Jumpers, throwers take center stage at America’s Marathon Weekend Experience
By Amby Burfoot
What were shot putter Ryan Crouser, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist, and 2016 Olympic high jumper Inika McPherson doing at America’s Marathon Weekend?
Competing in the Tracktown Meets Running City USA Pro-Am Shot Put and High Jump, that’s what – although it was a high schooler who stole the show.
Enthusiastic crowds at the America’s Marathon Weekend Experience cheered the team competition for the two field events, in which local high school athletes got the rare opportunity to compete with and against some of the biggest stars in the sport. With NBC track and field commentator Lewis Johnson announcing, the Experience became a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“This was the best track meet ever,” said Kaylen “KK” Madrey, from Newnan High School.
Madrey joined forces with McPherson in the high jump, which was first on the program. The team got off to a good start, with Madrey clearing a personal record 1.71 meters. That meant McPherson had only to make sure that none of her fellow pros soared higher than she, a feat she achieved with a jump of 1.86 meters.
“This pro-am format was a beautiful thing,” she said. “I love bringing the high jump to the youth athletes. And my teammate, she’s such a star: She set a personal best today.”
Madrey gave her pro-am partner credit for the personal best: “The reason I was able to jump so well is that Inika told me I had to keep accelerating into the bar.”
As the shot put began, Johnson pumped up the crowd with an alert that they might get the chance to witness a world record, given that Crouser launched the second-longest throw in history (22.60m) at last weekend’s USATF Indoor Championships. The 31-year-old world indoor record is 22.66m.
Adding to the excitement, the world-record distance was clearly marked on the sector floor in brightly colored tape.
Crouser started slowly, throwing 20.83m on his first effort, well off pro Payton Otterdahl’s first heave. And Crouser’s partner, high schooler Mason Robinson, had even bigger problems, fouling on three of his first five throws. This was unusual for the 4.0 senior from Alexander High School in Douglasville. “I love math,” professes the future engineering student, and one guesses that he doesn’t often mess up his calibrations.
On his fourth attempt, Crouser launched a long, high throw that brought a chorus of “ooohs” and “aaahs” from the crowd. The iron ball crashed to the ground at 21.94m − the longest throw of the afternoon. That helped, but his team was still mired in third as Robinson entered the ring for his last of six throws.
Pressure? You better believe it. But the young student-athlete came through with a legal toss of 15,62m, a full meter longer than his earlier best in the competition. That was enough to catapult him and Crouser to the win.
“I liked this format, and the crowd here was great,” said Crouser a few minutes later. “And what a great kid I had as a teammate, the way he came through in the sixth round.”
“This was so much fun,” added Robinson. “I figured I’m never going to get another chance to throw with an Olympic champ, so I might as well enjoy it. Ryan was the one who helped me succeed with that last throw. He said, ‘Keep it slow in the back, and then give it all you’ve got.’”