COLUMBIA - Christian Cantwell missed his chance to go to the Olympics four years ago. His coach says the disappointment might have made him better.
At the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in July of 2004 in Sacramento, Calif., Cantwell fouled on five of his six shot put attempts. His only clean throw was on his third attempt, leaving him at 67 feet, 5½ inches and out of the Olympics in fourth place. The finish was unexpected because he had set a world record of 73-11 only a month earlier.
Brett Halter, Missouri's associate head track coach, worked with Cantwell when he was a three-time Big 12 Conference champion for the Tigers, and remained his coach after Cantwell graduated in 2003.
He said after Cantwell missed his chance to participate in the 2004 Athens Games, he just tried harder. Halter said Cantwell's victory in the USATF national championship in 2005 was an immediate response to not advancing in 2004.
"A decisive win, as I recall. At that point, I knew we were on our way," Halter said. "The person hasn't changed, the experiences have. It's made him a better competitor."
Cantwell, 27, demonstrated what he has learned last June when he finished second at this year's Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., earning a place in next month's Beijing Games.
Both the other U.S. representatives in the shot put, Reese Hoffa, who won the trials, and Adam Nelson, who was third, competed at the 2004 Olympics, with Nelson earning the silver medal. The group is expected to sweep the medals this year in Beijing after turning in the best marks in the world in 2008. Cantwell has the third best throw this season after going 71-4¾ on May 10 at the California Relays in Modesto, Calif.
Cantwell leaves for Beijing on Monday and will compete Aug. 15, with qualifying in the morning and the finals to be held later that day.
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Missouri Athletics Training Complex in Columbia, Cantwell said he did not feel any different after making the team. He said he was just mad he only placed second at the trials.
"In my head I was going to make the team no matter what. I was almost injury free. I was never worried. I just knew it was going to happen," Cantwell said.
Cantwell said his first throw at the trials was not as good as he hoped, but he made up for it with the fifth throw. He said he hopes his teammates do well, but track and field is an individual sport.
"I'm not going to watch them. I'm not going to spectate," Cantwell said. "I think they should be the ones worried."
He said one of his advantages is his flexibility. He does not get emotional, especially over factors he cannot control, which could be helpful because, unlike other competitions, the Olympic shot put event will be held all in one day.
"I pride myself in not having to be perfect," Cantwell said.
He said he does not need a great night sleep the night before and does not have little routines that cannot be disrupted. Cantwell said that chaos takes his mind off of the competition.
Halter said he thinks Cantwell is mentally prepared for the Olympic games in Beijing.
"He's preparing himself to deal with the unexpected," Halter said.