SEARCY, Ark. — The last and only time someone from Harding University went to the Olympics was eight-time All-American Janet Cherobon-Bawcom in 2012. She finished 12th in the 10,000 meter run for team USA.
Harding could see its second Olympian in the upcoming days. Spokane, Washington native Josh Syrotchen is in Eugene, Oregon for the 2021 Olympic trials in discus.
The Olympic-hopeful graduated from Harding in 2017 as a three-time outdoor All-American, national DII runner-up twice, and school record holder in the discus, hammer, and weight throws. However, his path to Searcy was no ordinary one. It started in high school when he met his now-wife on a cruise.
“There were a couple of different schools that I was talking to, then I met this girl on a cruise and she was like ‘Hey, I’m going to this little school in Arkansas what do you think?’,” Syrotchen said. “I reached out to them and the next day they responded back. They were like, ‘why don’t you come down for a visit.’”
Harding allowed Syrotchen to both play football and compete in track & field, which was another reason the Bisons intrigued him.
His freshman season of football he tore his ACL, MCL, and meniscus, but still became an outdoor discus All-American six months later. Sophomore year during spring football he shattered his throwing hand into five pieces. He didn’t get surgery, kept throwing with a cast, went to nationals and still became an All-American in 2015 and 2016.
“I was like, ‘Ah shoot, I have to figure out what I’m doing here. I keep getting injured with football. So, that’s when I stopped.” Josh added.
Then came the 2016 Rio Olympic games and Syrotchen has his mind set on Brazil.
However, in order to make the Olympic trials you have to be nationally ranked in the top 24. Josh was 25th.
“I was a little frustrated, I’m not going to lie,” Syrotchen said. “I think I missed it by a foot or something. I just lost the DII national championship by three inches that year, so it was rough.”
A disappointing 2016 didn’t stop Josh. Every year leading up to 2021 he’s only gotten better. In 2017 he was nationally ranked 17th, 2018 – 16th, 2019 – 14th, 2021 – 7th.
“Made a nice little jump, but I’m looking for that top three spot,” Syrotchen said. “Obviously my technique has changed, I’ve gotten stronger and I’ve developed more as an athlete, but it’s more a mindset of being confident. Not putting too much pressure on yourself. Do what you know you’re able to do and then go out there and execute it.”
The improvement is hard to miss. In 2019, Josh had two meets throwing over 60 meters. In 2021, he’s thrown over 60 meters in every meet.
His personal best throw was 63.26 meters May 1, 2021, in Kansas which automatically qualified him for the Olympic trials. However, to make the Olympic team he has to score in the top three. The Olympic standard throw is 66 meters, if you don’t have that, then you must be in the top 32 in the global rankings.
Coming into Thursday, Syrotchen is ranked 45th in the world and 7th nationally. The discus trials start Thursday night and the top 12 will advance to the finals on Friday. The top three from that will make the Olympic team.
“Whether I make this team or not, I think my next games will be my peak age and form.” Josh said.
Even though Josh isn’t from Arkansas and doesn’t currently live in the Natural State, he’s still competing to make his alma mater proud.
“It’s family to me,” Syrotchen said. “If I go back to Harding someone will have a dinner for me. Someone will take me in. It’s a second family.”