If you’ve ever tried your hand at shot put, you know it’s tougher than it looks. The metal ball, called a shot, is deceptively heavy for its size. At 16 pounds, it’s the weight of a bowling ball crammed into a package about the size of a softball. To throw it effectively you have to heave it from between your neck and shoulders while rotating your entire body. A novice might get lucky and put one 30 feet. Elite shot putters, however, can launch it twice that distance with ease.
So what does it take to put a shot that far? Brute strength for one. Take Olympic record holder Ryan Crouser. He’s 6 foot 7 inches, weighs 315 pounds, and could easily be mistaken for a powerlifter or an NFL lineman. In 2016 the Indianapolis Colts even invited him to try out. But Crouser prefers the individuality of the shot put. “If you throw a lifetime best, you can say that you are better today than you have ever been,” Crouser says. “There aren’t many things that let you make a definitive statement like that.”
In addition to his extraordinary strength, Crouser is surprisingly flexible and coordinated. He’s also mastered a complex rotational technique known as ‘the spin’ that can give athletes extra distance. Put all that together and you get one of the best shot putters in the history of the sport. “Ryan’s just so in tune with his proprioception that he knows where his body is at all times,” says John Crosby, a sports technologist with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
At the Summer Olympics in Rio, in 2016, Crouser sent a shot flying an astonishing 22.52 meters, or just shy of 74 feet. That’s the longest put in an Olympic competition going all the way back to the first modern games in 1896. This year he launched one even farther, landing a personal best of 22.90 meters at the world athletics championships in Doha. That’s still shy of the world record, which stands at 23.12 meters, but Crouser says it’s only a matter of time before someone sends one flying even further. “Twenty-four would be unbelievable to see but it’s not beyond the realm of reason,” Crouser says. “All it really takes is just that one throw.”
To find out what how someone might pull off a historic 24-meter throw, check out WIRED’s latest episode of Almost Impossible.
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