The Rotational Revolution

It has been a great spring for my disciples. They proved the revolution is complete and the future has arrived. I mean the revolution of the rotational throw and the overthrow of the glide technique.

I cite as an example the young athletes who threw shot in the Illinois boys state high school championships recently.

Rotational throwing was the clear choice for all Classes, 1A, 2A and 3A. The ratio may have been nearly 10 to 1.

For me to have this kind of impact with young people and to be remembered as a coach and mentor is an honor for me. I’m still leaving my mark on the world. And now, my disciples will leave theirs.

The top three high school shot-putters in Division 3A were part of my throwing brigade. I either coached them or helped their coach coach them. Two of them are twin brothers at Lake Park High School, Jermaine and Jeremy Kline. Jermaine took first with a throw of 66-05.75, a state record and Jeremy threw 61-09.5, taking third.

In between them was Igor Liokumovich, of Deerfield High School, with a throw of 62-00.25.
Those three guys also took the top three places in the discus. Jermaine first with 188-01, Jeremy second at 185-10, and Igor third with 181-10. The wind came from the left so it cut down on the distances, because Jermaine has thrown over 200 feet.

Igor is going to Harvard and probably will become some sort of genius. Jermaine and Jeremy are going to the University of South Carolina where they will do well, I‘m sure.
I have to mention Brian Bobek, a senior from Fremd High School in Palatine, and Owen Saldana, a senior from Waubonsie Valley in Aurora. Brian took fourth in shot-put with a throw of 61-05.50 and Owen fourth in the discus at 179-0. I consulted with Brian’s coach on throwing and he has been to our coaching clinics. I am in regular contact with Owen’s coach and have been for years.

So the rotation revolution is continuing and I want to take some credit for it. Though I did not invent the rotational shot-put throw, I like to think I put it in the limelight, gave it grit, gave it some respect. They laughed when I threw the shot with it until it hit them in their imagination. They laughed when I sat down to play the piano, until I picked it up and threw it at them.

Sing it with me: Somewhere over the rainbow, throw so high, somewhere over the rainbow, why or why can’t I? I wish I may I wish I might throw that shot right out of sight.

I showed the world in 1974 that the rotational throw was the path to the future. I worked on it for two years before using it in competition. I was in El Paso when I took my last six throws with the spin and they were all about 72 feet.

It is almost all we teach throwers at the John Powell Throwing Camps, in which I play the role of shot-put coach, or shot-put ogre as some think. This is the only place where a shot-putter can get coached by a 75 foot thrower, namely me.

Powell and I have been holding these camps for 25 years and we have had a lot of student athletes who have done very well in competitions at state, national and international levels.

Powell is an Olympic medalist and former national champion in the discus. Together we have coached thousands of throwers and many of them have been able to get athletic scholarships, one of the other primary reasons why throwing is a great sport.

We even have the 72-year-old state discus champion from Wyoming and the 13-year-old female middle school discus champion from Illinois. They both throw about 110 feet. So we take all people into the camps, young, old, even ogre types like me.

For those who can’t quite grasp the rotation, there is the Oldfield Shuffle, in which you take two fast steps backward, turn the feet and throw. I stole the two-step from George Woods, the silver medalist who used it and did quite well. I think he called it the Chicago Shuffle.

The spin is complicated, it is complex, and takes a lot of coordination. So if you can’t boogey, you throw the backward two-step. The first time I used it, I threw 69-6. And that was a piano.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 6/16/2011)

Stay Hungry, Keep Training and Go Into Battle Smiling

If I didn’t vomit before an important throwing meet, I would get extra nervous and think there was something wrong with me.

I would get so wound up before meets I would have to spew. It became a ritual and the more I spewed, the better I threw.

It was like getting into the warrior mode. The ancient Roman warriors would cut their hair short and they would fast because they believed a hungry warrior is the best warrior.

So I guess vomiting was a form of fasting for me. It would get me into battle mode. I always felt like it was a battle out there on the field with all of the other throwers, all of those Alpha types who wanted to rip your head off and throw that.

So I came to rely on the regurgitation to get me in the mode. It helped make me feel light and fast and edgy. That’s when I would feel, “I’m ready now. Ready to throw.”

Also, my breath could blister paint and make people flee. That was enjoyable.

I bring this up to illuminate how deeply emotional I was about throwing and how it was not only a physical event filled with fire and desire, but a metaphysical event that we don‘t entirely understand. We just know that for some of us it taps into our fourth dimension, that place where the spirit drives us to become more than we thought possible.

You can will yourself to improve, if you have a pathway with heart, as I did. But as you continue, the path gets narrower until it is only a thin line and it becomes more difficult to stay on. I know. I’ve walked that line and so must you, if you want to get to Valhalla.

