Christian Cantwell and Matt Tegenkemp are both from Missouri. Both made the Olympic team. And most of the 8,000 subscribers of Mo Runner & Triathlete either know them, are related to them or follow them as fellow citizens in the Show Me State.
I am familiar with them both. As a former coach, I would observe that distance runners and throwers tended to get along pretty well. They both had enormous work ethics, they both had insatiable appetites, and both, as a generalization, enjoyed getting together after a track meet for sustenance and a few beverages.
Christian Cantwell and Matt Tegenkemp both have very serious chances to medal in Beijing. Cantwell is an odds on favorite for a medal and Teegs is the dangerous sleeper. Today we will speak about Christian.
The shot put is an event that celebrates speed, strength and focus. It is an event that requires thousands of hours in the ring, thousands of lifts and much soul searching. Shot putters are pretty thoughtful men and women. Controlled aggression is the best way I can describe a great thrower.
The US is fortunate to have four of the best five throwers in the world. There is the distinct possibility, if all goes well, that the US could sweep the event. In observing Adam Nelson, Reese Hoffa and Christian Cantwell, it is my belief that all three are focused, driven individuals who see Beijing as their destiny. They want to win, they have the ability to win, but only one will win.
Cantwell has all of the tools. His technique, when on, is a lesson in throwing. His ability is second to none. In my mind, it is all about how much he wants it. Bill Toomey, the 1968 Olympic gold medalist at the decathlon once told me that one must cover the gold medal in order to take possession of it. There is come truth to that.
The men's shot, according to coach Bubba Thornton, US's head Olympic men's coach, was noted to say that the men's shot on August 15, will determine the direction and spirit of the 2008 US team. Bubba may be right.
One thing is for certain, Christian Cantwell is going to be there, with Adam Nelson and Reese Hoffa. It will be a celebration of our sport, there will be grunting, screaming, tearing of shirts and some very, very long throws. And, on that muggy evening in Beijing, the gold medalist in the men's shot will be declared the old fashioned way-the thrower with the farthest legal throw will earn the Olympic title.
Reading animal entrails was the way of the Greeks, to determine the future. I have suggested that such readings would make local meteorology on television much more exciting, however, we shall not do that for the men's shot. I do suggest, dear reader, that one reads the following transcript of an interview with Christian Cantwell from Mizzou.
The Mizzou fans have waited since 1924, I believe, and one Jackson Shultz, for an individual gold in a track and field event. Perhaps, their wait is over....
Olympian Christian Cantwell
On his high school experience at Eldon High School:
“In [my] high school, [track & field] was more of a forced thing to do. When you start out in middle school, you start doing sports in the seventh grade and you have football, basketball, and track, and typically the same guy coaches them all, at least he did where I was. I did football and I did basketball and when it came track season, he [the coach], said ‘Okay, you’re coming out for track.’ It really wasn’t an option. That’s how I did it until my senior year in high school, and it sounds funny, but I didn’t try all that much. I did it more for the social aspect and because he [the coach] told me too.
Then I started to get a little bit better and made the state meet, I think I got third that year, and thought it was pretty cool and if I put some more effort and time into it, maybe this would go somewhere. The beginning of my junior year, that’s when I hurt my knee playing football, so I wasn’t sure during my senior year of high school if I should try to go play football in college, or even try another sport.”
On when he knew that he can be an elite shot putter:
“I remember the moment, it was my first indoor meet my junior year [in college] and I threw a huge PR, when I did that, I thought, ‘Yeah, I can do this. This is something I’m good at. I think I can be the best at this.’ From that point, there wasn’t even an “if”. At that point it was just a when scenario.”
On his favorite conditions in which to compete:
“I’d say – evening. Late evening. Sun starting to go down, 95 degrees. 93 degrees, probably. Low humidity. That’s enough to get you loosened up, you know. For me the heat’s good. It keeps the body limber. I like those type of conditions, and ironically, it’s probably what’s it going to feel like in Beijing.”
