Downtown shot put draws crowd despite funding issues

Amid a cloud of white powder, Christian Cantwell grips the shot put and nestles it into the side of his neck. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound shot putter spins around a few times to gain momentum and releases the 16-pound lead ball into the air.

A few seconds later, the shot put falls with a thud at the opposite end of the limestone pit. The crowd erupts in cheers and the herculean Cantwell is decreed the winner of this year’s Downtown Shot Put competition.

The Lawrence Sports Corporation, a non-profit subsidiary of the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Sports Corporation, hosted the fourth annual event last night in downtown Lawrence.

After Kansas Athletics in March announced it would pull funding for this year’s competition, event organizers at LSC were left little time to secure financial support. Checks from private donors helped organizers reach an approximate $35,000, while local businesses supplied the 400 tons of limestone for the shot put vector and the 6,700-pound concrete circle.

Despite funding obstacles, Sally Zogry, executive director of Downtown Lawrence, Inc., said she considered the event a success.

“We’re thrilled to have it here again,” Zogry said last night. “The city’s done a tremendous job.”

The event attracted about 2,000 people to the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire streets Friday evening. Spectators lined the mint-green roof of The Sandbar and small children perched on their parents’ shoulders to catch a glimpse of the athletes.

Zogry’s 8-year-old daughter Sophia, a competitive gymnast, had considered staying home and watching a movie before ultimately deciding to make the trip downtown with her mom. It was her first time at the shot put competition, but she said it won’t be her last.

“It impressed me how strong they were, because they were throwing such great weights,” she said, before adding that she’d like to try her hand at shot put someday.

After the competition, attendees could enter giveaways and watch a live performance from the Kansas City-based band The Rent, while kids enjoyed inflatable play areas.

Among those left mingling post-shot put was Luke Campillo, a Kansas University graduate student and first-time attendee. He and his younger brother Jess showed up early to the competition, sizing up the athletes during warm-ups and predicting who would win. Luke opted for winner Christian Cantwell, while his brother chose the eventual runner-up Kurt Roberts as his pick.

Afterward, the younger Campillo paid his price for losing the bet.

“He had to buy my beer,” Luke said, sipping a frosty glass of Free State ale. “It’s more of a liquid payment than a monetary payment.”

The competition boasted eight world-class shot putters, including reigning world champion Ryan Whiting and Reese Hoffa, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist and the 2013 downtown shot put champion.

Cantwell, who wasn’t considered the frontrunner coming into the competition, delivered a consistent performance throughout the evening despite distractions. The Mizzou grad provided the crowd with its villain, eliciting a few boos each time he took his turns at the shot put ring.

Ultimately, his throw of more than 70 feet bested the other athletes.

“He had this aggressive demeanor,” Luke Campillo explained of his pick. “He was cool, calm and collected, but he still looked like he could throw the crap out of a 16-pound lead ball.”