In Praise of the Shot Put

By Ray Minchew – @rayminchew

It has been a really exciting year for athletics, with new young talent coming to the fore in multiple events – Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman, the entire USC 400m team, Mondo Duplantis and Timur Morgunov, Shelby Houlihan, more than I can remember honestly. The sport is absolutely packed with incredibly talented young people. And a lot of excitement has been focused on the men’s pole vault.

I mean, we’ve spent a LOT of time talking about pole vault, have we not? It seemed like the event to see, with Renauld and Sam’s bromance, Mondo calmly breaking his own U20 record every 47 minutes, what a year for the event, right? Really exciting competitions, the Euro Championships seeing things never done before, it’s almost like a YEAR OF THE POLE VAULT.

And then after Zurich, I was looking at the men’s shot put, because I’ve developed a habit of seeing what the big guys are doing, and saw that Tomas Walsh had thrown a diamond league record that wasn’t even his best throw of the year, to beat Darrell Hill throwing a massive 22.40 SB that wasn’t even his PB, with Ryan Crouser throwing 22.18 for third…and I thought wait a minute. Haven’t they been doing this all year? They’ve been trading 22m throws the whole season. Is that normal?

Let’s find out together.

Men's shot put over 22mI ran the numbers, and in short, no. This is not normal. In fact, we are experiencing the greatest era of shot put dominance in history. Last year we had 17 throws over 22m by 5 guys, this year 16 by 4 guys. Over the last three years we’ve seen a total of 43 throws over 22m by 6 men. The only thing coming even close to this is 1986-1988, when there were 38 throws by 7 men, and that is a lot of syringes being tossed around, my friends (apologies to the great Werner Günthör).

This has gone a bit under the radar as Walsh went berserk this year, but we also have possibly the most consistently great shot putter in history right now in Ryan Crouser – he’s gone over 22m 21 times in these last three years. The only people close to him are Christian Cantwell (who led the only other era of big shots, from 2002-2011, with the Cantwell/Hoffa/Reese/Nelson group), a doped up Ulf Timmerman, and Walsh, with 16, 15, and 13 performances respectively.

22 meters is a rare benchmark, but we are now seeing that it won’t even win you competitions. And there are multiple guys knocking at the door – Darlan Romani (21.94 PB) wants in the club, David Storl, Ryan Whiting and Joe Kovacs want back in…I’m sorry, but how has this gone so under the radar?

Let’s crunch some more numbers and do a comparison, okay?

I used 5.95m as a measurement to compare men’s pole vault – not because it’s a particular benchmark, but because 6m is too small of a dataset, and 5.95 has been done 129 times, similar to the 151 for 22m. Ready for a report out on our big pole vault year? We had five vaults over 5.95, by four different athletes. That’s it. Last year there were 2, both by Sam. This isn’t even in sniffing distance of the best vaulting era, with Bubka being joined by 10 other guys jumping just as high for a 9 year span. We forget he wasn’t just blowing everyone out. It was competitive. We don’t remember most of those other 10 guys, but can you name 10 today that you think capable of going 5.95?

How about a table to express the difference?

  Pole Vault (5.95m) Shot Put (22m)
Avg annual performances 3.91 3.43
2018 performances 5 16
Avg annual performers 1.91 2
2018 performers 4 4

This is pretty stark. Men’s pole vault is absolutely exciting to watch right now – very exciting – but the number of big jumps is just slightly above average. The shot put? It’s filled with 25 year olds absolutely destroying the ring at historic levels, and the competitive balance is as high as any event in the sport. I don’t want to disparage the pole vault because I’m genuinely pumped about the young talent and what they might do, but the throws get such little attention (hi there, hammer throwers!) despite doing some things that have simply never been seen.

And from a human element they’re just as much fun to watch as the vaulters. Want a bromance? Watch these guys brohug after throws. They scream, they’re excited, they’re over the top, and they are the best show in the field right now. I, for one, plan to be a big shot put fan in 2019, because I think we could see six or seven men get over 22m, and I think 23m is in play by multiple throwers. The hardest working agent in athletics agrees with me. Show the shot put some love.

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