On a short meet warm-up approach:
“For the last two years, I would take, like, 30 minutes to get warmed up – jogging, stretching, things like that. Then the indoor season, I had a meet in which I was actually late. I was driving down to go to this little meet [UCM Invitational in Warrensburg, Mo.] before the national championships, and I was running late, so I just put on my shoes and threw my indoor PR of 22.18 [72 feet, 9 inches].
So, then, I went to the indoor national meet, and said ‘You know what, I’m not going to warm up here either.’ So, I didn’t warm up there either. And, now that’s basically my routine. Just kinda walk around … I think I was wasting my energy earlier. I kinda like this, warming up with my throws nice and slow. That’s how I do it now. I think I like it for the time being.
I did it at world indoors too, and threw pretty well. So, we’ll see. It’s good to conserve energy at a meet like that. If you warm up too early, you could be sitting in a call room for 90 minutes and 30 minutes out in the circle is just way too long. You’ve gotta pace yourself. Especially a guy my size, you have a finite amount of energy. You have to save as much as possible.”
On larger national attention brought to Reese Hoffa and Adam Nelson:
“I don’t really pay much attention to that type of stuff. That’s great for them – I’m happy for ‘em. But, I’m not going to watch them [jokingly]. I’m not going to [the Olympics] to be a spectator. My winning record against both of them … I think I’ve doubled up on them. I think they should be the ones worried.”
On a possible medal sweep by American shot putters:
“Yeah, everyone wants to talk about a possible sweep. And it sounds great, and all, but as long as I do my best and give my best … you know, track is an individual sport, and it’s you versus the tape measure. People like to get into medal counts and stuff like that, but I mean … I hope those guys do well, but what are you going to do? If they do well, that’s great. But, I have some goals in mind that I want to accomplish [before I worry about the three of us].”
On the last four years:
“So, I didn’t make [the Olympic team] in ’04. And I thought when I made the team that I would have some sort of awe-moment. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I mean, after I made it, it was like another day. I was just mad I got second [at the Olympic trials]. So, just move on to the next one.”
“When I didn’t make it, I was in pretty bad shape with injuries and stuff. Had I made that team, I think I would have done alright [in the Olympics]. The results for that meet were pretty low. It took 21.16 to win and my average that year was like 21.70-something, two foot past what it took to win. I had a great year, that year. I don’t know if I would have changed much. If you take that year, as an outdoor season, of anybody, it may be the best ever minus a major championship. I look back on that year, and think ‘What was I doing there?’. It seemed so easy at the time, but now looking back, I realize what I did was pretty sick.”
On his 10 days before competition in China:
“I’m going to get acclimated and get into a routine because there is going to be a lot of distractions, so part will be to get used to that and get a few practices in. Sharpen up and by the time that happens, 10 days will go by a lot quicker than it sounds like. Blink your eyes and be ready to go.
On former Mizzou wrestler Ben Askren’s prediction of gold in his event [74kg freestyle wrestling]:
“(Laughs) Ben will probably get gold actually. I mean, I’m not like Ben. I’m not going to say [what predictions I have] … because I’ve done that in the past, and it didn’t work. I’m just going to give it hell and see what happens. The Olympics, if you look back, it’s always weird results, it usually doesn’t take as much as you’d think to win. Its people who handle that stuff the best that do well. I think I’m at a point now that I know how big meets work. It’s going to be pretty tough [to do what you think you should do].”
On making the team this year:
“In my mind there wasn’t any doubt that I was going to make the team. I had felt great, being mostly injury free. There was no way I wasn’t going to make it. But, I got to that fifth round and put myself in the lead after being [fourth]. But, I was never worried – I just knew it was going to happen. And, I stuck to that and never really doubted. I was just angry it didn’t end up how I wanted it to. I really had it planned a little bit differently. But, I had to alter that plan.”
I planned on throwing a decent one for the first, but it slipped off my neck, and when it does that … something just throws me off just a hair.”
