Reese Hoffa puts 22.11m for gold in Moscow (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
General News

No longer ‘unknown’, Hoffa juggles with global success

After his stellar 2006 campaign, USA’s World Indoor Shot Put champion Reese Hoffa, can’t wait to get going again in 2007.

“This year is about trying to recapture what I did last year, or come close,” said the animated 29-year-old American, who last year took the World indoor title in Moscow with a sensational 22.11m heave. Only three others have ever thrown further indoors. “I am in wonderful shape. Everything seems to be coming to me much easier this year.”

He’ll put that theory to the test soon, with a pair of high profile appearances in the U.S., first at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games later this month, and then again at the 100th edition of the Millrose Games in New York City. In the lead-up to lat year’s Moscow triumph, Hoffa beat high calibre fields at both events, part of a six meet undefeated indoor season.

“I never expected to go through an entire indoor season without losing. Everything came together.”

Things came together particularly well in Moscow, where each of his three throws, including his winning bomb, were superior to runner-up Andrei Mikhnevich of Belarus, the 2003 World outdoor champion.

Outdoors he threatened the 22-metre barrier as well, improving his career best to 21.96, while winning eight of the 17 competitions on his busy schedule, including the World Athletics Final.

Substantial prize

But it is in the intimate settings of indoor arenas that Hoffa seems to flourish best. A two-time defending Millrose champion, last year he was voted Outstanding Performer after breaking his own meet record with a 21.65 throw. For his effort, he received something he could use in the weight room: a 30 pound piece of Waterford Crystal

“The enormity of it is part of the prize,” he said. He thrives on the intensity of the Millrose set-up, he said, a four throw format with four throwers, music blaring, and a spotlight attention.

“That is the kind of atmosphere for me,” he said. “The crowd seems like its right on you. You can hear people calling your name. Every year it seems like there's a fan that I can hear over everybody else, or somebody who made a sign that I can see. Every time it pumps me up further.” And he added, “They pay really, really well so they're going to get the best out of you.”

Missing Nelson’s motivation

But in training these days, he relies on more personal motivation. Still based in Athens, Georgia, he misses having Adam Nelson, the reigning World outdoor champion, as a training partner. Nelson left Athens last year to pursue a graduate business degree at the University of Virginia.

“At first I thought it was great,” Hoffa admitted. “When he was in Georgia I was kind of playing second fiddle to him, even in my own mind. But ultimately, I miss him. He's a great person and an incredible training partner. The intensity of the workouts aren't the same.”

To stay motivated now, he said, “For me, I pick a mark and say this is where Adam would be training. Every single throw has to be beyond that, because that's where Adam is or Christian (Cantwell) is. So I have my mock Adam in my training sessions because he's not there anymore.”

‘Touching’ the World record

Hoffa began his rise from obscurity in 2000, the year he finished fourth at the NCAA Championships. He set out on a patient process, to improve year by year, passing one man and then the next. “Ultimately, I’ve reached that goal.”

“When I first had the idea I could be a shot putter back in high school, I never imagined I'd be where I am now. All my training has shown me that anything is possible as long as I continue to do what I do well and just train hard.”

Among those possibilities is to challenge the World indoor record of 22.66, set by Randy Barnes 18 years ago.

“I like to think I can touch the World indoor record. The World outdoor record might be a little tough, but anything's possible. I just let it rip.” Hoffa said he’s had throws nearing the mark in training. “It will take the right meet and right atmosphere to get me up to that distance. I've thrown 22 metres and think I can continue to compete at that level.” Outdoors, he said, the 23 metre mark is not out of the question.

Enjoying the sport along with the public

From his incarnation as the ‘Unknown Thrower,’ where he competed in mask and cape, Hoffa enjoys theatrics, and plans to continue to indulge the crowd.

“To me throwing should be about having fun,” he said. “It makes the crowd think there is something exciting going on out there. If it means doing a back flip when I'm introduced, I'll do that.” The acrobatic reference was not a joke; during his college days he worked with the University of Georgia’s gymnastics coach to perfect the back flip, as much as a 133kg gymnast could. But it would most likely come at end of his season.

“I'm not confident enough to go out there and actually pull it, but who knows,” he said. “If it’s the last meet and I'm excited ... if I sprain an ankle, I have no other meets to go to!”

Out of the throwers circle, he entertains himself - and others - as an avid Rubik’s Cube practitioner, sometimes solving it more than half a dozen times a day. He also juggles, mostly clubs, but has also managed with knives and torches. “When I go to Europe, I usually bring my clubs with me.”

The biggest threat

While the Boston field is still to be determined, at New York’s Madison Square Garden he’ll share the spotlight with Americans Dan Taylor, John Godina and Christian Cantwell, to round out a quartet of the world’s finest. Of the three, he singled out the youngest, the 24-year-old Taylor as the one to watch.

“He does some incredible things in warm-up, it's a matter of doing them in competition,” he said of the northern Ohio native, who improved his career best to 21.59 last year. “He's ready. If he can do it, I don't know, but he's one of the biggest threats. He's got all the tools.”

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF