DOHA, Qatar (AP) — In one ear, American shot putter Joe Kovacs heard a technical tip from his coach. In the other, his wife weighing in to take a deep breath.
All that feedback before Kovacs’ final toss at world championships came from the same person. Kovacs’ wife is his coach, as well.
After winning a gold medal Saturday night, he owes her dinner. Maybe two.
“She earned it,” Kovacs said. “I owe her big time for this one.”
Kovacs threw a championship-record 22.91 meters and took home the gold by 1 centimeter. Teammate Ryan Crouser was second and Tomas Walsh of New Zealand took third with throws (each went 22.90) that would’ve won any other world championship.
To think, Kovacs was recently contemplating retirement. His wife, Ashley, the throws coach at Ohio State, talked him out of it.
“We put together this plan,” said Kovacs, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist. “To not only to be back on top, but to be better.”
The 30-year-old Kovacs knew he unleashed a technically sound throw on his final attempt, but he had no idea it was that good. He was shocked to see the distance. Crouser and Walsh had personal-best performances, too.
“It was an unbelievable competition with a lot of fireworks,” said Crouser, who made the rounds after winning a medal in a stylish cowboy hat. “This final was crazy and I am so happy to be part of it.”
The key for Kovacs? Focusing on his lane — or, more apt in this case, the shot-put ring.
“I was proud able to stay in my own head and not watch Ryan and Tom throw it so far and get tight,” said Kovacs, who won a world title in 2015. “Being a shot putter it’s really easy to get tense. You really want to be intense and loose.”
That’s where his wife plays a big role. They’re honest with each other. At practice, if he doesn’t feel like a particular workout, they skip it.
“He’s like, ‘You see me more than anybody else and you know when I’m down. I can’t pull one over on you,” said Ashley Kovacs, who was an All-American shot putter at the University of Kentucky. “The type of honesty we have in our relationship has really helped us in this realm.”
CHAMPION OUT, PART I
After a flinch, U.S. hurdler Brianna McNeal was finished.
At first, the Olympic champion didn’t believe she was the one who bolted early from the blocks in the first round of the 100 hurdles. She shook her head when the judge informed her that she false started.
They went to the video. Indeed, she did. McNeal left the track in tears as her heat went on without her.
“I am very heartbroken by this mistake that I made,” McNeal said. “Unfortunately, I lost focus for just a millisecond.”
McNeal’s false start was a first-round lesson for the field.
“When I saw it, I was saying to myself and the other girls, ‘Just wait on the gun. It doesn’t matter if you have a slower reaction time,'” Jamaican Danielle Williams said. “It’s definitely tough to see something like that happen.”
CHAMPION OUT, PART II
Defending world long jump champion Brittney Reese of the United States struggled to explain what happen. She was jittery on her first jump, played it safe on the final one and barely missed the last spot in the final.
Her jump of 6.52 meters was just 1 centimeter behind U.S. teammate Sha’keela Saunders, who earned the last spot in Sunday’s final.
“It wasn’t my day,” said Reese, who also won world titles in 2009 and 2013. “Everything felt like it was heading in the right direction. I didn’t execute the plan. It’s totally my fault.”
She said all she wanted to do was return to her room and punch her bed — or pillow.
“Because once I punch something, I’ll be all right,” Reese said.
CHAMPION OUT, PART III
German javelin thrower Thomas Rohler failed to make it out of qualifying. He won gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
“If javelin was easy, then victories would not be worth anything,” Rohler said. “This will hurt for some hours.”
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