Otterdahl prepares for Tokyo, aims to medal in shot put

Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 10:06 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - “I really went into the competition with not a lot of pressure on me, I didn’t feel to nervous or anything because I wasn’t one of those top three guys, the pressure was on them,” Payton Otterdahl said about the Olympic Trials in Oregon last month. “I just went in, I wanted to give my best effort and it just happened to be my day.”

It certainly was. The former Bison thrower qualified for the 2021 Olympic Games. Otterdahl placed third in the shot put at the U.S. Olympic Trials for track & field. He registered a lifetime-best throw of 71-11 (21.92m) on the fifth of six attempts. He edged out 2016 Olympian and the third ranked thrower in the world, Darrell Hill by a single inch.

In the weeks since, Otterdahl returned to Fargo to continue training with his sights set on a medal in Tokyo.

“See my goal is to try and finish here,” Otterdahl explained with his arm pointing straight away from his shoulder. “I keep going over here,” he moved his arm to cross his chest, “I’m too rotational in the finish.”

Otterdahl is all alone at the NDSU facilities on a hot Wednesday in late June. But it looks a lot like his training over the last year. A lot of time, spent alone.

“It was pretty hard going through Covid,” he said. “Because I wasn’t able to train at the University, I didn’t have the weight room access, the training partners.”

But he knew he wouldn’t get any sympathy from his competitors and he didn’t get much from his coach either.

“When you’re competing at this level. Everybody is great. Everybody has greatness within them,” former NDSU throws coach Justin St. Clair explained. “So you have to figure out what else can you do, to edge out those ones?”

Otterdahl spent his time through Covid at Cheney Middle School. Holding on to hope the Olympic games just might, maybe still happen.

“Luckily it was postponed instead of outright canceled so it kept a little hope in all our hearts,” he said.

Hope and a longtime dream created the perfect motivation.

“I knew I had to work incredibly hard for it because it’s just one of the hardest teams to make in the world, is Team USA.,” Otterdahl explained. “I always kept that in the back on my mind. There is an end goal in site here and I just have to keep working towards it. Take it day by day. Get through training one day at a time.”

Otterdahl competed for North Dakota State from 2014-19, winning a pair of indoor national titles as a senior. He served as a volunteer assistant coach for the Bison throwers while competing professionally for Nike.

“It’s not always about how great you are on your best day,” St. Clair said about what it takes to make it. “It’s how great are you on your worst day and the Covid year kind of tested that.”

Otterdahl is a perfect testament to the payoff of perseverance. Heading to the Olympic games with a real opportunity to medal.

“You’re there for business. You’re there to medal,” St. Clair said point blank. “That’s a lot of pressure yes, but also realize, you’re there. You made it from the U.S. Team and the U.S. Team is the best throwing squad in the world. What it took to make the Olympic Team is greater than what it’s ever taken to medal at the Olympics.”

“I’m going into the Olympics with the same mindset I had going into the trials,” Otterdahl said. “I’m not one of the top guys there but I’m still going to try and take home a medal as best I can.”

Despite the self motivation and dedication that’s taken him this far, Otterdahl says he’s at his best with his coach by his side. As Covid forces elevated restrictions in Japan and so much of these summer games is affected, he says he’s thankful St. Clair will be by his side.

And you can bet it means as much to one, as it does the other.

“There are very few times that I get really emotional at track meets,” St. Clair admitted, “I can think of three times in my career and two have been with Payton. This one’s special.”

Otterdahl is the seventh former NDSU athlete to compete in the Summer Olympic Games, and the school’s first in men’s track & field.

The shot put is scheduled for Aug. 3-5 in Tokyo. The Olympic Games can be seen on KVLY.

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