Feature Photo By Hillary Ehlen
Action Photo By Richard Svaleson
When 18-year-old, bright-eyed students take their first steps on campus each fall, many are intimidated. The academics are magnified tenfold compared to the scholastic records and GPAs of high school. If you happen to be a collegiate athlete on top of that, the intensity ramps up even more. Traveling to events, practice and of course, academics, can be a heavy load on the backs of freshman student-athletes. Growing pains are natural for any 18-year-old transitioning to life in college, athlete or not.
Freshman thrower Kristoffer Thomsen must balance that and the fact that he is also an international student. The Aarhus, Denmark, native did not set foot on American soil until he took his first college visit. However, it is evident that Thomsen is far more mature than your average 18-year-old freshman. His maturity level stems from the fact that he is a few years older than a traditional college freshman. Thomsen began his collegiate career this fall at 22 years of age, he turned 23 in February.
Age and experience have allowed Kristoffer Thomsen to adjust to life in America a little easier. It has no doubt had its challenges though. The first hurdle for Thomsen would be finding an American school that wanted to take a chance on a 22-year-old true freshman. While age is usually not a determining factor in school’s recruitment, Thomsen’s numbers showcased a thrower destined for greatness from the beginning.
Thomsen competed in several European Athletics Championships in his prep years and beyond. It was after the under 23 European Athletics Championships in Poland that Thomsen began looking into attending school in America. At the time, Thomsen’s personal best mark in the outdoor shot put (19.03m) would have placed him third in NDSU school history in the event.
“It began with me competing at the under 23 European Championships and then I got in contact with an agency that would help me out to find several colleges in the U.S. I went for a few visits and this was actually my last priority,” said Thomsen of his college “recruiting” journey. “When I came for a visit, I just really liked the atmosphere and the people, especially the program. Justin [St. Clair], my coach, was actually why I decided to go here. Also, I do care a lot about my school, it’s very important to me. They have a really good engineering program here as well, so that kind of made everything come together. The atmosphere, the people, the program and the school.”
That commitment to education was key for Thomsen in his quest to compete in the United States. While North Dakota State has a world-renowned engineering program, Thomsen would also be joining a throws program that was one of the best in the country already. Add to the roster, a daunting, physically-imposing, freshman in Kristoffer Thomsen.
While Thomsen easily passes the physical eye-test with anyone he comes in contact with, he is truly as kind and polite as they come. It’s often said that the people of Denmark are polite, a trait they passed down to their Scandinavian brethren that immigrated to Fargo, North Dakota. Oddly enough, Thomsen found Fargo’s increased sense of politeness as a key difference between his home and America.
“When you walk on the street and people are asking how you are doing and stuff like that, that’s not very common in Denmark. Unless we know people, we don’t really talk to them,” said Thomsen. “Here, people are very open and that’s very different because I know if I sit next to someone on the bus, I know I’ll have to speak to them. Or when I’m in the airport and people see I’m wearing Bison clothing, they come over and ask and talk to you. That’s very uncommon in Denmark and I really had to get used to that.”
Fargo’s politeness may have caught Thomsen off guard at first, but throwing the shot put translates across international waters. He was a force in his first indoor campaign, hurling an NDSU personal best 18.90m in the indoor shot put at his fourth collegiate meet. Thomsen continued his string of indoor success by placing third in the shot put at the Summit League Indoor Championships. That event was swept by NDSU with senior Payton Otterdahl winning the event and sophomore Alex Talley taking runner-up honors.
As the weather warmed and the indoor slate wrapped up, Thomsen began his first outdoor season strong too. At the Husker Spring Invitational in early April, Thomsen won the shot put, his first collegiate victory. In the process, he uncorked a throw of 19.18m, which ranks third in North Dakota State track & field history. He finished second in the shot put at the Summit League Outdoor Championships this past weekend. Thomsen believes his age and knowledge of the throwing events has allowed him to stamp his name on the Bison record books so early in his career.
“It’s actually been really rough and it’s really hard to adapt. I was doing well in Denmark and it’s really hard to adapt to something new, to my coach, the people and everything is a new language. I think my age has a lot to do with it. I’ve already worked for a year and a half full time, basically. My school time has been longer because I’ve been practicing and then I’ve done a lot of practicing on my own as well,” he said. “I think that has helped me a lot in knowing what I’m doing better and not needing to have someone tell me what I need to do better. So when I’m speaking with Justin [St. Clair] and we are cooperating, we’re kind of on the same page.”
Thanks to the mark he set in Lincoln, Thomsen is ranked 21st in the country in the shot put this outdoor season. If rankings tell us anything, it’s that Kristoffer Thomsen is far and away the best freshman shot putter in the country so far this season. Regardless of age, that is a pretty impressive feat to accomplish.
Yet, Thomsen has more goals he wants to accomplish both in his time at NDSU and on the Danish national scene. As the outdoor season winds down in Fargo, he is focused on competing at the NCAA Outdoor Championships this season. Given what he has done so far this season, it’s certainly within reach. Next on the list would be to qualify for the Olympics and represent Denmark in the games. That too is not out of the realm of possibility.
“The first goal I have is to go to the NCAA Championships. My next goal would be to see if I could qualify for the Olympics. It’s a bit easier when I’m from Denmark, it’s nothing compared to here in the U.S. So if I make the standard for the Olympic Committee, I’m basically in,” Thomsen said. “I would also like to break the Danish record in shot put. We have a history of good shot putters previously, who also came to the States for college in Joachim Olsen. I would really like to break his record at some point.”
Olsen’s shot put record, set in 2007 stands at 21.61m, meaning that Thomsen would have to add over two meters to his personal best to beat it. However, it’s worth noting that Olsen set the Danish shot put record when he was 30 years old. Safe to say, Thomsen still has time and is well on his way to making Danish history.
He may not be the most traditional of college freshmen but at 23, Kristoffer Thomsen is still facing obstacles each day. Whether that be acclimating to life in North Dakota compared to his native Denmark or improving on a stellar freshman campaign, Thomsen has proven he can take those challenges head-on. Given what he has done in the shot put this season alone, it’s likely we’ll see Kristoffer Thomsen on the world’s stage at some point in the future.