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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Keegan

Column: Downtown event made for Hoffa

Reese Hoffa celebrates his last and longest throw of the Kansas Relays Men's Elite shot put event on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, in downtown Lawrence.

Reese Hoffa celebrates his last and longest throw of the Kansas Relays Men's Elite shot put event on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, in downtown Lawrence.

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Just about everything in life has a face. Here, Bill Self is the face of basketball, Jim Ryun the face of the mile, Mike Amyx, barber shears in hand, the face of Lawrence politics.

The fifth-annual Downtown Lawrence Shot Put, scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. today on Eighth Street, between Mass and New Hampshire, has a face, all right. What it does not have is a two-time winner, a fact that startles many who hear that for the first time.

Reese Hoffa has been the face of the event since he first stepped foot in the circle that then was plywood and now is concrete, an upgrade much appreciated by the competitors. He has become so recognizable for his performances and post-event interactions with the crowd, most think he has won the event repeatedly. He has not, his lone victory coming in 2012.

Hoffa embodies everything about the event that has made it such a hit: He’s a mountain of a man with an even bigger personality, sweats adrenaline and enjoys a synergy with the crowd that adds juice to his throws, those of all his competitors and to the audience.

As approachable a world-class athlete as there is, Hoffa exhorts the crowd to get louder, louder, louder. He eats turkey legs. He accommodates fan requests after his final throw and everything about him screams that he loves the event, the city in which it’s held and the gigantic steak that all of the competitors eat the night before the competition.

“I’m really excited to be back,” Hoffa said. “I think it’s the fans that really make this a special event. They support me and all the throwers.”

That’s not just lip service. Hoffa pays them back with personality throughout and after the event. Among the post-competition memories that come to mind for Hoffa include, “Posing for pictures, holding babies, doing the Rubik’s Cube.”

A bronze medalist in the 2012 London Olympics, Hoffa comes into the meet ranked No. 1 in the world. Christian Cantwell is No. 6, Ryan Whiting No. 7 and Kurt Roberts No. 10. Ten competitors make up the field.

If Roberts wins, it will continue the trend of a new winner every year. If he doesn’t, either Hoffa, Cantwell or Whiting is likely to take home the honor of becoming the first two-time winner of the Downtown Lawrence Shot Put.

Past winners:

2011: Dylan Armstrong (70 feet, 7 1/4 inches);

2012: Hoffa (71-3 3/4);

2013: Whiting (71-0 1/2);

2014: Cantwell (70-1).

“Reese is fantastic to compete against,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of one of those things where outside the competition, we all hang out and have a good time. Once those shoes are strapped on, it’s all business.”

The buildings that make up downtown Lawrence never look as small as when a pack of the world’s top shot putters stroll the vibrant downtown streets hours after the event. No need to cross the street. They’re friendly monsters.

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