Ryan Crouser Repeats As Shot Put Champion With Joe Kovacs Taking Silver
by Karen Rosen
Ryan Crouser celebrates winning the gold medal in the Men's Shot Put Final with a message for his grandfather at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Aug. 5, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
TOKYO – Ryan Crouser wrote the note a few days ago and kept it in his bag.
It said, “Grandpa, We did it. 2020 Olympic Champion!’
“I figured if I didn’t win, I just wouldn’t pull it out,” said Crouser, who did pull out the paper after becoming Team USA’s first male track and field gold medalist of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Crouser held it as he carried the American flag behind his shoulders with his signature black cowboy hat on his head.
The note was Crouser’s last message to his grandfather, Larry Crouser, who passed away at age 86 just before his grandson left for Tokyo.
He was spurred to write it while sitting in his bed at the Olympic Village. Despite a great practice, Crouser said, “I felt emotionally drained, just from a lot of stress,” which included the COVID-19 protocols keeping the athletes safe.
He was also missing his grandfather, whose backyard had been the staging ground for Crouser’s first throws as a small boy – if you can believe the 6-foot-7 Olympian was ever small.
As soon as Crouser finished the short note, “ I breathed a huge sigh of relief,” he said.
The 31-year-old Oregon native knew if he did what he had prepared himself to do, he’d repeat as Olympic champion. And it was a way for him to feel close to his grandfather, who had lost his hearing in his final days and relied on notes for communication.
“It was a good way to help me kind of clear my mind,” Crouser said, “and feel like I could write one last note to him.”
On a morning at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium when upsets in the 4 x 100-meter relay and 110-meter hurdles seemed to prove the old adage, “There are no sure things in track and field,” Crouser was one of the biggest shoo-ins the men’s shot put has ever seen.
Not only did he repeat as Olympic champion, Crouser could have won the gold medal Thursday with five of his six throws. The other throw would have been good enough for second.
Crouser set three Olympic records – breaking his own mark from 2016 on his first throw -- during what was the greatest series of all time. His sixth throw, his longest toss at 23.30 meters (76 feet, 5 ½ inches), was just .07 shy of the world record he set in mid-June at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – track and field.
Sure, teammate Joe Kovacs, the reigning world champion, was right there, placing second with a throw of 22.60 meters (74-1 ¾) on his final attempt.
Joe Kovacs competes in the Men's Shot Put Final at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 5, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
“Last round, I just swung for the fences,” said Kovacs. “What I threw today would have been the Olympic record. Ryan threw farther. That just tells you where the sport’s going. We just keep pushing each other.”
In a repeat of the entire Rio podium, Tom Walsh of New Zealand took the bronze (22.47/73-8 ¾). No other track and field event in history has had identical podiums two Olympics in a row.
Wearing mirrored shades, Crouser literally saw the world through gold-colored glasses. He also wore a blue baseball cap covering his red hair on four of his throws, although the cap would fly off his head as he spun.
“It was hot out there,” Crouser said of the temperatures in the low 90s, “ and it was something to keep the sun off my face. You can’t throw in the cowboy hat very well. I think it would fall off more than the cap did.”
On his first throw, Crouser set his first Olympic record of 22.83 meters (74-11), breaking his own record from Rio.
On his second attempt, he improved by 10 centimeters, then threw 22.86 on his third attempt, followed by 22.74, 22.54 and the monster 23.30.
“It was the best series I’ve ever had in terms of consistency,” said Crouser, who had no fouls. "The thing that has me most excited is to throw 23.30 in the final round after a long, hot competition, thousands of miles away from my home, and a different bed and different food. So that has me excited for the future.”
And it also brings back memories of the past in his grandfather’s backyard in Gresham, Oregon.
Throwing events have been a Crouser family affair. His father Mitch was an alternate on the 1984 Olympic team in the discus and his uncle Brian Crouser qualified for two Olympic teams in the javelin throw. Another uncle, Dean Crouser, was a shot putter and discus thrower, and cousins Sam and Haley both throw the javelin.
Crouser said his grandfather “had a huge role in my throwing career, and so to lose him the week before the Olympics was obviously sad, but I feel like he was able to be here in spirit.”
His grandfather’s backyard had a concrete pad and then a little sand section beyond the lawn.
“The goal was to throw from the concrete and land in the sand,” Crouser said, “but mine would land in the grass because I couldn’t throw 20 feet when I started.”
The backyard training ended when he was in the eighth grade.
“The day I had to leave I threw the 8-pound shot and it went through the roof of his garden shed,” Crouser said
The dutiful grandson went back the next day to repair it. What if he had thrown 23 meters, as he does today?
“The fence as 60 feet,” Crouser said, “so it would have been into the neighbor’s yard. I don’t know if it would have hit a building, maybe a house.”
Because of the pandemic, Crouser didn’t see his grandfather from Christmas 2019 until after the Olympic Trials in June, which were held in Eugene, Oregon.
“I sat with him for a few hours after the Trials and was able to write that I was world record holder and he watched that throw on the iPad thousands and thousands of times,” Crouser said, “and so he’s been my biggest fan.”
Although Larry Crouser knew his grandson was always looking to achieve long-term goals, “He always told me stop and smell the roses,” said the two-time Olympic gold medalist. “You never saw him in a bad mood. He was always happy and always so supportive of everyone in the family. He really instilled that in me, that it’s not so much where you end up, it’s how you get there and enjoying the process of getting there.”
Grant Holloway celebrates after competing in the Men's 110m Hurdles Final at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 5, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
On paper, Grant Holloway was the overwhelming favorite in the 110-meter hurdles. He had barely missed the world record by .01 when he clocked 12.81 seconds at the Olympic Trials. He set the world record in the 60-meter hurdles indoors in February. And he was undefeated this season.
“Every time I step on the track, I know I’m in contention to do something special, just because I’m Grant Holloway,” he said.
But Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment wrote a new script. The 2012 Olympic silver medalist, who has battled injuries all season, posted a season best of 13.04 seconds while Holloway went 13.09 for second. Ronald Levy of Jamaica took the bronze (13.10) and Devon Allen of Team USA was fourth (13.14).
— Team USA (@TeamUSA) August 5, 2021
“If I was to say I’m not upset then I’m lying, but I have to be satisfied with the silver,” Holloway said. “The first loss of the season always sucks, but to have it at the Olympic Games, I think it sucks a little bit more. I think it also sucks because I had Hansle Parchment in all of my heats and I was able to execute every round with him in it.”
Holloway, who is great out of the blocks, was in the lead most of the race, but Parchment kept him in his sights and overtook him.
“The nerves got the best of me,” Holloway said. “I got a little bit excited towards the end of the race and my form kind of broke down.”
Parchment said he knew he’d need a perfect race to beat Holloway.
“When I was about to lean (at the tape),” he said with a smile. “I saw that I was in front and made my day.”
And ruined Holloway’s.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.