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.