Larry Crouser, who set the Gresham High School (Gresham, Ore.) record in the javelin (179 feet) in 1953, had a curious way of finding out if his three sons would enjoy following in his footsteps.
“When we were five or six years old, we were involved in football, basketball, baseball and (lifting) barbells,” Dean Crouser recalled. “He would say, ‘If you can clean and jerk 40 pounds, I’ll buy you a shot put.’ We had a vacant lot next to our house. We did it and he got us a shot put.
“(lifting) 50 pounds, he’d get us a discus. Sixty pounds and he’d get us a javelin. That was the holy grail. That (the javelin) was cool, because it flew a long ways. It was just to introduce us to track, I guess. Some of our friends didn’t have any (of those things). Dad didn’t have any grand plan and didn’t teach or show us how to do it. By doing it at a young age, we developed a feel for it.”
Larry’s first love actually was baseball, but he took up the javelin because, he said, “I always had a good baseball arm.”
Dean – the middle brother - took to field events so strongly that he eventually set Gresham school records in the javelin, shot put and discus – a really tough triple. As a senior he had the longest javelin throw in the country (230 feet) but “on the very next throw I blew my elbow out,” he lamented.
Though unable to enter the javelin, Dean did win Oregon’s Class 6A state title in the shot put as a senior (1978).
He attended the University of Oregon on a track scholarship, purposely withholding the elbow injury until he enrolled. Once over their shock, his coaches told him to forget about the javelin and concentrate on the shot put and discus.
All Dean did was win NCAA championship in the 16-pound shot put and discus as a 6-foot-5, 255-pound junior and repeat the discus title as a senior. His peak efforts in the shot (69-1) and discus (216-2) still are UO records.
“I was seven when I got my first javelin,” youngest son Brian Crouser recalled. “It was pretty cool. I played baseball until sixth grade. After that it was all track.”
Brian also left his mark at Gresham. As a sophomore he just missed the state title in the javelin “by two or three inches. I was standing 10 feet behind the line,” he added ruefully.” As a junior I won all three events (shot, discus and javelin). No one before or since ever has won all three.”
As a senior Brian elected to concentrate on the javelin because he had his sights set on the national record. However, he “tweaked” his elbow and was forced to “settle” for state titles in the shot and discus during his final campaign (1981).
In 1982 Brian followed Dean to the University of Oregon and became the first freshman to win the NCAA javelin title. It was the same year that Dean won the shot and discus – giving the Crouser family another first. Brian won a second NCAA crown before graduation.
After graduation, he left an even more indelible mark by firing the javelin a national-record 312 feet during an all-comers meet on his former home field. That record still stands because the event was changed the next year.
“My javelin hit and stuck in the track,” Brian said.
And that was the heart of the problem. The javelin stars were becoming so good that they were out-growing their venues (football stadiums) and there also was a danger aspect. Thus the rulesmakers decided to slow them down.
“They had to balance it,” Brian pointed out. “The nose had to be heavier than the tail. Theoretically, they moved the weight forward so it would nose-dive quicker and come down out of the sky faster. It took 40 or 50 feet away.”
Even though he had to “re-learn the event,” Brian set a world record of 262 feet in 1986 with the new javelin. He went on to represent the USA in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics.
Brian has two boys, Cory, a sophomore runner at Barlow (Gresham, Ore.), and Cody, a seventh grader who is just getting interested in the throwing events.
Oldest brother Mitch Crouser was inspired by his father’s national championship javelin efforts while serving in the U.S. Army in the 1950s.
“I had a really good arm, but I didn’t know how to throw (properly),” he related. “I had elbow problems and couldn’t throw in the state tournament my junior or senior years. It can be a nasty event if you don’t know how to do it.
“It needs to be thrown directly over the top. In the U.S. we have baseball pitchers and football quarterbacks. They’re already developing the wrong throwing motion for the javelin.”
“My best was 228 feet in the summer.”
Mitch headed for junior college, before finishing his final two years at the University of Idaho. He specialized in the shot put and discus, but admits, “The javelin would have been my best event.”
His claim to fame was being a discus alternate on the 1984 USA Olympic team.
Dean says of his son: “Sam’s a much more gifted natural athlete than I was. I know he would have been an incredible football player.”
Sam says he’s been throwing the javelin “ever since I could walk. My dad made me a wooden one and I would throw it in our backyard. It has been my favorite sport because you can see the progress – how much you improve in feet and inches.”
Grandpa Crouser also left his mark on Sam. Or, actually, Sam left his mark in his grandpa’s backyard, which was right across the street from his home. As a little guy he would throw various implements and Larry would place a brick each year at the longest place his grandson had reached.
Bricks still lie in the yard signifying Sam’s top distance for ages four through nine. “At nine or 10 I out-grew the fence,” Sam said. “I was throwing into his tree.”
He threw it so well, in fact, that as a third grader – with no practice - he placed second with a TurboJav (3-foot-long plastic body with three fins and a blunt rubber tip) during a national tournament in Sacramento, Calif.
When he was in seventh grade, he out-threw Gresham’s No. 1 high school javelin athlete by splitting the football goalposts from 50 yards with a TurboJav. Dean estimates his throw to have gone at least 220 feet.
“It was a line drive on a rope,” Dean described. “I knew he was something special (at age 13).”
Before Sam entered Gresham High, Gary Stautz, former head coach who now assists Dean Crouser in the weight events, related, “We made sure that our javelin area (at the new track) was going to be big enough to hold him.”