I want to preach here a little on what I call the “Wiffle Ball” practice. It’s like playing baseball using the plastic bat and plastic ball with holes in it. The point of it is to simulate what happens during a game without needing a big field. In my Wiffle practice, I would use shots of various weights and set up scenarios that I might encounter at the big meet. It was a rehearsal. I would tell myself things like, “Now you have to throw just a little that-away because there is a breeze coming from the left.”

Or, “I’m going to have to slow down this rotation a bit to get the timing right.“ Or speed up the rotation to get the timing.

All life is a play and we must rehearse our roles, especially throwers. I never used a 16 pound shot to practice, except when I was on the road. At home I would use a variety of weights – 20, 19, 15, 14, 13, down to 8 pounds. This technique expands your scope. It’s like stretching your imagination.

I once threw a 35 pound shot 35 feet. That’s like throwing a 16 pounder 70 feet. The idea being that if you stretch your imagination, you can enlarge your field of dreams.

Another technique is to throw with a partner. You use an 18 pound shot and the partner throws with a lighter shot. Then you switch. You can make it a competition. If you have a training partner who can’t throw as far, you give yourself a handicap. He or she gets the light shot. You take the heavy shot. You let them throw farther. It builds them up, gives them confidence, makes them better throwers. And when they get better, you get better.

Throwing takes hours and hours of lonely training, years of study, practice and competition, weight lifting, running, swimming. And you must train your smile, too. When you compete, you want to have a smile on your face. Or at least a face that’s grimace-free. It’s the effortless face, part of the effortless throw. Smile and think about how light the shot feels.

It’s easy to over-train though. The secret is to know when to let up. A lot of guys would lift weights up to the day before a meet. I would hear them say things like, “Got my personal best lift yesterday.” Then they would fall short in the throws because they left their best stuff in the gym.

I have an example from ancient history. In 1972, I was competing at the national championships in Spokane, Wash. Randy Matson took top honors with a throw of 69-6. I came in third. Reporters asked him what he was going to do to prepare for the Olympic trials that were coming up in Eugene, Ore. He said he was going to go home and do more weight lifting.

I remember smiling and thinking to myself, “Get yourself nice and tight. Just keep lifting and be a two dimensional thrower. Me, I’m going to stay loose.”

I went down to Portland, Ore., and did a meet with my buddies from the University of Chicago Track Club against the Pacific Coast Track Club. While Matson was in the gym cranking up the weights, I was out there throwing and staying loose, doing back flips and goofing around, keeping a smile on my face.

I was still feeding the muscles, but I was also feeding the psyche, enjoying the moment, which is what throwing is about, after all. It was two weeks before the Olympic trials.

Then at the trials, I simply let it all hang out and won a spot on the team, beating out Matson the gold medalist from 1968. I credit my philosophy of maintaining an equilibrium between strength, flexibility and balance for the victory.

I threw up before the competition, of course. Stay hungry, my friends.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 5/31/2011)

Getting Ready for the Championships

It’s spring and throwers should be training hard for their meets. The championships are just around the corner. Throwers will be kissing their lucky totems, girding their loins and pumping iron like maniacs.

It will be the strongest of the strong that ascend to the podium under the formula: citius, fortius, altius. That’s faster, stronger, and higher, the old Olympic credo.

There’s nothing wrong with having a lucky charm or two and preparing mentally and physically for the contests. But a word of warning from Brian the Wise: Don’t over-wrought yourself.

True, it is time to reduce reps and lift heavy for that ultimate throw that will get you into the finals. But it’s also time for doing those 50 or 100 yard sprints and 25 laps in the pool. It’s time to bring out the finesse in your athlete, not just the musclehead. It’s time to work on the nuances.

One of the problems with throwers is that we spend a lot of time building up our strength, trying to pack all of our power into a one-second throw of a heavy shot, discus, hammer or javelin. The preparation is long and difficult and the actual event is brief. We get all wound up, wired up, tightened up. That’s when the effortless throw is out of reach.

What is needed is elegance, balance, tempo. The antidote for tightness of being? Let the nothingness into your shots, as they say in golf. Easy to say, difficult to do. Stay loose to throw with juice, is what I say.

We want to incorporate spatial abilities, grace and power which will transform your throwing into the art form it should be. I note that Rudolf Supko, a throwing coach in Australia, says that a feel for rhythm and some musical ability or dancing skills can help your throwing. That’s how grace, elegance and flexibility can be worked into your
come in.

Weightlifting is only part of becoming the thrower you want to be. The thing I found out is that your own strength can inhibit you. I threw against people who were stronger than me, but I could out throw them. It is not only strength, but it is how much you can accelerate your strength.

