Ryan Crouser Lifted The World Championships Curse

Crouser’s wait for a World Champs victory was long but immensely rewarding in the end. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

AT LAST THE TRIFECTA is Ryan Crouser’s: Olympic champion (twice), World Record holder, and two weeks ago, on his charmed third try, world champion.

“All I can say is it was worth the wait,” the greatest shot putter ever to spin across a circle declared after adding a World Championships Record to the Olympic Record — a standard he first set in Rio with 73-10¾ (22.52) then blew away in Tokyo with 76-5½ (23.30).

Achieving it in his native Oregon made his win all the more memorable:

“It was so special to do it here, my home state, at a shot put ring that before they took it down at [the original] Hayward Field, I remember throwing in this ring when I was 12 years old. Seventeen years later, this is more than I could ever have dreamed of.

“This is such a special night, being part of the USA sweep in the shot put at the first World Championships on home soil. This is something I’ll never forget, probably the proudest moment of my shot putting career. The USA has so much depth and has been dominant for so long. We’ve been talking about a sweep for a long time and we’ve finally done it.

“A huge congrats to Joe Kovacs. He competed fantastically as always. Josh [Awotunde] had an amazing night, throwing three personal bests. It was something you never see so he brought it home for us for sure. He did what he needed to do. He had one hell of a night. A team effort. The atmosphere was amazing and the crowd so energetic. This is a night I’ll never forget.

“This is the biggest thing missing from my résumé, to finally get it. These guys have joked that I have been cursed at the World Championships so I finally got it. I am beyond words.”

Crouser’s road to the title came through epic historical territory in shot put history, a golden age marked not only by the majors where he dominated — the ’21 Olympic Trials in which he smashed the World Record and Tokyo — but also by momentous, tense clashes, usually with two-time world titlist Kovacs.

In this latter class belong the ’19 World Champs in Doha, where Kovacs prevailed by a single centimeter over Crouser and Kiwi Tom Walsh, this summer’s World Champs Trials three weeks before Oregon22, and of course, the Worlds contest, in which for the second meet in a row Kovacs took the lead over Crouser in round 1.

The night after the USATF Champs battle, Crouser stopped in at T&FN’s World Champs Trials Tour Dinner — for some rubber chicken (just kidding!) and an onstage interview. Though his comments there are in a sense old news, we feel they make for a thoroughly worthwhile read a month later.

Towering above his audience from the stage, Crouser gave thoughtful answers to questions thrown at him by a T&FN staff member, yours truly with the byline at the top of this story, as well as some super fans, our beloved tour clients.

Though this is not part of our official T&FN Interview series, we’re presenting it here in Q&A format. We think Crouser’s thoughts on key competitions in the dazzling 3 shot put years just passed provide intriguing insight into his mindset and physical preparation as he approached his winning Worlds.

T&FN: Congratulations. Last night’s was an incredible competition! You had to work for it. Kovacs launched two 75-footers before you could seize the upper hand. In some respects it was like Doha ’19. For you, how did these two marvelous competitions compare?

Crouser: Doha was amazing, and also not exactly the same as last night. I mean Walsh opened with 22.90 [75-1¾] and Joe came relatively out of nowhere. His final round was 22.91 [75-2]. A massive PR for Tom, massive PR for Joe. And I just got in there and tried to do something I’d never done before. And I did throw a big PR for myself, 1 centimeter short of Joe.

I remember talking to my dad afterwards and he said, “If this was scripted as a movie, you would say it’s ridiculous and so unrealistic that no one would believe it, to have three massive PRs from the top three athletes.”

To put it in perspective, I broke the World Championships standard at, 22.36 [73-4½], that was the World Championships Record at the time. And it lasted for about a minute.

Tom broke it [also in the first round] and it lasted for about 20 minutes. So the level of the shot putting in Doha was actually phenomenal.

A single centimeter separated medalists Crouser (silver), Kovacs (gold) and Walsh (bronze) at the ’19 Worlds. (SIEG LINDSTROM)

Last night was a little bit different. I feel like it shows how much the sport has progressed just in that short amount of time and how much the level has come up just with, I don’t want to say it being a nonchalant competition, but it didn’t have that “I can’t believe this just happened” feeling like it did in Doha. Joe opened last night with the huge 22.87 [75-½] in round 1.

