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Ryan Crouser eyed an NFL tryout, then Olympic gold, now the bathroom mirror

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In an alternate universe, Olympic shot put champion Ryan Crouser could be run blocking or pass rushing in the NFL.

Crouser, who continues a historic start to his season Saturday at the Drake Relays on NBC Sports (broadcast schedule here), said he was offered a tryout with the Indianapolis Colts before the 2016 Olympic Trials.

“They have a special scout. He looks for athletes outside of the traditional football realm to come in and maybe play a more specific role, mostly probably on defense or offensive lineman,” Crouser, who is 6 feet, 7 inches and 310 pounds, said in a phone interview this week. “I said, we’ll see how [Olympic] trials goes.”

They went pretty well. Crouser, who came into the meet ranked No. 2 in the nation, won trials at Oregon’s Hayward Field with the second-farthest throw in the world for the year.

The Colts’ special scout, Jon Shaw, was unavailable for comment until next week given hectic NFL Draft prep. But the organization has a history of giving chances to Olympians, including signing sprinters Marvin Bracy and Jeff Demps, though neither played in a regular-season game.

“Then the Olympics went pretty much perfect, so I ended up postponing it after that,” Crouser said of the Colts’ offer. “I’ve had a pretty successful career since then.”

In Rio, Crouser, whose dad, two uncles and two cousins are accomplished discus, javelin or shot put throwers, broke the 28-year-old Olympic record held by his technique idol, East German Ulf Timmermann. Crouser used the glide motion until his senior year at Gresham (Ore.) Barlow High.

“I watched tons of film of Ulf Timmermann,” said Crouser, who was born four years after Timmermann’s Olympic title. “Technically, he was the best glider ever. The throw that I watched literally thousands of times was his Olympic record that I broke in 2016.”

In 1990 and 1991, Timmermann was among many East German athletes reported to have used illegal, performance-enhancing drugs. Timmermann always denied using anabolic steroids, according to Olympic historians.

Crouser, who has a clean testing record, is inching into Timmermann’s territory on the all-time list of farthest throws. At a small meet in California that he rode in a truck to last Saturday, Crouser threw 22.73 and 22.74 meters on consecutive attempts. They marked the longest throws in the world since American Randy Barnes set the still-standing world record of 23.12 in 1990. Barnes tested positive for an anabolic steroid two months later.

“#CleanWR,” Olympic teammate Darrell Hill commented on an Instagram image of Crouser standing next to the 22.74 scoreboard.

Crouser was careful when asked how he views the top names on the all-time list, and whether it would be good for the shot put for Barnes’ record to go down. “I would say just among all the shot putters, everybody would just like to see that,” said Crouser, who is now 15 inches shy of that Barnes mark. “I’d love to get that record off the books, I guess, in a sense. It makes me have to train smarter, chasing the 23.12, instead of saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got the clean world record.'”

There’s reason to believe Crouser can up his personal best again at Drake and certainly later this summer and at the world championships in Doha in late September.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the best I’ve felt,” Crouser, who has gained 20 pounds of “quality weight” since Rio with the well publicized 5,000-calorie-a-day shot putters’ diet, said of that season-opening meet last Saturday. “I really wasn’t tapered down too much.”

Crouser then revealed he suffered a small pectoral tear (the right pec, “the one you don’t want”) six weeks ago and missed two weeks of throws training. It took even longer to rehab strength back into it.

“It’s a really good starting point,” Crouser said, “but hoping to go further this year.”

He celebrated the personal best by eating a Chipotle burrito and, the next day, reeling in a half-dozen crappies near his Olympic training center home in Chula Vista. Fishing is a longtime hobby for Crouser, a Portland native who chose the University of Texas over the University of Oregon because it had a better mechanical engineering program.

He once caught and released a white sturgeon that was 11 feet and 600-plus pounds on the Columbia River. An all-conference basketball player in high school, Crouser broke a rim dunking. He also smashed a gingerbread house, Christmas ornament and canned pumpkin pie with a 20-pound sledgehammer (video here).

But to know the man is to be in his bathroom. Crouser has always marked his goal throw distances on that mirror, first with sticky notes (because his mom wouldn’t let him write on it) and recently in dry erase in Southern California. Around late November, when he resumed offseason training, Crouser for the first time penned “23.13” on it.

“It’s feeling like a much more realistic distance,” he said. “In the past I thought if everything went perfect, I could throw it. Now it’s feeling more and more reasonable.”

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2021 Burton U.S. Open snowboarding event canceled

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The Burton U.S. Open, snowboarding’s most storied event, canceled its 2021 competition due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“The truth is, we just can’t be sure it will be safe from a public health standpoint for us to host the event in 2021,” a statement read.

The U.S. Open, held since 1982, is usually around the first weekend in March, making it the season-ending event for many riders. Halfpipe champions include Shaun WhiteChloe KimKelly Clark and Ross Powers, who also earned Olympic gold medals.

Other 2020-21 winter sports events affected by the coronavirus pandemic include figure skating’s Junior Grand Prix. The first two stops of that eight-event series, scheduled for late August and early September in Canada and Slovakia, have been canceled.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation, which is due to put on the February 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, made a formal request on Monday to postpone the event until March 2022, one month after the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. The International Ski Federation (FIS) council will decide July 1.