A good example is Udo Beyer who had a standing throw of 72-2 feet and a dynamic throw of 74-4. He was almost as strong in his standing throw as he was in his dynamic throw, which was a glide. So he didn’t add much to his throw by moving through the ring.

My best standing throw was 65 feet. But I could add 10 feet to that with my dynamic throw. This means I was faster at the release. Conclusion: I had more acceleration over a longer period of time and more bang for the buck.

Beyer got stronger and bigger faster than any thrower I ever knew. But his athletic ability didn’t increase exponentially with his strength.

Olympian George Woods had a formula that said for every 20 pounds you added to the bench press you could throw a foot further. It worked for Woods, he won two silver medals. I found that I could increase my throw a foot for every 15 additional pounds on the overhead push press, where you drive up on your toes at the end.

This is somewhat like rocket science: angle of release plus speed of release plus thrust equal trajectory and distance. The laws of physics apply everywhere.

I like Supko’s thoughts about music and dancing and I interpret them as a call to be light on your feet. When you are light on your feet, you can cover X distance faster, thus your acceleration through the ring is greater. Besides, dancing is good for you in general. I always loved to dance and once was part owner of a disco joint in California. But that’s another story.

My recommendations to let the nothingness into your shots:

  • Swim – I always swam whenever I could. It’s soothing and loosens you up.
  • Run – Sprints for foot speed. I found that sprints helped my footwork, not to mention overall feelings of well-being caused by endorphin release.
  • Golf – Practice your swing. This is a good way to loosen your shoulders. I compare the effortless throw we strive for to the effortless golf swing that the great golfers have.
  • Yoga – Great for flexibility and balance. Get a guru.
  • Gymnastics – Chin-ups for strength and endurance, hand stand push-ups for overhead strength.
  • Dance – I would try some ballroom dancing as well as the latest night club styles.

You never know. You might make it to “Dancing with the Stars.” I know I would have.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 5/7/2011)

Fear and Loathing in L.A. Part II

Revenge is a dish they say is best served up cold, but it was hot in Los Angeles in the summer of 1984 and you could almost smell the asphalt melting.

I was out for payback in the City of Angels against my arch-nemesis, the United States Olympic Committee. I had been locked in battle with the USOC over my amateur status for years and the committee wanted me to fade into the sunset with the rest of the aging Olympians who had rebelled against its athletic tyranny.

The committee members didn’t want to see my beautiful mug anywhere around the Olympics in LA. I was the bad boy they hated. But I didn’t hate the committee members. I just despised their rulings that kept me out of the Games even after I had won the hearts and minds of nearly everyone else.

A newspaper columnist wrote that the things the USOC had to fear that year was a terrorist attack on the games, traffic congestion, the Soviet Union, and me. I was happy to be on the short list, even if I was the unholy infidel, ranked right up there with the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union, which empire boycotted the LA games because the US had boycotted the Moscow games in 1980.

The committee even had their four star general call me up in LA. “Couldn’t you just leave town and stop scaring the children?” is basically what he asked me, or words to that effect, anyway.

“I’m as American as anybody else, with a God-given right to compete and pursue the happiness of the throwing sports,” is what I told him. Or words to that effect.

A short recap is in order. In 1972 I got on the dishonor roll of the USOC after I was caught on film smoking a cigarette at the Olympic trials. The photo made the papers and put me on the map. I made the team, headed for Munich, then almost got kicked off it for going AWOL at training camp in Oslo. The things we do for women.

In 1973 I joined the professional International Track Association. After that, the USOC ruled that I was no longer an amateur, but a professional athlete and therefore unworthy of competing for my country at the Olympics.

In 1976, I was still throwing for the ITA, but it went defunct that year. The Montreal Olympics was coming up. I was ineligible as a professional, of course. It sounds totally inane now, being ineligible because you make a living from your sport and somehow that makes you impure and unworthy, but that’s the way it was.

I was still in ABC’s Superstars, which was a reality show for famous athletes competing against each other in various events. It was only four days out of the entire year, so it wasn‘t a long term deal. But the Superstars show got me to Montreal after sportscaster Keith Jackson of ABC asked me to be a commentator for the games. I happily accepted. I was on national television. I was wined and dined. And I still was a thorn in the foot of the Olympic committee.

By 1980, my dream of going to the Olympics was still alive. After a court battle with the USOC, a federal judge ruled that I, along with my ITA pals, could compete. Then President Carter cancelled American participation in the Moscow games. But at least I was back in the land of eligibility for amateur games. So I thought.

In 1984, I was still dreaming the big dream. I had won the Gran Prix, a series of competitions sponsored by The Athletic Congress to showcase track and field athletes. It showed them I still was one of the best athletes in the country and I was almost 40.

