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

(Find Brian on Facebook)

Those Little Mistakes That Can Lead to the Big Downfall

It’s those little mistakes athletes make that can lead to defeat and humiliation. Sometimes the humiliation actually precedes the defeat and you have humiliation to the second power after the defeat. They don’t have to be mistakes on the field or in the throw or run or swim. It’s the mistakes you make before the competition that can ambush you, like inviting your family to the event.

That’s how I plotted my own demise at the 1988 Olympic trials in Indianapolis. Don’t get me wrong. I love my family, but it was a little like inviting the Clampetts to the Oscars. God love them, both my family and the Clampetts.

I had always gone rogue — alone — to all of my competitions, beginning in 1968 at the National Track and Field Championships in California, where I made mistakes that forced my return to my All-American city of Elgin, Ill. — where saloons equal the number of churches — and a job as a punch press operator on the midnight shift. One little faux pas kept me from going from the nationals, where I placed seventh, to the Olympic trials that year.

Sometimes I can still taste the bitter salts of defeat and humiliation, but beer can help quite a bit with those. Sooner or later you have to learn to laugh at all of the Bozo stuff and think about the great things, like those Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, for instance. Oh yeah, and that world record throw in 1975.

The mistakes in 1988 were different than they were in 1968, but I still made them. After 20 years of competitive experience, you’d think I would have learned.

In 1968, I was a naïve novice, throwing for Middle Tennessee State University and in the summer for the University of Chicago Track Club, run by the famous coach Ted Hayden, a great mentor and friend. At that time, the nationals and the Olympic trials were held separately. The nationals were in Bakersfield and the trials were in Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe was chosen because of its altitude. The 1968 Olympics were held in Mexico City, elevation 5,000 feet, just like Denver. There the similarity ends between the two cities.

I had thrown a qualifying mark for the nationals that year so I was invited to the nationals. The University of Chicago Track Club and the Amateur Athletic Union paid my way to the nationals and there I was in Lake Tahoe, where I was nicknamed by teammates as “Lil Abner.” They thought I was clueless. Now I know that I was.

Back then, I thought they only took the top six throwers at the nationals. I threw for a seventh place, 63’8”. So I didn’t make it into the finals. I walked off the track humiliated, the same thing that would happen in 1988. I can still taste it.

But — and this is a big but — the seventh place thrower could be chosen as a provisional invitee to the trials. I was in the top 20 U.S. throwers and therefore could go to the trials if I chose. But I didn‘t know it at the time. Nobody told me. This was back in the Perry O’Brien throwing days. Nobody helped you out. Nobody gave you training tips, nobody wanted to see you improve.

I remember O’Brien was standing there watching me throw. I was watching him watch me, instead of paying attention to my throws. None of the big guys intimidated me, though. I had wrestled 300 pounders. They had nothing on me physically, but they had the experience and the knowledge, which they could have imparted, but didn’t.

The provisional option is in the rules and regulations, which I did not read. I was told you had to be in the top six to get to the trials. So, for you aspiring Olympians out there, always read the instructions, always do your research.

By 1988, I was a gnarly, grizzled veteran, still plotting my own demise. I had never taken my family along to an Olympic Trials. I don’t even think my family came when I won the state championship in 1963. So they had never been around to bother me much.

I had considered going rogue to the 1988 trials, that is alone, but I was 43, the oldest track and field competitor there, and I thought it was time for me to have the family around. Besides, I didn’t know if I would ever get another chance to invite them to an Olympic Trials, which is an exciting event since you have the greatest athletes around. But it turned out that inviting my family led to my downfall in a way, because I had to take care of them.

I don’t think people realize how difficult this can be for an athlete. I had a hotel suite, which they moved into and it was difficult for me to get any sleep or sometimes to use the bathroom. This latter was really unfortunate, because I came down with an intestinal affliction.

I became distracted. I let my discipline falter. I ate ice cream, drank orange soda pop, and became bilious. The junk food went right through me. I was in the family van on the way to the trials and had to get out before I soiled myself. I got out and walked quickly to the front gate and the attendants told me where the bathroom is, so I made a beeline, but a cop started yelling at me, telling me that I couldn’t run across the flower bed I was cutting through. When I got there, no bathroom tissue, clogged toilets, dirty and filthy, it was the bathroom from Hades.

So it was a morning filled with major distractions.

But more than that, I was believing my own press. I thought I couldn’t be beat. I thought I would make the team. That was my biggest mistake. Be confident but not over confident. So when I threw, I didn’t get low enough, I had chills, I was worried about everything. And my family was watching me.

I placed 9th with a 61’9”. Missed by a half inch. So that’s all it takes. I had to take that walk. The moral of the story — shit happens.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

Finding Nirvana in The Ring of Reality

We all want to reach Nirvana, that place in Hindu mysticism where all individual existence ceases to exist and you are one with the universe. We previously discussed the intitation of the throw — “Out the back” — and the drive phase. We are now at Nirvana phase.

This is also the next phase in the rotational throw and I named it Nirvana because the thrower should shed individual concerns at this point and become the throw, a blur of energy, acceleration and movement. This seldom mentioned and often misunderstood position is the most significant in the outcome of the throw and the recovery after the throw. It focuses all energy into the pivot, creating power and directing the momentum up through the release. These energies are described as planes of power and they line up the muscular-skeletal performance as the impulse step ignites. This phase consists of two turns, the first of which is 180 degrees and centrifugal; the second turn is centripetal and is 360 degrees for a total rotation of 540 degrees.

