Ryan Crouser’s next visit to Hayward Field should be much more enjoyable than his last.
The last time Crouser set foot in the historic home of the University of Oregon track and field, he was watching from the sidelines, injured and unable to compete in the U.S.A. Olympic Trials last July.
Nearly a year later, the Texas sophomore out of Barlow High is healthy and the heavy favorite to win the shot put title in the N.C.A.A. Championships, June 5-8 at Eugene.
“I’m real excited to be coming home,” says Crouser, an overwhelming favorite to claim the shot put title this season. “My grandparents are big track fans and haven’t gotten to see me compete in college. I’m really excited for them and a lot of other family and friends being able to watch me perform.”
Crouser’s school-record throw of 69′ 2 1/2″ — achieved during the Big 12 Championships at Waco, Texas, on May 5 — is light years ahead of Texas Tech’s Kyle Weldon, No. 2 on the collegiate list this spring at 63-9.
Crouser is 12th on the current discus list at 194′ 6″, just short of his personal-record 196-1, set while placing fourth at the NCAA championships last year but well behind 2013 leader Julian Wruck of UCLA at 216′ 8″.
“I’m real happy with where I’m at right now,” says Crouser, on the watch list for the Bowerman Award, given to the nation’s top college track and field athlete. “But I feel like there’s a fair amount more I can do.”
It’s a comeback season after a struggle to stay healthy during and after his freshman year at Austin for Crouser, who as senior at Barlow set three national prep records — the indoor shot (77-2 3/4), the indoor 16-pound shot (63-11) and the outdoor discus (237-6).
He was hampered when he tore a ligament in his throwing hand while placing fifth at the NCAA indoor championships. Crouser nursed it through spring, finding he could throw the discus adequately but had too much pain in releasing the shot.
“I’d tape my whole hand up, tape my fingers together, but I really couldn’t get things done like I wanted,” Crouser says. “That was really frustrating.”
Just as the hand was recovering in July, Crouser developed a throat problem that resulted in surgery to have his tonsils removed. But ill health persisted.
“After two weeks I still felt horrible. I could hardly get out of bed,” Crouser says. “The doctor finally determined I had a strep infection where the tonsils had been taken out.”
In five weeks, the 6-7 Crouser lost 50 pounds to drop to 205.
“I couldn’t even do a pushup,” Crouser says. “I lost all the training base I had.”
Recovery took much of the fall, and Crouser opted to redshirt through the indoor track season to regain strength and get back into shape.
Crouser raves about the contributions of Texas’ strength and conditioning coach, Trey Zepada, and the Longhorns’ throws coach, Mario Setegna, in his progress.
“Trey has worked with me on strengthening the weak links in the chain and, this year, helping get me more injury-proof,” Crouser says. “Mario has done a great job getting me more consistent with technique.”
Crouser threw the discus 194-6 at the Texas Relays on March 30 and has been in the 180-188 range since.
On the same day, he hit a then-PR 67-0 1/2 in the shot, then made a quantum leap of more than two feet at Waco.
“I’ve been real happy with the shot,” Crouser says. “The discus has been touch and go.”
Part of that is his heavy academic load. Crouser chose Texas in no small part due to its mechanical engineering program. He is an excellent student, with a 3.75 GPA during his most recent semester and a cumulative 3.20 mark.
“When school is in session, my usual day on campus begins at 6:30 in the morning and goes until 9 at night,” Crouser says. “Discus requires more practice time than the shot. I’ve only been able to work on the discus three or four days a week. Finals were two weeks ago, so now that I’m done with school, I think my discus can make a jump and get close to my shot performance.”
Crouser has enjoyed his time on the Austin campus, one of the meccas for intercollegiate athletics.
“The track program is great, and the school is, too,” he says. “It’s perfect weather for my training. It’s a big difference from Oregon.”
Crouser’s goal at the NCAA meet is to win the shot put and finish among the top three in the discus.
“If my discus starts clicking like I know it can,” he says, “I think I can be up there and make the podium.”
He’d like to hit the 70-foot barrier in the meet.
“That’s my main goal for Eugene,” Crouser says. “That’s kind of the holy grail for shot putters.”
To qualify, he’ll first have to finish among the top 12 in each event in the West regional event at Austin this weekend. There he’ll meet up with cousin Sam Crouser, a sophomore at Oregon who has the nation’s No. 3 javelin mark at 249-10. They’ve gotten together twice in the past two months — at Austin for the Texas Relays and at Gresham during Texas’ spring break.
“It’s always fun to see Sam,” Ryan says. “I grew up with him. We share such a passion for throwing. He has a pretty good eye watching me throw, noticing little things I’m not doing. It’s nice to have him there when I’m competing.
“He looks powerful heading into the championship part of our season. There’s a lot of potential there.”
Ryan Crouser, who has bulked up to 260 pounds, ranks third on the U.S. shot put list in 2013 behind professionals Ryan Whiting (73-1 1/4) and Reese Hoffa (71-2 3/4).
If he can finish in the top three at the USA championships June 19-23 at Des Moines, Iowa, Crouser will make the U.S. team for the world championships at Moscow, Aug. 10-18.
“I started late this year, so it seems like the season is pretty early right now,” Crouser says. “I haven’t started peaking yet.”
At some point over the next two years, health permitting, Crouser might challenge the collegiate record of 72-2 1/4 set by UCLA’s John Godina in 1995.
“That’s definitely a goal, especially next year, if I can keep progressing,” Crouser says.
Republished with the permission of Kerry Eggers and the PortlandTribune