MU graduate goes to medal round in Olympic shot put

'I don't (care) if we sweep it or not. I just want to win,' Christian Cantwell says.
Thursday, August 14, 2008 | 10:27 p.m. CDT; updated 1:23 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 15, 2008
Christian Cantwell, a native of Eldon and an MU graduate, advanced in the men's shot put at the Beijing Olympics. He will compete in the medal round on Friday.

It's easy for people to misunderstand Christian Cantwell.

Before Cantwell, a 27-year-old MU graduate, steps into the shot put ring for the medal round of the event Friday in Beijing, there are some things worth knowing about him.

Understand that Cantwell, who qualified for the finals with a throw of 67 feet, 2¼ inches on his second throw of the preliminaries, has one goal at his first Olympics: heave a 16-pound sphere farther than anyone else.

Cantwell, an Eldon native who is the two-time world indoor champion, says his ultimate goal is not to have that medal hanging around his neck. He just wants to win.

Understand that Cantwell meant no disrespect to the Olympics by not showing up to the opening ceremonies.

"The opening ceremonies, I've heard, is four or five hours of standing and waiting. In that heat? That doesn't sound like a good time to me," Cantwell said. "I'll go out and practice during that time. There shouldn't be anyone around."

Understand that if Cantwell wins the gold medal, he won't act crazy as if he just pulled off a huge upset.

"If you do what you're supposed to do, why act surprised?" Cantwell said. "If you thought you were going to win and you win, why celebrate?"

Understand that Cantwell is not unpatriotic, though some will call him that for saying he doesn't care what his fellow American shot-putters do. Some predict the Americans — Reese Hoffa, Adam Nelson and Cantwell — will capture all three medals in shot put. The group has eight of the top 10 throws in the world this season, with Cantwell claiming the fourth best after going 71-4¾ on May 10 at the California Relays in Modesto, Calif. Nelson (72-7) has the top mark, followed by Hoffa (72-6) and Andrei Mikhnevich (72-3) of Belarus. But Cantwell is looking past them all.

"I don't (care) if we sweep it or not. I just want to win," Cantwell told USA Today in Beijing. "Now, would I like to win gold and have them after me? Yeah. If I take third and we sweep it, I ain't going to be happy. I might dodge the award ceremony, I don't know."

Cantwell started track and field in Eldon because he had to.

"It was more of a forced thing to do," Cantwell said. "Typically, the coach coaches all three sports in middle school. I did football and I did basketball, so when it came time for track, there really wasn't much of a choice. I guess you're coming out for track."

Unlike some athletes who have been dreaming of the Olympics since they were kids, Cantwell didn't think about competing in the Olympics until his junior year at MU, where he won three Big 12 Conference championships for the Tigers.

"I remember the moment, it was my first indoor meet my junior year, I threw a huge (personal record)," Cantwell said. "When I did that, I thought I could be the best at this. From then, it was never an if. It was just when."

Cantwell says he has moved on from the 2004 Olympic Trials. Cantwell fouled on five of his six attempts and failed to make the Olympic team. If Cantwell had made the team, he would have been the favorite in Athens, after thowing 73-11, a world record at the time, only a month before the trials.

"I had a great year that season," Cantwell said. "If you look at the stats that season, it might be one of the best outdoor seasons (for any shot-putter) even minus that major championship.

"I don't feel any different making the team this time," Cantwell said. "I feel like I'm at a point in my career when I can kind of start over."

Cantwell says he never worried about making the Olympic team this time. Though, he was surprised the achievement didn't affect him more.

"Whenever I made the team, I thought there would be this big awe moment," Cantwell said. "It never happened; I was just mad I got second (at the trials)."

For Cantwell, whose first child, Jackson, was born three months ago, a lot has changed since 2004. He's dropped his half-hour warm-up routine and throws cold after he discovered that he throws better just showing up and doing it.

"I was running late before a warm-up meet before the National Indoor Trials last year," Cantwell said. "I just showed up and threw one of my best ever."

Cantwell's coach, Brett Halter, the MU associate head track coach, thinks it's an advantage that Cantwell doesn't have to warm up.

"Just to have the ability to walk into the ring with no warm-up and deliver a huge throw is a huge advantage," Halter said.

Cantwell says he hopes everything that happens in China is a huge blur. That means it went well.

"If it's going well, I don't think of anything," Cantwell said. "If it's going well, you really don't even really remember what happened."

It's clear Cantwell's friends and family will be able to recall the event. Those who aren't with him in Beijing have planned a watch party back in Eldon.

Cantwell's plans are simple.

"I'm just going to give it hell and see what happens," he says.


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