to 61-1¼ (18.62). Notes St. Clair, “I said, ‘I had it wrong, buddy. I mean, you felt that you knew it and you were able to do it.’ After a little bit of time it went downhill for a little bit as he was still learning. I said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re not going back to gliding. We’re going to stay with spinning. It’ll just take a little time and things will fall into place.’ ”
That prophecy came true last season. He threw 64-4½ (19.62) indoors, then went on a tear outdoors, notching four PRs in his first five meets, topped by a 68-9¼ (20.96) to win the Summit League.
The NCAA, though, was a huge disappointment, as he reached only 64-4½ (19.62) to place 10th. “I had thrown well under what I had been recently so it was a bummer,” he says. “I knew that I had more in me. Really I’ve just used that as another motivation this year. I don’t want the same thing to happen again. I’ve been training really well and my focus and motivation have been good. So I’m right about where I want to be.”
In that sense, Otterdahl wasn’t blown away by his 71-footer, or the 69-11 (21.31) PR that preceded it in December and moved him to the cusp of the all-time collegiate indoor Top 10. “Obviously everyone always wants more distance, but it’s not like anything shocking,” he says. He’s also close to the all-time collegiate Top 10 in the weight, his 77-8¼ (23.68) toss from January making him the yearly NCAA leader.
It was parental encouragement that led the 22-year-old Otterdahl to our sport. He joined track in middle school “but wasn’t a fan of the running events.” That put him in the throws, which seemed to blend well with his other pursuits, football and wrestling. In fact, wrestling was his favorite at the time and he even though about doing that in college, but his parents pointed to his success in the throws and suggested that he focus there.
That was good advice for the whole family. His brother Trevor followed him with all-state honors in high school and is now a soph at North Dakota State. Another sibling, Maxwell, has thrown 58-7¼ as a prep and has committed to come to Fargo next fall.
“I’m the runt of the litter,” says the elder Otterdahl. “I’m 6-4 (1.93). The middle one is 6-6 (1.98) and my youngest brother is 6-8 (2.03). “I like to be a motivator for those two, explaining things through my eyes as someone who’s been in this place before. We help each other out a lot in that aspect. It motivates me too. I want to be a good leader.”
The Otterdahl family dynasty isn’t the only thing North Dakota State has going for it. Last year, the Bison squad was the only one in the country with 4 over 59-0 (17.98) in the shot and 4 over 60m (196-10) in the hammer. In the last three years, the squad has had more men’s and women’s throwers qualified to the NCAA Regionals than any other school. That’s largely due to the work of St. Clair, who himself was a 7-time U.S. Ranker in the javelin. Says Otterdahl, “We work really closely together. He’s a good role model for all of us.”
With graduation looming, Otterdahl sees himself wanting to go after Worlds and Olympic berths. “I’ll still be competing for sure,” he says.
Adds St. Clair, “He’s motivated, talented, a young man who is still learning. I don’t think we’ve seen the pinnacle yet by any means. I think we’re really just starting.”