On what has changed personally in the last four years:
“I’ve gotten a few more gray hairs and my stomach hurts a little more now. Other than that, I’m pretty much the same. I don’t really feel different. I don’t feel any different making the team either, which is probably not what people expect. I don’t get in the thinking of being better now or then. I feel like I’m at the point of my career to where I can start over, and think of everything from this point on.
[Being a professional thrower] is more like a job now. Before, I was just having a good time. I didn’t make that team and it really sunk in that a lot of your life revolves around making these teams, that’s where your sponsorships and all that stuff comes into play. They don’t pay you to sit on the sidelines.”
On his first child Jackson Daniel, born nine weeks ago:
“[My wife, Teri] does a great job with Jackson. She gets up with him every night.”
On feeding off the performances of other putters:
“Shot putting seems to be a very reactionary sport. You’d like to be proactive and put one out there far and be done with it, but at this level that chance doesn’t happen too often. I mean, if you put one out there 75 or 76 feet you can take your shoes off and go home. But, even at 73 feet, you are at that line where two or three of us in the U.S. can touch it. That’s just how good we are right now.”
On the opening ceremonies:
“No, I’m not going to the opening ceremonies. It’s too much walking and waiting and energy used to do that. I mean, I heard the opening ceremonies are four to five hours of just standing and waiting and the heat and all that. It doesn’t really sound like a good time to me. I’ll go out and practice during that time, should be a good time to.”
On representing the University of Missouri and others:
“I love Columbia. I love the University of Missouri. Anything I can do to make them proud and make them feel like we accomplished something that would be pretty cool. That’s something I take pride in – where I’m from. Every time I can bring some sort of positive light towards that, the more the better.”
On jet lag and conditions in Beijing:
“Last time I went to China, I did fine. I’m really weird. I’m one of those guys who can fly in and do it. When I won the world indoor championships, I flew in day of and won. Traveled 18, 19 hours, got in and did it. I pride myself in not having to be perfect. I say, as long as I’m 85, 90 percent, that’s good, that’s enough to be like everyone else. Some guys have to get over there and have everything right – perfect sleep and all that stuff. I think it’s a crutch. It’s actually something that throws a lot of people off. I don’t do that. Reese (Hoffa), before the world indoors this year, he went over seven days before, I got in the day of, and I beat him. So, we do things a little different. I think sometimes having the chaos gets your mind off worrying about competition. It takes the stress off a little bit. I don’t think it will hurt me too much.
The weather will be great, I think. I don’t think the pollution will be a big deal. I like the idea of it being nice and hot.”
On possibly wearing a mask to curb pollution concerns in China:
“No, god no. I’m not going to wear any masks. Nah, I’m looking forward to the pollution [laughs]. It will be good. I’ve got a mask on anyways [stroking his beard and goatee].”
Missouri Associate Head Coach Brett Halter
On Cantwell’s new warmup techniques:
“What he was eluting to earlier was the process of the championship. If you are paying attention to the morning and p.m. qualifying, A, you’ll note that’s it’s the only event in major athletics championships to do everything in one day. I have no idea why the biggest human beings on the planet get the least rest. Most people get a day off, and they come back for the final.
So these guys are going to get up at probably six in the morning, or 5:30, make sure they get some breakfast and process to the stadium and out of the village to the warm-up area. The warm-up area proceeds – substantially – the call room, maybe up to an hour. And, then, you are in the call room where you sit and wait, and then you’re taken to the track where you have one to two warm-up throws, then you compete. That’s qualifying. By the time you process out of the stadium, back to the village, you barely have enough time to take a nap, change your clothes, and maybe get something to eat, and you are back doing it again for the p.m. [finals] session.
So, in terms of what Christian is talking about, the ability to know that you don’t need a 30-45 minute warm- up routine to be prepared to walk in the circle. He’s preparing himself to deal with the unexpected. You walk out of the call room – you don’t know what the officials are going to do, or TV. To have the ability just to walk in the ring mentally prepared with zero warm-up and deliver a huge throw, that’s an advantage. As long as we are protecting our health in post-workout therapy, and do good rehab, I’m completely fine with [his little warmup].
This was used courtesy of Tom Lewis at the University of Missouri.