Engineering a national championship

Eric Wolf

 
For the rest of his life, Mostafa Hassan will at least partly be defined by 21.27-meters. 

Yet in meters and in moments, that is not what Hassan is striving towards.

Yes, 21.27-meters did more than secure a shot put national championship in the NCAA indoor track and field championships on March 10th in College Station, Texas. 

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But Hassan’s shot-put ambitions stretch beyond a collegiate national title. And in the end, he might end up being more successful in his other passionate pursuit of engineering than in the throwing circle. 

21.27

Hassan is the first individual national champion at CSU since 2005 (Eric Wolf | Collegian)

A native of Cairo, Egypt, Hassan came to CSU in the Fall of 2016 to train in the United States with Ram head coach Brian Bedard. 

He found early success as a sophomore last season. 

In 2016, Hassan swept the Mountain West indoor and outdoor shot put titles, finished fifth at the NCAA indoor nationals and third at outdoor nationals, and finished 13th at the Indoor World Championships in Portland, Oregon in August.

But in 2016, he fell just 4-centimeters short of his ultimate goal of 20.50 meters — the distance needed to guarantee him a spot at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. 

During this year’s indoor season, Hassan hit that distance and then some. 

At the 2017 Mountain West indoor championships in February, Hassan sealed a second-consecutive indoor conference title with a toss of 21.30-meters. And after a 20.01-meter throw in early December, he maintained a lead over the country in the NCAA indoor standings going into the national meet.

Last year, Hassan went to indoor nationals ranked 14th in the country. Nobody really knew who he was and nobody expected him to win. This year was different.

Hassan felt pressure that he had not felt the year before, but he did not disappoint in Texas. 

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Some nerves got to him when the competition first started. His first throw was poor. He fouled the second. But by his third throw, Hassan settled in and hurled the shot 20.36 meters — a mark that Bedard and Hassan were pretty comfortable would win the meet.

But Hassan was not done. 

Hassan powered his way to a national championship with a top throw of 21.27-meters (Eric Wolf | Collegian)

“By the last throw, I was really confident and really relaxed,” Hassan said. “So I just went as hard as I could because it was the last indoor meet. It was my best throw. It felt amazing.”

With nothing on the line but personal expectations, Hassan hit 21.27 on his sixth throw — the best one — to bring the house down and widen his championship win to almost four feet, seven inches.

Hassan had his championship moment, and it felt amazing, but he did not even know the full significance of his accomplishment until reading a recap after the meet. He was the first shot put national champion in CSU history, and the first individual national champion at the school since 2005.

“To see him do it at the time with all the pressure on and to have his training come together…to have the mental side of it come together, and be able to technically pull it off and do it the way he did….yeah, it’s something I’ll never forget,” Bedard said.

Comfort Zone

When Hassan first got to Colorado State, he was in a much different position then he is now. 

Though he speaks English, and started of college at The American University in Cairo, coming to America had its challenges for Hassan. 

“I mean heck, it’s probably like coming from another planet — just socially and how everything works here,” Bedard said.

It is no secret how Hassan got his nickname — ‘Moose’ (Eric Wolf | Collegian)

With the cultural differences hard enough to get used to on their own, Hassan had to deal with the fact that he was 6,800 miles from home. He had never been on his own before. 

Bedard said that he could see that Hassan was quiet and uncomfortable at first, but as his time spent at CSU has grown, so has his comfort level.

“I just got used to being away from my family more,” Hassan said. “I used to hate being away. Now, it’s not that bad as it used to be.” 

“This year, he is just more mature,” Bedard said. “Just seeing him be able to relax, and see his personality come out and his confidence come out has been really fun to watch.”

Anyone familiar with track and field knows the rhythmic clap started by athletes before an event. Early on, Bedard says Hassan would have never asked for that. It takes a lot of confidence as an athlete. 

In his final throw at nationals, Hassan can be seen initiating the clap before he steps into the circle. It is the little things like that show how far Hassan has come.

And for Hassan, he got some comfort from home when his older brother Ahmed travelled to College Station for nationals. 

When Hassan first came to CSU, he was following in his brother’s footsteps. Ahmed Hassan came to the States a year earlier than Mostafa, where Ahmed competed in shot put at Arizona State University. 

When Mostafa qualified for nationals, Ahmed, who was back home in Cairo, was not going to pass up the opportunity to come support his brother. 

“I was very excited to be honest,” Ahmed Hassan said. “I made sure I cheered him on as much as I could, and I gave him some pep talks when I saw him struggling after the first two throws.”

The two brothers roomed together, and the older one helped the younger one make it through the weekend mentally.

“It was a great weekend for him and me, and one I won’t be forgetting anytime soon,” Ahmed said. 

“It was really great to have him with me,” Mostafa said. “He just kept giving me confidence. It just felt really good to have one of my family members watch me compete. It was a big push for me.”

A good deal of Hassan’s growth at CSU has to do with how supportive his teammates have been— on and off the track.

