HOW BEING BROKE AND BAMBOOZLED LED ME TO BOXING WITH MUHAMMAD ALI

I was falling apart. No job, nothing coming in, no prospects of sudden wealth. Or even gradual wealth.

My life as a professional and world class athlete had been ripped out from under me, like a bad tablecloth trick.

Everything I touched turned into coal in 1978, including my French restaurant and disco in Saratoga, Cal., “Buster’s.” The joint actually went bust. Buster’s was busted.

I was busted, broke, and bamboozled, down on the mat, flat on my back. It was the worst year of my life. Or at least one of my worst years. I’ve had a few, but I think 1978 was at the bottom of the heap.

I had done a lot of interesting things up to that point — the Munich Olympics, ABC’s Super Stars, the World’s Strongest Man contest, and a world record throw. But there I was, without a pot in which to pee.

So what do you do when you’re flat on the mat, when you‘ve got nothing to lose? You do what you know. You go back to the gym. You put on your best game face. You fight. You start boxing. And you end up sparring with Muhammad Ali, king of the ring.

I started re-building everything, beginning with the legs. Everything flows from the legs, whether it’s throwing or boxing or mowing the lawn. Of course, everything flows from the belly, too, and all athletes travel on their stomachs, just like an army.

That’s why “Buster’s” was my kind of place. We had a manager we recruited from TGIF. We had great food. I had lobster, filet mignon, and Pulley Fussy* almost every night. That’s not how you spell it, but close enough. It’s a fine white wine from France that goes well with seafood, chicken and banana splits, this last a concoction which has always been one of my weaknesses.

You get the idea. I was living the high life.

You might wonder how a French restaurant aspiring to be a four star establishment acquired the name “Buster’s” instead of, say, “Rue de Champignon.” If you pronounce it right, “Buster’s” can be a fine French name, as in “Le Buster’s.” Whereas, “Rue de Champignon” means “Street of Mushrooms.” See the difference?

Soon enough “Buster’s” became “Les Miserables,” the musical about me and the syndicate I put together to start the joint. We ended up with a cast of characters who all wanted to be the boss, including me, who wanted to be the benevolent dictator.

There was a lot of kitchen conspiracies, plots against the management, and constant stirrings of discontent and revolution. You wouldn’t think there would be so much maneuvering, but it was one castle intrigue after another. That’s because back then a lot of people paid cash for their food and bar bills and everybody wanted to be close to the register at night.

It’s no wonder the restaurant business has been a source of reality TV shows. There’s a lot of conspiracy, treachery and betrayal with sharp knives at the ready.

But it went belly up after three months. We were counting on attracting the disco crowd and disco was on the downturn. Disc jockeys were blowing up disco records at Comiskey Park. People were sick of the BeeGees. It was the year that disco was trashed by the rock and roll people. Disco was off the floor and out the door.

So to work off my anger, disappointment and general hatred of the world, I began my industrial strength workout. Mega sets were my thing — 500 pound leg presses for 50 reps.

I rebuilt the engine and put new shocks on.

When Buster’s opened that year, I had just returned from the “World’s Strongest Man” contest and I brought John Matuszak from the Oakland Raiders with me. He was a defensive end, had played for several other teams and hailed from Oak Creek, Wis., a southern suburb of Milwaukee.

I beat him at the “World’s Strongest Man” competition. Matuszak and I were the two little guys at the event. We were up against the big guys like Bruce Wilhelm, 6-4, 335 pounds. There I was, a puny 251.

Earlier that year, I had met John at a Super Bowl party. He eyed me and said, “Oldfield, I thought you’d be a much bigger man.”

I said, “John, I have my dimensions. I am a bigger man.”

He liked that and we struck up a friendship. He was 6-7, 305 pounds and no fat on him. He was a great all-around athlete — discus and shot thrower, football player and boxer.

But he was a problem child for the Raiders, which was a problem team at that time. You didn’t want to meet any of them in a dark alley. John was involved in some incidents off the field and the team sent a liaison guy to watch over him.

That guy eventually thanked me for having a good influence on Matuszak. Imagine that, me having a good influence on an NFL player! It didn’t last. He later was banned for life from the Raider’s locker room and then in 1989 died from an overdose of painkillers.

John put the wild in Wild Turkey. I couldn’t keep up with him. He and Pete Maravich, the late basketball player, out-partied me. I was in awe. When I was out with either one of them, I’d have to raise the white flag and limp home. Too bad they both partied themselves into the ground.

I took Matuszak to the grand opening of Buster’s and he scared the shit out of everybody, but I didn’t think he was that dangerous. I had been appointed commander of the bouncers, so I sort of deputized him and kept an eye on him.

We attracted some of the local NFL cheerleaders, whom we called the Ramettes. No hidden meaning there. They would come to “Buster’s” and dress the place up.

Another reason “Buster’s” went bust was some of the partners couldn’t get along. I had to referee a parking lot altercation between two of our investors, one of whom was a 200-pound former NFL quarterback and the other our 300-pound Greek restaurateur. After a meeting, they went at each other in the parking lot over who was going to get a bigger cut of the pie.

I wish I had it on tape. The big guy kept throwing himself at the quarterback, who kept dropping back in the pocket to avoid a collision. It went on for a few minutes until I calmed them down and put them in neutral corners.

Looking back, I think I must have been a limited partner, because I only got invited to the fights, not the meetings. But that’s OK because I really didn’t know what I was doing.

So there had been this wonderful episode in which I was the golden boy, had a leased Camaro, wine, women and song, a French restaurant. Le bon temps roulette.

And then a big fat zero. No more Camaro. No more lobster. No more Pulley Fussy. No more Ramettes. I was the boll weevil again, out there looking for a home. Plan A was gone. I needed a Plan B and a Plan C. Plan D was teaching school again.

Plan B. I got some old boxing gloves, a mouthpiece and looked up John Caruso, a pro who had boxed George Foreman and received an eye injury for his efforts. He was fearless and had been the heavyweight champ in the Marines.

I found him at his office and said, “You Caruso? Show me how to box.”

He took me out to his driveway and we put on the gloves and started sparring.

He told me I needed a manager. “Why?” I said.

“To keep you out of jail.”

