Freshman Ryan Crouser recently smashed a 30-year-old UT school record in shot put and is gunning for the Olympics, but two seniors are tough competition, too.
Looks can be deceiving, and this is especially true in the case of the college shot put.
Throwers spin, hurl, and heave in one motion, at the end launching what amounts to a cannon ball as hard and as far as possible. It looks about as technical as mowing the lawn or tilling the garden.
But of course there’s more to it than meets the eye. In fact, don’t be surprised if you bump into Texas junior thrower Hayden Baillio in the grocery aisle, and he’s shuffling around like a dancer.
“I like to describe throwing as a ballerina-like movement at figure skater speed, and then you have to be strong enough to launch a cannon ball,” said Baillio, who placed fifth in the shot put at last year’s NCAA Indoor Championships. “It’s is very technical. Technique is the biggest key to the sport. The more reps you get, the better you get. I practice it all the time.”
While rooted in both feel and strength, the shot put is a discipline that is usually unique to the thrower, and the Texas men’s track and field team has a throwing trio as diverse as it is distinct.
Baillio and senior Jacob Thormaehlen both hail from Texas, where they grew up as their town’s best athletes and competed in every sport. With the Longhorns, Baillio and Thormaehlen have grown into All-Americans in the shot put.
Freshman Ryan Crouser, on the other hand, was groomed to throw from childhood, and he arrived on the Forty Acres already the holder of three national high school records. Crouser also won the gold medal in the shot put at the 2009 IAAF World Youth Championships.
Together, they’re forming a formidable group. Last weekend at the Arkansas Razorback Invitational, Crouser finished first, but had to shatter a 30-year-old school record with a throw of 66-7 to best his teammates. Thormaehlen was second with a 62-05 throw, while Baillio was third in 62-03.75.
Crouser’s throw is the second longest nationally this indoor season. The Longhorns have three of the top 10 throws, with Thormaehlen fifth and Baillio ranking ninth.
“They push each other,” head coach Bubba Thornton said. “They watch each other in the weight room. They have humble personalities and really enjoy the work ethic it takes to be successful.”
In sweeping the top spots in Arkansas, all three Longhorns said they were energized by the competitive environment they created. And in reality, it only mirrored what they experience every day in practice.
“We talk a lot of smack to each other,” said Thormaehlen, who finished seventh in the NCAA Indoor Championships last season. “It gets pretty intense out there. Hayden likes to yell a lot. If I get angry, I might chunk a trashcan or two. Ryan throws things as well.
“It is intense, but fun.”
In fact, Crouser credits his teammates and the push they give him in training every day for his early success with the Longhorns. For instance, Baillio won the shot put at last year’s Penn Relays with a career-best throw, and he has three top-six finishes at NCAA Championships.
“In high school I trained alone for the most part,” Crouser said. “It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re training alone. Down here, it’s completely opposite of that. It is a good environment for training. Every day there is competition in practice.”
The Razorback Invitational was only Crouser’s second collegiate meet, but his goal was crystal clear. He wanted a personal best throw of at least 64, but also knew that Oskar Jakobsson’s school record was 65, because it’s on the wall near the team room.
“I walk by that and see it every day,” Crouser said.
Crouser’s toss of 66-7 crushed the previous record, and now gives him and his teammates more fodder for future competition—be it in practice or meets.
“I want to say that we are the fittest and the best throwing group in the country, but we make each other think that we’re just OK,” Thormaehlen said. “There is always room to improve. There is great potential, and I am just waiting for it to come out in the meets.”
This story was first published on TexasSports.com.
Ryan Crouser. Photo courtesy UT Athletics.