World shot put record-holder Ryan Crouser (© Getty Images)
Can anyone stop Ryan Crouser? For the past two years, the answer has been a definitive no, and it will come as a huge surprise if the world shot put record-holder and Olympic champion leaves the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22 without gold after his first appearance at the global indoor event.
The 29-year-old had a flawless year in 2021, breaking the indoor world record with 22.82m, the outdoor world record with 23.37m, and winning all 14 events he contested. He opened his season at the Millrose Games, taking victory in a competition that was later voided due to a technical error. Crouser then took the US indoor title with a 22.51m throw in Spokane, and that puts him 60cm clear of his closest pursuer on this year’s top lists.
If there is one man with the capacity to topple Crouser, then it’s Tom Walsh, the 30-year-old New Zealander who threw 22.90m when winning bronze at the World Athletics Championships in Doha in 2019. The Olympic bronze medallist has won the last two world indoor titles, and showed he’s in decent shape when winning the national title (outdoors) earlier this month with 21.55m.
Poland’s Konrad Bukowiecki, who was fourth in this event in 2016 and eighth in 2018, should also be in the medal shake-up. The 24-year-old is a 22.25m outdoor thrower at his best, and after a sub-par 2021 this indoor season he’s bounced back to top form, taking victory on the overall standings in the World Athletics Indoor Tour after throwing 21.91m in Madrid. He was the 2017 European indoor champion but has yet to win a global medal at senior level, though this looks a ripe opportunity to do so.
However, the battle for podium positions should be closely contested, with Croatia’s Filip Mihaljevic arriving after two impressive showings in recent weeks, with a national indoor record of 21.84m in Torun followed by a 21.83m throw a week later in Madrid.
USA could have two athletes on the podium if Josh Awotunde finds his best in Belgrade, the 26-year-old impressing at the US Indoor Championships when winning silver behind Crouser with an indoor PB of 21.74m.
Brazil’s Darlan Romani and Italy’s Nick Ponzio are also both arriving in Belgrade in flying form after national indoor records in recent weeks. Romani threw 21.71m to win the South American indoor title last month while Ponzio launched an Italian indoor record of 21.61m at this same venue in Belgrade last week. His Italian teammate Zane Weir, who was fifth in the Olympic final last year, has thrown 21.65m outdoors this year and 21.50m indoors and will also be in the line-up in Belgrade.
Czech Republic’s Tomas Stanek, the 2018 world indoor bronze medallist, and Poland’s Michal Haratyk, the 2019 European indoor champion, are both potential medal contenders if recapturing their best form, but both have been below it this year. Haratyk threw 21.07m to win silver at the Polish Championships earlier this month while Stanek, the reigning European indoor champion, has a season’s best of 21.18m.
There will be high hopes for Serbia’s Asmir Kolasinac, the 2013 European indoor champion, who’ll be looking for a big performance in front of his home crowd. He has a best of 21.06m this year.
Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics