What makes Ryan Crouser — the world-beating giant of the shot put — so good?

Physical specimen: Crouser is hard to miss at track meets — and not just because of the wide-brimmed cowboy hat he often wears. He is 6’7” tall and weighs 145 kg, but carries that mass quickly. Photo credit: Getty Images

Pushing boundaries: Crouser has taken the shot to places it hasn't been before.  There is no telling where he will take it.  Getty Images

Pushing boundaries: Crouser has taken the shot to places it hasn’t been before. There is no telling where he will take it. Getty Images

Ryan Crouser launched the longest shot put throw in history on Saturday.

The double Olympic champion rewrote his own world record, setting a new mark of 23.38 meters at the Simplot Games in Idaho. The throw, at the indoor meet, beat her previous world record of 23.37m, set outdoors at the US Olympic Trials in Oregon in 2021, as well as her world indoor best of 22.82m, achieved earlier that year in Arkansas .

Last Saturday’s record throw came a year after Crouser’s throw at the same distance was overturned. He thought he had broken his record by a centimeter in January at the Millrose Games but a faulty laser measurement device meant the competition was called off.

Despite his dominance — the reigning world champion registered eight of the 12 best marks in shot put history — Crouser didn’t expect the record.

Big surprise

“The biggest surprise of my career so far,” he wrote on social media. “Wasn’t expecting a 23.38m today…Training was a bit disappointing this week, just struggling with feeling flat and a bit under the weather. Decided to rest on Thursday and Friday. I’ve never taken two consecutive rest days before a meet until now, but I figured it was better than overtraining. All I can say is if things get tough, try to stay positive and you might surprise yourself!”

Crouser’s success, however, is not surprising – because, nature and nurture contributed to an early immersion in the sport. He was raised in a family deeply embedded in athletics, especially in throwing events. His father Mitch was an alternate on the discus team at the 1984 Los Angeles Games while his uncle Brian was a two-time Olympian in the javelin and cousin Sam represented the United States in the javelin at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

It was in grandfather Larry’s backyard that young Ryan tried his first throw with the heavy metal ball that would shape his life. His throws as a kid were unpredictable — once, he hit a shot off the top of a garden shed and had to go back the next day and replace the roof.

Crouser almost went the discus route, just like his father. He competed in both events for a while, but grew frustrated with how the elements affected the distance the discus traveled. The shot put has no such problem. “No matter how strong the wind is, it can’t move a 16-pound sphere,” he said. “I like the consistency and repetition of numbers around the shot and not having to worry about, ‘Oh, I’m going to have wind or not.'”

Crouser is gifted. He’s hard to miss at a track meet — and not just because of the wide-brimmed cowboy hat he often wears. He measures in at 6’7″ and 145 pounds, but carries that mass with agility. He’s explosive: his run comes out of a three-point stance that rivals the best athletes in American football, says by his coaches.He ran track in school and was also an avid basketball player.

All this athleticism and exposure to other sports serves him well in the shot put, a point he made in the ‘Advice to my younger self’ series on the World Athletics website.

“You’re right not to specialize early,” Crouser wrote to his younger self. “Track and field does a lot of repetitive motion whereas playing basketball is more reactive and teaches a wide range of motion. This will be very beneficial when you eventually specialize as a thrower because there will be you have a better understanding of what your body can and cannot do.

A student of the game

In addition to his physical gifts, Crouser also has a sharp, inquisitive mind. An exceptional student, with an interest in math and science, the 30-year-old has a master’s degree in finance. His deep competitive spirit and do-it-yourself mindset combine to come up with out-of-the-box solutions.

For example, he built a training ring in his home in Arkansas during the coronavirus pandemic to make sure he never missed a day of training. His homemade ring was made from two sheets of plywood and screws purchased from Home Depot. If he throws too hard, the plywood tends to slide. So he really concentrated on his footwork.

Shot putters use themselves as part-time physics gurus, spending hours analyzing their throws from multiple angles, hoping to gain a few more centimeters. Crouser took it a step further, working as a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Arkansas.

The job requires him to learn the nuances of his craft so he can better explain the process, which in turn benefits him. Some of his shot put pupils happened to be left-handed and to better teach them, Crouser worked on attempts as a southpaw. He can reach about 15.5m to the left; the knowledge he gained by reverse-engineering the technique was just as satisfying.

Indeed, the time Crouser has devoted to understanding his craft is evident in the analogy he uses to explain the difficulty of doing what he does. He asks people to imagine taking a 7.3kg bowling ball, going onto an open basketball court and trying to chuck it from the free-throw line into the basket at the other end!

“We’re strong and we’re moving well and we’re generating a ton of force,” Crouser said. “It’s hard enough to make a three-quarter court shot, just to throw the basketball that far — now throw a bowling ball that far. That puts it into perspective.

To maintain his strength, Crouser has a tough training program. He also eats – a lot. His 5,000-calorie-a-day diet consists of two loaded breakfast burritos, filled with bacon or sausage, in the morning, a pound of lean ground beef with rice, slathered in barbecue sauce, for lunch and then three out of four servings from an evening meal delivery service. And when he sets a new world record, he goes out for a “big, old double-double hamburger somewhere”.

Given Crouser’s record-breaking streak, the natural question that arises is: how far can he go? He is trying a new approach, in keeping with his experimental, playful approach to continuous improvement. This includes him moving his starting point to the right and adding an extra step to the rotation, designed to generate more rotational power.

If the scheme is appropriate over the next few months, it will, in his estimation, offer a higher top end. Crouser has taken the shot to places it hasn’t been before. There is no telling where he will take it.

Alok Kumar

Alok Kumar is Content Writer for Sports section on Contact: [email protected]

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