I was throwing really well. I dominated my event in the series, including the greatest meet in the history of the shot-put up to that time. There were five throwers who could heave a 16-pound shot more than 70 feet. That had never happened before.

Besides me, there was Mike Carter, a silver medalist, Dave Laut, a fourth place Olympian, NCAA champion John Brenner, and Michael Lehman. We were throwing like there was no tomorrow and they had me until I launched one 72 feet 9.25 inches. That broke them.

With my success in the Gran Prix, I signaled my intention to go to the Olympic trials in LA. The USOC filed a motion to stop me. I went to court. I had beat the USOC in court several times already, so I thought I would get a hall pass. Then the lawyers for the USOC asked for a continuance to prepare their case. The judge granted one until Aug. 26. That happened to be the day of closing ceremonies for the Olympics.

Screwed again.

I wasn’t done yet, however. Don Franken, a talent agent, called. He had a part for me in a television commercial for Kodak film. Franken’s specialty was working with high profile athletes and he signed me on.

Kodak was the official film that year of the US Track and Field Team. The idea of the commercial was to show athletes competing in events while wearing red tank tops with “USA” on them. The outfits made it appear as if you were on the Olympic team.

It was a one minute spot that would run during the Olympic trials and then the Olympics on network television. They used other athletes as well as actors. I was on screen for several seconds, warming up, throwing and, at the end, raising my hands in triumph, a hallelujah salute.

My big, smiling mug was right there for the whole nation to see on prime time television with a big USA on my chest. I think I made $10,000 from it, but the money was incidental to me. I got more visibility as a shot-putter from that commercial than any other thrower in history.

I only wish I could have thumbed my nose at the USOC at the end because you can still find that commercial on YouTube.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 3/19/2011)

Fear and Loathing in L.A.

A Los Angeles Times columnist wrote that the US Olympic Committee had only four things to fear at the 1984 L.A. games. The Soviet Union, traffic congestion, terrorism, and yours truly, Brian O., not necessarily in that order.

I considered it a high honor to be thought of so seriously. It was as if I was the anti-Christ. Not bad for a kid from Elgin.

I was still locked in battle with the USOC, which had tried to keep me from competing ever since they tried to kick me off the team in 1972. The fact that I, along with a number of other Olympians, had joined a professional track and field association, of which the pay was miniscule, made us persona non grata to the USOC. After being refused for the 1976 Olympics, I girded my loins for battle. By 1984, it was a 12 year war for me, something for the history books. Thus the columnist’s keen observation.

It was a seesaw war. I would win — I should say my fellow Olympian allies, Steve Smith, John Smith, and others — would win a legal battle, or some sort of symbolic victory over the USOC. Then the USOC would re-group, counter-attack and try to throw us out of competition by the scruff of our necks or the seat of our pants. Take your pick. I could hear them calling after us, “And don’t come back!”

After 12 years, battle fatigue starts setting in. All they had to do was to wait me out and I would eventually fade away. I think that’s what their strategy was. But I wasn’t quite ready to wave the white flag in 1984. I’m still not, really.

The USOC had reason to fear. We had wrestled the American committee to the dirt in 1980, legally that is, and won the right to try out for the team and compete. I was ready at that time. I was training hard. I was throwing like a maniac. But the hated curse continued to dog me. The Olympics were going to be held in Moscow and President Carter cancelled the US participation because the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan. I had a ticket to the dance and the dance was cancelled.

So the Americans stayed home and pretended to be morally superior. But now who’s in Afghanistan?

Guess where American athletes were headed in 1981, the very next year? Leningrad, now known by its original name of St. Petersburg. The Athletic Congress (TAC), which was the new name of the Amateur Athletic Union, sent a track and field team to an international meet in Leningrad. It was TAC‘s way of thumbing its nose at Carter‘s decision to skip the Moscow Olympics. I was invited to go.

The USOC then invited me to participate in its sports festival in Syracuse N.Y., and paid my way home. I came back from Leningrad with Steve Smith, the pole vaulter, and I thought they actually wanted me to compete, but they really set a trap for Smith and me. When we got there, the USOC changed its mind and said we couldn’t compete because we had turned pro with the International Track Association, which went defunct in 1976.

The committee had its lawyers — Dewey, Cheatem and Howe — ready to do battle, and we brought in our California lawyers, Pillsbury, Pillsbury and Pillsbury. Smith and I were the only ones left in the battle with the USOC. Jim Ryun had been part of our team, but I don’t think he wanted to compete at that point anymore and he faded into the background.

