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In our Thrills in Tokyo series, we’ll highlight some of the summer Olympics biggest competitions. More than just focusing on the teams, we’ll look at the colleges from which these athletes hail.
Few sports have as much history as shot put. Part of the Olympics since 1896, it has become one of the most popular throwing events of the Games (the others being the discus, hammer throw, and javelin).
The U.S. has enjoyed a fair share of success and is looking to build on it. During the Rio Games, Team USA’s Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs finished first and second, respectively. They’re both expected to reach the podium once again, but it remains to be seen who’ll walk away with gold this time.
As a two-time Olympian, Ryan Crouser is ready to defend the gold medal he got in Rio. "The main thing at the Olympics, or a major championship, is winning or doing my best to come home with gold," he recently said to NBC Sports. "I always want to go out there and compete against myself."
In that regard, he’s doing very well at defeating himself: Of the top 10 men's shot put throws in history, he’s thrown half of them.
For the Texas Longhorns legend—he’s a four-time NCAA shot put champion and nine-time All-American—track & field has always been a family affair. His cousins, Sam (University of Oregon) and Haley Crouser (University of Texas), had successful athletic careers at the college level as javelin throwers. Both he and Sam were part of Team USA at the Rio Games. His uncle Brian Crouser is also a two-time Olympian and his dad, Mitch, was an alternate for the 1984 Games.
Second in the world rankings, right after Crouser, is Joe Kovacs. The also two-time Olympian is ready to reach the podium once again, after winning the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Games. The Penn State alum was the 2015 World Champion and won the silver medal at the 2017 World Championships, ahead of Crouser.
The road hasn’t been easy for the Penn State alum. After losing his father when he was only seven, Kovacs’ mom, Joanna, played a huge role in his life. When the 12-time high school district champion (in shot put, discus, and javelin) saw that her son started throwing shot put to stay in shape for football, she decided to coach him. “It’s been the two of us for many, many years,” Joanna Kovacs told NBC Sports. “We have this bond that you really can’t separate.”
Today, it’s Kovacs’ wife, Ashley, who trains him. "Being coached by my wife, some might think it would be complicated,” Kovacs told NBC Philadelphia. “But for me it's better." He has explained that the arrangement has truly improved his performance, since she knows him so well and knows how to keep him fresh and healthy.
And the results show it. After a series of upsetting results—that included failing to break 20 meters at a meet for the first time in four and a half years—Kovacs was ready to retire in early 2019. Then came the 2019 World Championship in Doha. After putting a new training plan alongside Ashley (who also coaches at Ohio State), Kovacs beat Crouser by a mere centimeter
“Things change in a moment,” Kovacs’ mom Joanna said. “We learned that early on in life.”
For sports excitement, turn to the Olympics. For driving thrills, click here to see what Nissan has to offer.
Catch full Olympic coverage on NBC, including the Men’s Shot Put Final, tonight, Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. ET.