Ryan Crouser celebrated his first ever visit to Serbia by unleashing another tremendous series of throws to comprehensively dominate the Belgrade city centre shot put competition, with his first round 22.59m being his best effort but having all five of his valid throws in excess of 22.32m on Thursday (17).
The Olympic champion was in the Serbian capital, along with his US compatriot and world champion Joe Kovacs, to promote the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22 in the wake of the recent launch of the official logo for the competition.
Crouser looked relaxed from the outset in ideal conditions for good distances with the temperatures still in the low 20s even with sun having gone down over Belgrade’s iconic Republic Square.
Despite spectators being restricted to about 400 people due to Covid-19 restrictions, he was greeted enthusiastically every time he entered the circle.
His first effort went out to what was to be his winning distance of 22.59m to ensure his seventh straight win well beyond 22 metres. In fact, since setting a world-leading mark and personal best of 22.91m in July to start his streak of 22-metre competitions, his shortest winning distance has been 22.43m.
Crouser’s full series was 22.59m, 22.32m, foul, 22.57m, 22.55m, 22.37m to bring the curtain down on his summer season. Before today, no athlete had ever thrown beyond 22 metres on Serbian soil.
“I’m happy overall with my throws, especially the three throws over 22.50m,” said Crouser. “It shows consistency and good distances, and when I get consistent it usually signals I’m ready for another leap forward.”
It was clear that Crouser was indirectly indicating that the long-standing world record of 23.12m, which has stood to USA’s Randy Barnes for more than 30 years since 20 May 1990, could well be under threat in 2021, as if people were not already of that likelihood already.
“And I was hoping to get 23 metres tonight but this competition still really excited me with the music and crowds. Most of the time I’ve been competing in front of 50 people, so it was great to get a big crowd. I love events like this where we can move it out of the stadium and into the city centre and the streets.
“This year has been really difficult for everyone, but it’s also ignited my passion for the sport,” he added. “Just finding ways of training, I’ve been on sidewalks and in parks. Of course, it hasn’t been optimal training and I’m not as strong as previous years because I’ve been doing a lot of my training in a garage. What makes me pleased is that I set a goal of competing this summer (despite all the problems) and committed to it 100 per cent.”
Kovacs, who battled with technical issues throughout the competition, finished almost two metres in arrears of Crouser in second place with a relatively modest 20.61m.
“I’m definitely not happy as I was expecting to get around 21.30m or closer to the 22-metre line but, hey, two weeks ago I didn’t know whether I would have any competitions this summer,” said Kovacs, sporting a heavy strapping on the wrist of his right throwing arm.
It would certainly be unwise to write off Kovacs as an Olympic medal contender on the evidence of one poor performance on Thursday.
At the pre-event press conference, he admitted that since the Olympic Games were postponed, he has used this season to regenerate his body and heal some minor injuries, and hopes to have an extensive indoor season from the start of next year.
Phil Minshull (Belgrade 22 organisers) for World Athletics