*Pouilly Fuisse

END OF PART 1

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

Meet Butch, the Other

            I know I have done some things in my life that haven’t been totally, um, legit. The arrests for various minor offenses, like that time in Houston where I hit a bouncer; the biker I punched in West Dundee; the Arkansas job I lost trying to defend myself against a thrower gone berserk.    

            That was not me. It was Butch.

            Brian has a resume. Butch has a police record. Brian wanted to be polished, urbane and witty. Butch wanted fun, women, wine, women, beer, song, women and decent reefer.

            Butch was the other. Butch was a good guy to have at your back, though. Butch is like having a pet gargoyle. Brian was like having a really big, friendly maitre’d. “May I recommend the foi gras tonight?” That’s Brian.

            “May I recommend the Pabst Blue Ribbon with bourbon on the side and a Dallas Cheerleader chaser tonight?” That’s Butch.

            I was Butch before I was ever Brian. The nurses gave me that name because they thought I resembled a wrestler who called himself The Butcher.  My dad was 300 pounds, my mother weighed 240 pregnant, so I was not going to be petit.  After they saw what I was going to look like, my parents named me Brian, which means courageous, courteous and strong. Two out of three isn’t bad, although I can be polite when I want to be.

            And Butch has always been there somewhere, sometimes deep inside, sometimes right there near the surface, lurking, just waiting to come out and play and mess around.   

            They were going to shoot me in St. Petersburg, which at the time was called Leningrad. It was at the Hermitage Museum. There was a carriage there with what looked like diamonds. It was roped off so I leaned over to touch a diamond, just to impress my friends, when I heard the metallic clang of an automatic weapon hitting home. It was hard to mistake the sound reverberating in the hall.

            A guard was pointing his weapon at me. I quickly put my hands up and said,  “Sorry, I was only kidding.”  He lowered his rifle. I put my hands down, nodded and slowly walked away. I had a talk with Butch about it later. “Don’t ever do anything like that again,” I told him. He didn’t say anything.

            Butch would come out when you least expected it. Once at a community summer festival, a cop in uniform came up and gave me grief about talking in the beer tent with an underage guy I knew. The kid was trying to score some beer.

            The cop was a big guy, but not real bright so Butch looked at the cop’s name tag and said, “Is that Polish?”  The  cop grabbed Butch and Butch flipped him on his ass. Then things got out of hand. Some of the cop’s friends came at Butch yelling, and Butch punched a couple of them. 

            Then more cops came and Butch calmed down. They started walking him to a squad car, and Butch thought, “I’m going to jail.” They had him by the arms and he threw them off and knocked a couple of them down. He took a couple of steps and turned and laughed. That’s when Butch saw them pull out guns.  Butch said, “Oops” and took off, running a zig-zag course across the street. He jumped over some bushes and tried to hide. But they found him with guns drawn and Butch knew the jig was up. He let me, Brian, return to be the friendly diplomat and bon vivant.

            They let me out on a personal recognizance bond and I, Brian, went to court a couple weeks later. I think they charged me with inciting a riot. They dropped the charges and I walked out. But nobody got hurt and it was the 60’s, a time when everyone expected that kind of stuff. And it was only a riot of one. 

            The kid who came to the beer tent? He bought me beers for the next 30 or 40 years.

            Sometimes I replay the Butch tapes in my head. I say to myself, “Did I really do that?”    

            Butch had a nose for trouble. A lot of times he got picked on. One time after a track meet in Knoxville, I was having beers with some friends when a hillbilly came running up in an unfriendly manner. Butch came out and punched him the chest. The guy staggered back and fell onto a table. He came running back at Butch again. Butch  punched him in the chest again. He fell back, landed on the table and came running  again.  Butch punched him in the face. He went down.

            I have no idea why the guy was on the attack except Butch must have said something to him.  Obviously he was suicidal.

            I’m a Gemini, so Butch is my evil twin. But everybody has a Butch lurking somewhere under the surface and we need him, because Butch was the guy who kept coming back and coming back and coming back after Brian was ejected, rejected and dejected. Butch was the guy who made Brian into the never-say-die competitor, the rebel, the revolutionary.  But he has to be managed. He’s not the smooth talking, slow walking type. Secretly, he’s Brian’s best friend and says stuff like this quote after the Olympics, “I had so much energy after the event, I wish there had been a fist fight.”

            I’m telling you about Butch because if you don’t have a Butch, you have to find him, or her, down in that dark, wild reservoir that we all have deep inside and let Butch out occasionally. It’ll help your throwing.

            Even the mean dog has to be taken for a walk now and then and sometimes let off the leash.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

KEEP THOSE PROMISES TO THE ONE YOU LOVE

This is the time when you rebuild your dreams, when you work on all those promises you made to yourself last season.

You know the promises I’m talking about. The promise to train harder, to be lean and mean, to come back looking better than when you left, to increase your strength, and to further your throwing career by throwing farther.

Promises. I made a promise to myself when I had my first knee surgery to stop smoking. Every time I wanted a cigarette I thought of that painful surgery and I would do push-ups, sometimes 50 at a crack. This was effective.

The knee surgery had nothing to do with smoking, but it was my way of dissuading myself from smoking by associating smoking with pain, and it worked. I stopped smoking. I quit for as long as I had an active throwing career. After that, I just mooched cigarettes.

It was a tough thing to do back then, in the last century, to quit smoking, because they used to give cigarettes to everybody. They would hand out samples of cigarettes. Airlines used to hand them out. If you didn’t smoke, you were almost forced to smoke. Pilots smoked in the cockpit of aircraft. Can you imagine? How could they see anything?

You could smoke in hospitals. In patient rooms, in the waiting areas, everywhere. Doctors smoked. Now you would be given the boot. I guess when Ireland banned smoking in pubs, it was the sign of the anti-smoking revolution. God bless the Irish.

I tried to quit swearing, but it didn’t work, damn it. It was an unrealistic goal.

That promise you made to yourself to track your progress. I took detailed notes of my gains in lifting and throwing. Notes are important; they’re your past and your future. Review your notes. If you don’t have notes or a training diary, you are wrong. Study yourself, but not in the mirror.

Training notes don’t have to be complicated. Just something to remind yourself about the weekly goal, the monthly goal and the yearly goal. I bought a calendar, the kind with big squares, and I would plot what I aspired to do and what I actually did. If I had a meet coming up I would note what I wanted to throw; or if I wanted to bench press 365 next week, I would note that. Then if I met or exceeded that goal, I would outline that square in red.

