Kansas Relays shot put in downtown Lawrence a must-see

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Soon, the air on Eighth Street between Mass and New Hampshire will be thick with testosterone. Loud music. Men ripping their shirts off and unleashing primal screams of passion.

If that sounds like a typical weekend night downtown, that’s not what I meant. This has nothing to do with college boys on the prowl. It has everything to do with the Kansas Relays as you never have seen them.

In a circle-your-calendar event, a bold-and-beautiful stroke of genius that makes the Kansas Relays not only relevant but must-see entertainment, the shot put will kick off the annual track meet downtown. The Sandbar, which bills itself the home of the indoor hurricane, will be the home of the outdoor shot put.

The competitors will put the shot from in front of The Sandbar into the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire.

Access your iCalendar on either your computer or your iPhone or whatever technology is invented today that will track your schedule, and note the day (Wednesday), the date (April 20) and the time (6 p.m.).

Several of the world’s most talented behemoths at the art of sending a 16-pound steel ball airborne will partake in a 90-minute competition, the centerpiece of a block party of an evening different from any the city ever has given us.

The most enjoyable spectating comes long before the shot flies. The methods the men use to get themselves into a maximum-energy, frenzied state that enables them to put the shot with the help of adrenaline varies. Each competitor lets the deejay know what music he wants played when he takes center stage.

KU Relays veteran Christian Cantwell, 30, is the world’s No. 1-ranked shotputter. He competed for Missouri in college, earned a silver medal in the 2008 Olympics, stands 6-foot-5, weighs more than 300 pounds and might just be heard at Clinton Lake when he seemingly makes the shot defy gravity.

Reese Hoffa, 33, of Evans, Ga., is ranked No. 2. He once paid homage to his beloved pro wrestling by wearing a mask and cape and calling himself “The Unknown Shot Putter.” After winning the event at the Drake Relays during his junior year at Georgia, Hoffa did a victory lap around the stadium while eating a turkey leg, giving birth to his signature “Turkey Trot.” Hoffa, no relation to the gangster buried (or not) in the end zone of Giants Stadium, is anything but a caveman. He can solve a Rubik’s Cube puzzle in 30 seconds.

Cory Martin of Bloomington, Ind., and a 2008 Auburn University graduate, is ranked No. 3. He loves to golf and has stated as one of his goals competing in the long-drive world championships. He might want to make an appointment with local long driver John Novosel while in town. If Martin is interested in a competition of another sort, here’s an idea: He tees up a 16-pound shot. I tee up a golf ball. We see whose ball goes farther.

Adam Nelson, 35, of Watkinsville, Ga., is ranked 10th in the world and sixth in this field. Ripping off his warmup shirt and tossing it into the crowd is part of his routine.

“We want them jacked, but we don’t want them so jacked they’re throwing fouls into the window of the Sandbar,” meet organizer Milan Donley joked.

It can get so messy when the shot hits the fan.