FARGO — Explaining how he is just 3½ inches from tying a Division I NCAA record in the shot put was easy for North Dakota State senior Payton Otterdahl. He looked over his left shoulder at the NDSU throwers coach.
Justin St. Clair was sitting on a board that was partially covering a trash can, coaching another thrower.
“He’s the guy who’s the mastermind behind it all,” Otterdahl said.
The student has been taking the mastermind’s teachings so well that Otterdahl’s throw of 71 feet Saturday, Jan. 26, at the University of Nebraska’s Mark Colligan Memorial in Lincoln, Neb., was the best in the world this season. It puts the NCAA record of 71-3½ set by Ryan Whiting of Arizona State in 2008 and Ryan Crouser of Texas in 2016 well within reach.
In the shot put, 3½ inches isn’t a lot to ask.
“Yeah, it’s not good to chase numbers, but it’s a goal,” Otterdahl said. “I’m not exclusively thinking about that day and night, but knowing that you’re only 3½ inches away from the record, that’s a very small difference in a throw.”
It could be a matter of speed. It could be a matter of technique. Whatever the case, Otterdahl has shown no evidence of a ceiling.
It’s brought the possibility of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games into the equation. St. Clair said the U.S. is stocked with quality shot putters, but he’s never one to put a cap on anybody’s potential, let alone Otterdahl.
“No crystal ball, but assuming you stay on the right path and everything continues … then it’s very possible,” St. Clair said. “I still believe there is more room to grow. I think we’re at a really good spot right now, but we want to get consistent and watch him develop off of that.”
The potential has always been there. Otterdahl was a 2014 Minnesota Class AA state champion in the shot put and discus at Rosemount High School in the Twin Cities. He had indoor shot put personal bests of 57-8¼ as an NDSU freshman, 58-8 as a sophomore and 68-9¾ as a junior.
The big improvement last year was the result of changing from the glide technique to the spin. The difference this year to date has been health. He hasn’t had the minor injuries that gnawed at him last season.
Part of that is a schedule that is focusing more on quality than quantity. He’s not throwing in every event at every indoor meet.
“It’s a conversation with my coach every week,” Otterdahl said. “We have a conversation on how my body feels. We had a plan laid out for the whole year on how we want it to go and we’re implementing that right now. It’s a week-by-week basis.”
The world indoor season carries a Dec. 1 starting date, so Otterdahl’s world-best throw is sure to get challenged in the next couple of months.
“World-wide right now, it’s still really early for a lot of guys,” St. Clair said. “You’ll see marks throughout the year continue to go up, but, shucks, Fargo, North Dakota, best in the world right now, we’ll take it. For right now, it’s really great.”
NDSU hosts the Bison Open Friday and Saturday, but Otterdahl is not scheduled to compete in the shot put. He plans on doing the weight throw, however.
It’s all in the plan.
“A few years ago, I never would have dreamed I’d be hitting these marks,” Otterdahl said. “I always imagine where I want to be. I mean, every track athlete’s ultimate goal is the Olympics and that’s coming up here soon so I try to focus on that. I focus on the NCAA titles I haven’t won. I focus on records I want to break. That’s really where I find my motivation right now.”