And then I had to kind of have a moment of maturity and say, “I really, really want to chase him right now and really get on this next throw but I have to make the team. He’s got the [defending world champion’s] bye.”

So I had to sit there and say, “OK, check the box. We have a strategy. I need to make the team.” So I went with the easy static, 22.42 [73-6¾], enough to make the team, and I knew that would most likely hold up.

I really went for it in round 2 and fouled by just a little bit, and then kind of found my groove.

The dangerous thing with Joe is if you give him room to work, you don’t put the pressure on him — we go into round 2 and he throws another 22.87. He’s a really dangerous competitor, and without him, I definitely wouldn’t have had the performance that I did last night.

He pushed me. That’s the first time I had to chase in a while. So, yeah, a little bit of a different feel to that competition, but I think it’s a testament to the level of shot putting.

T&FN: It goes without saying that you’ve done more than your share in raising the level of the event since Doha. With the roll that you’ve been on, is there ever a temptation to let down or a feeling going into a meet of “I’ve got this”? Or are you always ready for someone to drop a 75-footer straight out of the box?

Crouser: I don’t want to say it was a surprise because Joe’s been throwing extremely well. I just wasn’t expecting to see that just out of the gate in the first round. And so there was a little bit of a surprise for him to come out swinging like that.

And I just wasn’t sure where I was at in training. I knew the big throws were there, but I’m coming into my taper right now. So I’m not where I’m planning to be in a few weeks for World Championships. So I’m feeling really good physically, but I just don’t have the high-intensity reps that I need to really hammer in those big throws.

So that’s what had me the most excited about my performance last night: that I was consistently inconsistent and the errors that I was making were kind of one-offs.

I was outside-right on one. I was inside-left on the one I was late on my left foot on another, and they’re all consistently going far. So if I can get the reps in and really get that feeling… I spent most of the year kind of relatively beat down and tired from the weight room and a lot of steady throwing.

There’s a few weeks out of the year where I do really feel good in training and really try to throw far in training and we’re kind of coming into those. So I’m excited to see when I can get those little mistakes polished out with some high-intensity throwing in practice, how far that a closer to perfect throw could possibly go.

T&FN: Do you think it’s a blessing to have had this comp where you were challenged from the get-go? Will it pre-prime you for what lies ahead at the World Championships?

Crouser: Oh, definitely. I think it’s always a fantastic thing for any athlete when you can kind of face that adversity, especially when it’s unexpected, and react to it and overcome it. So I was really happy with how I handled that last night.

Anytime you can have that rolling into a major championship with — I don’t want to say imperfect preparations, but preparations that are set on a meeting in 3 weeks — to do that and kind of bring all the pieces together, so to say, and execute, I would think is a really good indicator, not just of my physical place, but also as I’m starting to get into the right mentality to compete against the best in the world.

Crouser wore his first Olympic gold to the Rio ’16 T&FN Tour Luncheon. (SIEG LINDSTROM)

T&FN Tour Member: Could you describe your week of training?

Crouser: Yeah. So it does vary a lot, whether it’s fall winter, spring, early season. Right now it’ll be more throwing heavy than it would be most of the year and relatively less weightroom.

For my kind of next two weeks, Monday will be my relatively high intensity in the weightroom. That would be my highest-intensity day. So I’ll do a hard throwing session in the morning because that’s the freshest I’ll be all week.

So it’s a hard throwing session in the morning, hard high-intensity lifting session in the evening, and it’s usually more CNS [central nervous system]-based training, usually a heavy squat and a heavy Olympic lift and high-intensity plyos.

Tuesday will be a really easy technical kind of walkthrough session, mostly focused on upper body lifts. So I’ll hit my heaviest bench of the week on Tuesday and then also do med ball and all my dynamic rotational work.

Wednesday is a throw-specific day. So this next week I’ll add in my double session. Usually I throw once on Wednesday; I’ll start throwing twice. So an AM and a PM session.

Thursday is a dynamic lower body lift, so speed. I’ll do a snatch, speed squat, higher velocity plyos.

