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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Feb. 28, 2024

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World champ holder Ryan Crouser dials in new shot-put technique

New world-record distances are in reach

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FILE - Ryan Crouser competes in the men's shot put during the U.S. track and field championships in Eugene, Ore., Sunday, July 9, 2023. To gain a little more distance, shot put world-record holder Ryan Crouser overhauled his mechanics in the offseason.
FILE - Ryan Crouser competes in the men's shot put during the U.S. track and field championships in Eugene, Ore., Sunday, July 9, 2023. To gain a little more distance, shot put world-record holder Ryan Crouser overhauled his mechanics in the offseason. It led to the creation of what's been called the "Crouser Slide," a revamped technique that just might be copied and studied in an event that doesn't welcome innovation all that often.(AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File) Photo Gallery

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Tinkering around one late mid-December night, Ryan Crouser ran some shot-put experiments after a training session.

What if, the world record holder/mad scientist hypothesized, he shifted his starting position about 60 degrees clockwise inside the circle? What if he also executed a quick step early in his approach — almost like a sprinter’s burst — to generate more speed and create more radius and more rotation?

Something clicked that evening.

That’s how the “Crouser Slide” came into existence, a revamped technique that just might be copied and studied in an event that doesn’t invite major innovation all that often.

His adaptation may not be as revolutionary as the “ Fosbury Flop ” — a high-jump style developed in the 1960s that transformed the event — but it’s already proving big for him. The two-time Olympic champion broke his own world record in May using his new style.

“You’re always chasing down the rabbit hole of that perfect throw,” said Crouser, the reigning world champion who begins his title defense Saturday. “We’re such a performance-based sport. … We’re looking at how everyone else is doing it as how it’s the best way to be done.”

Crouser has long been fascinated by the physics of the shot put, which is why he’s always trying out different angles and rotations and recording them in his journal. It’s a way to satisfy his engineering-focused mind in a discipline not exactly known for modernization. Tweaks, yes. Major overhauls, not so much, especially from world record holders. To this day, there remain two basic styles:

— The glide approach, which has been around for a long time and has the athlete facing backward, before gliding and rotating across the ring to unfurl the shot.

— The spin (or rotation) approach, the relatively new one — only decades old — where the shot putter rotates to generate extra force before releasing the 16-pound shot.

Crouser said he started with the glide approach when he first learned the shot put before switching to the rotation method his senior year of high school. That style took him to great heights, breaking Randy Barnes’ 31-year-old world record with an attempt of 23.37 meters (76 feet, 8 1/4 inches) on June 18, 2021, at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

But the engineer in him knew there had to be a more efficient way to generate even more power. What confined the 6-foot-7 Crouser, though, was the 7-foot (2.13-meter) diameter of the ring. It’s not a lot of room for maneuvering or innovation.

Last December, he hit on something. He began shifting his starting point from about 11 o’clock position inside the circle to the 1 o’clock spot. Even more, he integrated a quick step-across — think sprinter Usain Bolt powering out of the blocks — to produce more force and gain extra radius before unleashing the shot put.

His first attempt felt “very promising,” he recalled.

“But I was just throwing it into a net,” added Crouser, who’s recorded 10 of the top 15 all-time marks in the event. “So it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, that ball went really far.’”

He was inconsistent at first, which was to be expected. It was so new and he was using a heavier ball as a way to keep him centered on technique.

“But I was right away throwing as far as I was when I used the classic technique,” Crouser said.

His form and power all melded together on his fourth attempt at the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix on May 27 when he one-hopped the retaining wall set way off in the distance. His attempt measured 23.56 (77-3 3/4), breaking his world mark.

“I started to see, ‘Yeah, I’m getting more benefit from this,'” said the 30-year-old Crouser, who grew up in Oregon, went to school at Texas and now lives in Arkansas. “It wasn’t just something I’m doing just because it’s different.”

A bold decision to deviate from a form working so well.

“For most throwers, the risk-reward is not quite as high (to change). But you’re talking about someone who’s literally the best the world’s ever seen in that event,” two-time Olympic shot put medalist Adam Nelson said. “For him, there’s a lot at stake. But that’s what makes him great.”

Crouser could be paving the road for the next generation of shot putters, which Dick Fosbury did for the high jump.

Before Fosbury came along, many high jumpers cleared their heights with a straddle kick. At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics when he won gold, Fosbury took off at an angle, leaped backward, bent himself into a “J” shape to catapult his 6-foot-4 frame over the bar.

A new way was hatched.

Outside of a few high schoolers, though, Crouser hasn’t seen many copy his style. More may try it out next season, before the Paris Olympics. He has generated interest among discus throwers, who believe the larger radius of their ring lends itself to the “Crouser Slide.”

“Being a math and numbers guy, I’ve always thought there’s got to be something a little more optimal,” Crouser said. “It’s finding a happy medium because chasing that 1% really is what has made me successful. It’s keeping that perspective, but keeping an open mind to try new things as well.”

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