Randy Barnes' long-standing men's shot put world record has fallen.
Reigning Olympic champion Ryan Crouser broke the 31-year-old mark Friday at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon, with a fourth attempt of 23.37 meters (76-8.25 inches). Barnes, the 1996 Olympic champion, set the previous all-time best of 23.12m (75-10.25) on May 20, 1990, at a meet in Westwood, California.
Crouser, 28, had been chasing the record for quite some time and finally caught it, winning the event in the process to qualify for his second Olympic team. Earlier this year he took down Barnes' indoor world record from 1989, recording 22.82 meters. Then, last month, he broke 23 meters for the first time, coming within five inches of the historic heave.
"This one definitely meant a lot more, it’s one that I’ve been after for a long, long time," Crouser said after Friday's final. "To do it at the new Hayward Field, which is somewhere I had track meets when I was younger … felt really special to be here in front of friends and family … it definitely means a lot."
During the qualifying phase earlier in the afternoon Crouser opened up with a then Trials-record of 22.92 meters on his very first attempt, topping Adam Nelson's 22.12-meter mark from the 2000 Trials. When asked afterward about his optimism headed into the final, he said, "I am really excited based on the fact that I was able to throw my second farthest throw ever. It was a static throw. I can add a chunk to that with a full throw. It was really easy. I was nervous hopping in that first round. Iron some stuff out this evening, and find some patience."
And patience is evidently what he found, along with a put for the ages — and relief.
"Really from when I started it was always a dream," he said. "When I was throwing by myself and I would put my hands above myself and be like, 'Ohhh, new world record!' I knew there was a possibility that I could do it since 2017, which almost makes it more difficult.
"I’ve known it’s possible for four-plus years now. Finally getting out of my way, I felt ten pounds lighter when it popped up on the reader in front of me."
Joining Crouser in Tokyo are reigning world champion Joe Kovacs, runner-up with 22.34 meters – not his best, but still tied for the 74th-farthest mark of all time – and Payton Otterdahl, who tossed a 15-inch personal-best with 21.92 meters. Kovacs, the bronze medalist in Rio, also makes his second Olympic team while Otterdahl will make his debut.
Crouser's record is significant for the sport not only from a historical perspective but an ethical, too. There's a compelling presumption as to why the previous may have stood for so long.
Barnes, also the silver medalist at the 1988 Seoul Games, tested positive for anabolic steroids shortly after his world record-breaking performance in 1990. He served a 27-month suspension that encompassed the 1992 Barcelona Games. The two-time world medalist and four-time U.S. champion then tested positive again in 1998 for androstenedione.
As of June 2021, Barnes is one of only eight American track and field athletes under lifetime bans from competing.
"The sport has changed so much since then, drug testing has cleaned up the sport," Crouser said after Friday's final. "All I can say is that with the regiment of drug testing we go through, I am happy that the world record is under the system that we are under. It's awesome that we have 100% clean world record in the shot put now."
Still, Barnes' performance, because it was the pinnacle, served as inspiration for many future shot-putters over the three decades it sat atop the books.
"We used to have an old, DVD-formatted Super 8 tapes, it had Randy Barnes on it and Ulf [Timmermann]. I would watch that throw over and over again," Crouser said. "There was lots and lots of throws, my best throw in the practice would always be Randy Barnes or Ulf and I would have to beat that throw at the end of practice. Usually that was the world record mark at the time."
Barnes now has the second- and third-best marks of all time at 23.12m and 23.10m, both recorded a week apart in California in May 1990. His next best two don't appear until Nos. 60 and 63 on the list – 22.42m and 22.39m from August and September of 1988, the latter at the Seoul Games.
Crouser on Friday added two more to his 22 total in the top 60. It's safe to say the record now lies with its rightful owner.
During qualifying, Crouser said he changed his shoes from a new pair to an older, more broken-in, softer rubber pair when he realized something big was brewing.
"I knew there was a big throw there [after my first attempt in qualifying], " he said. "World Athletics takes your shoes if you break the world record, so I went over to my dad and I was like, 'I don’t know, they'll take my shoes if I break the world record, I’d have to use the new Nikes, I obviously didn't want to have to throw without my shoes in the final — they take shoes to inspect them after a world record."
When you find yourself taking precautions mid-event in case you break a world record, you're in a good spot. And Crouser knew he was close, he just had to let it happen.
"I feel like the biggest thing to finally get to the world record was getting out of my own way and letting it happen," he said. "The thing that I've had the most trouble with is knowing I can do it. It wasn't an expectation coming in, the times I've expected to throw 23 or the world record I've come a little bit short, not trying to force it but letting it happen."
Perhaps the best part: his family was there to witness it all — some he hadn't seen since Christmas 2019. Crouser grew up about 100 miles north of Eugene in the suburbs of Portland.
"Coming from a family that is big into track and field, that makes it mean even more because they’re able to appreciate the amount of hard work and effort that went into it," he said. "There's nothing that quite compares to being able to say that I’m 100% better today than I've been in the past."
So what's next? Crouser isn't stopping here.
"I think I can go farther, I think 77 [feet] is definitely possible," he said. "In the earlier rounds, there were parts of those throws that I liked and there’s still room to get better. That was nowhere near the perfect throw."
Not perfect, just world-record OK.