Friday will be another throwing-based day. And since I didn’t throw on Thursday, it’s usually a little bit higher intensity than Tuesday or Wednesday, and I will throw in the evening, but I will preface that with a dynamic upper body lift.

And then Saturday will be a technical throwing session. So a higher number of throws, but a relatively low intensity working on kind of technical cues.

So after every practice I’ll write down my cues goals for that practice and then do a reevaluation of what I did well and what I need to improve on. Saturday’s the day that I take all of those notes and try to get them all in order and set myself up for Monday’s next hard throwing session.

T&FN: I know you have an engineering background from your education at Texas. There’s also obviously a wealth of understanding of throwing in your family. How long have you had your training dialed in to this level?

Crouser: It’s always a work in progress and I’m always experimenting and adding new things and taking things out. I’m always trying to evolve my training program. I’d say I’ve had kind of this level, I would say of dedication, attention to detail, since I went full-time professional in 2016.

But I can’t say that it’s been dialed to this extent because I’m always trying to get better and take from everywhere. So it’s always trying to learn.

I try to steal from other sports. Like recently I was watching Muay Thai videos, and different jujitsu martial arts videos, looking at some of the training they do that’s really interesting that I feel like I can apply to the throws.

So I’m always trying to change and I don’t think I will ever have a perfect training system. I think if you get to the point that you think you have the perfect training system, you probably don’t.

T&FN Tour Member: Do you use any personal film study or do you just go on your internal feel?

Crouser: I have mixed feelings on it. I actually got a drone so I’ve got some cool overhead shots in the last month. But I feel like I’m at an unusual age in track & field because early in my career film was kind of still new. I remember seeing my throws, we got a new slow-motion camera early in my career, and it’s really cool to see that, but now I see kids that watch every single throw they take on film, and I feel like it’s finding a happy medium.

I definitely film less than probably every other elite thrower. I’ll maybe film two or three throws twice a week, maybe on my Monday and Friday sessions.

So I don’t film a whole lot. I feel like at the elite level, it’s really a feeling-based thing. ’Cause I mean, I’ve watched 10,000 of my throws, and if you laid out a practice throw-by-throw, even I couldn’t tell you which one was which exactly. I could say, ‘That’s pretty good. That one’s a bad one,’ but when I actually let it go, I can tell you exactly what I did right, what I did wrong.

So that level of feeling is really what it takes to get to the elite level and continue for me to improve. For me, it’s going to be on the feeling side, the continued improvements, more so than what I’m going to pick up from film.

T&FN Tour Member: Did you have a favorite shot putter? Also, you studied engineering. Do you consider that comparable and relevant to throwing?

Crouser: Yeah, I didn’t make it all the way through Engineering. I made it through the really hard classes, I made it through the weed-out classes, and after my sophomore year, I took a Finance class and actually decided that’s what I wanted to do — so switched to Economics so I could graduate in time to do my Master’s in Finance while still on scholarship. I didn’t get the full Engineering degree, but there is an engineering background, for sure, and a mathematics background.

As far as shot putters go, my all time favorite was Ulf Timmermann and I really liked Randy Matson, as well.

Crouser made his first T&FN cover, October 2009, as a lanky 16-year-old.

At the time that I was learning the event and learning the techniques, I was a glider so I related to the gliders and I liked Randy Matson. He was tall and athletic and wasn’t the biggest, strongest guy. And as a kid, if anyone saw the 2009 cover of Track & Field News, I was 6-4, 180 pounds on that one. I was the tall skinny kid so learning to glide I loved Randy Matson because I could relate to it.

I loved Ulf Timmermann for the technical efficiency. I think he was the all-time greatest glider. Throwing 23 meters [75-8/23.06] in the glide is unbelievable.

So by the time I switched to the spin, there wasn’t anybody. I had a technique kind of from the discus that I took over and I didn’t have a technical model that I really wanted to follow. There weren’t a lot of tall rotational athletes that had had a lot of success. There was a number of them, but their technique didn’t really relate to how I was throwing, having just picked up the shot with kind of a discus technique.

So I kind of worked and experimented and came up with a technique that works for myself.