Our lawyers found a sympathetic federal judge in Syracuse who was angered by Dewey, Cheatem and Howe, which firm had argued that we were bad boys and shouldn’t be allowed to compete. The judge ruled that we had to be allowed to compete, upholding the basic God-given right that men be allowed to throw and compete. Women, too.

Besides, I had a letter from John Holt, the president of the IAAF, saying I was eligible for any and all competitions. So the courts were on my side, the international athletic organizations were on my side, but the United States Olympic Committee was still against me.

But the judge had waved the magic legal wand and I was allowed to compete in Syracuse for the USOC. It was really anti-climatic after Leningrad and the court battle. I was exhausted from the trip to Russia and from all the nerve-wracking legal wrangling. I had a bad day with a throw of 68 feet and change. I was war weary. I needed to withdraw from the field and regroup.

By 1982, my philosophy was to stay in training and not compete. I was having back trouble, the same problem that had nagged me since I was a kid, and I didn’t want to aggravate it. Then, too, if you compete and come up with an injury, you are on bad paper, particularly if you are already on the politically injured reserve list, which, of course, I was. So you always tried to avoid being physically injured in front of the coaches and officials, especially those looking for any excuse to keep you off the team and the sacred ground of USOC competition.

In 1983, my Olympic dream was still alive, but I could feel it slipping away. I would be 39 years old in 1984 and that’s ancient for a shot-putter. But the dream where I stand in the Olympic Stadium and heave the shot so far and high it splits the sky could still become a reality, I thought. I set out on the road to Olympic glory again.

Part of my motivation was to rub the faces of the Olympic committee in the dirt with the court decision. But mostly it was that dream of standing in the Olympic stadium before cheering throngs and throwing the shot as hard and furiously as I possible.

There still was fire in my belly. I still wanted to break the sky. I wanted to go to Los Angeles and make the USOC quake and the earth tremble. I knew I had to go as soon as they told me I couldn’t.

NEXT: My Kodak moment at the 1984 Olympics, when I become the most visible athlete around.

By Brian Oldfield and George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 2/16/2011)

Very Bad Example

Sports Illustrated never ran a picture of me smoking a cigarette, contrary to popular opinion. It was Newsweek, which at that time was a widely read national news magazine.

A Sports Illustrated reporter did write about me smoking during the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon in 1972. There I was, lounging on the field, watching the activities, smoking a cigarette. This was, of course, like setting your pants on fire, or somebody else’s.

But I wasn’t the only one. They were half a dozen of us lounging around and a lot of the U.S. team members smoked at that time. Of course, almost all of the Europeans smoked back then, so we weren’t alone. I would have to say about 50 percent of the U.S. track and field team smoked, if not on the field, then at the bar later that night. It was not uncommon. I learned not to take cigarettes to the apres meet parties, because if you opened a pack, people would beg from you. They’d be gone in no time flat. I remember a lot of the track guys would smoke cigarettes, and drink gin and Coke, which they called “Do It Fluid.” They’d get totally wired.

On that day in Eugene, the throwers were on the field, waiting for their flight. Somebody had a pack of Marlboros, perhaps it was me, and some of us lit up. As I was reclining on the grass with a cigarette in my hand, a photographer caught me. The photo ended up in Newsweek and was the talk of the sporting world. Here was an Olympic hopeful, a person who was supposed to be a role model, an athletic hero, a clean living Boy Scout kind of guy, smoking cigarettes at the trials. You would have thought I was lighting up an opium pipe.

It proves my theory that I have been perceived as a very good bad example. I’ve been held up as one of the best bad examples by very excellent people. The various members of the International Olympic Committee. Various members of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Members of the media. Coaches. High school teachers. Ex-girlfriends. It’s a record of which I’m rather proud. I was the best bad example I can think of.

I think the cigarette picture was one of the best examples of being a bad example. It was one of those, “Look at this naughty boy” type pictures, “don‘t be like him.” Though Sports Illustrated did not run a photo of me smoking, the writer did call me a “cigarette-puffing whackadoo” that year. But a lot of the track and field athletes, as well as other competitors, smoked cigarettes.

How it was that I was the only one to be painted as a cigarette smoking whackadoo out of all those who were lighting up is an illustration of how rat pack sports journalists came after me for not being a model of Olympian — quiet, strong, loyal, obedient, humble, courageous. But I wasn’t afraid of letting people know that I smoked.

I bring this up because it is illustrative of how fast things change. Smoking is really out of bounds now. You’ll never see an athlete light up in the infield at the U.S. Olympic trials again. It might seem strange that athletes would smoke, but it was the 70s and students would smoke in college classrooms back then. Some of the professors, too. Most journalists smoked. You walked into a newsroom and it was like a damn gas chamber. Intellectuals smoked. Doctors smoked. Priests smoked. The tables are completely turned now, and it seems almost perverse to light up.

