Hoffa gets a 'leg' up on competition in winning shot put title
By Pat Graham
3:59 p.m. June 23, 2007
INDIANAPOLIS – Reese Hoffa carried a flag in one hand and an enormous turkey leg in the other as he attempted to run a victory lap around the stadium.
After 100 meters, though, the shot putter decided to walk. That way, he could nibble on the turkey.
The turkey trot around the stadium has become a tradition for Hoffa, who won his first U.S. shot put title with a toss of 70 feet, 5¼ inches on a drizzly Saturday afternoon.
“It's a nice way to say hello to the fans and sign autographs,” said Hoffa, who started the custom in 2000 as a junior at Georgia after winning at the Drake Relays.
In order to get an autograph, the fan has to do him a favor – hold his turkey leg as he signs.
“I love to have fun,” Hoffa said. “I'm kind of a clown anyway.”
The crowd loudly cheered each time he stepped into the shot put ring. Hoffa fed off the support and had the five best throws despite a light rain that affected the other competitors. Dan Taylor was second at 68-10¾ and Adam Nelson third at 67-4¾.
“I was checking the weather every hour, waiting to see what would happen,” Hoffa said. “I saw a front coming in. After that, I accepted it: 'It's going to be wet out here. There's nothing I can do about it. If I want to make this team, I better make the best of it.' And that's what I did.”
Nelson, the 2006 U.S. Outdoor champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist, has a busy schedule these days. He's trying to mix training with running a startup nutritional company and getting his MBA at Virginia's Darden School of Business. He said the rain affected him.
“I was a little apprehensive,” Nelson said. “Everyone seemed (to be affected) except for Reese. He was going all out from the get-go.”
Hoffa has been billed as the best shot putter that no one's ever heard of. And while winning the U.S. title will help his credibility, he said he's a long way from being on the same level as Nelson and Christian Cantwell, the U.S. Indoor champion who finished a distant fifth Saturday.
Cantwell, Hoffa and Nelson have 11 of the top 12 throws in the world this season, with Cantwell topping the list with a throw of 72-0¾ at the Adidas Track Classic in May.
“I'm becoming more and more known,” Hoffa said. “But it's really hard to be one of the top names because there are so many good people. Adam and John Godina (the 1996 Olympic silver medalist) are legends. These are the guys that paved the way for someone like myself to do something. Until I do what they've done, I don't deserve the right to be known as a 'known' thrower. They've done so much.”
But they haven't taken an entire lap with a turkey leg in hand.
“I know it (the shot put) is serious, but you can't take it that serious,” said Hoffa, a four-time All-American at Georgia.
Hoffa competed wearing a costume mask and cape at the 2004 Home Depot Invitational, even throwing a then personal-best 71-1¼. He wore it to pay tribute to his love of professional wrestling.
“A big thing was made out of that mask thing,” he said.
Wait until he reveals his next idea. He wants to throw the shot put in a full bear costume.
“I want to have a chained collar on and then be led out to the arena in a cage like I'm a dangerous bear,” he said. “They'll unclip me and say, 'Throw.'”
Will he do that at the world championships in August in Osaka, Japan?
“No. Some lesser-known meet,” Hoffa said. “I don't want it to be a distraction. I'm getting close to where I can go out there in a bear suit and throw the kind of distance that makes the distance look respectable and the bear suit be hilarious.”
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