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Oregon’s Crouser aims for NCAA title

With the 2010 Class 6A state track and field championships buzzing all around him, Sam Crouser found some shade from the sun on Hayward Field’s east high jump apron, laid flat on his back, crossed his legs, locked his long arms behind his head and closed his eyes.

During the biggest meet of the season, the senior thrower from Gresham was as cool and relaxed as ever.

He eventually rose up to win his third straight state title in the javelin. He also won shot put and discus titles that weekend to become the first to sweep the three throws events in 30 years.

Five years later, only the stakes have increased for the Oregon senior, who maintains the same mellow vibe.

“That’s Sam,” Oregon coach Robert Johnson laughing. “Sometimes you’ve got to shake him to make sure he’s got a pulse, but that’s just his demeanor. It works for him.”

It certainly has.

Just like it did in high school, Crouser’s decorated college career will end at Hayward Field this week during the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

The men’s meet will take place today and Friday; the women’s meet will be Thursday and Saturday.

Once an all-purpose thrower with discus and shot put duties for the Ducks, Crouser has streamlined himself into one of the best javelin throwers in the nation and he’ll go into today’s NCAA final as the defending national champion.

“I just want to leave it all on the field,” Crouser said. “All the technical work I’ve done, all the training, I’m just going to go out and do the best I can and hope for the best result.”

It almost always seems to work out for the 6-foot-5 Crouser, who has developed a penchant for big throws at big moments during his Oregon career.

Crouser is ranked second in the nation this season with a top throw of 259 feet from the season-opening Trojan Invitational at the end of March.

His PR is 265-1 set during a second-place finish at the 2012 USA Olympic Track & Field Trials not long after the end of his redshirt freshman season with the Ducks.

He is second all-time at Oregon in the javelin and last month he won his fourth straight Pac-12 championship.

At the NCAA meet last season, Crouser pulled off the win when he threw 252-7 on his last attempt to steal the title away from Kentucky’s Raymond Dykstra, who had been leading at 251-8.

He did something similar at the Pac-12 meet this season, throwing 252-10 on his final attempt to move into first place and secure the conference title.

“I would rather not have it come down to that, to be honest,” Crouser said. “It just happens to sometimes. You get caught in that last throw and you have to perform. I’ve been lucky enough to snag it on my last throw. But chances are when you roll the dice that many times, it’s not going to happen on a sixth throw. Personally, I’d rather hit it on one of my earlier throws just so I feel a little more comfortable.”

Crouser has had his emotional moments for sure — like after his winning throw at the NCAA meet last season — but typically during competition he stays even keeled.

“He’s real chill, really relaxed,” said Oregon freshman thrower Jhet Janis, who competed and trained alongside Crouser this season. “I think that’s a big thing for him. I’ve never really seen him raise his voice and he’s not a big rah-rah guy, he’s just ‘Sam.’”

He’s also a Crouser, a name that carries some weight at Oregon, as well as some big expectations.

His dad, Dean Crouser, was a three-time NCAA throws champion for the Ducks in the shot put and discus between 1982 and 1983 and a two-time Pac-10 track and field athlete of the year. He remains the Oregon record-holder in those two events.

His uncle Brian Crouser was a two-time NCAA champion in the javelin (1982, 1985) and two-time Olympian (1988, 1992). He holds the Oregon record in the javelin using the old implement.

“There’s a ton of history here and it’s just cool to think your family’s done so much for the school throwing-wise,” Crouser said.

“It’s a pretty cool thing.”

His uncle Mitch Crouser also competed at Idaho and his cousin Ryan (son of Mitch) is a junior at Texas and a two-time NCAA outdoor champ in the shot put who will also be in Eugene this week.

Crouser’s younger sister Haley, once the national prep girls record-holder in the javelin, was also at Oregon until April, when she left the school a couple weeks into her sophomore season.

She’ll transfer to Texas next fall.

“At first I was upset about it, but then I had to look at it like people come to Oregon, or people go to where ever they want to go, and it doesn’t always fit for everybody,” Crouser said. “Everyone’s an individual and it’s not going to work for everybody. It’s worked pretty well for me here, but for Haley. It just didn’t fit her mold.”

The best mark in the nation this season belongs to Middle Tennessee State’s John Ampomah, who threw 267-7 at the Penn Relays in April.

But that doesn’t necessarily make Ampomah the favorite this week. Other than his one big throw, Ampomah has surpassed 250-0 once this season in eight other competitions and that was 251-0.

Crouser has been far more consistent. Four times he’s thrown farther than 250-0 and his worst of the season as 246-5 at the NCAA prelims when athletes do as little as possible to advance.

Dykstra is also entered this week, as are two others who have thrown more than 254 feet.

“It’s a real good field this year,” Crouser said. “It’s just going to be a battle.”

One that Crouser will no doubt be relaxed and ready for.

Oregon's Sam Crouser throws the javelin to win the event in the Pac-12 track and field championships in Los Angeles last Saturday. AP PHOTO