But I nearly went down in flames because of that photo. The U.S. Olympic coaches did not want their athletes smoking in public. It was the beginning of Bill Bowerman’s efforts to expel me from the Olympic squad. He was head coach of the U.S. track and field team and a co-founder of Nike. He already was a legend in the track and field world. After I had won a spot on the team, he called and said I had embarrassed the U.S. committee because I was smoking right in front of God and everybody.

“What am I going to do with you?” he asked me. He was a pretty straight arrow and was trying to make me feel guilty. He wanted reassurance that I wouldn’t go around flaunting my cigarette smoking in public, as if it was some sort of venereal disease.

I told him I had quit smoking, that it didn’t mean anything to me and he shouldn’t be upset. I said being in the Olympics was a good reason to quit smoking.

“If that isn’t a good reason, what is?” I asked him.

But I don’t think he believed me. He told me a story about the 9.5 sprinter he had that smoked. Bowerman said he got the guy to quit smoking, but then the kid gained so much weight he never ran a 9.5 again. We laughed. But I could tell he was really worried.

“If you win a medal, you won’t go up to the awards stand smoking a cigarette, will you?” he asked.

I told him no. “I would never do that. I can’t believe that you would think I would do that,” I said.

That seemed to satisfy him. I did stop smoking for a while, but have smoked on and off for years. One time I lit up in front of Chevy Chase at a resort in Orange County, California. It was 1980. By that time I had become well known as an international athlete. Chase went over to Dave Laut, another famous thrower who was there.

I remember Chase said to Laut, “Look at Oldfield. What is he doing smoking a cigarette?”
Dave lit up a cigarette and said to Chase, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?”

Chase didn’t ask me. He didn’t have anything else to say after Laut lit up. Chase was speechless, an unusual state for him.

In any case, that was how I was introduced to the larger American public, a photo of me at the Olympic trials smoking a cigarette, as if I was some sort of alien from another planet. It was a measure of how hypocritical the media can be, because most of the reporters and writers I knew smoked like fiends and drank like fish.

But I did become a non-smoking “whackadoo” and threw 75 feet. And I was from another planet — the Planet Brian. Just try to be like me. I dare you.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 1/18/2011)

Invitation from Da Bears Part II

It was on a flight back from Middle Tennessee State University that I met a scout for the Central Division teams of the National Football League. During our conversation, I impressed him with my football abilities, having played a total of one scrimmage. I was a walk-on at MTSU, but at 6’5″ and 235 pounds was the right size to play football. So I was long on potential, but a little short on experience.

I had played at Elgin High School a couple of years, but I was not one of the favored. I was mostly un-favored, setting a pattern for the rest of my life. My college career was even shorter. When I showed up to play at MTSU in fall, they handed me a practice uniform, pads, a helmet, and spikes and put me in at defensive tackle. Then they had me hold a practice dummy for the rest of the season.

But I made the spring scrimmage lineup. They tried running a lot of stuff around and over me, but I was pretty good. I had speed, for one thing, and I was tall and could block passes. But I hated wearing the pads. It made me feel like I was locked in a straight jacket, which many of my elementary and secondary education teachers would have liked.
But when I got a call from the scout inviting me to a tryout with the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, I eagerly accepted.

It was the end of June and the weather was warm. I figured the Bears would be a professional operation and they would issue me equipment to use, so I didn’t bother to take a pair of spikes. Mine were still at MTSU, anyway.

When I got to Soldier Field for the audition, I was wearing gym shorts, T-shirt and PF Flyer high tops. They didn’t have a pair of size 15 boots for me to use, so I was the odd man out. Everyone else had brought their spikes, apparently. I had assumed that a pro football team would have a room full of boots and other equipment for the hamburger squad. But no such luck.

What I needed were my old “Jim Thorpes,” which I had acquired in high school. I called them that because Jim Thorpe was a personal hero, an amazing athlete who was stripped of his Olympic medals because he had made a couple of bucks playing baseball.

The shoes actually came from a guy who had worn them at the University of Notre Dame. How Elgin high school had obtained them I don’t know. The hand-me-downs became my magic shoes and I took them to MTSU. They weren’t really magic, but if you believe something has magical properties, then you get some mojo going. Some people call that imagination. Other people call it religion.

The Soldier Field turf was soft and mushy, just like it is now, and I could have used my Jim Thorpes. Abe Gibron was the coach then and he was one of those little tough guys who espoused all the right athletic platitudes. When I walked into the locker room, there he was in a huddle with some of his assistant coaches. He turned to me and said, “Are you Polish?”