After a while, I had a lot of red squares. Every time I looked at the calendar it would remind me of the promises I made to myself. That would trigger the drive to excel and the drive to train to excel. I could use the calendar to set goals and gauge what was possible to achieve.

For instance, I would start my squat program at this time of year. Let’s say I wanted to be a 500 pound squatter. I would start with 400 pounds and do a six-week program to get up to 500. There are several formulas to do this but generally you start with 20 percent less than your goal and do six sets of two on Monday, six sets of three on Wednesday and so on. You can get these formulas on line. Or email me. I like to get mail.

I did front squats, too, which people told me were bad. But I became a believer in front squats for throwing. They are more dynamic and can improve the power of your throw. If you’re not doing front squats, promise yourself to do front squats. People don’t like them because they’re uncomfortable, but they kick butt for throwing.

Your lifting should be as specific for throwing as you can make it. Front squats are in that category. The overhead press is specific. I could do an overhead press of 500 pounds, which meant a lot more for my throwing than being able to do a bench press of 500 pounds. If you’re not doing the overhead press, promise yourself to start doing them.

But promise yourself you won’t have a program that leads to a one repetition max. That’s when you hurt yourself. You always want to be able to do more than one rep. I could do three reps of overhead press at 450 pounds. I knew I could do 535 for one rep, but that is when injuries occur, in the one rep maximum. So promise yourself not to hurt yourself in training.

Some of these lifts were not popular when I was coming up through the ranks, but I tried to do what other people weren’t doing and that made a big difference in my throwing.

Another promise: Set attainable goals. This relates back to keeping track of where you came from and where you are and where you want to be.  If you’re a 20 meter thrower with a 16-pound shot, then next year you want to throw 20 meters with an 18- pound shot. Then the next year you want to throw with a 20-pound shot.

I also would measure myself against who I thought was my major opposition. I would take their weight and divide it by their height in inches and get a sort of comparative analysis. I was about 3.6 pounds per linear inch. George Woods was about 4.2 pounds per linear. Al Feuerbach was about 3.75.

The three of us worked out on the Olympic team together. I had a standing throw of 64 feet. Feuerbach had a standing throw of 65 and Woods had one of 66 feet. I could see where their mass was greater than mine by their standing throw.

You can use this to tailor your training program in terms of weight lifting, running and throwing. What do you need to match Woods’ throwing if you don’t have his mass? You need speed, since M x S = D, where D is distance. Obviously, this is not a sophisticated type of measurement and equation, but it can be useful to reach your goals.

The other thing I always worked on was my biorhythms.  This is just stopping the training and listening to your body and mind, writing your observations in your notes. Track those. They can help you in scheduling training or days off. Never forget to take goof off days here and there. I think I took quite a few of those.

I write this because if you don’t improve, nine people will get ahead of you and you’ll be 20th next year. Or maybe 30th.  Then how will you get that scholarship? I want to see you improve, damn it.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

When in Rome, Do as Brian Does

Ancient Rome was the home of the gladiators and it’s very moving to see the Coliseum where the slaves battled to the death. It was a time when human life didn’t mean too much, unless you were part of the aristocracy and had some sway. Of course, those people stabbed each other with some regularity, too, in order to fatten the personal treasury or assume the family farm. I believe that is still occurring in all corners of the world.

This also reminds me of the U.S. Olympic Committee which stabbed me several times in the back, but was never able to get rid of me. They always underestimated me. I fought back in the best way I knew how — I kept pounding on the door.

That was all on my mind at the World Games in Rome in 1982 A.D., or as they tag it now, 1982 C.E. That stands for Common Era. Needless to say, there has been nothing common about the era, including me. And that’s why I was in Rome, trying to put on my best gladiator face and demeanor for throwing against a field of large, strong athletes. Good thing we were not allowed to throw at each other.

It crossed my mind that our throwers, namely the Americanos, looked a lot more like the statues of the naked Roman warriors and gladiators arrayed around the Coliseum than the modern Italians themselves. I don’t know how that happened. Maybe when Rome fell for the last time, so did the muscle tone. I kept looking around for a shot-putter and then realized the shot-put started in Scotland in the 12th Century.

It was a world-class event and featured a lot of famous track and field stars, including Carl Lewis, the sprinter and jumper.

Of course, we weren’t competing in the actual Coliseum. Only tourists are allowed in there now, and besides, it’s pretty small, certainly not the size represented in Hollywood films, though it is a magnificent structure.

The 1982 meet was held in a first-rate stadium that seated 60,000 spectators. It was the one that was the scene of the 1960 Olympics. The Italians take track and field much more seriously than we do here in the U.S. It ranks right behind soccer there. Maybe they take it so seriously because they had centuries of throwing spears, running, jumping over piles of bodies and going everywhere on foot. That can lead to tradition.

I had finished throwing and my performance was not up to par, but I wanted to watch the rest of the events. The World Championships are always a spectacle and attract the best, so they’re worth watching.

I didn’t have a place to sit in the stands, so Carl Lewis’ family said I could sit next to them. I was always friendly with his family and when his sister, Carol, saw me and extended the invitation, I said sure. I had gotten chummy with the family over the years, seeing them at meets. They’re great people.

They were in the upper grandstand and I had to squeeze past an Italian family. I took Carl’s seat since he was still on the field competing. Almost immediately a female member of the Italian family began squawking at me because I didn’t have a ticket. She gave me the evil eye, no kidding.

I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe I stepped on her toes. I had a USA jacket on and maybe she didn’t like that. For a minute, I thought they were going to pull out the daggers and start stabbing me, a la Julius Caesar. I hoped her husband’s name wasn’t Brutus.

What to do when you’re getting the evil eye from the Godmother? I played the big, ugly American and didn’t budge, something I’m really good at. It’s a good strategy when you’re in a non-English-speaking country.

The Godmother continued to have fits and fetched the police. When the officer showed up, I was still smiling and nodding and playing dumb. I figured they might leave me alone and I could enjoy the rest of the competition.

That’s when the officer waved at me with a little motion of his hand, like he was waving a little goodbye. I waved goodbye back, a nice little friendly wave, and kept smiling.

