â€śThis year, Iâ€™m planning to be probably about 305, so if I could get about 10 pounds of good, quality weight, I think that would be pretty good,â€ť explains the Olympic champ about his quest to find his physique sweet spot â€“ that body that provides the perfect combination of strength, speed, and agility. â€śIâ€™ll probably go up to about 310 and then diet down to get to 305 just because, for me especially and for most throwers in general, when you lose a little weight you kind of gain a better feeling of athleticism and that helps make everything feel fresh and more athletic.â€ť
As a member of Oregonâ€™s legendary Crouser clan where the throws are an integral part of the family heritage track & field is in Ryanâ€™s DNA. His father, Mitch, was an â€™84 Olympic Games alternate in the discus. Uncle Dean was a 3-time NCAA throws champion, 2 in the discus and 1 in the shot. Uncle Brian was a 2-time Olympian and 2-time NCAA champion in the javelin. More recently, cousin Sam, who throws the javelin, has been a 2-time NCAA champion and 2016 Olympian. And cousin Haley, whoâ€™s also an accomplished javelin thrower, is the former American junior record holder in that event.
Supported but not pressured, Ryan charted his own sports pathway. â€śMy family really supported me to do what I wanted in terms of athletics and just in general. I wasnâ€™t at all pushed into track & field,â€ť he explains. â€śI played all the sports growing up. Track & field was the only sport you could do in middle school at first. I just went out and did that. When I first started, I was doing everything â€“ running, jumping, throwing.â€ť But eventually that pathway led him off the track and into the throw circle. â€śWith some natural talent and my Dad giving me some good solid guidance early on, I had a lot of success in the throws,â€ť understates Crouser who, at age 16, was the 2009 World Youth Championship gold medalist in the shot put and silver medalist in the discus. â€śSo I decided to stick with that. By my junior year, it was pretty apparent that I was going to stick with track.â€ť
Accomplishing world class status as a teenage throws athlete â€“ who was the 2011 Track & Field News High School Athlete of the Year â€“ didnâ€™t prevent Crouser from performing well in the classroom. At his high school graduation, he was honored as the valedictorian of his class of 400. â€śI never got anything other than an A in high school,â€ť admits Crouser, who also garnered National Honor Society recognition by employing time-saving, multi-tasking skills as a high schooler. â€śAnd in college I got even more efficient with my time,â€ť he smiles. â€śIâ€™ve gotten pretty good at it.â€ť
When he wasnâ€™t hitting the books or turning heads with his ever-improving throws, Crouser spent time as a prep attending to details and perfecting his craft in the ring. â€śI threw with the glide for a long timeâ€”until my senior year in high school. I feel I got a lot of benefit for doing it for quite a while; I got the benefit of learning what really makes the glide effective. And Iâ€™ve tried to transfer that to the spin a little bit. I feel like Iâ€™ve had a different kind of benefit from throwing from the glide for as long as I did.â€ť Is the spin the superior technique? â€śItâ€™s tough to say definitely,â€ť states Crouser. â€śThe spin gives you the opportunity to throw farther, but in terms of championships â€“ even in recent years leading up to this year â€“ most of the world championships and Olympics [shot titles] have been won with the glide.â€ť But does the University of Texas graduate have any lingering apprehension about his switch from the glide to the spin? After a momentary pause, Crouser doesnâ€™t equivocate in his deadpan reply: â€śIâ€™d say itâ€™s worked out pretty well to this point.â€ť
Breaking from family tradition, Crouser choose Austin, Texas for college. â€śThere was a little bit of pushback from the community, but not as much as I had expected,â€ť Crouser remembers about his becoming a Longhorn, not a Duck. â€śSome diehard Oregon fans gave me a hard time, but nothing too negative. After my prep senior year and my freshman year in college, the folks in Eugene have definitely treated me like one of their own.â€ť
While settling in at the University of Texas, the young shot putter began the transition to throwing a bigger, heavier implement. â€śMoving from the 12 pounds to the 16 pounds makes at least 10 feet of difference. And for me, it is even more of a difference just because I was lighter than and not as strong as the average college freshman. I was tall but not as heavy,â€ť states Crouser. He found the transition to be a lengthy one, but he remained patient and stayed after it. â€śItâ€™s a tough transition from high school to your freshman year to go pick up and throw the 16-pound shot. To try to get ready to throw that 16 right away usually doesnâ€™t work so well. We just went about it really gradually and planned out what we wanted to do. It definitely was a long transition going from the 12 to the 16. I really couldnâ€™t get completely comfortable with it until probably this year, until I could do the things that I wanted technically with the 16-pound without strength being a limiting factor. With 4 NCAA shot put titles under his belt, itâ€™s safe to say the transition is complete.
After receiving his undergraduate diploma in 2015, Crouser entered U of Tâ€™s graduate school. Earning a masterâ€™s degree normally takes two years, but Crouser had other plans. â€śThis past year I finished my masters [in Finance] in one year â€“ from the fall of 2015 through May of 2016,â€ť explains the multiple-time academic All-American, who finds the satisfaction associated with earning the advanced degree almost matched by the liberating thrill of the additional time gained by completing his formal education.
â€śThis past year it wasnâ€™t possible to do all of the Diamond League competitions, so I just didnâ€™t really have a sense of taking the Diamond League very seriously. Making the team at Trials was a main goal,â€ť explains Crouser who still finished 4th in the season-long Diamond League shot put competition. And heâ€™s excited about the prospects for 2017. â€śNext year will be different now that I am a full-time thrower and now that itâ€™s my job. And so I am looking to do some of the Diamond League and to hopefully win the Diamond League this year as I acknowledge that it is very important to compete for that. But my primary focus will be the world championships.â€ť
A stickler for detail, Crouser also plans to address some of the finer aspects of the shot this coming year. â€śI donâ€™t really feel like any one technical aspect is perfect at this point. I want to get a little bit stronger and a little bit heavier in terms of body weight. The other thing I am excited for this year is having the free time to do all of the little things right â€“ so I can spend a lot more time working on flexibility and mobility. I think that will make a pretty big difference. And then also in terms of technique, this coming year I will work on that. And this fall I have been working on the key aspects of my throw, just making it a little more fluid and maybe a little faster â€“ just small stuff that you can only have happen over time, which you canâ€™t really rush.â€ť
The young Olympic champion acknowledges that world-class shot put athletes often donâ€™t reach their physical peak until their later 20s or even past their 30th birthday. â€śYes, thatâ€™s generally what you would expect.â€ť And the thought of perhaps years of continued progression excites him. â€śAt this point, I feel there is a lot that I have to work on. I have it in my mind to get stronger and then also improve some technical changes that I made after Rio and had some success with in Europe. Combining those two, the next thing I am looking forward to is possibly Randy Barnesâ€™ world record at 23.12m / 75â€™ 10ÂĽâ€ť.
The future looks bright for the young man who has delivered prodigious shot put results by combining terrific talent and an unshakable, focused work ethic. In 2016 â€“ a year in which he completed a two-year masterâ€™s program in single year â€“ the Oregon native still produced the two longest shot puts of the year â€“ including the world-leading heave of 22.52m / 73â€™ 10Âľâ€ť. That #1-ranked throw was the gold-medal winning put and also set the Olympic record. It also ties Crouser for 6th on the all-time U.S. performer list, ties him for 10th on the all-time world list, and makes him the youngest shot putter of all time to throw that far. And hereâ€™s perhaps the best news: All signs suggest that Ryan Crouser, at the young age of 23, has yet to give us his best shot.
By Dave Hunter, www.trackandfieldhunter.com