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U.S. strength with iron ball no one-shot deal

June 29, 2010 | 10:58 am

When a guy with a 6-foot-6, 320-pound body and an Olympic silver medal talks about creating a competitive monster, you figure he knows a little about the subject.

So you can take Christian Cantwell's word on how his success and that of veterans Adam Nelson and Reese Hoffa have spawned a new generation of young giants for the United States in the shot put.

After all, no other country could boast of having a shot put field in its national championships like the one that heaved the iron ball Sunday at Drake Stadium:
  • The three 2008 Olympic team members -- Cantwell, 30 in September; Hoffa, 32; and Nelson, 35 next week -- who each won a gold medal at one of the last three outdoor World Championships.
  • The two twentysomethings, Corey Martin, 25, and Ryan Whiting, 23, who have, respectively, the second- and third-longest throws in the world this season (behind the leading Cantwell).
  • And Mason Finley, 19, a 6-8, 320-pound rising sophomore at Kansas who ranks 16th among the world's putters in 2010.

Whiting "Unfortunately, we're creating our own competitors,'' Cantwell said.  "There were always one or two young kids coming through; now there is a plethora. It's self-inflicting" for the veterans.

"But I ain't gonna let them take me down.  I may be old, but I ain't slow.''

That was apparent Sunday when reigning world champ Cantwell won his third U.S. title and had five of the six longest throws in the competition, topped by a heave of 71 feet, 1/2 inch -- and still was bummed over not breaking the meet record of 72 feet, 11 inches.

"To throw 21.65 [meters] today and be disappointed, that's a good life,'' Cantwell said. "There were times when I'd take a 21.65 and be tickled pink.''

Hoffa and Nelson aren't ready to step aside yet, either.  They finished 2-3 Sunday, each with his best throw of the season, 69-11 3/4 and 68-4 1/2.

Martin was fourth at 67-8, nearly 5 feet under his 2010 best. Whiting, who earlier this month won a second straight NCAA title in the shot for Arizona State, took fifth at 67-7 1/2, some 4 feet off his season best.  And Finley, the recent NCAA runner-up, was eighth at 64-9 1/4, 4 feet under his season best.

"These [young] guys are phenomenal,'' said Nelson, a two-time Olympic silver medalist.  "They are throwing distances I couldn't have dreamed of at their age.''

But the event becomes more mental than physical in the noncollegiate arena, which means more experience in big competitions is crucial.  No shot putter in the 2008 Olympic finals was younger than 26.

"They are still trying to figure out how to compete at this level, against bigger people throwing farther,'' Nelson said. "You've got to go execute every time.''

Cantwell, a three-time world indoor champion, had a related point of view about the transition from college.

"When you're a professional, everyone likes you but nobody is going to hold your hand and try to help you out,'' Cantwell said. "You lose that [support), and you have to find it in a different place.''

The younger U.S. throwers are stepping into an environment in which their countrymen have regained their world dominance during the two decades since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany.

From 1983 through 1991, when the outdoor worlds were quadrennial, U.S. shot putters won just one bronze medal at the meet; in the nine biennial world meets beginning with 1993, the U.S. record is six gold, four silver, two bronze.

"I've been in this game almost 10 years, and I think it's time to let the younger generation have a chance,'' Hoffa said.

But it was clear Hoffa doesn't want that time to come soon.

If he and Nelson retire as expected after 2012, Hoffa noted, Cantwell and Dan Taylor, 28, the 2009 U.S. runner-up, still should be around.

"That will push the younger guys ... into the 2016 Olympics,'' Hoffa said.

-- Philip Hersh in Des Moines

Photos: Christian Cantwell on Sunday at the U.S. Championships, top; Credit: Andy Lyons / Getty Images.  Ryan Whiting winning a second straight NCAA title; Credit: Greg Wahl-Stephens / Associated Press