Joe Kovacs currently tops the 2015 shot put world standings after throwing a PB 22.35m in early April. As the 25-year-old American sets his sights on the world champs in Beijing, we take a look at the moments that have made him the thrower he is today.

Out of adversity

Born and raised in the Pennsylvanian city of Bethlehem, Joe Kovacs suffered a devastating double tragedy aged just seven. His father died in Germany of cancer and the following day his maternal grandfather also passed away.

“It was a tough one-two punch being a young kid,” Kovacs recalls. “We were in Germany at the time, but it was toughest on my mum because she lost both a husband and mother. We grew even closer because of that.”

Kovacs’ mother, Joanna, later became his high school shot put coach.

Not your average Joe

Kovacs has not always been the big strong beast he is today. When he arrived at high school as an American football-playing freshman, he realised that most of the other kids were stronger than him. He knew he needed to change to compete, and by working hard in the gym as part of the macho football environment he was able to complete a transformation that would have lasting – if unintended – consequences.

“I got strong the old fashioned way,” explains Kovacs. “American footballers often have that mentality of wanting to be one up on each other, so it was just me against my friends seeing who was more of a man. By my senior year at high school I was by far the strongest person.”

He graduated from high school as state champion in the shot put and discus.

Spin doctor

The 2007 shot put world champion Reese Hoffa is the man credited with turning Joe Kovacs from a glider into a spinner. Attending a throws camp and aged 16 at the time, it was Hoffa (“a big guy with big calves”) who said to Kovacs ‘you are too short, you should spin’.

“That was a big transition for me,” Kovacs says. “That technique has allowed me to use a lot more speed rather than just pure strength. Reese doesn’t remember telling me that, but I joke to Reese that it is his fault I’m now a spinner.”

Monday Squat pic taken by 2x Olympic champ @athorkildsen

A photo posted by Joe Kovacs (@joekovacsusa) on

Do you even lift, bro?

Neighbourly love

Kovacs grew up just an hour-and-a-half away from the home city of Ryan Whiting, and had the good fortune to spend two-and-a-half years from 2010 training at Penn State with the 2012 and 2014 world indoor champion.

He says working with Whiting helped professionalise and structure his training, which he believes enabled him to make a big breakthrough in 2012 when he threw a then PB 21.08m for fourth at the US Olympic trials.

“It was funny, when I first started throwing with Ryan he would throw 21.50m without making a noise and I’d be yelling as loud as I could but barely crack 15m,” Kovacs says.

“I was amped up and put so much energy into accomplishing a new goal every day. I watched and learned about how to train and compete.”

West is best

On January 1 2013, Kovacs left the comfort blanket of his native Pennsylvania to head west to train out of the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, San Diego. The chief motivation of this switch was to be coached by Art Venegas, the former weights and throws coach to Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

“He is a legend,” explains Kovacs. “He had enjoyed crazy success at UCLA coaching both professional and collegiate athletes and I knew this guy has a system of how to coach.

“He has a good grasp of how things come together and he is not super-complicated. We don’t use any special lifting equipment, we keep it meat and potatoes and that’s what I like.”

Fun in the sun

Everyone loves the sunshine, and San Diego is blessed with 263 days of it each year. Kovacs believes all that vitamin D has helped him flourish.

“I enjoy the sunny weather here,” he says. “You can’t beat it for training. I have everything I want here from the weight room to medical support, and it is great to be surrounded by people who also want to be the best because you feel really bad if you are slacking.”

One fairly compelling reason to train in the Golden State

Raising the bar

Kovacs' main goal for the year is to perform well at the Beijing World Championships, but first he has to make the ultra-competitive US team. Should he make it, the 1.83m tall thrower will be looking to “medal, if not win the gold” at the Bird’s Nest Stadium. Kovacs believes he knows the best way of going about this.

“For me and my coach, it is all about raising the minimum in those pressure situations,” adds Kovacs, who set a PB of 22.35m earlier this year to climb to 12th on the all-time list for the men's shot. “My preparation is all about bringing the bottom side up.”

A love story

Kovacs' deep passion for the shot put has been critical to uncorking his potential throughout his career, and that still rings true today.

“I love the complexity of the shot put,” he says. “It seems so simple and I often do the same things every day, but I still feel I learn something new every day. That is all part of the process to building to a super-high level.”