Elliott Denman is an icon. A world-class race walker in his day, Elliot made the 1956 Olympic team at the 50,000m race walk. I note 50,000m (31.86 miles) as it is the longest event on the Olympic schedule.
Since 1990, Elliott Denman has written for our publications and websites. He was a close friend of my late editor, James Dunaway and was one of the few who could calm James down a bit when he was on a rant (most of which I enjoyed).
Elliott Denman is 87 years old. This is his first piece on the 2021 Olympic Trials. He will do a piece each day. Elliott has seen the sport change from the amateur days of the 1950s to the modern era. His historical viewpoint, his wry sense of humor, and his common sense are seen in all of his writing.
Ryan Crouser, June 18, 2021, Men’s shot put, photo by Kevin Morris /Kevmofoto
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
EUGENE, OREGON – Randy Barnes knew this day would come,
He just didn’t know that “this day” would take – by the roughest calculations of this writer, a once-but-never-wildly-skilled accounting major -13,183 of them.
“This day” was June 18, 2021, Opening Day – yes a year late – of the 2020 USA Olympic Trials, the spectacle of trials-by-fire whose mission to choose the “world’s strongest track and field team” that would be headed to the similarly year-late Tokyo Olympic Games – is universally recognized as “the greatest of all intramurals” in the greatest and most-most-basic-of-all Olympic sports.
“This day” saw not only the erasure of the world record Barnes, the giant West Virginian who’d honed his shot putting skills at Texas A&M, where developing globally-recognized SP titlists has been a steady path, but the crashing of yet another of this sport’s historic barriers.
When already-Olympic champion (2016) Ryan Crouser – an alumnus of the University of Texas, A&M’s historic antagonist – whirled around the SP ring at the magnificent new (and 275-million-dollars) Hayward Field, and put all of his 6-foot-7, 320-pound musculature behind a mighty effort, and saw the 16-pound iron wall plop down a huge distance away, he instantly realized he’d done something very/very/very special.
And then the numbers popped into the electronic scoreboard and his best estimates were confirmed.
Yes, he’d taken down the Barnes world record – 23.12 meters (or 75 feet, 10 1/4), achieved May 20, 1990, at UCLA,. Yes, he’d joined the 23-meter club (which had just two previous
members, Germany’s Ulf Timmermann and Barnes.) And yes, for those fervently clinging to “Imperial” implications – he’d now become the first and only member of the 76-foot club.
On this day that saw – on the other side of North America – the Philadelphia 76ers clinging to National Basketball Association playoff hopes, Crouser had become the greatest 76er of them all.
His mighty/massive/magnificent effort was officially laser-measured at 23.37 meters, which quickly translated (for those who demand translations) 76 feet, 8 1/4 inches.
Those in the slender, Covid-protocol-diminished crowd immediately went wild. Ryan Crouser immediately went wild, Those who had been predicting these Trials would be a just-one-big downer after the tainted-burrito/drug disqualification of women’s distance running great Shelby Houlihan on the very eve of the event, were silenced.
“I felt really, really confident coming in, but it wasn’t an expectation; the times I’ve come up short it was me just getting a little bit tight, and trying to force it. I stayed loose I stayed relaxed and executed my game plan that I had coming in, and that was the key for me finally doing it,” said Crouser.
No quotes were instantly available from Barnes. Likely, he’d have said something on the line of “congrats, Mr. Crouser” and “it was about time.”
His own status as a world record-holder had been under suspicion for years. The man who’d won Olympic gold at Atlanta in 1996 (following in the OG podium-topping exploits of previous Texas A&M greats Randy Matson and Mike Stulce) was now relieved of his long-questioned WR-status.
Crouser surely has been drug-tested a zillion times over the years and gotten clean bills of health a zillion times.
He’d done a whole lot more than muscle his way into the books. He’d given his sport a reason to relegate Randy Barnes (who’d been lifetime-bounced from the sport after testing positive for androstenedione, the over-the-counter explanation for Mark McGwire’s continuing banishment from baseball’s Hall of Fame) from the top of its charts. And he’d given the whole Olympic Trials entity a very good reason to be talking about more than the sad story of Shelby Houlihan.
May the next seven days of the Trials have achievements to challenge this one.
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