The last time Chris Carper was in Eugene, OR, he returned home an NCAA All-American. This time, the former Robert Morris University javelin standout looks to return home as a U.S. Olympian.
This weekend, Carper has the opportunity to accomplish a goal millions of people have in their lifetime when the 24-year-old competes in the javelin at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene. He’s hoping to hit the qualifying standard of 83 meters and head to Rio de Janeiro as part of the the 2016 Olympic team.
It’s taken the Altoona, PA native years of hard work and dedication — working to become better with each and every throw — to get to this point. And while Carper is heading to the Olympic Trials in the javelin, it’s an event he’s relatively new to, only picking it up a little over six years ago.
Initially, being an Olympian in javelin never crossed Carper’s mind — he wanted to be a professional baseball player.
“I never dreamt of being in the Olympics, I always wanted to be a professional baseball player,” Carper says. “It broke my dad’s heard when I told him I was going to be running track at RMU.”
Naturally a hurdler, Carper’s love of baseball and throwing objects led to him finding a home on the javelin runway in high school.
“We finished our hurdle and sprint workouts for the day, and I saw some of the throwers were over throwing the javelin, so I decided to make my way over to the runway,” Carper says. “I’ve always enjoyed throwing and always had a good arm in baseball, so I wanted to give it a shot.
And it ended up working out pretty well.”
The Road to Rio
After three years competing for Altoona Area High School, Carper earned a track scholarship at RMU. But Carper’s collegiate career got off to a slow start with nagging injuries, as well as an adjustment period that wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.
“My first two years at RMU weren’t what I expected,” Carper says of the first half of his career as a Colonial. “I suffered an injury and had a few setbacks along the road to recovery. I just couldn’t get to where I needed to be physically as a freshman or sophomore.”
But he was able to pull it all together his junior year, overcoming his previous setbacks to become an All-American — albeit as an honorable mention after finishing 19th at the NCAA Championships in Eugene.
His senior year, Carper followed up his All-American honorable mention campaign by earning another trip to the NCAA Championships, where, this time, he placed fourth. That finish earned him the title of First Team All-American and put him in the history books as RMU’s only student-athlete to be named to the NCAA first team.
After graduating from RMU in 2014 with a degree in industrial engineering, Carper put using the degree on hold to pursue his Olympic dreams; he’s been participating in meets and has been training. Most recently, Carper was afforded an opportunity to travel to Finland and train with former javelin world champion Kimmo Kinnunen after Carper impressed Kinnunen at a meet at East Stroudsburg University.
“After the competition, Tom (Putskys) came up to me and basically said if I was serious about training and throwing this year, go to Finland and learn/train from Kimmo and those around him,” Carper says.
As a result of the relationship Carper built with Putskys, who represented the U.S. in the javelin at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, Carper was able to earn developmental athlete funding, which provided the money for many of the trips and meets needed to boost his stock and throws. Carper’s friends and family also set up a GoFundMe.com page and several fundraisers to help offset costs of his trips and meets and allow him to get the best training available.
And it was all going well until injury struck again.
Following Carper’s trip to Finland, as a result of training and overuse of certain areas of his body, Carper’s knees weakened, and, at a meet at Long Beach State, he twisted an ankle and missed months of training to fully recover.
Now fully recovered, Carper is focused on being mentally and physically prepared for the task awaiting him at the trials.
The Next Step
To make the Olympic team, Carper must hit 83.00 meters on any of his throws during the qualifying round or the finals (should he make it that far).
It wasn’t until last year when Carper finally realized he was within reach of qualifying for the Olympics.
“Last year, when I hit 78 meters, I started to realize the Olympics could be a possibility. I’d been throwing 72-76 meters, then I hurt my rib and started working on the more technical aspects of throwing the javelin, and I started hating 76 meters just in warm-ups,” Carper says. “I knew I could always do it, it was at that point when it all started to come together.”
The journey the 24-year old has been on is one many kids only dream of, and that’s not lost on the Olympic hopeful
“It’s been a learning experience,” Carper says. “I’ve been able to go different places and meet a ton of cool people on this crazy journey, which I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to do had it not been for throwing.”
Whether Carper qualifies or not, the trip will undoubtedly be a success because he has nothing to lose but everything to gain by achieving his goals. Carper says he won’t be giving up if he doesn’t make the standards.
“Realistically, I want to be able to throw another 10 years or so. Some of the more elite javelin throwers are in their mid-30s and still competing, so, as long as my body holds up, I’d like to be able to train for two more Olympics,” Carper says.
And while the task of making the Olympic is daunting and pressure-filled, Carper says all that pressure will go away once his spikes hit the runway.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure, but I’m just going to go in and let it all out there. I just want to make my friends, family and hometown proud of the job I do, whether I make the team or not,” Carper says. “If I am able to accomplish that, it will be more than a dream come true.”
The qualifying round of the javelin throw will start at 3:45 p.m. EDT time Saturday afternoon, and the finals will take place Monday at 7:25 p.m. EDT. You can watch Carper compete on NBC Sports or on the live stream here.
Image credit: RMU Athletics