He waved again. I waved again. Then he walked over to us. I didn’t know that in Italy a wave like that doesn’t mean goodbye, it means come here. Who knew? Then he asked for our ticket stubs.

I thought, here, you go again, Butch, getting booted out of something for no good reason. It was a problem I had had since childhood. First grade, Cub Scouts, bars, bedrooms, hotels, the Olympics. Butch, my evil twin, had caused a lot of problems over the years, broken a lot of china.

But the Lewis family showed them the stubs for the seats and the officer shrugged and walked away. The Italian family was not happy, but there was nothing they could do. So I stayed and enjoyed myself. I had scored a small victory and fended off the evil eye.

The message in this story? That officer’s little wave of the hand meant much more than I realized at the time. And so it is with throwing. I reiterate for the thousandth time, work on all those little nuanced movements that limit your technique and shorten your throw.

We’ve talked about the feet, the legs, the torso. We’ve even talked about the brain. But it’s in the hands, too. Your hands. A small motion of the hand can mean so much in life and in your throwing life. It’s about throwing with precision and how you hold the shot can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Is your hand under the shot? Is it too forward? Are the fingers splayed or closed? Have you experimented enough with your grip? Is the thumb pointed up or down? Is the palm facing in, out, or back? Is your hand under your jawline or behind it?

It won’t be the same for everybody, so you need to experiment with your hand position until you find the optimal mechanics for your technique.

I recommend to my students holding the shot behind the ear with the thumb pointed up. That way you get a longer application of power in your throw. But don’t take my word for it. Try it. Now.

By the way, I sat next to Carl’s family the following day and thought, “Mama mia, here we go again with the evil eye.” But the Italians figured out who I was and when I showed up they asked for my autograph, all smiles. I relented, gave it to them and waved goodbye to the evil eye.  Then I went to an English pub, played darts and drank a few wee pints.

Post-script: Dec. 4 is the birthday of the Italian track and field meet promoter Sandro Giovannelli. He turned 97. Sandro got me into gobs of meets not only in Italy but in Europe and he treated me first class. He helped me make a living during my comeback years in the 1980s when I became the resident foreign thrower in Italy, shot and discus. He is a great guy and I wish him the very best.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

Two Left Shoes And a Lonely Place

The year was 1988. The event was the Olympic trials. Diarrhea.

The year was 1984. The Bruce Jenner meet. Hemorrhoids.

The year was 1969, the national track and field championships. Over slept for discus.

Olympic trials, 1980. Two left throwing shoes in the gym bag. Really, two left shoes. I pulled them out and thought, I gotta stop drinking.

1982. National championships in Knoxville. My third throw, 71 feet. The official ruled that I fouled. But in film reviews the next day, it showed that I didn’t foul. I would have gotten into the finals, but I was on the outside looking in again.

This made me wonder, was it over-officiating, or was there a conspiracy against me? Did someone put something in my food in 1988? Did someone switch shoes on me? Did someone drug me in 1969? Was that official blinded by my bubbly personality?

It’s a really difficult thing to train for something and have notions of what it will be like and then experience it, because the experience is never what you imagine. Murphy’s Law is always at play. Something will go wrong. Count on it. Life just goes wrong.

My question is: How do you live your life up to that day in order to overcome all the obstacles, all the conspiracies against you? I’m still searching for the answer.

I never took the discus too seriously. But there were days.     I was 24 and not doing well in the shot-put. I was throwing 63 feet or so. So I was going to throw discus at the national championships in Dade County the next day. My coach, Ted Hayden of the University of Chicago Track Club, wanted me to throw discus. He thought it would help my career.

The next morning he came into my room. I was still sleeping. He said, “Are you competing in the discus today?”

I said, “Yes, I am.”

He said, “I think they started already.”

I remember it well because it was like an alarm clock, an alarm clock with red flags waving in my face.

I jumped up and stumbled around and got ready. I took the shuttle bus and arrived at the field. The officials had all the flights booked already, the scratches were made up. I was all ready to go, but nowhere to throw. I was out of luck. But at least I was out of bed. I watched the throwers and felt bad. John Cole set a record that day, 216 feet. I had never seen a discus thrown that far.

Then Mark Murro set a record in the javelin, 300 feet and change, I think. So it was a good day for American throwers. I just wasn’t part of it.

That was a huge blunder. There I was, poised for another day of competition at the national championships, for which only one percent of the upper one percent qualify. That means you are in high company, extremely high company of the extreme first order. I should have been up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for it, ready to throw until my arm fell off, but instead I was slacking like a teenager. I guess I already was on my way to becoming a prima donna.

Eighty percent of success is simply showing up, according to Woody Allen. I guess he meant showing up on time.

This sort of thing always happened to me in spite of my best efforts to fly right. But I’m not the only one. I could tell you about the track guys at the Olympics who missed their event because they were playing penny-ante poker, but I won’t.

My theory about these events is that they are a manifestation of the subconscious fear of success. It’s more common than you think. Fear of failure is always there, but anybody who fears to fail may never compete, because failure, as Michael Jordan said, is commonplace. Remember that he said he failed thousands of times in order to succeed. You just have to push the fear back. That can be done. I feared failure so much I would throw up before events.

But fear of success is different, more complex. It can make you do dumb things, like over sleep, pack the wrong shoes, drink too much the night before.

Because if you become successful, you have to keep on succeeding and keep up the image, the responsibility, the status, the prima donna-ship.

At the 1980 Olympic trials, I arrived on the field and reached in my bag to change into my throwing shoes. I pulled out two left ones. I was dumbfounded. I searched for the right one, but it wasn’t there. The night before I failed to prepare, as I was having a close encounter of the female kind. So when I was leaving for the trials, I just threw my stuff in a bag and headed out. Good thing I didn’t pull any female underwear out of there.

Not having the right shoes is a major concern. I ran around the field and found the Adidas representative. This was in Eugene, Ore., which was Nike Town at the time.  He was sort of hiding out, trying to look inconspicuous, but he had shoes for me, size 15. So I started throwing and made the team as an alternate.

Not that it mattered. President Carter cancelled U.S. participation in the Moscow games that year because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Thirty years later, guess where the Americanos are.

