Olympic Shot Putter Joe Kovacs Still Has Lehigh Valley Pride

By Colin McEvoy on November 23, 2022

Joe Kovacs, a Nazareth native, is a two-time World Champion and Olympic Silver Medalist at shot put. (photo courtesy Joe Kovacs)

Joe Kovacs is a two-time World Champion and Olympic Silver Medalist at shot put, and, in the words of Lehigh Valley with Love podcast host George Wacker, is “probably one of the most accomplished athletes to ever come out of the Lehigh Valley.”

But despite all his success and no matter how far around the world he travels for training and competitions, the Nazareth native and Bethlehem Catholic High School alumnus still considers the Lehigh Valley his home.

“I’m happy to be a Lehigh Valley guy who gets to compete all around the world,” Kovacs said during a 24-minute interview with the Lehigh Valley with Love podcast last month.

The episode was sponsored by the Made Possible in Lehigh Valley marketing initiative, which partners with the Lehigh Valley with Love media company to help tell the stories about the incredible people, places, and organizations that can be found in the region.

Kovacs, who was also previously featured in a Made Possible in Lehigh Valley profile, won Silver Medal during the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics, and won Gold Medals in the 2015 and 2019 World Athletics Championships in Beijing and Qatar, respectively.

He threw a personal-best 22.91 meters at the latter event, just short of the world record of 23.12 meters. The 6-foot, 295-pound Kovacs was named one of the 50 Fittest Athletes in the World by Sports Illustrated this year, after squatting an incredible 870 pounds for four reps.

During his Lehigh Valley with Love interview, Kocavs discussed when he first started playing shot put, what surprises people most about the sport, his favorite spots to visit when he returns home to the Lehigh Valley, and his preparations for the 2024 Summer Olympics and beyond.

Kovacs played football at Bethlehem Catholic before joining the track team to work on his speed and agility. As a freshman, he tried to emulate various seniors he admired, and he discovered shot put when some of them were practicing it in the high school parking lot, because the school did not have a track field.

“I just saw them heaving this heavy ball into the grass and I figured I might as well copy what they’re doing, because I want to be one of these guys when I get a little bigger and stronger,” Kovacs said. “That’s how I got introduced to it and it’s been amazing ever since.”

Made Possible in Lehigh Valley is a multi-organizational campaign that highlights the region’s diverse and unique assets that make it a desirable community to visit, work, learn, and live. And Kovacs perfectly embodies what Made Possible is all about in more ways than one.

He was supported not just by the Bethlehem Catholic teachers and coaches, but by the entire Lehigh Valley community. He received training at Lehigh University and Lafayette College, and received support from coaches at various schools across the region, including from the Easton Area and Parkland school districts.

Looking back on his career, Kovacs cited the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Qatar as his favorite standout win, in large part because earlier in that season he was experiencing some difficulties and considered stopping altogether.

It was his wife Ashley, an accomplished coach who has coached Kovacs since 2019, motivated him to improve and keep going. At the World Championships, Kovacs threw for 22.91 meters in the final round, just one centimeter ahead of the other two finalists to score the victory. NBC Sports called it the “greatest shot put final ever.”

“To be on that roller coaster of that low at the beginning of that season, to end up with the statistically best track and field competition of all-time, was amazing,” Kovacs said.

This Lehigh Valley with Love podcast has had more than 4 million downloads since 2019 and has a monthly reach of more than 500,000 listeners. It can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, RSS, PocketCasts, Stitcher, and elsewhere.

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