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