The left shoes were not the only issue that day. I had been battling the USOC for a right to compete after I had turned pro. It was still in question whether the USOC officials would allow me to throw. But I had a secret weapon in my bag besides the two left shoes – a cigar. My plan was to hold a sit-in in the throwing circle if they didn’t allow me to compete. I’d light up the cigar and just sit there, puffing my own personal protest, waiting for the gendarmes to haul me away. But they let me throw and I was kind of disappointed about not holding my protest. I would have made the newspapers again.

I don’t even want to talk about 1988 and the diarrhea. But let me tell you this, it was a most miserable day. First of all, the Olympic trials were in Indianapolis, which was within striking distance for my family. My mother, sister and her hubby and my nephew came to watch me attempt to get into the Seoul Olympics.

This was my swan song in competition. I was 43 years old. But I thought I could make the team. I threw 67’5” the week before at a meet in Los Gatos, Cal.

But those little conspiracies. I had to be the tour guide for my family. That was a distraction. We had a hotel room and I couldn’t get into the bathroom because three other people had to use it, too. It was hot and the female heptathletes were running around in their little sports bra outfits. Distracting.

I started eating ice cream sandwiches, drinking Gatorade, orange soda pop and all kinds of other crap.

We were driving to the trials and I was riding shotgun, my brother-in-law driving. I felt the volcanic eruption begin to rumble in my guts. I told him to drop me off at the front gate. I jumped out and made a bee line across flower beds and other no-trespassing areas toward the portable outhouses. A security guard tried to stop me. I told him, “Hey, I gotta go. Stay outta my way.”

And I went. It was miserable and hot in that plastic john. No toilet paper. I used my T-shirt and put on a singlet. I finished up and ran to the field. People had already taken their warm-ups. I was sweating and sick.

I got to the ring and could not get enough lift into my throws. I was wiped out and dazed. I did not get into the finals.  My throws sucked. I couldn’t get into the groove. I couldn’t even get my game face on.

Still, I came within an inch of getting into the finals and thought, if only I hadn’t had that gastric disturbance, that last ice cream sandwich, that can of orange pop. But shit happens and that was the end of competition for me.

I still think about those little human details that catch up to you and throw you off the world athletic stage. You end up in a lonely place, like that portable toilet.

I’m still not a morning person.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

SOMEONE WILL THROW 80 FEET BEFORE THE NEXT ICE AGE

There were no snowballs in Dallas and El Paso. I had left those behind in Lake Tahoe, where I revitalized an old motor skill and learned that throwing, rather than shoving, would be the path to enlightenment.

My path had been meandering hither and yon and around the block. I didn’t know it at the time, but that snowball fight was the beginning of my technical revolution. It was childlike in its simplicity.

I was becoming emancipated from the chains of habit and trying to get more throw into my put of the shot. I was becoming an artist. I wanted to get poetry into my throws, plus a lot more power. In essence, I wanted to become the poet laureate of the throwing circle and make, whirling, elegant and effortless throws. I began seeing it in my imagination.

All good throwers should try to do this, to break out of their long-held beliefs that only power and strength create the path to success. Throwers need to become fluid and flexible. And create fluidity and flexibility in their movements. We’re not only talking about the rotational throw, but the glide technique as well.

Let me give you an example. I had a group of middle school kids at a clinic. We had to start with the standing throw, then you taught them to throw running backwards. I started at the basics and that made me go back through the history of throwing and I reviewed all of the advances in throwing over the past century. In the early days, it was the hop-sideways-and-throw style. Then the O’Brien style which involved a 180 degree turn. Then the rotational throw, which requires 540 degrees of turning.

Now throwers are flirting with a double revolution, requiring 720 degrees of rotation. All of these techniques developed from the basic desire to throw not only farther, but finer, honing the human form into a dynamic combination of power, speed, and grace.

The glide technique won the last two Olympics because strength and power triumphed over the minor faults of the rotational throwers. The rotation is a complex and difficult technique to perfect and subject to flaws. Tiny imperfections shave distance off the throw.

But back to Dallas and El Paso. In February, 1976, the ABC Super Stars competition in Florida was over. I had been in the finals again there. In March, I went to Lake Tahoe and honed my snowball skills which led me to begin thinking, a dangerous thing.

A word about the Super Stars, I had been training extra hard during the winter to try to stay with O.J. Simpson in the 100 yard dash. He held the record of 9.6 for the show. I don’t think he’s running like that anymore.

With Bruce Jenner, I ran on grass without spikes for a 9.8 dash. That was faster than I ever thought I could be. I was running twice a week and lifting twice a week. I began to believe I could qualify not only for the Olympic weight lifting squad, but also for the sprint team. In the overhead press, I was lifting 450 for three reps.

I relate all this because I hope there is somebody out there saying, “Hey, I can do that. And I can do it even better.”  That’s how I started. I saw John McGrath throw rotational at the National championships one year and thought, “I can do that. And I can do it better.”

I was a little on the light side, so I started force feeding, going to the all-you-can eat buffets and brunches, and I went up to 265. It was tough training. My favorite food group was protein. I wanted to eat everything the vegetarians left on the serving table. My friends and I had competitions. I gained 11 pounds after one sitting. We were kicked out of one place because we picked all the shrimp and other delectables out of the dishes.

We actually had contests – beer, buffets and throwing. Who could drink the most beer, eat the most food, and throw the farthest. That was the kind of environment I was swimming in. The late Rick Bilder, one of my fellow contestants, gained 13 pounds after one buffet sitting.

After a stop in Dallas, I arrived in El Paso and that night Bilder and I went across the border to Juarez for relief from the stress of practice, practice, practice, and train, train, train. We began drinking shots of good tequila. I think it was 75 cents a shot, plus 25 cents for a beer. You could get a lot for a little and I began to stray from the path. Those were the days when Mexico was pretty safe and you didn’t have to worry about being kidnapped or shot and robbed. Just bombed on tequila.

Somehow we made our way back across the border. The next morning I had to give some demo throws for the media because you could get paid to do promotions for the International Track Association and I was up for them. At the salary I was making, I couldn’t afford not to do them. But that morning, I was not my usual grumpy self. I was a lot worse, puking in the shower.