Bedard said that none of the other athletes ever skipped a beat in welcoming Hassan and cheering him on in his events. And Bedard says that though some foreign athletes do not buy into the whole team concept, Hassan has done that and then some. He is loyal to his teammates, and they are loyal to him. 

“He is a guy who will give you advice and help you with technique, but he is also one of my best friends right now,” senior thrower Daniel Weirich said.

Hassan and Weirich during practice (Eric Wolf | Collegian)

Weirich, who bonded with Hassan early last Fall, says that at times, he feels privileged to even be in Hassan’s company. After all, Hassan is a national champion.

But he also says that Hassan is humble, and “just like anyone else.” 

And for teammates and coach alike, it is fun to watch Hassan’s sarcastic personality come out as he has progressed at CSU. 

“No joke, he’s on of the funniest people once you get to know him,” Weirich said. “That’s his thing. (He’s) just a funny, light-hearted guy.”

“It’s just much more comfortable for me right now,” Hassan said. “The only struggle right now is just school work and that’s it. Everything else is fine. This is one of my hardest semesters, but oh well, I just have to work hard.”

Pursuits

Hassan is all smiles in his second year at CSU (Eric Wolf | Collegian)

Hassan may say “oh well,” when talking about school, but to be sure, that is not the attitude he carries in the classroom. Hassan is just as invested in his mechanical engineering degree as the shot put.

His interest in engineering started early. He has always liked cars, and diving into engines instilled in him the curiosity of how things work. It also helped that his father is an engineer back in Cairo. 

“As kids, we were both so passionate about cars and engines,” Ahmed said. “With my father being an engineer as well, we learned a lot growing up as kids. I think that fueled the fire of being an engineer for him.”

“All of the subjects, I find them really interesting,” Mostafa said. “The machinery and manufacturing — all of that stuff is interesting to me and that’s what I want to do when I graduate.” 

Now, he is right in the middle of the grind. Both on and off the track. Sometimes, the two worlds collide.

Being an engineer, it is only natural that Hassan would try to understand the inner workings of an intensely technical sport like shot put, where the physics of force and trajctory reign. 

“I think about it sometimes,” Hassan says with a smile. “Like with (using) physics to try and calculate how much force is needed to throw the shot 20-meters, and (I try) to just have fun with it sometimes.” 

His enthusiasm in both subjects is evident, though Hassan is quick to add with a laugh — “I have not actually taken the time to make any calculations yet.”

His interest may be raised with the physics of the sport of shot put, but that is not where it ends. 

“Whenever I am walking around campus, I just compare everything I see to what I learn in class and try to see how that thing works,” Hassan said. “Now I understand how a lot of things work for my classes, so whenever I see the thing I am studying in class, I just try to understand it the way I do in the class.”

And if you really wanted to know just how invested Hassan is in engineering — ask the coach.

Bedard tells a story about last year’s Jack Christiansen Invite at CSU. Everything about that day was set up to try and have Hassan hit the olympic standard mark. Bleachers and fans surrounded the circle, music blared in the background.

But when Bedard saw Hassan walk up to him that day, he looked in his eyes, and the coach knew that the standard would not be hit. 

Hassan handles the pressure of a demanding sport and major (Eric Wolf | Collegian)

Little did Bedard know, Hassan had a big engineering project due the night before. When Bedard asked Hassan what was wrong the Saturday of the meet, Hassan said he had been up all night working on the project.

“That’s how important it is for him,” Bedard said. “He had a lot riding on (that day), but engineering is just as (important), if not more so because that is his career and that’s his life. He is going to do everything he can to do well in both, but I think it stacks up there right with his track accomplishments. He wants to be very successful. He takes his studies very seriously and it has affected his training at times — but I am willing to accept that — because I know how important it is to him.”

“It is crazy to see because he is such a great athlete,” Weirich said of Hassan’s dedication to school. “He is hard working guy. He always gets through his workout and then goes to the library. He is probably the hardest worker I know right now in that area.”

For now, Hassan’s plan is to pursue both career options for as long as he can. After he graduates, Hassan wants to move home and join his father. He also plans to come back to Colorado State for a month or two out of the year for an extended “training camp” in shot put. 

“It is going to give me a little more freedom to be able to do shot and work as an engineer at the same time,” Hassan said. “I am going to try and balance between the two until I retire from shot and just do engineering.”

From the recent trajectory of Hassan’s shot put career, when he hangs up his throwing shoes for a full-time engineering job is largely up to him. 

But for right now, Hassan is focused on winning another national title at NCAA outdoors in June and placing top eight at the world outdoor championships in London in August. And then there’s always Tokyo — site of the 2020 olympics. 

He is a big man with undeniably big plans, and a stringent dedication for sport and school.

Hassan is going to be very successful wherever he goes, that much is clear. 

Where that is, and what is in his hand when gets there — only time will tell.

Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com and on twitter @Eric_wolf5

Video credit: Robert Slaman, CSU Rams track and field