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Reigning Olympic champion Ryan Crouser opened up his title defense in the men's shot put final with an Olympic record of 22.83 meters on his first throw of the evening. He went on to better it two more times and ended the day with a 23.30-meter toss for the second-farthest throw in history and a second Olympic gold.
All of Crouser's six throws matched or broke the previous Olympic record. Five of the six were far enough to beat his compatriot Joe Kovacs's 22.65 mark for silver and New Zealand's Tom Walsh's 22.47-meter toss for bronze.
"My mindset was really good going in," Crouser said. "Practice went really well, so today it was a lot about heat management. We knew it would be a long competition and we knew it would be hot. The key was getting a big one early. I managed to do that. I had solidified the win by the end so I got a little more aggressive and chased that bigger throw and finally connected with it".
Crouser's 2021 campaign has been one of the greatest in history. It kicked off when he broke Randy Barnes's 22.66-meter indoor world record, a mark that had stood since 1989, with a 22.82-meter toss.
It was only a matter of time before Barnes's 1990 outdoor world record of 23.12 meters fell. At the U.S. Olympic Trials, the 6’7” and 320-pound star finally toppled it with a 23.37-meter throw to beat the previous record by about 10 inches.
Kovacs has been Crouser's biggest rival for the past six years. Kovacs won the 2015 world championship title and then took silver behind Crouser at the Rio Olympics and 2017 world championships. The 2019 world championships in Doha proved to be the greatest shot put competition in history, with Kovacs winning by just one centimeter at 22.91 to Crouser and Walsh's 22.90.
"Ryan brings it every time," Kovacs said. "There’s not going to be an easy day, which pushes me to be better. I know I have to be ready."
With his victory on Thursday morning in Tokyo, Crouser becomes the second American man to successfully defend his Olympic gold medal in the shot put since Parry O'Brien went back-to-back in 1952 and 1956.
After his final throw, Crouser pulled out a sheet of paper that read: "Grandpa. We did it. 2020 Olympic champion!" His grandfather, Larry, passed away a day before he left for the Tokyo Olympics.
The Crouser last name is no stranger to Sports Illustrated. In May 1983, Kenny Moore profiled Dean, Brain and Mitch Crouser as “track and field’s first family at throwing things.” In 2010, their kids Sam and Ryan Crouser were Faces in the Crowd athletes to watch for their discus and javelin high school accomplishments in Oregon.
Ryan told reporters in Tokyo that he threw his first throw in his grandfather's backyard and would practice there through eighth grade. He estimated that if he threw like he did in the Olympic final then the throws would have ended up in his neighbor's yard.
"The day before I had to leave I threw a shot, and it went right through the roof of his garden shed, so I had to go back the next day and replace that," Crouser said. "He played a huge role in my throwing career. So to lose him the week before coming to the Olympics obviously was sad. But I feel like he was able to be here in spirit."
"I held the note because at the end he lost his hearing so I would write whatever I wanted to say to him and he would read it and answer back," he added. "I sat with him for a few hours after the trials and was able to tell him I was the world record holder. And he watched that throw on the iPad thousands and thousands of times. So I just felt like that was the last note that I wanted to write to him, that I didn’t get the chance to. I know he was here with me in spirit, and I know he would be proud if he was here."
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