I didn’t know what to think. Did I look like I just got off the boat? Did I have a sausage hanging out of a pocket? A kielbasa for a nose? I didn’t know what to say, so I tried being polite. I said, “Should I have knocked first?”

That cracked them up. Then Gibron said, “No, we had a Polish kid and he was really good.”

“Oh,” I said. “No, I’m not Polish.”

Then one of the assistants began jabbering at me and jumped down and did 50 one-armed pushups, in an apparent attempt to impress me. I just watched and thought, Where am I? Is this Oz? Planet Machismo?

There was a group of about 60 wannabe pro football players trying to make the cut. The coaches took us out on the field for sprints and drills. It was a no-contact event so we weren’t wearing equipment. Even with my Flyers, I remember running the 40 yard dash in 5 seconds flat. There was a running back out there they said ran it in 4.1, but I doubted that. I kept my big mouth shut, however. I didn’t want them to know I was a troublemaker before the tryout was over.

There was a lot of yelling and the line coach was screaming “I don’t want to see anyone walking out here today.” I think that was the biggest pep talk we got besides the push-ups, which was mostly grunting. They had us do those sideways karaoke drills and the assistant coach would hold up one hand and yell, “How many fingers do you see?” You were supposed to be able to count his fingers and focus on what else was happening on the field, like the cheerleaders. I was really good at that.

I was proud of myself at the time. I had run well and could count the fingers on the coach’s hand while I was running sideways, backward and forward. I didn’t need any spikes, either.
But I began to think, if this was the window of opportunity, it was starting to become opaque. I began to feel like I was joining the circus, not an NFL team. You had Gibron, the ringmaster, and the lion tamers, who were the assistant coaches. I half expected old Abe to pick up a chair and whip and have us jump through flaming hoops, then do a bunch of one-armed pushups.

I had a bad reaction to the coaches. You felt like a piece of meat. It was debasing, yelling at you like you were a dirt bag and in boot camp. I never liked my father talking to me like that, giving orders and yelling. I guess that’s show biz, but I wasn’t impressed by any of it.
I must have impressed them, however, because at the end of the day, they offered me a year contract — $13,000. I had to think about it because I didn’t have the football dream and I knew that I wasn’t a team player. I was an unsocialized sociopath. I didn’t need a team. I was a team all by myself. And I was an existentialist. I still don’t know exactly what that means, but it seems to fit.

So, I declined to sign with the Bears. I still have a copy of the contract. It’s in the file marked “Hamburger Squad.”

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 12/6/2010)

Invitation from Da Bears

I was flying from Nashville on a trip back to Chicago from Middle Tennessee State College and happened to sit next to a scout for the Central Division NFL football teams. He scouted college talent for the Bears, the Packers, the Vikings, the Lions and the Cardinals. This latter team was still in St. Louis at that time.

It was one of those serendipitous moments that held great portent. What luck! Sitting next to a guy who could get me a tryout with professional football teams. At that time, the NFL wasn’t as rich as it is now and he was crammed in next to me in coach class in a turbo prop airliner. The seats were so small I almost needed a shoehorn to get in and out of them.

It was 1969 and while football was popular, it had not yet achieved the Super Power status it has now. I didn’t know who he was until we began talking about sports. I may have started the conversation by telling him what a great thrower I was and that soon I would be holding the world in my hand, as if it were a 16-pound shot. I also told him that I had played in a spring football scrimmage for the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders as a defensive end and was pretty solid, if not outright spectacular.

I told him I had wanted to be a tight end, because I could out-run and out- jump almost everyone on the team and had big, soft hands just made to catch footballs. I wasn’t bragging, just giving him the facts as I saw them. But they had put me at defensive end and there I was, trying to slam people to the ground, which I did to good effect.

I got a good look at all the offenses the Blue Raiders had and learned to read plays. That developed my peripheral vision so when they tried to run everything over me like I was a sack of potatoes, they couldn’t get much by me. One of the quarterbacks was Teddy Morris, now in the Blue Raiders Hall of Fame.

I got pretty good and enjoyed knocking the offense around. So I was telling the NFL scout some of the highlights of the game, including mine. One time they had tried to do a reverse and I got faked out and so I dove back and I got one finger under the runner’s shoulder pads up around his neck. His legs ran out from under him and I got him with a one-finger tackle. That’s a horse collar and it’s illegal now. They ran options and off-tackle plays, but they couldn’t get through me.

The scout said he would try to arrange a tryout for me with the Chicago Bears in summer training camp. Even the possibility of going to training camp with an NFL team was exciting and for a lot of athletes landing a tryout would be like finding the Holy Grail and selling it on eBay for big bucks.

