David Storl in the shot put at the London 2012 Olympic Games
Audiences at last month’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in London saw a thoroughly entertaining competition which saw world champion Joe Kovacs reach 22.02m to defeat world indoor champion Tom Walsh and two-time world champion David Storl.
Not surprisingly, many people were wondering whether they were witnessing a rehearsal for the medal battle in Rio.
Kovacs won at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 to deny Storl a third consecutive world title. He leads the world this year with the 22.13m he reached to win at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene and has been beyond 22 metres in six competitions since the start of last year. But the US putter is not invincible.
He lost five of his 15 competitions last year and has been defeated twice already this year, including by Ryan Crouser at the US Olympic Trials. It gives the rest of the world some hope that he might let his guard down again, although he has to be considered the favourite.
The ever-consistent Storl has not been out of the top two at a major international competition since 2011, including winning the silver medal in London four years ago, and so certainly knows how to peak for championships.
This season has been a little different as he had another bout of knee surgery at the end of last year and missed the indoor season. But, as he showed last month when winning his third consecutive European title, he is gradually getting back in shape to produce the big distance and getting close to his best of 22.20m, set at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne last year.
Walsh just missed out on a medal in Beijing when finishing fourth but came of age at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 and won with a personal best of 21.78m. He will be bidding to be New Zealand’s first male field event athlete to get an Olympic medal.
Crouser defeated Kovacs and the rest of the deep and very strong US shot putting corps at the US Olympic Trials when he unleashed a big personal best of 22.11m to secure his first trip to an international championship since he won the 2009 world U18 title.
His lack of experience as a senior on the big stage may count against him but he certainly has the talent to challenge for the medals and currently lies only behind Kovacs on the 2016 world list.
Kovacs and Crouser will be accompanied by the previously unheralded Darrell Hill, who improved by almost half a metre to 21.63m to take third place at the US Olympic Trials and defeat a host of better known rivals.
Poland’s 2008 and 2012 Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski will defend his title but, sometimes hampered by injury problems, has not thrown beyond 21 metres since 2014. The affable giant might not be a medal prospect this time; indeed, he only finished third at his own national championships in June.
Attention, instead, is focused on his teammates, the teenage prodigy Konrad Bukowiecki and Michal Haratyk.
Bokowiecki, still only 19, showed that he can hold his own with the seniors when he finished fourth indoors in Portland back in March and will be looking to improve his world U20 best of 21.14m. The 24-year-old Haratyk showed good from and strong nerves when he took the European silver medal behind Storl last month.
Other men to look out for include world bronze medallist O’Dayne Richards, although the Jamaican has been struggling to get beyond 20 metres in most competitions this summer, and the much-improved Stephen Mozia, who set a Nigerian record of 21.76m in his last competition three weeks ago.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF