American Kurt Roberts explains his long-time love affair with the shot put – a love that bore fruit in Shanghai last month when he bagged his first ever Diamond League victory.

Have temper? Throw shot!

Roberts was introduced to shot put in his sophomore year at high school by a female throws coach who believed the then American Football playing teenager had the perfect personality for the event. 

“She said to me, ‘I've seen you lift in the weight room and you tend to be a little crazy, so I think I know the sport that would be good for you’,” explains Roberts.

On hearing about shot put he thought the sport sounded “fun”. He found it has had a positive influence on his temperament.

“I had a strong temper as a kid, a lot of aggression. Sports helped me to express that in a socially acceptable manner,” explains Roberts.

“When it came to football, I really enjoyed hitting people. When I released that aggression into sport, it made me a way better and calmer person in regular life.”

Didn’t know I was looking for shot until I found it

When Roberts threw a shot for the first time in March 2004 it was love at first sight. From that moment his goal was clear – figure out a way to throw the metal ball as far as possible.

“It was the thing I'd be waiting for all my life,” he explains. “It was this most amazing experience. It is a real mystery how one day I could throw a big distance and the next day it was like I'd never touched the shot before.

“It is an amazing puzzle. Every time you step in the ring, the body is firing slightly differently. Understanding how to manipulate the body made me fall in love with shot.”

The big show

A late starter in the sport, Roberts made steady rather than spectacular progress and was recruited at Ashland University – a division two NCAA school – in his native Ohio. He describes his time there as “amazing”.

His coach Jud Logan, a four-time Olympian in the hammer, made a huge impact in terms of his development. On a college visit he recalls the immediate impression AJ Kruger, another retired US hammer thrower and the AU strength and conditioning coach, made on the then teenager.

“He was this giant man wearing US team gear,” he remembers. “As soon as he shook my hand I knew from that moment this is what I wanted to do.”

Children are the answer

Roberts enjoyed a solid college career, winning three NCAA Division 2 titles, but he was no stand-out performer. Yet in 2012 he took the decision to turn pro, even if his “laughable” PB of 19.80m was a modest base from which to launch a professional career.

It was a gamble. To fund his goals he took up a part-time job teaching kids aged 3-13 physical education. The gamble paid off. Working with a new coach, who completely reconstructed his technique, he improved his PB to 21.14m in his first year.

Roll the dice again

Roberts continued to improve. In 2014 he launched the shot out a PB 21.50m to place second at the US indoor championships, going on to finish tenth at the Sopot World Indoor Championships.

Later that year he powered the 7.26kg implement out to 21.47m to finish runner-up at US nationals. But the stress of a two-hour round trip to work five days a week (he worked two full days and three half days) was starting to take a toll on his body.

“I had started to travel overseas in 2014 and I ended up getting back spasms,” Roberts says. “I then tore my groin in Warsaw, which was the point I realised I could no longer teach and train at the same time.”

More injuries delayed his attempts to become a full-time athlete in 2015, but late last year – and with four years of savings behind him – he quit his job and took the plunge with the goal to deliver his best at the Rio Olympics.

“It has been amazing not to have to drive two hours to work every day and to have that consistency of knowing when I’ll be able to throw, lift and rest,” he explains. “It has made my training much more predictable and has made all the difference in the world.”

Kurt Roberts Portland ()

Roberts has made an effort to become more adaptable after he struggled to cope with the competition structure at the Portland world indoors

Further, not stronger

Now working with a new coach, Robert Klenk, Roberts has thrived under an approach that does not overburden the athlete with too much information. Also working with a new strength and conditioning coach, Derek Woodske, he has radically changed his weight room strategy.

“When I worked with Jud in college, the aim was to try and get me as strong as I could as quickly as possible to learn the limitations of my body,” he explains. “Derek believes I have reached my strength threshold, so I don't need to be stronger in these areas to throw further. Now I focus more on practising better technique to improve the quality of my training.”

Mistakes are lessons to learn

During the 2016 indoor campaign he set a lifetime best 21.57m and secured his maiden US senior title in Portland. He went into the world indoor champs full of optimism, but endured a nightmare as he finished 19th and last with a desperately below par best of 17.94m.

The explanation was simple. After allowing for a 20-minute break for introductions and a further 20 minutes for his first throw of the competition his hand was numb with cold. After 40 minutes his body was cramping up. He had simply failed to prepare for the conditions. Still, the relentlessly upbeat American looked for the positives.

“Looking back it was the best thing that could have happened to me. It has allowed me to incorporate some scenarios into training to avoid this happening in future,” he explains.

“My coach has now taken the liberty of sometimes during training allowing me to throw twice in the circle and then driving me to a different ring to throw me off and prepare me for that wait time. It really exposed some holes.”

Outside the circle

In September last year Roberts’ wife gave birth to their first child, daughter Adalynn. The additional responsibilities of family life clearly suit Roberts.

“When I'm home with her I have to be soft, caring and gentle, but once I know it is a throwing day I can hardly sleep the night before because I know I have the chance to let everything out,” he says.

“It is hard to describe how amazing it is to have those two different worlds. Whether it has been a good practice or bad practice, once it has finished, it is gone and you are a dad again.”