Ryan Crouser had all you can eat in 2016, taking gold in Rio in an Olympic record, but now the Oregon native is hungry for more. He wants to destroy the shot put world record.
There are not many Olympic events where gluttony is a key component of peak performance, but shot putters, in many ways, are a different breed.
Walk through the lobby of the athletes’ hotel in the days before a Diamond League meeting and you can spot them from afar, man-mountains such as Ryan Crouser, who tower over others and carry their hulking mass with the casual, modest manner of those who have no need to brag about it.
Make no mistake, though, the Olympic champion works as hard as any of his sporting peers.
At his training base in San Diego, he racks up 10 hours a week in the throwing circle, another 10 hours lifting weights in the gym, and a good 15 hours a week are dedicated to stretching, sprinting, or plyometrics.
“It’s almost like a full-time job,” says Crouser.
And then there is the eating, which isn’t half as much fun as it sounds when the daily requirement is to gorge.
“I get so sick of eating,” says Crouser. “I’m the opposite of what most people think about shot putters – that they want to eat all the time.”
Crouser eats every two to three hours during the day, a tactic which ensures his body never becomes catabolic, a depleted state of breakdown which leads to weight loss. His five meals a day come in at a minimum of 1,000 calories each.
“I take in over 5000 calories a day just to maintain body weight,” he says. “If I’m trying to bulk up I’ll get closer to 6000. I’m constantly eating, and get really sick of it.”
Of course, coming from a family of throwers, Crouser has long been aware that it’s simply part of the job, and if his current approach continues to reap dividends, well, he’s quite happy to continue chowing down.
Reaching a Crouse-roads
These days, he may be king of the (shot put) ring, having taken the Olympic title in Rio and confirmed his superiority with a winning throw of 22.43m at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene last month, but he could so easily have gone down a different path.
Ahead of the US Olympic Trials last summer, Crouser knew he was approaching pivotal a point in his career. His father, Mitch, had finished fourth in the discus at the 1984 Trials, narrowly missing out on a place at the Los Angeles Games, while his uncle, Brian, competed for the US team at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics in the javelin.
Aware that Rio was no certainty, he arranged a professional NFL try-out with the Indianapolis Colts, where his physical ability – Crouser bench-pressed 225lbs more than 40 times in a previous trial – had drawn the attention of scouts.
He never did make it to Indianapolis, however, after winning the US Trials with a throw of 22.11m and booking his place in Rio. There, Crouser set an Olympic record of 22.52m to take gold, a life-changing moment that he still feels the effects of every day.
In the week before the Pre Classic last month he returned to his home town of Boring, Oregon, where he lost count of the number of autographs he signed, and where his recovery between sets in the gym involved posing for selfies with adoring fans.
Ironically, though, it’s when he leaves his home nation that he is most often recognised, particularly in New Zealand, where the stature of Valerie Adams and Crouser’s good friend and rival, Tom Walsh, has given his event widespread exposure.
Last year, much of Crouser’s spare time was spent completing his master’s degree in finance at the University of Texas, but since finishing that he has made the move to San Diego to train full-time, his workouts overseen by John Dagata though still scripted by his father, who continues to coach him remotely back in Oregon.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” says Crouser, explaining his slightly unusual set-up. “It’s good practice to train on your own; you learn so much about yourself. You often see athletes who do a lift or a throw and halfway through they’re looking up at their coach for advice. When I’m at a championship and the coaches are 100 yards away and you can’t hear them, that doesn’t affect me as much as the other guys.”
Last year Crouser improved his PB from 21.39m to 22.52m, and he credits that jump to his ability to train full-time.
“Everybody asked me last year: ‘what was your secret?’ But it was really just that I trained my butt off through college, but could never get things going until I was done and could really focus. It’s about doing the little things that no one wants to do – the stretching, rehab, the small stuff that doesn’t seem fun and it’s not – but that makes all the difference.”
Having started the year in ideal fashion, Crouser hopes to continue the momentum all the way to the IAAF World Championships in London, though he knows it will prove no easy task to wrestle the world title from the hands of teammate Joe Kovacs, who heads the world rankings with his throw of 22.57m.
The pair will square off again this weekend at the US Championships in Sacramento, with the Crouser-Kovacs clash in the men’s shot put final on Sunday afternoon set to be a show-stopper.
“Joe is one of those guys who throws monster fouls and monster warm-ups, whereas I try to save my big ones,” says Crouser. “He had a warm-up throw that was almost 24 metres two years ago, so I definitely think either of us could break the world record.”
That mark stands at 23.12m to Randy Barnes, and has stood for 27 years, though after the year he’s had Crouser is ruling nothing out. His appetite is not satisfied just yet.
“I went from being the new kid on the block – nobody knew who I was – to the guy to beat, world number one at the end of 2016,” he says. “This year, I’m not doing anything special, just setting goals and hoping to achieve them.”
And, he adds: “goal number one is to break the world record.”