I got off the plane thinking, man, I might become a professional football player. But then I thought, nah, nothing’s going to happen. But it did. And I’ll tell you about it in my next blog.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 11/18/2010)

Training Commences

It is time to begin to prepare to commence. By now, you should have started your training program for the upcoming track and field season. You should be getting up in the morning with fire in your belly and that deep longing to get out on the field of play and give it your all, to run faster, jump higher, throw stronger. Citius, altius, fortius, the Olympic creed.

Think about the moment when you pick up the shot and walk to the ring, or get set in the starter blocks, or heft that vaulting pole. You live for that moment.

I always set Oct. 1 as the date to start the first of the four 12-week cycles that I would use to train. That date gives you three months to prepare for the start of the indoor season, which I always pegged at somewhere around New Year’s Day. There are the invitational meets, or the all-comers meets, the informal meets between you and your buddies, and the holiday meets. You can do them all and you work off that holiday caloric intake.

I broke my training into 12-week cycles because it made things easier to organize and see how much progress is being made. Two things I strived for: Train as if you’re going to the Olympic trials and keep detailed records of your program. I still have a lot of my old training notebooks. By writing things down, you can see how much progress you make and gauge yourself. You can predict your outcome and then make a competition with yourself to achieve that outcome. By documenting it, your passion for throwing (or running or jumping or lifting or whatever) becomes a science. Conversely, the science can become part of the passion.

A lot of my tips are in my training video, “Shot-putting with the Big O.” You can order one on my website.

I experimented a lot when I began Olympic style lifting and found that twice a week was the right amount of strength training. I mixed it with swimming, bicycling and lounging, which I am really good at.

Whatever your physical build, running is an important element for throwers. It develops foot speed and endurance. I began by working on my stride until I could two-step the five yard lines on a football field. Then I just started stepping up the pace until I could run the 100 yards in 10 seconds, or 40 steps. You may not have the tools to run that fast, but you can learn to run with form. What is important is that you set a goal for your running,whether you are doing 100 meter striders or 40 yard dashes, always trying to improve your time. If you ran the 40 yard dash in five or six seconds, the next time try to get it down by a quarter of a second. Keep notes so you can always try to surpass your previous best time.

Swimming helped me. I swam as much as possible. It was soothing and therapeutic and kept you loose after workouts. It helps get rid of lactic acid buildup.

Some of my training partners say that working out with me was like going to the Olympic trials. It was hell-bent, balls-out training in which we urged each other on to throw farther, jump higher, be stronger. It was stressful and difficult to keep up that pressure for 48 weeks a year. So I swam and let the dreams float to the surface.

And those dreams can carry you to where you want to be.

by Brian Oldfield with George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 10/22/2010)


To separate or not to separate, that is the question. And it’s a damn good question these days, one being tossed around throwing circles worldwide.

Separation is a technique to get torque into your throw. Torque can add lift and distance. Those are good things. Torque helps you throw the shot, rather than push or shove it. But separation is a technique that has to be developed through core strength training plus flexibility. Too much strength training locks up your core. Too little and you don’t have the strength to launch the shot to the best effect.

People are having trouble deciding whether to use separation because the thrower must strike the right balance between strength and flexibility, the keys to success.

The idea of separation is to get under and in front of the shot. By “in front” I mean that the upper body is corkscrewed to the rear and lowered, leaving the remainder of the body in front of the shot, which should be near the clavicle and behind the ear. If you dropped the shot from this position it would fall at the back of your foot. This is a windup much like a discus windup with some modification due to the greater weight of the object involved. I developed my ideas about torque from the discus throw and tried to incorporate them into throwing the shot. After a lot of experimentation, trials and tribulation, those ideas paid off in what people dubbed the “Oldfield Spin.” I didn‘t invent the rotational throw, however. I just perfected it. I gave it grit and made it famous.

My glide technique did not use a lot of separation, if any. The power comes from getting low and turning the entire body as a single unit. Then the lift from the legs and the shove of the shot from the shoulder and arm.

I used the glide in the Olympics, but a year later I injured my knee and had to develop a different technique. I tried the rotational throw, which I first saw in 1968 when John McGrath used it.

If you look at the throw as a logistical and ballistic event, then the rotational throw tends to make more sense. You have to move the shot from the back of the ring to the front of the ring with speed. The rotational throw gets the object — the shot — moving faster than the glide technique. At least I think it does, mainly because you are not only adding torque, you are sprinting through the circle. So as the torque accelerates the shot inside the ring, the actual throw then accelerates the shot more. It may not add much acceleration, but in an event in which the winning throw may be a centimeter farther, any added impetus is important.

Length is always so important, isn’t it?

The best throwers will blend drive, torque, and lift. Without the torque, you only have the drive and lift. It worked for me.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 9/17/2010)