Matthias Hangst/Getty Images Ryan Crouser
Ryan Crouser is a two-time Olympic champion in shot put — and though his grandfather isn't here to see his second win, the 28-year-old wanted to get a message to him during the athlete's big moment.
After setting an Olympic record of 23.30, Ryan, 28, proudly draped the American flag across his shoulders and held up a handwritten sign reading, "Grandpa, we did it. 2020 Olympic champion!"
His late grandfather, Larry Crouser, a United States veteran and Oregon resident, died just one day before Ryan traveled to Tokyo for the Games — over a week before his final on Thursday. Ryan says he took his first throw in Larry's backyard, where he trained through eighth grade.
"He's had a huge role in my throwing career and so to lose him the week before the Olympics was obviously sad but I feel like he was able to be here in spirit," Ryan told reporters in Tokyo. "I held up the note because, at the end, he had lost his hearing and so I would write whatever I wanted to say to him and he would read it and answer back."
After the Olympic track and field trials in June, he was able to visit with Larry — which Ryan said was the last time he saw his grandfather, a meeting that came after over a year apart due to the pandemic — and told him he'd become the shot put men's world record-holder. "He watched that throw on the iPad thousands and thousands of times," recalled Ryan.
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"He's been my biggest fan. So I felt like that was the last note that I wanted to write to him that I didn't get the chance to but I felt like he was with me here in spirit and I know he'd be proud if he was here," he said.
Asked by PEOPLE about the best advice Larry had given him, Ryan said it was to "stop and enjoy the moment," something he often forgets to do as he tends to look "long-term."
"He was a huge part of our family and he had a lot of health issues towards the end, but the one thing is you never saw him in a bad mood," Ryan recounted. "He was always happy and always so supportive of everyone in the family. He really instilled that in me and it's not so much where you end up, it's how you get there and enjoying the process of getting there."
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.