Release courtesy of Al King, Assistant Athletic Director, Media Relations, Ashland University
ASHLAND, OHIO - On Wednesday (July 25), Ashland University strength and conditioning coach A.G. Kruger boarded a plane from Columbus, Ohio, and flew to Washington D.C., and then London. The layover in the nation’s capital was expected to last approximately two hours and Kruger’s total flying time was to exceed six hours.
Most people would consider that an exhausting journey.
For Kruger, who is competing in the Olympics in the hammer throw for the third time in his career, it’s like a walk around the cul-de-sac.
It’s not easy being 33 years old and maintaining a world class training regimen when you have a full-time job in a 20-sport college athletics department. If that doesn’t fill up your plate like the Pizza Hut buffet, there are his responsibilities at home. Kruger and his wife, Laura, have a son who will turn one in August.
Finally, over the last month, Kruger has been working to raise funds so his parents can go to London to see him compete. If this is the end of the road in this storied career, Kruger wants it to be a celebration. Staying on this boulevard for a long time can make you old fast and drain away enthusiasm.
“I’m getting through this year and then we’ll take steps,” replied Kruger, when asked about his future. “You have to figure out what’s best for you and your family. We’ll see how the body holds up. I think you have to sit and reflect. The whole idea is to be able to compete at the international events.”
In his two previous trips to the Olympics, the 6-4, 260-pound Kruger has not been able to advance to the finals. His best career throw is 79.26 meters (260-0, 2004). The hammer throw competition begins on Aug. 3. The finals will take place on Aug. 5. Kruger was third at the recent U.S. Olympic Trials (242-6). In his career he’s won one Olympic Trials championship (2008, 248-09). At one point, he captured four consecutive United States championships in the hammer (2006-09). He’s a seven-time champion indoors in the weight throw. A native of Sheldon, Iowa, and a 2001 graduate of Morningside College, Kruger won a NCAA Division II national title.
At 33, Kruger will be one of the older throwers in the Olympic field. With that comes experience and knowing how to handle the atmosphere.
“In 2004 it was a blur and in 2008 maybe I over thought everything,” explained Kruger. “I was in the ring saying, ‘I had to do this, I had to do that.”
“I remember at Athens there were 30,000 people in the stands and I said, ‘Holy cow, what am I doing here,” remembered Kruger. “In 2004, I look back and I’m happy I just got legal throws out there.”
Kruger has competed in 12 countries, but he’s never thrown in London. He has thrown against a number of the competitors he will see in England. That’s another part of the experience that can be daunting, going up against international stars for the first time.
“Most of these guys I’ve thrown against multiple times,” reminded Kruger. “It’s gotten better and better with time.”
Kruger is one of two Americans in the field – the other is former Ashland University national champion Kibwe Johnson. Kruger and Johnson have not trained together in preparation for these Games. Still, this isn’t like 2008 when Kruger was the lone American in the event.
That can bring a feeling of isolation and even with an Olympic Village that tries to meet an athlete’s every need, it’s easy to feel as marooned as Gilligan. This is the part of the Olympic journey that NBC Sports doesn’t show – the hassles and headaches of travel and learning to survive outside of one’s comfort zone. Just getting from Point A to Point B at the Olympics can be nerve wracking due to the security demands. The best advice may be to expect the unexpected. On one trip, Kruger got to the Olympic Village and discovered his name wasn’t on the list of competitors. That caused some frenzied phone calls back to the United States and some overtime work for a FAX machine that would eventually help verify his acceptance to the Games.
Although Kruger hasn’t been to London and may need a map to navigate the city streets, there are some other routes that he knows well. Kruger is planning to skip the opening ceremonies because he doesn’t want to spend so much time on his feet. He also knows the importance of finding a good place to train and understanding how important it is to go with the flow. There’s no doubt his training schedule will have to change. In Ashland, Kruger is just minutes away from his training facility. There is no rush of traffic to get to practice and no backup once he arrives.
One advantage Kruger has in this regard is his access to AU head track and field coach Jud Logan. Logan competed in the Olympics four times (think of that, NCAA Division II Ashland has two staff members with seven Olympic Games between them) and encountered just about every pitfall that could arise in world class competition.
“That’s what’s helped me the last few years,” said Kruger. “Throw at 2, leave at 1:15. It’s the focus, the repetition. That’s one of the hardest things because it (Olympic Games) interrupts your regular life. But Jud’s taught me, you have to be ready to change. What if the taxi you’re riding in breaks down? Have it so you can warm up in five minutes.
“Jud competed overseas for so many years,” continued Kruger. “The experiences of the last 10 years have helped with what I need to do this year.”
When many athletes and fans talk of the Olympic experience, they are referring to not just the competition, but everything around the games. Kruger now chooses to focus in on the competition itself. He’s learned how fleeting that can be.
“If you think about it, every four years you get three shots,” he pointed out. “If you don’t do that, you don’t get to the finals. It’s a little bit of a mind-blowing experience. It’s easy to over-think.
“There are the Pan-Am Games, the U.S. Championships, but it’s the Olympics,” continued Kruger. “Each throw takes around two seconds. I’ve got six seconds to do it if you think about it. In ’08 it was demoralizing to me. You build it up and then nothing. You’re frustrated.”
Kruger will try to avoid that feeling in London. Overseeing fundraisers in Ashland and writing training plans for the AU teams that will return to campus in a few weeks has helped occupy his time. There’s been no down time. Kruger says he was smarter with his training approach this year than in the past. Mentally, he’s trying to do the same thing, peak at the perfect time. That process began on Wednesday.
“Honestly, it (qualifying) still hasn’t hit me,” said Kruger. “I’ve been running around since I got back (from the U.S. Olympic Trials). I think once I get on the plane, get to London, I’ll say, ‘This is pretty cool.”