WEST FARGO — Riley Dolezal’s first major meet was the 2012 Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. He had never competed on a stage so big with such high stakes.
And that was all it took. Dolezal was hooked.
“To be there in Eugene, and around the fans at that level of meet fueled the fire instantly of wanting to continue to compete,” said Dolezal, who threw for North Dakota State from 2005-2009. “And then coming out and winning the (USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships) in 2013, that started it all as far as this is what I want to do.”
He dedicated the next nine years of his life to training in hopes of making the U.S. Olympic team in the men’s javelin.
Dolezal balanced a rigorous training schedule with a physical education teaching job at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo.
He finished third in the javelin at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Monday, June 21, with a throw of 252 feet, 10 inches on his final attempt. The toss moved him up from fifth place to third, but was short of the Olympic qualifying standard. His Olympic berth would come down to World Athletic rankings, released July 1.
The javelin field in Tokyo will consist of 32 throwers, and 25 met the qualifying mark of 278-10 to claim spots by entry standard. The seven remaining spots would have to qualify based on their world rankings. Neither of the top two finishers at last week’s trials in Eugene reached the standard.
For 10 days, Dolezal waited anxiously to see if he should start packing for Tokyo. He kept himself busy with some home improvement projects and maintained his training schedule. Dolezal spent the last couple months monitoring the rankings and seemed to be in good position to make the team, but ultimately, he sat just one place outside the top 32 at No. 33.
The rankings were posted late Thursday morning, and Dolezal learned he missed the chance to compete in the Olympics by one spot.
“It’s tough. I was super excited to be up on the podium placing third at the trials, but then to still know that this was on the bubble and is now possibly out of it is kind of bittersweet,” said Dolezal, who went to high school in Stanley, N.D.
If a higher-ranked thrower drops out, which Dolezal heard might happen, he could potentially get bumped up to fill the field. However, one day later, rankings had him slipping another spot to 34.
“At this time I’m going to stay on schedule with training, just in case if it does end up that I am able to get out there and go,” Dolezal said Thursday.
Dolezal could have tried to throw together or partake in another meet to improve his mark before Thursday, but the options would have been logistically impossible in his time frame, he said.
For Dolezal, 35, the trek to Tokyo will be his last run. The end of his throwing career, which began his junior year of high school, is near.
“Wearing down on the body, I’m 35 years old,” he said. “With training and the amount of time and energy that it takes, things you have to put off, I think this year is probably going to be the last year I’ll be throwing. I think I’ll be done now.”
Dolezal taught three periods of PE at Cheney in the morning and trained in the afternoon. He picked up a virtual section of physical education last school year, teaching four total periods while pursuing his Olympic dream.
“Teaching phys ed was tough some days, to be on my feet half the day teaching, then go and train,” said Dolezal, who is also a volunteer track coach at NDSU. “It’s always nice when summer comes around. You’re definitely training at a higher level when you’re rested and have fresh legs all the time, and you recover a lot easier.”
He’ll be teaching full-time this upcoming school year. Former Cheney principal Don Lennon, who recently retired, said Dolezal is an “outstanding” teacher.
“Here you have this role model standing in front, teaching your kids physical education,” Lennon said. “It shows how hard work pays off. You can’t get any better than that.”
Teaching took Dolezal’s mind off of training and throwing. It helped to not be thinking about that constantly, he said, even though it meant not dedicating every hour to training.
“It’s definitely tough to kind of look back now and to be like, ‘What if?’ But you gotta go with what you did and try to make the best out of it all,” Dolezal said.
Lennon said Dolezal brought the same passion he has for throwing to teaching.
“My son actually had him as a phys ed teacher, and he said you just never wanted to be hit by him when they were playing dodgeball,” Lennon joked.
Dolezal saw his Olympic hopes end in 2016 when he fell just short of making the U.S. Olympic team. He placed third at the trials that year.
Dolezal, who won a second USATF outdoor title in the javelin in 2017, has finished in the top three at the USATF Championships for eight consecutive years. He bounced back from injuries on the way to the top. He suffered a right Achilles injury in October 2017 and had Tommy John surgery during his senior season at NDSU.