The guttural sounds that emanate from Joseph Kovacs belie his otherwise good nature.
Kind and articulate in most any setting outside the shot-put ring, Kovacs unleashed a new noise and a new world-leading 2014 best Wednesday afternoon in the Capitol Shot to start off the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships in rousing fashion.
The 24-year-old business and finance graduate from Penn State didn’t win any NCAA titles or any previous national crowns, but he won here in what well may be his coming-out show with a 72-foot, 31/2-inch effort. He seemingly aimed for the state Capitol steps with each put, punctuated with yelps.
After his lifetime-best heave, Kovacs threw up his arms triumphantly to a roar of approval on a historic day as the region opened its sixth national championship as host since 1968. Some 5,000 fans filled the two grandstands and outlined the shot-put sector, four bodies deep in some instances, for a close-up view. And the athletes responded as they soaked up their moment and atmosphere with the Capitol dome prominent. This was the first time in USA Track & Field Championship history that the shot put was held outside the main venue, in this case Sacramento State, the host site for the rest of the meet that starts today.
Kovacs obliterated his previous best of 70-71/4 in recording the second-longest throw in Sacramento history behind the 72-7 Adam Nelson produced in winning the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials at Hornet Stadium.
“We felt the energy and it really helped,” Kovacs said. “To be able to do this, at this venue and with this crowd, awesome. To see the dome, the American flag after each throw, amazing. I’m loving this.”
That defending U.S. champion Ryan Whiting and 2009 world outdoor champion Christian Cantwell were late scratches didn’t dull the energy, especially considering Kurtis Roberts had two 70-foot tosses and managed second place. A grade-school teacher in Ohio, Roberts’ best Wednesday was 70-51/4. Reese Hoffa, the 2007 world champion and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist , was third at 68-21/4 . Hoffa, 36, said he was delighted to see what Kovacs accomplished as sportsmanship runs sincere in this sport.
“Anytime you see someone go 72 feet and have the world’s best throw, that’s great,” Hoffa said. “It’s exciting because the young guys like Kovacs and Roberts are carrying the torch for American shot putters now.”
Kovacs said a chance meeting with Hoffa in 2005 when he was in high school in Pennsylvania changed his track outlook and career.
“I used to glide in the ring and he told me, ‘Dude, do the rotation,’ and so I did,” Kovacs said. “It was great to compete against him here. I always looked up to him.”
Michelle Carter defended her USA title in the women’s shot earlier in the day with a 63-93/4 toss as she owned the event from the start. And she looked the part, too, with freshly dyed red hair to go with a reddish/pink top, gray bottoms and a radiant smile.
Carter has long insisted on holding onto her feminine side as she uncorks throws that most men can only wonder about.
“I grew up wanting to wear a dress, but I was always outside playing in the dirt,” Carter said with a laugh. “The makeup, the hair, the outfit, if you look good, you’ll feel good and do good.”
Carter is a famous name in these parts. Her father, Michael Carter, in the 1979 Golden West Invitational at Sac State, set the national prep record in the shot with a forever unfathomable 81-31/2 effort. He went on to win Olympic silver in 1984 and three Super Bowl titles with the 49ers as a nose tackle. He now coaches his daughter. A Texas native like her father, Michelle Carter won a GWI title here, too, in 2002, and she won the 2006 NCAA shot put title at Sac State while competing for Texas.
“I didn’t know Sacramento loved us so much,” Carter said about the family. “It was great to feel that. It really carried me.”
Carter took one attempt in the morning qualifying round, going 60-91/2, and was fresh for the later rounds. Felisha Johnson took silver at 62-111/4 on her final toss, and Tia Brooks took bronze at 61-91/2.
“We won’t forget this event and what it means,” Carter said. “What a great day and what a great crowd. I think people came away with more appreciation to what we do.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.