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Men's Shot Put: The rise of the competition over the years

A look at how the competition has intensified as Ryan Crouser heads into the Tokyo Olympics as the gold medal favourite

Ryan Crouser

Ryan Crouser in action at the 2016 Rio Olympics. (Source: Olympics.com)


Prasanna Haritas

Updated: 23 July 2021 7:48 AM GMT

Shot put event has been part of every modern Olympic Games since its inception in 1896. A few weeks ago, the shot putter from the USA, Ryan Crouser broke the world record at the US track and field Olympic trials. Until then, his fellow countryman Randy Barnes held one of the longest standing world records in athletics. The record stood for a whopping 32 years. Barnes was notorious for his doping violations. He was banned for 27 months shortly after his world record throw in 1990. In 1998, he faced a lifetime ban after testing positive for the banned substance- androstenedione.

Crouser has emerged as one who finally broke a questionable world record in an era where doping regulations and testing have become stricter. He is also the reigning Olympic champion from Rio 2016. While Crouser remains one of the strong favourites to defend his gold in Tokyo, Shot put as a discipline has progressed so much in the last Olympic cycle. It is one of those events where the world record is again under threat and has every potential to become one of the most memorable competitions of Tokyo 2020.

Just to give a context as to how the putting distances have progressed from Rio, the automatic qualification mark for a place in the Rio Olympics was set at 20.50m, while the same for Tokyo is set 60 cms more at 21.10m. This itself indicates how the throws have progressed with the help of sport-science and modern techniques. The automatic qualification for the final in Rio was 20.65m. Only 6 of the eventual 12 finalists were able to clear that mark in Rio. Of the 6 who managed the 20.65m mark, only the eventual gold medalist Crouser had a distance above 21.10m, the automatic qualification mark for Tokyo 2020. Even in the final, only the top 4, including the gold medalist Crouser threw a distance of more than 21.10m. Crouser was also the only man in the competition to clear the 22m mark with a 22.52m effort in the final.

The 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha was the most recent elite world athletics meet before Tokyo. The competition was indicative of how the Men's shot put will shape out in Tokyo. It was probably the best in the history of the sport. Eight throwers managed to clear the Tokyo qualification mark throughout the competition, which also was part of the qualification cycle. The top 4 all cleared the 22m mark in the final. The top 3 even came close to the 23m mark just falling short by 9-10cm.

In the final, Crouser's US team-mate Joe Kovacs edged the Olympic champion by a mere 1 cm to become the world champion. Former world champion Tom Walsh from New Zealand ignited the competition with a throw of 22.90m in the very first round. This effort was also the 3rd farthest throw in history at that time. Walsh was placed comfortable to win the gold until a mind-blowing final round. Both the US throwers completely shook up the competition in their final attempts. In his sixth and final attempt, Kovacs threw a mammoth 22.91 to move ahead of Walsh by just 1 cm, which then became the 3rd farthest throw in history. Crouser matched Walsh's effort but just came short of his US rival in his last attempt of 22.90m. Walsh was the final thrower of the competition. He had one last attempt to regain his top spot. But Kovacs' mark proved too far ahead for him to catch up in the end, giving Kovacs the gold.

The Tokyo qualifications cycle for Men's shot put was also one of the most mouth-watering periods to follow. It happens to be one of the only 6 athletics events and 2 field events in Tokyo that had all its quota places filled by automatic qualifiers. All the 32 Tokyo Shot put qualifiers have thrown a distance equal to or more than the automatic qualifying mark of 21.10m in the qualifying cycle. The other events to achieve a similar feat are Women's triple jump, Men's and Women's 10,000m and Men's and Women's Marathon. This itself indicates how the competition has progressed since Rio. Crouser was the only athlete to go beyond 23 meters, which he has done twice in the months leading up to Tokyo. The two marks include a 23.01m throw in the US throws festival in May 2021, followed by a world record-breaking 23.37m at the US track and field trials. In the throws festival, he also became only the 3rd man in history to clear the 23m mark. Overall, in the entire qualification cycle, 7 other throwers have managed to break the 22m mark.

Asian and Indian record holder Tajinderpal Singh Toor will be carrying Indian hopes into Tokyo. He had an excellent build-up to the event with record-breaking efforts in the Indian GP 4 in June. Here he managed to clear the Tokyo qualification mark in each of his successful throws in the event. In the same competition, he also broke the national and Asian records with a throw of 21.49m. This effort places him in the 15th spot of the world-leading lists going into Tokyo. In Tokyo, the competition will be so stiff that even any effort smaller than 22m might not be good enough to make it to the final, let alone win a medal. For the first time, we might also see every medalist with a throw of 23 meters or more. All in all, men's Shot put is one of the events to watch out for in Tokyo.

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