Few can lay claim to the accomplishments over the last several years that Cornell men’s track and field thrower Rudy Winkler can.
Winkler represented both his school and country at the Rio Olympics last summer, and the outgoing senior has set numerous Ivy and meet records records along the way.
Born in the rural town of Sand Lake, N.Y. Winkler grew up lending his parents a hand on the family dairy farm. He had always played baseball from a young age, but turned to track and field after his parents decided the extra exercise would be good for the young boy.
Bigger than the average kid, Winkler was not built like a runner, and he took up throwing in his lower school days
“I was pretty overweight, so my parents were trying to get me to do stuff to lose weight,” he told The Sun in a recent profile. After trying out shotput and discus, Rudy ultimately stuck with hammer throw, and he found success almost immediately.
And after going to nationals his freshman year of high school, Winkler began to attract the attention of major NCAA Division I programs. He ultimately chose Cornell over schools like UCLA and Virginia Tech, given the balance between “good academics, good athletics” and the fact that it was “still pretty close to home.”
Since arriving in Ithaca, Winkler has put together quite the career. After overcoming a torn meniscus that kept him out his entire freshman year, he has never looked back. Competing in the weight throw inside and the hammer throw outside, Winkler has won the title in every Heps tournament he has participated in. He has been named a first team All-American multiple times and has set school records in both the weight and the hammer along with several academic awards along the way.
“It’s been pretty cool at Cornell — I’ve been able to win Heps every time I’ve been in both the weight and the hammer,” he said. “It’s definitely a nice confidence booster.”
At the end of his junior season, participating in the Rio Olympics became a real possibility for Winkler. With the longest throw in the NCAA (75 meters) that season, and a first place finish at the Olympic trials in July with 76.76 meters, Winkler put himself in prime position to earn a spot on the team.
“I was on my way to a meet in El Salvador and had just landed in Houston when I got an email from [USA Track and Field],” he said. “They just told me that I made it. In addition to winning the trials, that feeling was pretty awesome.”
While Winkler’s first olympics did not go exactly as planned, his experience was nothing short of amazing.
“It was surreal especially since [competing in Rio] wasn’t something I planned for really,” he said. “I’d just be walking around the village and see people like Michael Phelps — it’s definitely inspiring. You’re in this place with all the best athletes in the world, and you realize they’re just normal people — normal people who work really hard. It makes you think that anyone can really do it.”
On the day of his event, Winkler faulted on two of his first three throws and threw 71.89 meters on the other. He finished in 18th overall and was unable to advance to the finals.
“I didn’t compete that well but I felt really good, and overall I’m really happy with how I did at my first Olympics and my first senior competition,” he said.
In his final year at Cornell, Winkler had another dominant season: two more Heps titles, a fourth-place finish in NCAAs in the weight and another date at the NCAA outdoor tournament at the end of May.
The graduating senior certainly looks back fondly on his time at Cornell.
“Throughout your time at Cornell you do a lot, and you struggle trying to think of what is the most important thing that you want to leave behind,” Winkler said. “There isn’t just one thing — it’s everything and the entire experience combined. The best advice you could ever give is to not overthink things, and just do what you know is going to make you happy and successful.”
Whether that comes in the form of competing in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, coaching kids down the road or putting his information science degree to work, no one should be surprised by Winkler’s future success and determination.