T&FN Tour Member: We all know about your physical achievements and all the wonderful things you’ve done in our sport, but one thing I’ve wondered about is your mental aspect. You always seem to be so positive, so relaxed. How does that work compared to when I see the tightness of so many others?

Crouser: That’s a great question. I think the mental aspect is a huge component to competing at the elite level and performing at the elite level. And I think it’s a place that I’ve been able to differentiate myself and continue to improve. And it’s something that I make a conscious effort of to do every day. Whether it’s mental imagery, meditation, and it’s not crazy far-out voodoo, it’s taking 5 minutes in the morning to think about what I want to do today, get my mind in the right headspace.

It’s that 30 seconds I take before I step in the ring visualizing, it’s the two breaths I take when I put my heels to the toe board and stand there before every single attempt. So it’s the little things, but it’s a focus on the little things and making a conscious effort. It’s not something you can just do overnight, it’s something you work at and get better at and you improve it.

I noticed for myself the first meet of the season I feel sloppy mentally, almost where I didn’t take the two breaths before I got in the ring, I didn’t follow my same protocol of when I get my shot, putting tape on my wrist, I didn’t check the boxes and be methodical about it. And it’s something that I think every athlete needs to make a conscious effort of if you want to compete at your absolute best.

T&FN: Do you think that early on this season, having that, as you say, sloppiness — whether it was or not — was just a matter of there being some difficulty in recharging from a year like you had in 2021: a World Record, Olympic champion? These are the goals that everybody wants to achieve and you achieve them and then have to come back and gear up for another season.

Crouser: Yeah, 2021 was an interesting year for me. I had such a fantastic season last year and did so many things that I wanted to do. And you hear athletes talk about kind of like the Olympic hangover, the slump after the Olympics.

And I just thought, “Oh, that won’t happen to me. I still have a lot that I want to do in the sport,” and I still do. But it took a little bit of time just to readjust. And I think the biggest thing that I had to learn to do is after spending a year at such a high level is I had to refocus and realize that I can’t throw 23m [c75-6] the entire year.

When it was October, November, I was throwing 20.50 [c67ft] in practice, struggling to throw 65ft on an off day, and it’s like, “How can I have lost 11ft?”

But it just goes with the training. And it took me a while to just readjust and realize if I want to build a base, that’ll take me to a new PR, hopefully beyond 23.37, I have to do more training in the fall. And I can’t throw as well as I could when I’m feeling good and feeling fresh. So that kind of was an adjustment that I had to make.

And the same thing in the early meets. When I was younger, I could just go out there and blast 22m [c72ft] and just be really aggressive.

My technique has progressed. It’s a little bit more polished. And if I have that level of just trying to crush it in the front of the ring, it doesn’t necessarily go quite as far as it used to. So it’s been a learning experience still for me, figuring out when I need to throw far. And when my body will let me throw far.

T&FN Tour Member: Do you use different shoes when the ring is wet [as it was for USATF]?

Crouser: I do. The Nike SD has worked for me. They’re a softer shoe and they’re a relatively slower shoe. So I have different pairs. As that rubber starts to break down. it gets almost a gummy feel and the sole gets softer. So if I’ve taken 500-plus throws in a shoe that sole really breaks down and it’s really grippy.

So it’s a combination of that rubber that’s starting to get soft along with that softer sole that let’s me really grab the ground. And so if it’s wet or really fast ring, I’ll throw on the older shoes. If it’s a slower ring, the new shoes are texturized on the bottom and that rubber, is still really nice and fresh so they’re a lot faster.

So I don’t change shoe types, but I have a brand new pair, I’ve got a pair that’s just starting to break in and then kind of my standard throwing shoes, maybe 300-ish throws on them. And then I have a couple of pairs that are like on their last leg, they’re almost worn through.

T&FN: We hear a lot lately about Pebax and rockers in runner’s shoes. Do your shoes have any such high-tech materials or design enhancements?

Crouser: No, mine are just the old school rubber soles.

Final Question, from retired distance great Bernard Lagat, now coaching at Arizona and also a Tour Dinner guest: Where does the long run fit into your training? [audience laughs]

Crouser: The long run? That might be what I need to work in next, ’cause it’s not in it now. [more laughter and applause as Crouser walked offstage to prepare for Oregon22]