Finally I staggered out to meet the press. The press was invited to write or broadcast a preview of the ITA meet. So there I was, feeling like I was going to heave and I don’t mean the shot. The tequila was oozing from my pores.  I just wanted to get it over with. I remember I was throwing almost 72 feet and they wanted more. I thought that was pretty good for exhibition for the rat pack journalists. But one of the TV stations was late, so they asked me to wait. But another wave of nausea swept over me and I took off before I puked in the throwing ring.

The meet promoters were yelling at me like I was an indentured servant. I told them, in a polite way, “F— you.”

Two days later we had the meet. The tequila had burned off by that time and I returned to my stronger, faster self. I started warming up. There was a log or telephone pole on the ground marking the end of the landing zone, which was 72 feet away.

I asked them to move it farther out, which they did, out to about 84 feet. There were people standing on the log, including my old training partner, Fred DiBernardi.

I threw 71 feet, then I threw 76 but fouled. Then 78-11 and fouled that. Then I knew I could throw 80 feet. The enlightenment kicked in. It felt like I was throwing a snowball, lofting it into a nice arc and it seemed to float away from my hand.

Out on the log, Fred and the others saw it coming and scrambled away like ants. The shot hit the log and bounced off. I fouled that throw, too, but in that instant I had a glimpse of the future of throwing. I knew then that someday, somewhere, someone would throw the shot 80 feet for the record book.

Looking back now, I think that I was just one party away from another world record. I just left a little too much in Juarez and maybe my balance was just a teeny-weeny bit off. A little less tequila and who knows what could have happened.

That was all in the last century and this is a new one. And I know that somebody will throw 80 feet before the next Ice Age. After El Paso, I managed to add to my portfolio by becoming a color commentator for ABC at the Montreal Olympics. They liked my bombastic personality. Yes, I became a rat pack journalist.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

SNOWBALLS AND THE ART OF THROWING

I was stoned, in love, and angry because I couldn’t ski. Not necessarily in that order.

Up at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe, it was close to heaven, a heaven of snow and ski babes. A friend of mine had a timeshare there and invited me to go skiing.  He was a dude from the neighborhood and we were living the California lifestyle. Or trying to.

At the time, I actually was living in Cupertino, 10445 Mary Avenue.  I’ll never forget that address. It was one of the best times of my life, and that is saying something. We had a swimming pool outside the patio door, sunshine, fine wine, cold beer, blender drinks, babes all around. Anything seemed possible.

Except for one thing. Skiing.  I had been to the Olympics, thrown heavy iron in world class events, competed against the best, but when it came to skiing, I was a babe in the woods.  I didn’t know it was going to scare the hell out of me and become one of my most memorable experiences. I can still recall it like it happened yesterday. Or the day before yesterday.

It became one of those scary events in which your life passes in front of your eyes as you are speeding down a mountain, and I knew I didn‘t want it to end just yet. My life, that is.

But more than a death-defying experience, the skiing weekend became a practical application for throwing. See? If you just put some thinking into it, you can turn almost any life experience into a practical application for throwing.

Drinking shots of tequila, for instance. Don’t do it. I had been to ABC’s Super Stars and was looking forward to the throwing season of 1976, which was just starting. I would be heading to throwing boot camp in Texas, which would include a night in Juarez, Mexico drinking cheap tequila. Don’t do it.

But at Squaw Valley it wasn’t the skiing that taught me anything about throwing. What I learned about throwing at Squaw Valley came from the snowball fight. It was more of a snowball ambush, really, which is the best kind of engagement.

It was my first skiing experience and my last. As a working class kid from the flatlands, I never had the money to go skiing. It was an expensive sport then and still is, more so today.

So when the opportunity arose, I said yes, not knowing what was in store for me. After all, I thought, it’s only playing around in the snow.  Then you put on armor-plate boots, strap long boards to them and hold short, pointed spears that are made for stabbing. If you think about it too much, you’d never do it, and it gave me a far greater appreciation for the downhill events in the Winter Olympics. Any place that has a ski run named Granite Chief is going to be formidable.

I overcame my fear of skiing by sublimating it through mild intoxicants, readily available everywhere in California without a prescription at that time. You could literally follow your nose to find some.  There was no war against illegal drugs back then and it seemed everyone was a lot calmer about the whole situation.

But back to the snowball ambush.  A friend and I rode the chair lift up and I then saw that I had to get off and ski somehow. I had not taken a lesson, so this was a challenge. I managed to do it without falling, but I did learn how to fall by myself, no problem.

I couldn’t stop, but I figured out how to maneuver my skis to make these big looping awkward turns from side to side. I was able to slow down and stop and at one point and took out my pipe and had a little marijuana moment. Why not? Everybody else was, including a lot of my training partners.

I remember I was wearing blue jeans and a thick sweater I bought in Norway before the Munich Olympics with a blue jean jacket over that.

I was looking very cowboy-ish, which was big at that time. Western films were still pretty big, so it set a western fashion trend and when in California, do as the Californians do.

As I paused on the hill, I did what came natural and started throwing. It seemed like the thing to do. I was up the mountain a bit and started lobbing snowballs high into the air, landing them right between the skis of other people. Some of them would stop and throw back, but they couldn’t touch me since I was uphill of them.

I relate this story because throwing snowballs helped my shot throwing. I don’t mean just blasting a snowball in the general direction of someone. I mean calculating, judging, and releasing toward a target. This can help in discovering what the effortless throw might feel like.  Throwing snowballs can teach you to throw rather than shove, which is what you want to work into your shot performance — throw rather than shove. It became the missing link between shoving and throwing and I began working on the speed of the shoulder movement and then led me to develop what I called the “Big Shoulder” technique. This separated the shoulder from the hip and led to faster shoulder motion. It was a fusion of shoving the shot and throwing it. It helped me let the nothingness into my throws.

It was a revelation that I could still wind up and throw something as smoothly as I could. There was a range of motion in it that connected with my inner throwing mojo and awoke that childhood memory of why and when we begin to throw things, like spoons and rubber duckies.

Most throwers remember throws in which they exerted great effort and as much power as they could muster in order to achieve their best throw. But the best throws don’t require a blast of power. Athletes often remember the adversity of the throw, but they don’t remember the effortless throw, the throw that seems to float up and out in a graceful line that could go on forever.

The other thing I learned that weekend is that no matter how strong or fearless, anybody can be terrified.

