Jordan Geist sets himself at the back of the shot put circle. He bends his knees, rotates his arms, spins — and, in one explosive motion, thrusts the 16-pound metal ball to the far edge of the shot put area at the UA’s Drachman Stadium. The ball lands with a thud and hops over a barrier like a ground-rule double.
The UA freshman, who has been winning championships and smashing records since he was 8 years old, has broken past another barrier.
After practice, Geist described himself as an easygoing guy, but there’s nothing laid-back about his singular determination to become one of the world’s best athletes in the shot put.
His immediate goal is to win the NCAA indoor championship next month in the shot put. Then comes the UA team’s outdoor season. Long term, Geist says, his dream is to compete in the Olympics and in the professional track and field circuit.
“Jordan, for his age, has done some things nobody else has,” says T.J. Crater, who coaches Geist and the Wildcats’ other throwers. “If things continue to progress, and Jordan can stay healthy, he could be one of the best in the world.”
That’s high praise for a 19-year-old newcomer to collegiate track. But Geist’s track record gives evidence both of his accomplishments and of his potential.
He started classes at the UA in August after establishing himself as the nation’s No. 1 high school shot put athlete. Track observers consider him the best ever for his age. He won the national high school title with the 12-pound shot with a mighty toss of 76 feet at the New Balance outdoor meet. He also won the national title in the hammer throw. And he came in second in the discus to Tucsonan Turner Washington, now his UA teammate and roommate.
In just his second college meet on Jan. 27, competing with the college 16-pound shot, Geist threw 70 feet 4½ inches to set an NCAA indoor freshman record and shatter the UA indoor record by more than 2 feet.
Geist also became the youngest athlete ever to surpass 70 feet in the event. Randy Barnes had held the “youngest” distinction up to Geist’s last throw in Seattle. Barnes later went on to set the world shot put record in 1990, which still stands.
Geist’s throw was the second best in the world at the time; he’s now tied for fourth on the world list.
Last week, he was one of 10 U.S. athletes named to the watch list for The Bowerman, the highest honor of collegiate track and field.
Multiple attributes make Geist an exceptional athlete.
“He’s a very hard worker,” Crater says. “He is one of the most coachable athletes I’ve been around. He’s exceptionally fast and explosive. He also has a great feel for the throw. He can make small adjustments between attempts that can make a big difference in distance.”
Fred Harvey, the director of UA track and field, called Geist “a great young man who has the old-school mentality — the drive of what he wants to do. He’s a great student and an incredible training machine. His family did a great job” coaching him.
The family’s all-in
Geist’s mother and father were both Division II All-Americans at Slippery Rock — Judy Whalen Geist in the shot put and Jim Geist in the javelin. A young Jordan spotted their trophies in the basement of their home north of Pittsburgh and expressed interest in the shot put.
Jim, who had participated in shot put in high school, got Jordan started with the throwing basics.
“Jordan was a natural,” he said, recalling that Jordan won his first competition in a summer age-group meet as an 8-year-old.
Jordan got serious about the shot put in middle school and “became a real student of the sport,” Judy said.
He stopped playing basketball and then dropped football after his sophomore year, even though he had made an all-conference team as a linebacker. After that, he concentrated on the shot, discus and hammer throw with his mother serving as the coach for throwers at Knoch High School in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania.
Having his mom coach him, Jordan said, “was really cool because she knows how to communicate with me. But while other teammates went home and could relax, when I went home, I was still being coached” by both mom and dad.
“Looking back,” he added, “it definitely helped me.”
For one year, Jordan and his older brother, Jared, had “a lot of fun being on the same high school team.” Jared, a long jumper and high jumper, now competes for Slippery Rock University.
During the winter when the Knoch basketball teams dominated the gym, Judy took Jordan and a teammate to an abandoned, dusty ceramic factory where they powered the shot against a wall and flung the discus into a strong net.
“Sometimes it was colder in the (unheated) factory than outside,” Judy said. “The wall got chipped and lights got broken, but the owner didn’t mind.”
Jordan really improved between the eighth and ninth grades, when he began weight training at a track club program. He also changed his technique from gliding across the shot put circle to using the spin technique.
In high school, Jordan was so far ahead of opponents that “he was competing against himself,” Judy said.
But he kept training and lifting weights intensely, telling his mom, “I haven’t reached my goals yet.”
“With that passion and drive,” Judy said, “he’s going to be very successful.”
In high school, Jordan also found success in the classroom, finishing some semesters with a 4.0 (and sometimes higher) grade point average and compiling a cumulative 3.6 GPA over four years. He plans to major in sports management at the UA. Someday, he said, he’d like to be an athletic director.
The Phoenix connection
As a high school junior, Geist and his parents took an unofficial visit to Arizona State and met with former Sun Devil shot putter Ryan Whiting, a fellow Pennsylvanian and 2012 and 2014 world indoor shot put champion who lives in the Phoenix area.
By Jordan’s senior year, ASU’s throws coach, David Dumble, had left for Oregon State. Whiting suggested that Geist check out the UA because he knew Crater, who had coached him when Whiting volunteered on the Penn State track team.
Crater already had started recruiting Geist, who was setting records left and right. On a visit to the Tucson campus, Geist liked what he saw — the coaches, facilities, weather. A visit to his family home in Cabot, Pennsylvania, by Harvey and Crater also impressed him.
That “was a big statement of character because they showed that they were willing to go the extra mile for me to go there,” Geist said.
He experienced what he calls “temperature shock” in August when he arrived for UA classes.
“The temperature was 110 and I was dying,” he said.
Of course, Geist said he likes the Tucson winters better than the snow-covered terrain back home.
His roommate at a UA dorm is Washington, the Canyon del Oro High School graduate who won the national championship last June in the discus, beating out Geist.
“We roomed together in Peru (last summer) at the Junior Pan American Games, and we hit it off,” Geist said. “It’s been a blessing to have him as a roommate — we relate to each other so well.”
At the Junior Pan Ams, Geist shattered a record in winning the shot put, and Washington placed second in the discus.
Washington is redshirting during the current indoor season. When the outdoor season kicks off in March, however, he’ll duel Geist in both the discus and shot put. Geist plans to compete outdoors in those two events and the hammer throw too.
The Taylor Swift T-shirt
Geist’s mom laughed when she mentioned the two roommates.
“They both love to have fun.” They can’t take themselves too seriously, she added.
And Geist doesn’t. He calls himself the “Knochness Monster” on Twitter, a play on his Knoch High School exploits. When he broke the high school record for the 16-pound shot put, wearing a Taylor Swift T-shirt, he tweeted: “Huge shout out to @taylorswift13 for giving me the power to break a world record yesterday.”
Geist works on the shot and gets Crater’s critiques on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he trains for the discus, hammer throw and the indoor 35-pound throw.
As part of his thrice-weekly lifting routine, the 6-foot-2-inch, 260-pound Geist can bench press 450 pounds. That’s quite a feat, but he said professional shot put athletes bench press close to 600 pounds.
Geist will compete Feb. 23-24 at the Mountain-Pacific Indoor Championships, which will bring together teams from the Pac 12 and a few other Western schools. The NCAA indoor championships will follow on March 9-10, and Geist’s throws will be important if the UA is to reach its goal of finishing in the top 10 nationally.
A week later, the outdoor season opens with the first of four local meets scheduled at Drachman Stadium. It concludes with the outdoor NCAA championships at Oregon.
For now, Geist focuses on the indoor season, getting stronger and getting better in the shot put ring. He has two goals.
“Throw as far as I can,” he said, “and have as much fun as I can doing it.”