Joe Kovacs, a 2011 Penn State graduate and two-time world champ in the shot put, is headed to his second Olympics.
Kovacs on Friday qualified for the Summer Games in Tokyo, finishing second to Ryan Crouser, who set a world record at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Crouser broke Randy Barnes' 31-year old record with a throw of 23.37 meters (76 feet, 8.25 inches). Kovacs' best throw was 22.34 meters (73-3.5).
Penn State graduate Darrell Hill, who qualified for the 2016 Olympics, just missed a place on the team by finishing fourth, one inch behind third-place qualifier Payton Otterdahl. The top three finishers made the U.S. team.
Kovacs and Crouser have one of the top rivalries in track & field, which includes duels at the 2016 Summer Olympics (which Crouser won) and the 2019 World Championships (which Kovacs won).
Kovacs is a two-time world champion (2015 and '19) and a three-time medalist, having placed second at the 2017 championships. He won a Big Ten championship at Penn State before embarking on his international career.
Kovacs, 31, has been living and training in Columbus, Ohio, under the guidance of his wife Ashley, a throwing coach at Ohio State. They were married, and she became his coach, in 2018.
Kovacs spent much of 2020 returning to his training roots. He worked out in his home gym and practiced throwing at a local middle school, recalling the days when he trained with his mother, Joanna Royer, in a high school parking lot in Bethlehem, Pa.
That year followed the greatest event of his career, and what many in track & field consider the greatest shot put competition in history. Kovacs threw a personal-best 22.91 meters to edge Crouser by one centimeter.
Sports Illustrated recently named Kovacs one of the 50 fittest athletes in the world after he stunningly squatted 870 pounds.
The 2021 Summer Games are scheduled to begin July 21.