It’s the beginning of the throwing season, the dead of winter, and a good time to go out and throw some snowballs. Try throwing them with the South African technique.  Effortlessly.

 By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

The Golden Age of Throwing

I don’t think this is accurate. It would be more accurate to say that every decade is a golden age of throwing, with stars and champions. But there are decades that are more “golden” than others, perhaps. This became particularly true after Parry O’Brien revolutionized the shot-put event 6 decades ago by introducing his own technique. Let’s call it the “half revolution.”

Before O’Brien, throwers would stand in the circle facing the landing area. They would shift back on one foot and then step or hop forward and let loose the shot. O’Brien began his throw by facing 180 degrees away from the landing area and then spinning around into the throw at the front of the circle.

Extremely controversial! And extremely creative! This was a major breakthrough in Planet Shot-put, perhaps the biggest breakthrough since Greek soldiers threw rocks for fun and prizes during those long years on the beach at the siege of Troy. When O’Brien threw, it was as if aliens had suddenly landed and given a class on how they throw on their planet.

Using this method, O’Brien was able to break the world record 17 times (plus once in the discus) and became the first humanoid to put the 16-pound shot more than 60 feet. He won 116 consecutive meets. This technique became known as the “O’Brien Style” or the “O’Brien Glide.” He held the world record from 1953 to 1959, a truly remarkable feat.

The Perry O’Brien technique took us from the 50 foot range to the 60 foot range. Imagine the reaction of people accustomed to seeing throwers standing in the ring and lifting their left leg (or right leg for lefties), putting it down and throwing. Or facing 90 degrees away from the target area and taking one sidestep and throwing.

Suddenly, here is a thrower who starts near the rear of the circle, essentially turning his back to the direction of the throw, taking a shuffle step backwards, pivoting 180 degrees and heaving the shot – boom! It was the introduction of ballet into the boom. O’Brien also experimented with Yoga, something rarely associated with throwers back then. He understood that flexibility was a key element in being a good thrower.

Thus was ushered in the Modern Age of Throw. He introduced a number of things, including the psych-out. He would compose a game face and an intimidating attitude. He wouldn’t help his competitors with observations or comments, unlike me, with my helpful informational tips about technique to my fellow competitors who would listen. And then sometimes defeat me at a meet. I hated that, especially if they wouldn’t even buy me a beer afterward.

Since O’Brien, each decade has had throwers who have added technique, information and valuable lessons to the world of throwing. Let’s take Dallas Long for instance. Long was and is a brilliant man who became not only a dentist, but a physician. In the early 1960s he continued weightlifting in his training regime. O’Brien had introduced weightlifting to the American throwing crowd. Before that, weightlifting was not recommended for throwers and generally for not many other athletes unless you were a competitive weightlifter, and that was not a very popular sport. Nobody in professional football or basketball or baseball lifted weights back then. It was something that trolls did under bridges.

For American throwers, weightlifting changed everything. So Long took the brass ring from O’Brien to pass on a new standard. A biographical note: Long later achieved a different sort of fame, testifying in the Rodney King vs. Los Angeles Police case as an expert in emergency room medicine.

Another revolution occurred when the Soviets introduced the rotational throw in the early 1970s. Being a revolutionary myself, I took it, added my own dimensions and mutations to it and proceeded to have some great throwing years. The spin took throwing to another dimension, not only in distances and records, but in the very act of the throw. It became a much more dynamic event to watch, with these huge, strong individuals winding up and whirling across the ring, like catapults. It’s a long way from those soldiers at Troy throwing stones, as Homer alludes to.

In this age, O’Brien has become the legend that throwers want to be, including me. But it ain’t easy. If you’re out in the practice turf throwing, and it starts raining, and your feet are slipping, and you have to go dig the shot out of the mud and trot back to the circle, and the wind starts coming up and whips rain into your face and you keep throwing, then you know you are chasing your dream. You are following in the footsteps of the titans who set the standards before you.

Keep chasing your dreams, because the chase keeps you going and a dream can be enough. And when you can throw two inches farther than the next scoundrel, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

The Highland Games

As you probably already know, I competed in the Highland Games in Scotland as a professional, which meant that if you won first place, you might get $20 plus a nice bottle of Scotch. Of course, this was back in 1980, before our current depression, when $20 meant something.

We made no money back then as track and field professionals, so anything was good. Sometimes we would get various gifts – shoes, T-shirts, warm-ups, gear bags. All very nice, but guys like me wanted not only to compete for pride and honors, but also for some money, particularly if you didn’t want to have a job.

I had a job — throwing. But it was tough to make money that way.

It became a struggle to maintain your amateur status so you could compete on the U.S. national track and field circuit and go to the Olympic trials. That was the height of the throwing world.

This was the complete opposite of our free enterprise system, which tells you to use your talents and drive and make something of yourself so you can make a pile of cash. Somehow that didn’t apply to athletes, though the people who managed the athletes were paid handsomely.

We were lucky if, after an event, one of the promoters would slip us a small, plain brown envelope with $10 in it, or five pounds, or 500 lira, depending on where you were. It was as if we were getting some sort of contraband.

There was another reason for the surreptitious envelopes. The organizers didn’t want anybody to see them handing out money since there probably wasn’t enough money to go around.

One of my friends even changed his name so he could partake of the professional Highland Games and still maintain his amateur status in the U.S. He competed as J. D. Goldrick. His real name was Jim McGoldrick. He was a good buddy and we had the same birthday, June 1.

I drank a lot of his scotch. That was after I trained him to compete in the Highland Games and he went on to become a five-time world champion. As a result, he won a lot of Scotch, so I helped myself. He wasn’t much of a drinker, anyway.

He became one of my disciples in the Highland Games and was a discus thrower. He was an Olympic caliber athlete but never quite made the cut. But he was the man to beat in the Highland Games and he was the top dog for nearly 10 years. He had a 500 pound clean lift, all the way to his shoulders. So he was a bad mother.

In 1986, he invited me to compete in the Highland Games in Tempe, Arizona. This was almost at the end of my throwing career, but I went anyway. I had nothing to lose and the Highland Games are always fun. It’s like a party with these big, strong, gregarious people who are wearing kilts and drinking pints between the events and maybe a wee nip of Scotch whiskey for extra fortification and motivation. It’s a very colorful event with lots of great camaraderie.

