Ryan Crouser has a background in engineering, a master’s degree in finance, a night owl and a curiosity for innovation that will keep him busy. It’s not unusual, he said, for his workout partner to return for another week of training, only for Crouser to giddy ask him to try a new exercise he tested over the weekend.
“Every time he’s like ‘not again,'” Crouser said.
Self-coached and with little historical precedent to rely on as a dominant, tall – he is six foot – pitcher using a rotational technique, he was left to develop his own throwing style. He had already tried many, without success. Then one night last December, around 10 p.m., his tinkering led him to what he called a “lightbulb moment.” Within the six-foot-diameter barn’s shot put ring, Crouser shifted where he started his spin a little farther to the right. It broadened his first step and added another step to his approach.
“Longer stride, longer radius, longer acceleration path on the ball,” Crouser said.
He calls it the ‘switch’. Others have called it the “Crouser slide”. Based on his performance in front of 7,249 fans at UCLA’s Drake Stadium at Saturday’s Los Angeles Grand Prix, this is perhaps the best description: history’s greatest shot putter just found a way to get better.
Crouser’s new technique “clicked” in an encounter for the first time, and it resulted in a throw of 22 yards, 3¾ inches, about seven inches further than Crouser’s previous world record set in 2021.
“I’m very excited because it didn’t feel polished,” Crouser said. “It felt like I had a lot of power and a big catch, but there’s a lot more.”
Of Crouser’s 10 longest throws for Saturday, only two came in May or earlier. Crouser spends a full year training to peak for about 10 days timed around big encounters so a big roll like that this early in the schedule could bode well for big things leading up to July’s US Championships and August’s World Championship, where Crouser will try to defend his title from last year.
Crouser, a self-professed mathematician and physicist, doesn’t believe there’s a limit to how far the 16-pound metal ball can be thrown. But he knows that these are the variables that decide: release point, speed, training, technique and confidence.
“I think 23.70 [meters] is quite possible and a conservative estimate,” said Crouser, whose record throw was 23.56 meters. “I think 24 is humanly possible, but at that point you’re playing with magic a bit and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.”
USA Track & Field poured a big budget into Saturday’s encounter in hopes of capturing its own breakthrough moment.
The sport is often beleaguered by concerns about its popularity, or lack thereof, and planting a deep-field encounter in Los Angeles was a top priority for the governing body as it laid out a strategic plan to use the 2028 Olympics as a springboard for its relevance. The gathering, which filled about three quarters of the stands, was also followed by a concert.
For various reasons, but largely due to health concerns, several high-profile athletes once announced to compete on Saturday pulled out in the days and weeks leading up to them, including Rai Benjamin, Michael Norman, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Ating Mu, all of whom train at Los Angeles and would have been big draws. Those who did show up included Mondo Duplantis, the world record pole vaulter who won at 19 feet, 4 ¾ inches.
Sha’Carri Richardson presented another much-anticipated reason to watch. The sprinter ran a strong wind-assisted 10.57 in the 100 meters in April and a legal, world-leading 10.76 on May 5. Lou. Both won their qualifying heats on Saturday but failed to run in the finals, along with Aleia Hobbs, leaving a literal void with their lanes empty during a signature event at the peak of NBC’s national broadcast window.
A spokesman for the USATF said Richardson pulled out due to cramps. Hobbs did not walk out of precaution after feeling pain in her knee while warming up for the final, her agency said.
Richardson’s absence from a major U.S. meeting followed a tumultuous two years in which she became one of the few track and field athletes to make the cross-cultural leap to relevance in 2021 by winning the U.S. Olympic trials for the first time dyed maroon hair, dainty fingernails and what-you-see-is-what-you-get personality, then being barred from competing in Tokyo after testing positive for marijuana. She promised to win the world championships the following summer, but failed to even qualify for the encounter.
“I keep saying this. I’m not back — I’m better,” Richardson said Friday. “Because for the past three years I have shown you all what I can do. It was just me who got in my way.”
Richardson is back in the spotlight, this time for her fast times. She has said she has learned to avoid media coverage of her.
“Last year I was angry,” she told reporters on Friday. “Everywhere I went I saw red and I wanted to make sure everyone felt that too. Now I have come to a point where I see myself. And I want everyone to see me wherever I go.”
They saw her comeback Saturday, for 10.90 seconds.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.