Sam came to Gresham as a 5-10 freshman. He grew to 6-1 as a sophomore, 6-4 as a junior and today as a senior he is 6-5 and 230 pounds. He still is maturing and growing into his lanky frame.
Adding strength as a sophomore, he won the Class 6A state championship with a javelin throw of 199 feet. He placed fourth in the discus, but did not compete in the shot put.
As a junior Sam again won the javelin throw, this time at a state-record 231 feet. In fact, it was the longest throw ever in any high school state meet. He placed third in the discus.
The following summer he set a national (under age 20) record at 239 feet during the Mac Wilkins Invitational at Concordia University.
He later won the Junior Nationals – against college freshmen and high school seniors - with a toss of 223 feet at the University of Oregon. That qualified him to compete in the Junior Pan American Games in Trinidad where he placed second at 224 feet.
He already is off to a brilliant start this spring as a senior. In just his second outing – and despite far-from-ideal weather conditions – he broke the 22-year-old national record by firing the javelin 244-2 during the Centennial Invitational.
Counting other efforts that day of 239-8 and 239-6, he now holds four of the top five marks in USA high school history.
Sam says he was “happy to get the monkey off my back.” He celebrated by “going to Applebee’s with my grandma and grandpa.”
He is the first to admit the importance of his family heritage.
“My family played a pretty big role,” he said. “Dad always has been there to help me out and he’s a really good coach, too. I want to be like him. My grandpa likes to show me new techniques.”
In the classroom Sam carries a 3.3 GPA and his future already is secure with a scholarship to follow his father and uncle to the University of Oregon.
Sam also is proud of his sister, Haley, who already has broken the Oregon state javelin record for a freshman with a throw of 151-4. Competing for Gresham High, the 5-10 ½ standout also is an excellent hurdler and long jumper.
Ryan Crouser, who is Mitch’s son and Sam’s cousin, didn’t get started in track until he was a fifth grader.
“Sam would throw 160 feet and I’d throw 60 feet,” he deadpanned. “Growing up, there wasn’t any competition at all. In eighth grade, I kind of made a jump and in ninth grade I was more competitive.”
Ryan soon elected to specialize in the shot put and discus and leave the javelin heroics to Sam.
He also did his share of throwing at grandpa Larry’s house. As an eighth grader, he worked out at the shot put pit, which was about 20 feet wide and ended at 58 feet. One day he “busted up the hedge. Then a really high one went through the shed’s roof. I had to come back the next day and fix it.”
That same year he shocked onlookers by throwing a one-kilo disc 190 feet over a cyclone fence and a large storage container.
His talents continue to produce mishaps even today because just recently an errant shot put heave broke a canopy window which his father had taken from his truck and laid in the driveway.
Ryan really came into his own as a sophomore. First, he won Class 6A state titles in the shot put and discus. He later threw the discus 202-6 to establish a national sophomore record. He won both events at the USA Youth Nationals (under 17) in Ypsilanti, Mich. After that, he won gold in the shot put and was second in the discus at the Youth World Championships in Italy.
On the same day this spring that Sam set the national javelin record, Ryan set the state shot put record with a huge toss of 69 feet, 8 ¾ inches. Making the feat even more remarkable, the 6-7, 225-pound Gresham Barlow junior had not competed for a month due to a groin injury.
Ryan held the state discus record until Sam broke it earlier this spring with a toss of 205-10.
Also a standout basketball player, Ryan carries a perfect 4.0 GPA and still is mulling over his eventual college destination.
Ryan has an eighth grade brother, Mitch, who specializes in running events.
SAM AND RYAN
Gary Stautz says that the cousins “obviously have a rivalry, but it’s a friendly rivalry. After Sam set the state (javelin) record last year, Ryan (who goes to a rival school) started the crowd clapping for Sam.”
Their rivalry may be even stronger in their favorite pastime – fishing.
Sam says, “I get into it almost as much as track, but it’s more relaxing to me.”
Who’s the best fisherman? Ryan replied, “I’d say me; he’d say him.”
Ryan might win the argument because he once landed an 11-foot, 400-pound sturgeon following an hour battle on the Columbia River. He also caught a six-pound smallmouth bass when he was just six years old.
Speaking as a proud uncle, Brian Crouser emphasized, “Everybody looks at genetics, but these guys have worked their butts off.”
Gary Stautz adds, “Their workouts are legendary.”
Sam says, “I like to work hard. I’m not the most talented person in the world. I probably need to out-work some people.”
Dean acknowledges, “My greatest surprise is the amount of work he’s done on his own. He is self-motivated. He’s never been pushed. He’s been kind of off the charts. We never had a plan, or great expectations. I’m probably more overwhelmed; I could never have imagined what he’s done.”
Grandpa Larry, now 75 years old, says his pride in his sons and grandsons is “beyond belief – not just for track and field, but how they conduct themselves.”
He calls Sam’s national javelin record “awesome. Beyond my wildest expectations. Ryan’s world gold and Sam’s national record are the result of many hours of hard work. Right up there, too, is Haley’s 151-4 throw as just a freshman. I think that very few people realize the discipline, hard work and sacrifices that are made to reach this level.”
Ryan’s future goals “are posted all over the place – on the wall, the bathroom mirror (etc.),” he said. They are 225 feet in the discus and 75 feet in the shot put.
Sam’s javelin goal is huge: 269 feet. “It just kind of popped into my head last year,” he explained. “I’ve been making 30-foot jumps each year (209 and 239). I think it’s realistic. The technique has to be there and the right conditions.
“I think I’m going to get another big one soon.”