UW-Eau Claire athlete takes a shot at the Olympics

UW-Eau Claire athlete Roger Steen went to Olympic Trials for shot put

More stories from Brian Sheridan

For Roger Steen, heading to the Olympics has always been in the back of his mind.

“The pinnacle of track and field is going to the Olympics,” he said. “Just like football is going to the NFL, going to the Olympics is pretty awesome.”

Two years ago he was a shot put champion at the 2015 NCAA Division Indoor Track and Field National Championships when he threw 61 feet, 8.5 inches. After that, he decided it was time for the next level.

That next level was in Eugene, Oregon at Hayward Stadium this past summer where Steen took his talent in shot put and competed in the Olympic Trials for a chance to represent USA.

It’s not easy to get there, though. In order to compete at the trials the athlete has to be in the top 24 for distances in the country. For Steen, his distance was right on the edge. The USA Track and Field (USATF) website would update every two weeks with the top 24, and there was always a chance he could get knocked off the list.

The time was getting closer. He eventually had to buy his ticket out there and just go as if he was going to compete. He said he didn’t know if  hewas going to throw until the last few days before the event. Then he got a message.

“When I got there,” he said, “I got the text and I had to sit down in the airport for a little while and think, alright, I’m actually competing at this.”

It’s game day now at Hayward Field, one of the most famous track and field stadiums. For Steen, it was “unreal.” He said the other shot putters were friendly and inviting but it was still a different experience. Even as a man who can squat 675 lbs, bench 410 and clean lift 365, he said he was still the smallest shot putter there.

“I’m walking around and I’m seeing the people I’ve seen on Youtube for the past eight years throwing who I’ve been watching and trying to study,” he said. “Now I’m throwing with them, bumping elbows.”

When it came time to throw, the eyes of the around 8,000 person crowd were on shot put. There were no other events at the time. Roger Steen was the event.

That day, Steen threw his third best shot distance ever by hurling the 16-pound ball 62 feet, 9 inches and took 20th place over all. While it wasn’t quite good enough to progress to the Olympics in Rio, Steen said he can’t complain too much about how well he did, even though he didn’t perform at his top level.


Support through the journey

Steen said his family and friends have always been supportive of everything he does and look for ways to help when they can. In addition, he said Paul Conlin, throwing coach at Eau Claire, has also been a big help since he was once a div. 3 thrower who held a number of records.

Head Track and Field Coach Chip Schneider was also one of the coaches who supported him along his way to the Olympic Trials. Schneider first met Steen his freshman year after he finished his football season and came up to talk to the coach.

“He walked up to me on my way out to practice and said, ‘can I throw for you guys?’” Schneider said. “I said, ‘Who are you?’”

Steen started throwing that day. Schneider said he knew pretty quick he was going to be good, but never predicted he’d go to the Olympic Trials. In his coaching career, Schneider has only seen one other NCAA Division III athlete go to the trials and believes Steen is the first one at Eau Claire from track and field to go.

“It was pretty obvious just by his size and his strength early as a freshman that he had some tools and some ability that we don’t see out of every thrower that comes into our program,” Schneider said. “He’s obviously made monumental gains and has worked hard to get where he’s at now.”

Right now, Steen serves as the assistant football coach and the assistant throws coach. From Schneider’s standpoint, Steen serves as both another set of eyes to look for potential in new athletes as well as “a great person to mimic.”

Schneider said his athletes get to see an Olympic Trials-caliber athlete throw everyday at practice, which is not something every D3 school has. And if Steen stays with it, he said he could be more than just a trials athlete.


Looking to the future

Schneider heard Steen’s competitors were very encouraging toward him to stick with the sport and him and coach Conlin were going to continue to support him at the university. One day, he said, Steen will be seen pushing into the finals to be a top-8 guy.

“He’ll be somebody that will have a good name in the sport and possibly have a sponsorship or he’s getting things paid by a shoe company,” Schneider said. “He won’t be throwing for Roger Steen, he’ll be throwing for Nike or Puma.”

And Steen said he’ll be there again in 2020 competing for the Tokyo Olympics. This time around, he said he’ll be adding in more plyometrics to his workout routine, more lifting and auxiliary workouts, as opposed to the pure core he has been doing.

“He definitely has a future,” Schneider said. “He’s just starting the process of becoming a really high-level thrower.”