Ryan Whiting, winner of the Shot at the 2013 US Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Brussels, Belgium

Whiting is the big daddy of the Shot

Winning the Diamond Race is not Ryan Whiting’s greatest moment of 2013.

Nor is his silver medal from the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, his world-leading throw of 22.28m earlier in the season or his US title.

Whiting’s proudest achievement of the year is becoming a father.

Stepping off the track just moments after securing the Diamond Trophy in Brussels, the shot putter stopped mid-conversation and took out his phone. “I’ve got this great photo,” he says, scrolling through dozens of images of his three-month-old son, Charlie.

Eventually he finds the picture. “In our family we get bigger and bigger,” says Whiting as he holds up a photo showing four generations of his family. They are all stood in age order, which also happens to be in height order – the new-born Charlie excepted, of course.

It would be no surprise if Whiting junior continues that tradition. He weighed 9lb 5oz at birth and already weighs close to 18lb at three months. “My wife was a swimmer and she’s 5ft 10in; I’m 6ft 3in, so he’ll probably be bigger than both of us.

“It’s different,” added Whiting of fatherhood. “It’s definitely given me some new perspective on travelling. He was born two days before Rome, so that’s why I didn’t compete there. I now try to stay at the meets for a lot less time and go back and forth when I can to spend time with him and my wife because she needs help.”

Ending the year as world No.1

His wife Ashley will be pleased that Whiting is returning home for good after wrapping up his season with another Diamond League victory in Brussels to secure the $40,000 bonus for winning the overall series.

“It feels great. I’ve definitely solidified world No.1. Even though I didn’t win in Moscow, I basically won everything else so I’m happy with my season. It’s a step in the right direction.

“But winning the Diamond Race doesn’t make up for missing the gold in Moscow,” he added. “That’s really all I came into the season wanting. The rest is just a side effect of my preparations for that, so next time mentally I’ll be ready and he (David Storl) won’t take it from me.”

Whiting was certainly in form to challenge for gold in the Russian capital, but a minor blip threw him off and he had to settle for the silver medal.

“After my good first throw, I hit 22 metres on my second one, which was a foul, then I just kind of backed off after that and never really got back into a good rhythm,” he said. “I then went to Zurich and I had four throws that would have won in Moscow with three over 21.90m. It was a good follow-up, but it’s a shame it wasn’t a week-and-a-half earlier.

“I’ve been over 21 metres 16 times this year and over 22 metres three times. I’ve set a personal best. I’ve done everything but win the gold. But I’ll take it and learn from it for next year.”

World record ambitions

Whiting’s 2013 season has been so strong that it has given him the confidence to one day attempt to break the long-standing World record of 23.12m.

“This year is the first time I’ve seen an indication that the World record is realistic,” said Whiting. “I threw near 22.60m in practice; it’s just a matter of getting it out in a meeting, which is a lot more difficult than you’d expect.

“But I’m happy with 22.28m. Even on that day, I was in great shape and the weather was great in Doha, but I was ready to throw farther that day.

“I need to get more consistent in that 22.28m range. If I have six or seven meets in that range, then with that kind of consistency a big throw can finally come out.”

Whiting fits his training around his role as an assistant coach for Penn State’s disability athletics programme as part of their Wounded Warriors Project, which helps rehabilitate ex-military personnel.

This year Whiting will be coaching five or six athletes, including some amputees. “I tried seated throwing and it’s tough. I don’t even know how they balance,” said Whiting. “But it’s interesting and it keeps things fun.

“In 2011 I started coaching this guy named Sean Hook, who was in the army for 14 or 15 years. He’s just been discharged and has post-traumatic stress disorder, so he has anger issues. He’d never thrown before, but I gave him some goals and let him take out some aggression in the weight room, and it’s made the world of change.”

Big breakfasts are the secret to success

No one else in Whiting’s family had a background in athletics. “I always just chalked it up to good eating,” said the 134kg powerhouse.

“My mom owned a bakery and she cooked all the time, making sure we had our five square meals every day. Before I went to bed at night, she’d take my order for breakfast the following morning. I’d order cheeseburgers and lots of crazy stuff.

“Looking back on it, it’s insane; I can’t believe she did it,” added Whiting of his mother who passed away four years ago following complications after routine surgery. “But it paid off and it’s landed me with a free education. I now make a living doing this.”

Whiting soon began to excel in the Shot and Discus at high school. In 2005 he won the Pan-American junior titles in both events with the best marks by a US junior athlete that season.

The following year, aged 19, he achieved the same distance with the senior weight Shot. In 2007 he cracked 20 metres for the first time, then in 2009 he won his first NCAA title in the Shot. He went one better in 2010, winning the NCAA Shot and Discus double, throwing 21.97m in his specialist event.

In his first full season as a professional athlete, Whiting dropped the Discus and it soon paid off as he landed his first US title at the National Indoor Championships, then finished sixth in the final at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu that summer.

He then caught the world’s attention in 2012 when he won the World indoor title with a lifetime best of 22.00m. Outdoors, Whiting qualified for the Olympic Games with a season’s best of 21.66m at the US Trials and went on to finish ninth in London.

This season has undoubtedly been the best of Whiting’s career. Of his 17 competitions, he has won all but three of them. And only once has he failed to break 21 metres.

From balls of iron to balls of wool

He now sits at 12th on the world all-time list in an event dominated by strongmen. But aside from heaving metal balls past 22 metres, Whiting’s hands are also capable of creating intricate works of art – namely in pottery, origami and knitting.

“In 3D art class at school I got pretty good at pottery. It was great rehab for my hands,” explained Whiting, who later studied civil engineering at Arizona State University. “At the same time, my friend in the class learned how to knit by watching a video online, then he taught me how to knit.

“It was cold in the winter, so we’d make these scarfs. All the girls thought we were insane, but eventually I taught my mom how to knit, which is kind of backwards to how it usually works. But she then took off it with.

“It became a useless skill in Arizona where it’s so hot, it’s like the surface of the sun,” added Whiting. “But I’m sure I’ll knit something for my son, just because it would be a funny thing to see.”

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF