Series27 Jun 2016

First impressions – Joe Kovacs


Joe Kovacs in the shot put at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 (© Getty Images)

World champion Joe Kovacs currently tops the world list for the men’s shot. Here the affable US thrower answers our first impressions questions.

First sport

My dad was a soccer coach and I remember the first sport I played was soccer. I wasn’t very good and I found every time the ball rolled past the goal, it went down a hill and I took it on myself to fetch the ball every time. I thought it was fun to retrieve the ball and kick it back up the hill, even though many of the other kids were too lazy to do it, I was happy to do so. I probably stopped playing soccer around the age of 12 or 13 and I made the transition to American football, a sport I was better suited to playing.  

First coach

My first throws coach was my mum, Joanna. I went to a small Catholic school and because we didn't have many facilities and trained in a parking lot, she probably saw how unorganised we were and took it upon herself to step in and coach us. I think she felt like she had to help out. I was coached by my mum throughout my high school years.

First meeting outside of the USA

It was the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation meet in Puerto Rico. I think I got lucky to win selection. I didn't have the best marks, but because I did both discus and shot they sent me to do both events. It was exciting and a fun experience to compete outside of the US. I remember going there thinking I would throw far, but the shot just wasn't moving in the right way. It was only in my final throw of the competition I realised I was throwing a 6kg shot rather than the 5.45kg implement I was used to.

First disappointment

When I look back, my career has had way more disappointments than successes. I remember one competition at high school when I was expected to break the district record of a well-known guy who went on to enjoy a successful pro-football career. Everybody knew who he was and many people turned up expecting me to break the record. I put a lot of pressure on myself and I failed to get the record there. It was a big let-down, but also a real learning experience because it was the first time I realised I have to figure this out myself and that I was not going to let this happen again.

First injury

I remember sustaining a groin pull in college just before the 2010 NCAA Indoor Championships, which was terrible timing. I remember a teammate wrapping and pulling the bandage so tightly I couldn’t feel my leg, let alone a groin pull. I ended up throwing quite well and finished third, but I couldn’t even bend my leg.

First media interview

My first interview was not for track and field but at a state science fair. I won the competition designing some aerofoils or some airplane wings, but although I could have answered any questions on my subject matter, I was not prepared to be interviewed by TV after winning. They asked me how it felt to win and I couldn't answer!

First fashion disaster

I remember I was a drummer in a school play aged about seven or eight and my suspenders popped. I was beating this drum as I walked down the aisle and every time I hit the drum, another piece seemed to fall off my costume.

First car

My dad passed away when I was seven and we kept his Jeep Wrangler, so when I was aged 16 that was the car I learned to drive in. It was a fun car to drive. In the summer I drove it with the roof off and to finally drive it to school was a great feeling. We still have that car in the family. 

First thing you learned to cook

It was a pierogi. My grandmother was Austrian and I remember her teaching me how to make a pierogi – a D-shaped dumpling. She would often make them for festivals and I was at the age when I would go along with her and watch her cook them.

First pet

My dog Hoops, a yorkshire terrier. The dog was fun to grow up with. I used to throw the ball around. I had some good memories.

Steve Landells for the IAAF