There I was, competing for pride, pints and some good laughs and having an all-around great time when the right side of my body just started tightening up like a Burmese python had hold of my arm. I always thought the dry, desert climate of Arizona would be a preventive for that type of thing, but on this occasion it wasn’t.

The right side of my body became what the Scots would call “knackered.” I would have a wee pint of ale before the events for medicinal purposes, but even that didn’t help. I remember feeling the pain and that there wasn’t much money in what I was doing. For first place in an event, you might have won $20, 2nd place was maybe $17, somewhere in that range. With a sore right side, the prize money just added insult to injury.

Amazingly, I was winning after the first day. That included the half hundred weight for distance. Then the heavy stone, 22 pounds or more, depending on the size of the stone. Then you’d throw the telephone pole or caber, as it is known. Then you’d throw the heavy hammer. The heavy hammer weighed 22 pounds. I won that event. There were some other events, but suffice it to say I was ahead.

On the second day, you’d throw the lighter weights – a 16-pound hammer, then a quarter hundred weight for distance and so on. But my right shoulder and side were really starting to tighten up. I still had to throw the 56-pound weight over the bar for height. You have to swing the weight like a pendulum and heave it up and over. You need a limber arm and shoulder.

I threw for 16 feet. Then they asked me if I wanted to go for the world record, which was 17 feet 6 inches. Now, my right side was tightening up and I didn’t have any big throws left. I thought I might try it with my left hand, since my right was getting too stiff and sore.

There were spectators and other competitors standing around. I asked which arm I should use to break the record. They all said “Your left.” By gum, I thought, my left because I knew I would get a good shoulder roll to get the best trajectory. Just what I wanted. I wound up and let her fly. It went all the way up and skimmed over the bar and set a new world record at 17 feet, 6.5 inches. I saw their jaws drop. They thought they had picked the lesser of Brian Oldfield, but they were wrong. Not only to their chagrin, but to my amazement as well.

I instantly knew I would not have to buy any more beer that weekend. I cracked a big smile. They all thought I would fail because I threw with my left. But I had always practiced left-handed throws and exercises in the days when I couldn’t even spell ambidextrous. Now I can, of course, and that’s a personal victory, too.

The lessons here? Be ambidextrous in your throwing. And change your alias when you have to.

One more thing: I traveled among the biggest, strongest people in the world. Indestructible type people. And I became known among them and am still recognized. That is an honor and I remain humbled.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE IN THE EYES

The truth can be found in the eyes. Courage can be found in the eyes. Focus can be found in the eyes. Or unfocus. Hangovers can be found in the eyes. I know this for a fact.

I thought about all this after several people asked me about the throwing events at the London Olympics and why the gliders were doing better than the rotational throwers.  I think the reason is not complicated. I think it’s as simple as the thrower having a focal point as he or she comes across the circle.

The winners of the gold and silver – Tomasz Majewski of Poland and David Storl of Germany — were gliders and I could tell as they came across the circle that they were able to see the shot leave their hand. The rotational throwers seemed distracted — either by fear of fouling or by the force of their effort — and did not watch the launch of the shot from their hand.

This got me to thinking about a competition a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away with the inimitable Randy Matson. I offered him some advice. The advice was to release the ball higher, above the eyes, so he could see the shot as it left his hand. I gave him the advice because I’ve always wanted to help athletes improve, but with a selfish motive. Then I could then beat them when they got better to show them who the master was. Just kidding, sort of.

Matson said, “Thanks, Brian.” Then he followed the advice and sawed me off. Matson was a great thrower, but he was doing one little thing wrong and when he fixed it, he beat me and I told him how to do it. This proves the old theory that no good deed goes unpunished.

Have you ever seen a baseball pitcher take his eyes off the plate when he threw? Have you ever seen a quarterback take his eyes off the receiver and throw a completion? Have you seen a basketball player shoot a three pointer without looking at the basket? Even gymnasts look at the floor so they can calculate where they are going to land.

In throwing you have to have three things in the release: height, angle and speed. The rotational throwers I watched in the Olympics had the speed of release, but they did not throw above their eyes. That’s how it appeared to me.

They seemed to be turning their heads away from the throw and weren’t locked in to the finish of the throw.  When they push off and don’t see the shot leave their hand, they can’t keep their eye on the prize.

I always talk about envisioning that hole in the sky. That’s the target you want to throw at. That little hole in the sky. But I think the rotational throwers couldn’t see that imaginary opening in the sky. I think it was a matter too much force and not enough form. Though the intent was to accelerate the shot, the final effect was deceleration.

It may have been a case of choking. It looked like the rotational throwers might have been afraid of fouling and began looking down at the toe board. Remember, the television cameras are rolling. Everyone will see if you foul. It’ll be on YouTube. It’ll be on training films shown all over the world. No thrower wants to foul in the Olympics, though Storl fouled his last three throws. He wasn’t holding back one bit.

That being said, the throwing demons took over for the rotaters. One of them threw 73-3 a couple weeks before and then could only manage just over 69 feet at the Olympics.

Throwers can become a prisoner of the circle and are so afraid of fouling they turn their head to the left and look down to check themselves. But if you throw correctly with force and focus, you get the recoil, the shot pushing back, and that keeps you in the circle. That’s the perfect throw.

Some seemed to forget that too much force with wobbles in the form won’t win. They closed their eyes and blasted. They pulled away from the metal and over rotated, not from the ground up but from the head down. They were doing one thing wrong and didn’t have me to tell them how to fix it. They looked fast and powerful, but they appeared to be pulling away from the throw. That means the shot was starting to decelerate.

Those who question what I’m saying can take a DVD of the throws and go frame by frame. Majewski came up and over the top. All of his throws were world class because he watched the shot leave his hand on each won. He was confident.

He had a nice, long application of power. Some of the other throwers threw with the shot ahead of the hip. The makes for what I call, “Drift instead of lift.”  Then you have to try and make up for it and you get the wobblies and you come up short. The throwers are so big and strong that they think they can just power through it, but one tiny flaw in technique can mean two or three centimeters less.

The guy who threw it the bestest, threw it the most correctest. For all the coaches who don’t know this, you’re welcome.

 By Brian Oldfield and George Houde

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