Four centimeters. For those measuring at home, that is roughly half the length of your pinky finger. That is all that separates Colorado State shot putter Mostafa Hassan from the 2016 Olympic games. It’s an excruciatingly short distance, but Hassan is confident that before the Olympics begin he will pass up those four centimeters and then some. If he does indeed head to Rio, he will not compete for the United States, but rather for his native country, Egypt.
Growing up in Cairo, Hassan participated in sports such as swimming, boxing and tennis, but he did not pick up the shot put until six years ago after watching his friend in a competition, thinking it was something he might like to try. He started to learn the basics of the technique with assistance from YouTube videos, but soon enough he was competing at a national level.
His career has been one of constant progression through the national and international ranks. In 2013, he won the African under-20 championship. In 2014, Hassan competed in the International Association of Athletics Federations Junior World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, where he took eighth place. Last August he placed 18th in the IAAF World Championships in Beijing. Then he hopped on a plane in Beijing and took flight to Colorado.
Hassan came to CSU and the United States to realize an opportunity. At CSU Hassan has access to all of the equipment, facilities, resources and coaches that he might not have had in his native country.
“I saw an opportunity to come here and I just took it.” Hassan said. “I just thought it would be better training wise and education wise.”
At CSU Hassan has the opportunity to work with head coach Brian Bedard, a renowned throwing instructor. Bedard was first pointed to Hassan by CSU sprinters coach Karim Abdel Wahab. A few Egyptian throwers who had worked with Wahab before asked the coach if him and Bedard would be interested in the shot putter. After the coaches looked at his marks, the interest was imminent.
The two met in Eugene during the World Junior Championships. It was in Eugene when Hassan knew that CSU would be the right fit for him. He talked to other coaches who were interested in him, but something was different about Bedard.
“I thought that we would work well together,” Hassan said. “I thought coach Bedard was the coach I connected with the most.”
The transition to America was a challenge at first. The cultural differences were hard to get used to. Until this year, he had never been on his own. Yet he has received plenty of help along the way. Bedard, fellow coaches and teammates have all been supportive of the sophomore from the other side of the world.
He also found stability with fellow native Egyptian Wahab. The two of them connected right away. Hassan even competed for the same track club in Egypt that Wahab competed for back in his day. Wahab doesn’t look too much into his nationalistic ties with Hassan, he just thinks it helps Hassan to have someone with the same background to relate to.
When Hassan first arrived in Fort Collins, Wahab took him out to Horsetooth reservoir. Hassan was immediately drawn to the natural beauty of Fort Collins.
“I loved being there. Good scenery. It was very calming,” Hassan said. “I like how it is a small town. It’s not too big and crowded.”
Education is another major reason Hassan came to America and to Colorado State. As a self-proclaimed fixer, Hassan is pursuing a mechanical engineering degree. He got a head start on his education experience at CSU when he attended the American University in Cairo for two years. The school utilizes the American education system—and teaches solely in English—which helped smooth over Hassan’s integration into CSU.
“He cares about his academics greatly,” Wahab said. ”He’s been a good student since he was young. Having a passion for engineering as a profession and also being academically sound, it made the transition academically very easy.”
It was evident that Hassan was destined for big things this year at CSU. All Bedard and Wahab had to do was look at his past marks to realize that Hassan was a special talent. But they are both pleased by how smooth his transition has been.
“He’s outgoing, a great kid. Very polite, very respectful and appreciative of the opportunity here,” Wahab said. “He’s doing great academically and athletically. He is close to a complete package for us.”
His impact at CSU was immediate. At the Mountain West Indoor Championships in February, Hassan took first place by over five feet. His performance earned him in a spot in the NCAA Indoor National Championships in March where he finished fifth in his event. One week later he was in Portland, Oregon, for the IAAF World Indoor Championships, where he placed 13th. Though he competed for the Egyptian national team, Bedard coached him in the event.
For Hassan, it is not too big of a deal to compete for Colorado State one week and go and compete for the Egyptian National team the next. To him, it is “just a different uniform.”
As for the rest of this season, he has three goals: win the Outdoor Mountain West Conference Championships, place top-three at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, and qualify for the Olympics.
For the first two, he is very confident. Hassan broke the CSU outdoor shot put record at the Sun Angel Classic in Tempe, Arizona in April. His mark of 64-11.25 currently places him in the top-8 in the nation and No. 1 in the conference by a long shot.
But it’s the last goal, the big one, that he is still striving for. To qualify for the Olympics, a thrower must hit a mark of 20.50 meters. In Hassan’s first indoor meet while at CSU at the Colorado School of Mines, Hassan came painfully close to hitting that mark.
20.46 meters was the final measurement on his best throw that day. Four centimeters short. He was competing unattached, meaning his throws did not yet count for CSU, but the throw was a personal qualifier. The 20.46 throw was so big that he hit the netting at the top of the arena. Had he not hit the net, the throw would have likely traveled even farther.
All Hassan can do is shake his head, laugh and say, “It felt terrible.”
His personal best in the event is 20.57 meters set early last year, but in order to qualify for the Olympics, he has to hit the mark between January 1, 2015, and July 11, 2016. He still has plenty of time. He’s been dealing with injuries all year, but he is finally feeling good. He is confident he can make the throw needed.
“I think that the distance is not too hard if I just stay healthy and be consistent in training,” Hassan said.
At the same time, it is Hassan’s first year at CSU and he doesn’t share the publicity that an athlete like a football player might. He knows he could be in the Olympics and not many people at CSU will even realize it.
“If I go to the Olympics a lot of people, like in class, won’t know that I was there,” Hassan said. “They wouldn’t expect it.”
In five months Hassan could be participating in the pinnacle of athletic events, representing Egypt, Cairo, Colorado State and Fort Collins. But for now—and maybe even then—he lives in relative obscurity unless you are a follower of CSU track and field. But that’s okay with him.
“It’ll feel good, people won’t expect it at all,” Hassan said. “I like that better. I do everything for myself not for people to find out and everything.”
He is a man used to making life-changing decisions to pursue his dreams. On August 5th in Rio he could walk out into the opening ceremonies with the Egyptian national team while still an athlete and CSU student. Hopefully then, people will start to tune in to watch him pursue those dreams.
Collegian Sports Reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5