Olympic shot put gold medallist Ryan Crouser 'light years' better than last year
ROBERT VAN ROYEN
As long as Ryan Crouser doesn't start this year the way he started 2016, he will be happy.
The Rio Olympic shot put gold medallist started last year with an "absolutely terrible" performance, something he doesn't want to repeat at Sunday's much anticipated Big Shot event in Christchurch.
The 24-year-old, who is travelling with his father and coach Mitch, arrived in the Garden City on Wednesday morning, and was greeted at the airport by Kiwi shot put sensation Tom Walsh.
The pair are favourites to win the event in central Christchurch on Sunday, although defending champion Jacko Gill, Aussie Damian Birkinhead and two-time world indoor champion Ryan Whiting can't be written off.
Crouser, who won gold in Rio with a 22.52m effort, isn't expecting anything special so early in the year, but is determined to perform significantly better than his first outing a year ago.
"Last year's opening meet was absolutely terrible," he said. "I threw 17m on my first two throws and ended up right at 20m.
"But I should be well over that [on Sunday]. To be over 21.34m. If I throw over that, I'll be happy," he said.
Sunday's event, which includes the strongest field of shot putters assembled in New Zealand, will be followed by another competition next weekend, at the Auckland Track Classic.
It's Crouser's first visit to New Zealand, a place he never expected to travel to for shot put until last year.
"I was actually looking at being done with the sport when I finished college last year," he said.
"But I decided to stick it out after winning the US champs and winning in Rio. Now, I'm just a professional shot putter."
He's struck up a good friendship with Rio bronze medallist Walsh in recent years and has been vocal in predicting the pair will lead an assault on the shot put world record between now and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
American Randy Barnes holds the 26-year-old world record of 23.12m, which has widely been considered unbeatable in the drug-tested era.
As Crouser and the rest of Sunday's field are only just getting into their work - and don't want to peak until August's world track and field championships - the mark is unlikely to be threatened on Sunday.
But that doesn't mean there won't be fireworks, Crouser said.
"I'm really excited. It will be a really fun comp. It's a little earlier in the year but there's a lot of great throwers competing.
"I think it will be tough to break the world record . . . but it will be interesting to see where everyone is at this early."
Crouser, who is on the wrong side of a 3-2 head-to-head record with Walsh, said he feels "light years" better than he did this time last year, an ominous warning for Cantabrian Walsh, who missed last year's Big Shot event on home soil due to injury.
"I'm still in heavy training, but I'm excited to see what I will throw on Sunday.
"Tom's a great competitor. I always have a good throw and he seems to best it by a little bit. It's always fun to compete against guys like that. They push you and they make you better. It makes everyone better."
It's not all business for Crouser and the rest of the internationals while in New Zealand.
Before flying to Auckland for the second competition, Walsh plans to take Crouser, Whiting and Birkinhead to Marlborough on a hunting and fishing trip.