VERMILLION, SD—A.G. Kruger III is not training for world class competition in track and field anymore, but the University of South Dakota throws coach has some ideas for those who are.
“I still talk to some of the other hammer throwers and what I’ve suggested is to use this time for a little trial and error. If there was something you wanted to try to see if it makes you throw far, do it,” Kruger said. “You have to look at this as kind of a bonus time for your training. There is not a lot of downside to trying new things right now. If you have the ability to try something, you should try it.”
Kruger, a 1997 Sheldon High School graduate, speaks from a wealth of experience.
He is a three-time Olympian in the hammer throw.
Kruger retired from competition in 2016, but is still close enough to the sport that it felt awkward when it was announced that the 2020 Olympic Games, which were set to be held in Tokyo, Japan, had been postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Olympic games are set up to be on a four-year cycle. It started in 1896 with the summer games in Olympia, Greece. A winter version of the Olympics was added in 1924. The summer and winter games were held in the same year until 1992, when they were split so that one version or the other would be contested every two years.
The postponement of the Olympic Games this year was the first time in history that has happened. Because of the delay, there will be Summer Olympics in 2021 and again in 2024. The next Winter Olympics is scheduled for 2022 in Beijing, China.
Kruger said the decision to postpone was not exactly shocking despite the historic element.
“When the NCAA made the decision to cancel its spring sports, that decision came quick,” Kruger said. “The International Olympic Committee “took its time, but in the end they made the right decision.”
Kruger, who was the 2001 NCAA Division II national champion in the hammer throw for Morningside College in Sioux City, competed in the USA Track & Field national championships for the first time that year.
He went on to dominate the U.S. scene in the hammer throw and its indoor counterpart, the weight throw. Kruger was an eight-time national champion in the weight throw and a five-time national champion in the hammer throw. He was the 2008 Olympic trials champion and made Team USA for the Olympics in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
“When your look at everything in retrospect, to be just a small-town kid from Sheldon and do all that is pretty unbelievable,” Kruger said. “I was a good athlete in high school, but I wouldn’t say I was great. You look at guys like Kyle Vanden Bosch and LeVar Woods at West Lyon — those guys were great high school athletes.”
Kruger played football and competed in track and field at Morningside. He said the more he focused in on one event, the better he got.
“I had some great coaches that helped me hone my skills. Obviously, when I started spending time with Jud (Logan), that was when I really became a student of the sport,” Kruger said. “I’ve had so many people who helped create that path for me — from my parents to my coaches to just people in the community that helped me on my path to being an athlete and being able to make it a career.
“It’s been a great journey and I’ve had some great people along the way helping me.”
Kruger met his wife, Laura, while he was in Ashland, OH, training with Logan.
“I met her and she asked what I was doing in Ohio,” he said. “I told her training for the Olympics, and she was like, ‘Yeah right. Nice pickup line.’”
Kruger broke American records in the 35-pound weight throw and 56-pound ultra weight throw in 2014. He also holds the 35-39 age group world record for the throws pentathlon, a combined event consisting of the hammer throw, shot, discus throw, javelin throw and weight throw.
Kruger said he does not follow the elite throwers as closely as he did when he was involved, but he still keeps up with it to an extent.
“I obviously don’t look at the standings like I used do, but it’s been fun to see the distances going up with our throwers in recent years,” he said. “When I see that I almost get a little jealous of the level of competition that is out there. When I was doing it, there was me and usually one or two other guys that were at that level. Now there are six or seven guys that are really talented and are throwing it far.”
Kruger joined the staff at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion as an assistant track and field coach in charge of throws on Aug. 21, 2015, after spending 13 years teaching and coaching at Ashland University.
He said he still steps in the ring every once in a while, but usually just to display technique for his athletes.
“I still enjoy throwing, but I do it to have fun,” Kruger said. “I don’t want to train for it anymore. If I was still training I would have been right in the middle of it when they canceled. That was right at the time when you are making a big push as a thrower to peak at the right time.”
He said the current crop of throwers needs to stay on point however they can.
“Try some things. Stay in contact with the other throwers and see if you can organize some virtual competitions or something like that,” Kruger said. “As a track and field athlete, you train to compete every year not just in an Olympic year. You have a plan for every indoor and outdoor season. It’s tough to just scrap that plan, but you have to keep going and keep trying to improve.”
He said he was blessed in his own athletic journey to have “lots of people to inspire me and motivate me.”
Kruger is trying to give that to the athletes he coaches.
“You never know what can happen,” he said. “If you ever get the opportunity to support someone in their journey, you do it. It’s very important.”