For him, it was Freshman Year or Bust. That was the scary reality. You see, the college track and field coach offered only a token scholarship and, more worrisome, the finances back home likely weren’t enough for anything beyond if it all didn’t work out.
Christian Cantwell loves telling the story from the spring of 1999, just as he was graduating from Eldon High School. There he was, a burgeoning shot putter discovered late by the University of Missouri track and field coaching staff – and both sides not knowing an Olympic career would soon develop.
“They offered a books scholarship and, if you’re familiar with a books scholarship, that’s only $400,” Cantwell said. “Coach (Rick) McGuire promised my mom, ‘If he does what we think he can do this year, we’ll take care of him.’ But my mom said she didn’t have any money for school after my freshman year.”
Cantwell rocketed to stardom, winning multiple Big 12 Conference championships and then was a stalwart on the international stage for USA Track and Field – even capturing an Olympic silver medal. That’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct Cantwell with the Class of 2018.
His induction is part of the Enshrinement presented by Killian Construction, set for Sunday, January 28 at the University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in Springfield. Associate sponsors are Advertising Plus, Hillyard, Inc., Hiland Dairy and White River Valley Electric Cooperative. (For tickets, call 417-889-3100.)
Call it one of the most improbable careers in any sport. He never won a state shot put title in high school (came close) and was recruited to Mizzou only after a fan kept bugging the coaching staff. And yet he used his brute strength as a 6-foot-5, 300-pounder to star across the globe, regularly throwing the shot put a whopping 70 feet, if not better.
In 2004 alone, Cantwell posted the top four throws in the world in the outdoor season, won a silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a gold at the 2009 World Outdoor Championships and finished fourth at the 2012 London Olympics. Between 2004 and 2010, he won three World Indoor titles.
Additionally, Cantwell won seven championships (four in Outdoor, three in Indoor) in the USA Track & Field Championships. At Mizzou, Cantwell was a seven-time NCAA All-American and a five-time Big 12 Conference champion, winning four shot put titles and one weight throw championship. He also holds school records in the indoor and outdoor shot put.
“I hurt my knee my junior year of high school and didn’t want to play football anymore,” Cantwell said. “But there was this guy who I called Uncle Phil (Hess) who wasn’t my uncle, but that’s what I called him. He had this friend, Roger (Bigses), who kept calling coach McGuire at Mizzou to give me a look.”
In fairness to college recruiters, Cantwell didn’t make much of a dent in high school until after the dad of a fishing buddy suggested a tweak to his discus throws.
He eventually found success in both events. At one point, Cantwell heaved the discus 194 feet, 7 inches, the seventh-best mark nationally. At the 1999 Class 3 state meet, he won the discus title, and his shot put reached 60 feet, 1 inch – good for second place.
Just a weeks earlier, Mizzou assistant Brett Halter went to eye Cantwell for himself. It turned out that Mizzou’s coaches had assumed Cantwell’s admirers back home were promoting a recruit they already were chasing.
Fortunately, Cantwell became a fixture in Columbia.
The turning point? Cantwell won the Big 12 Outdoor shot put title as a freshman, improving by almost five feet from a year earlier and doing so with the heavier college shot put. He advanced to the 2000 Olympic Trials, and a full-ride scholarship awaited.
“Coach McGuire kept his word,” Cantwell said. “The rest is history.”
Between 2003 and 2012, Cantwell was ranked in the top five in the world in the shot put, either for Indoor or Outdoor competition. Over that time, he recorded the best throw in the world five different seasons. In 2010, he competed in 20 meets where he threw the shot more than 70 feet.
After narrowly missing out on the 2004 Olympics, Cantwell took silver at the Beijing Olympics with a throw of 69 feet, 2.50 inches. And that was despite a sore arm and barely making the team at all.
Cantwell credits support from his wife, Teri.
“People ask me, ‘Did you win silver or lose gold?’” Cantwell said. “I’m a realist. If somebody had told me I was going to get second, I would have thought they were crazy. After the Olympics, I just started killing it. I had two or three years where I just couldn’t lose.”
Missouri Sports Hall of Fame’s 2018 Enshrinement Ceremonies presented by Killian Construction
When: Sunday, January 28
Morning reception: 11 a.m., presented by Meek’s The Builder’s Choice, at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 3861 E. Stan Musial Drive in Springfield.
Afternoon festivities: 4 p.m. reception, 5 p.m. dinner & ceremony at University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center, Springfield
Class of 2018: Mike Garrett (Kansas City Chiefs), Lee Smith (St. Louis Cardinals), Howard Richards (University of Missouri football), Jim Otis (St. Louis Football Cardinals & Kansas City Chiefs), Martin Mac Donald (Conservationist, Outdoorsman, Runner), football coach Gary Barnett (Northwestern University & University of Colorado), softball coach Holly Hesse (Missouri State University), Doug Elgin (Missouri Valley Conference Commissioner), Dr. Brian Mahaffey (Missouri State University, St. Louis Cardinals), shot putter Christian Cantwell (Eldon High School/University of Missouri/Olympics), basketball standout Kerensa Barr Cassis (West Plains High School/Mizzou), Dan Lucy (KOLR 10 TV Sports Director), Rockhurst High School football coach Tony Severino, basketball coach Steve Tappmeyer (Northwest Missouri State University, UMSL), Rick Grayson (PGA teaching professional), Learfield, the Lamar High School Football Program, Springfield-Greene County Park Board, Independent Printing – John Q. Hammons Founders Award, Rick Todd of Herschend Family Entertainment – President’s Award.
Sponsorship opportunities: Tables of 10 are $1,500 and include an autographed poster (a rendering by renowned artist Dayne Dudley), recognition in the printed program and at the table. Individual tickets are $150. Numerous other sponsorships are available, including congratulatory ads, trading cards and 20-month calendars.
Call the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame: 417-889-3100.