Joe Kovacs takes the gold in Beijing, by Elliott Denman


Kovacs_JoeH-Beijing15.JPGJoe Kovacs, photo by

Joe Kovacs won the first gold for the US in the 2015 World Champs. His shot put victory was hard won, as four different men held the first positon during the competition. Here is how Elliott Denman praised the new gold medalist about his shot put accomplishments.

The Joe Kovacs Story
"O, come ye to Bethlehem."
Penn State University recruiters heard the call seven-eight years back and it turned
into one of the most successful pilgrimages they might ever have imagined.
The object of their expedition was a resident of Nazareth whose then-base of operations
was Bethlehem.
They had a certain faith that all would work out well, but religion had nothing to do with this trip.
Nothing at all.
There was plenty of room at the inn for their visit to Joe Kovacs and family and it turned out to
be an easy sell.
Nazareth, Pa. resident Joe Kovacs, then a senior at Bethlehem, Pa. Catholic High School, had
the sure faith that all would work out well for him when he'd be heading from
the Lehigh Valley to the Penn State campus as a scholarship athlete.
And, yup, that's exactly what transpired for him in the "Happy Valley" of the central region of the
Keystone State, where Mount Nittany is the forever-commanding presence.
A whale of a whirler at Bethlehem Catholic High - his shot put and discus marks ranked high on hthe Pennsylvania all-time charts - he bulked up and blossomed out as a Penn State Nittany Lion.
The Big Ten and NCAA medals accumulated and he soon began raising his expectation levels.
Well, one good thing has surely led to another and now - just
three years after graduation, he can be properly recognized as "Mr. World Champion."
With a fifth-round toss of 71 feet, 11 ½ inches (21.93 meters), Joe Kovacs muscled his way to the gold medal in the men's shot put inSunday night action at the 15th edition of the IAAF's World Championships of Track and Field at Bird's Nest Stadium.
It was a huge come-through performance in the face of incredible pressure.
Oh, and it was also the first gold medal won by Team USA at these 15th Worlds.
This battle of behemoths was high-stakes drama throughout on a night much of the
athletics world focused on Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin. The shot put show was
equally enthralling.
The 100 final was over in 9.78 seconds. This shot put competition opened at exactly 7:34 p.m. and ended at 8:26, or the 52 mighty minutes that gave Bird's Nesters plenty of bang-for-the-buck, or yuan.
Kovacs took the lead at 21.23 in round one, defending World champion David Storl of
Germany seized it back at 21.46 in round two, and O'Dayne Richards of Jamaica
topped them all with a 21.69 bomb in round three.
Tomas Walsh of New Zealand fought into the picture with his 21.59 in round
four but Kovacs responded with the eventual 21.93 winner in round five, where Storl
improved to 21.74 (71-4), good but not good enough.
With everything still on the line heading into round six, there were no
improvements and, whew, that's all they wrote, as they say.
"This is huge for me," said Kovacs later, and that was understating it.
He already owns the year's best throw - a 22.56 (74-0 ¼) at the Herculis (Monaco) meet last
month, which was the world's longest performance in 12 years.
He had to overcome his own nerves - as well as Storl, O'Richards, Walsh & Co. - to win it.
Richards is clearly on a big-time roll this year, moving up from World University champion in 2011 to Central American/Caribbean champion in 2013, to Commonwealth Games king in 2014, and
Pan Am Games titlist in 2015.
When Richards seized the lead Sunday night, with the sprint final yet to come, some
wise guy in press row speculated "this could be a night Jamaica loses the 100 but wins the
shot put."
After warming up outside the Bird's Nest, the throwers were brought into the
big building but didn't get to throw for at least an hour.
"It turns into a grind, a battle of attrition," Kovacs would say..
Now, with some Diamond League meets in Europe still ahead, he will begin
the long focus on the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
With all he's already done, he knows that "road to Rio" will be even tougher.
Just making the 2016 USA Olympic Team will be no easy matter.
There are veterans Reese Hoffa (fifth-placer Monday) and Christian Cantwell (the
2008 Olympic silver medalist and 2009 World champion who qualified for the
final here, but then had to sit it out with back spasms) still to deal with.
He may have to prove himself Pennsylvania's best just to get to Rio.
Penn State's own Darrell Hill placed sixth at 2015 USA Nationals and is a definite
future force to reckoned with.
And Harrisburg product Ryan Whiting was the 2013 World outdoor silver medalist and
2012 and 2014 World indoor champion. Still dealing with injuries, Arizona State alumnus
Whiting placed just seventh at the 2015 USA Nationals.
Interestingly, Kovacs has headed to Arizona to train (under ex-UCLA coach
Art Venegas) as Whiting returned from the Grand Canyon State to
train at Penn State.
The Lehigh Valley has had no shortage of sports celebrities over the years.
The roster includes the likes of boxing's Larry Holmes, auto racing's Mario Andretti and
Family, football's Chuck Bednarik, Matt Millen and Jim Ringo, basketball's Billy Packer
and Pete Carril, and Olympic wrestling champion Bobby Weaver.
They can now certify World champion Joe Kovacs as a member of that esteemed group.
With this first global title in his clutches, and Rio de Janeiro hopefully on the horizon, Joe
Kovacs knows he is well prepared.
His Penn State major was earth and mineral sciences. That, of course, includes gold, lots and
lots of that precious commodity.

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