MORE: Takeaways from abbreviated 2019-20 winter sports season

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Kara Eaker eschews fear, back on balance beam to resume Olympic quest

Kara Eaker
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Kara Eaker hasn’t qualified for an Olympics yet, but she is already part of a historic club of U.S. gymnasts. The list goes, most recently, Eaker, Simone BilesKyla RossAly RaismanNastia LiukinShawn JohnsonShannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

Those are the women who qualified for back-to-back balance beam finals at the sport’s highest level: Olympics or world championships. For Eaker (pronounced like acre), they came in her first two years as a senior gymnast in 2018 and 2019 (Biles and Johnson are the only other U.S. women to do that in the last 25 years.)

This was supposed to be Eaker’s Olympic year, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games to 2021, after her Missouri high school graduation. It also kept her out of the gym for nearly two months until the GAGE Center reopened last week in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

It was the longest Eaker had been off a regulation beam (and out of the gym) since she could remember. She began competing at age 5.

Eaker’s mom, Katherine, said her daughter never feared the four-inch-wide beam, but Eaker said the thought of returning last week “was definitely kind of scary at first.” That is, until one of her coaches eased her back with basics and work on a floor beam, one that’s not raised as high as the four feet you see in competition.

“By the time we were ready, and she was comfortable putting us back up there, it wasn’t scary,” Eaker said. “It felt normal.”

Eaker, adopted from a Chinese orphanage around age 1 in 2003 (her parents’ travel then delayed by SARS), excels on the senior elite stage with a level of normalcy.

Which is not entirely normal in this sport. She lives with her family, 10 minutes from her world-class gym. She still attends regular high school. She’s committed to continue gymnastics at the University of Utah after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I started out in dance, actually,” said Eaker, whose hobbies include robotics and calligraphy. “A little, little girl with the stuffed animal, twirling around in the dance room. And then we had our little recital and I just wasn’t … I couldn’t do the standing in front of an audience kind of thing.”

Her mom believes it was around Christmas. Eaker was 3 or 4.

“She just froze like a deer in the headlights, and all the other girls froze, too, because they were used to following her,” Katherine said. “Then she tried gymnastics. We had to drag her out [of the gym]. From then on, it was always, she’s first one in, last one out. Still is.”

The family, including Eaker’s father, Mark, retired Navy and a flight engineer, and younger sister, Sara, moved three times within Missouri in part to get Kara closer to GAGE to pursue what would eventually become an Olympic dream.

Gymnastics meets were appointment TV before Eaker entered kindergarten. She watched the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps an even earlier meet, while dancing around the living room in a leotard. Sometimes she mimicked the gold medalists by doing back bends. She continued to watch Beijing highlights, with Liukin and Johnson, on replay on YouTube.

Back at the gym, Eaker developed with the help of her coaches, plus future University of Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel, her “gym mom” under the GAGE program to pair older and younger athletes. Orel was a state champion on beam. Eaker proved a natural, too.

“A lot of the girls would get up there and have trouble balancing, but she just always seemed to do it just like she was on the floor,” her mom said. “She’s never really had a fear. Some girls get up there and are nervous. She just never seemed to be that way.”

In 2018, Eaker was 15, old enough to start competing on the senior level with the likes of Biles. Exactly 10 years after she would have watched Johnson win the Beijing Olympic beam title, Eaker finished second on beam at nationals behind Biles. She was invited to the world championships team selection camp, where she had the top beam score and placed sixth in the all-around. Six gymnasts would be chosen by a committee to travel to the world championships.

Eaker didn’t expect to make the team. In a large meeting with coaches and staff, the roster was announced. Eaker made it as the youngest member.

“It was a goal, but there were so many other girls and it was my first year as a senior,” she said. “I was very happy and surprised to make that team.”

Eaker again won beam at the 2019 World Championships selection camp. If Eaker endured adversity those first two years, it came at worlds.

In 2018, she fell on her mount in the beam final. The rest of her routine was medal-worthy gymnastics. She waited an eternal three minutes for her score, which placed her sixth. Eaker’s routine from the team final earlier that week would have earned silver.

In 2019, Eaker again qualified for the eight-woman beam final. The U.S. federation submitted an inquiry on her qualifying score, contesting a lower start value given to her. That backfired. Judges lowered Eaker’s score even more upon review, which took her out of the final. However, another gymnast who had qualified later withdrew due to injury. Eaker was back in the final, where she placed fourth.

She was asked afterward what she would take away from the meet.

“Just the experience of it all,” she said, composed. “How it makes me feel. How to use that [in the future].”

In 2021, Eaker will have to prove to a selection committee that she can be reliable on all four apparatuses. The Olympic team event size is four — with three gymnasts going per apparatus in the Olympic final — down from five in 2016, putting a greater emphasis on the all-around. Eaker could also be a candidate for one separate spot in individual events only.

“I definitely want to be seen as a great beam worker, but I also need to be a great all-arounder because they’re going to be looking at not just your one event,” said Eaker, who was third in the all-around at the 2019 Worlds selection camp. “You have to be able to benefit the team with your other events, even if they aren’t as strong as your [best] one.”

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