Each turn is rotational in nature, directing force to the axis of the turn, keeping the arms and legs in close to the body to speed up the turn. This allows the body to come out of the turn faster than it enters, like a figure skater in a spin.

Horizontal force takes place after the first turn and consists of a lunging sprint step or skating step into the second pivot and the sliding of the left foot toward the bucket. The bucket is at the left side of the toe board. Acceleration should be added to each step taken without any lateral variations. In other words, no wiggles that detract from the energy put into the throw.

The J-plane follows the horizontal plane, but is a descending motion for the body. It is the process of working your way down to the front of the circle to set up a plyometric base with double leg support at the bottom of the second pivot. All this is done below the hips.

Nirvana is the matrix where the first three power planes are combined together with a torqued upper body. You keep the shoulder from drifting ahead of the hip. The body weight is under the ball and in front of the shot as you start to spiral up through the vertical movement. The power position unwinds as you move up through the throw.

The feet, the knees and then the hip come into action. You have to start uncoiling with the feet. This position is referred to as a backward “C.” Come out of each pivot faster than you entered it because you need to be able to throw off the top of the vertical phase.

The next phase is the vertical jump phase. Positioning, balance and alignment are key factors that add distance to the throw in this phase. Proper utilization of these factors will create a more efficient throw. Acceleration and the depth of the position add time and power to the velocity, angle and height of the release. You have to get as low as you can go. The horizontal phase combined with an efficient pivot at the power position must be equal to the vertical jump phase speed for maximum distance. Problems such as being off balance, having over- or under-rotated, moving too slow or too fast, or having too short or too long of a step can be corrected if the center of gravity is low enough through Nirvana. The lower you go the more efficient you will be at the top.

The hips should act as a gyroscope and sort out the flaws before the vertical acceleration begins. The body weight is distributed between the pivoting right quadricep as the right knee moves forward; the left leg is responsible for pulling the body weight forward and adding vertical development. As the center of gravity ascends, the left arm comes down and locks the left side of the body accelerating or catapulting the right shoulder from its torqued position; it comes into play as the final acceleration movement. It is a helix movement from bottom to top. Think of a screw being driven down and then suddenly rotating in reverse and popping up.

The torque separation of the upper body is utilized by delivering the throw up and over the top of the left side, and over the lock position. If the pathway of the shot circumvents the right hip and does not come over the top of the left leg a flat throw with unchecked inertia can result in a foul or a short throw.

There is a test for this phase as well. Imagine an imaginary strap from the shot behind your ear connecting to the right heel. Your body forms a backward C. Think of it as a drawn bow and the shot is the arrow.

Reverse and re-entry phase is the fifth phase. This phase is understood as the result of the jump phase. What goes up must come down. When the jump is vertical and without variation it will return along the same path as jumped. Let the reverse happen naturally. The results of the vertical acceleration and the horizontal acceleration when matched equally should create a 45 degree release.

If you have any questions, comments or observations, please email me at this website.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 5/16/2012)

Slowly I Turned, Step by Step

Last time we discussed “out the back.” We went through the initial starting stance, the first movement, the right leg circumscribing the arc and then the right leg beginning its arc around the pivot point of the left leg.

The next phase I call “Slowly I turned, step by step.” Actually it’s step-pivot step. This is the drive phase. Sometimes it’s called the horizontal pathway where momentum is added to the pivoting start position.

Remember we started the whole thing by shifting weight to the ball of the left foot and using the right foot to circumscribe an arc around the pivoting of the left foot. This is for right-handed throwers. The left foot will pivot 180 degrees. The left foot will then be the anchor for the beginning of the sprint phase.

The right foot is pre-turned to give it a head start on the 360 degree pivot which starts in the center of the circle. When the right foot touches down it should be pre-turned slightly counter-clockwise. The upper arms are kept parallel to the ground and the knees should almost touch. If the right leg is kept too wide, it will cause over-rotation at the front of the circle and power will be lost. Your left shoulder will drop and the right arm will try to find balance.

It is important that the center of gravity stays low and constant and the footwork is done close to the ground. No lifting of the foot up, no heel kicking during the single leg support. These are signs that you are not low enough.

Stay low, lower and lowest.

The momentum starts at the feet and spirals up through the power position (separation/torque is re-asserted at this point). Remember not to duck your head as this will eliminate your pulling power. If you duck your head, you end up pushing the shot and risk fouling.

The top high school performer of all time, Michael Carter, who was a silver medalist in the 1984 Olympics and played guard for the 49’ers, said he wanted to have the drive and lift that I had, but he forgot about torque. He didn’t turn his right foot to six o’clock and he got stuck in the middle of the circle. Instead of sprinting with his right foot, he sort of dragged it. His standing throw was 65 feet, and he only added six feet. With a turn of the right foot and the running momentum it can generate, I could add 10 feet and more.

It is a very small detail in the whole rotation technique, but it goes to show you how important even the smallest detail can be. Carter was a great thrower, a powerful thrower, but he could have added another two or three feet with just a very small modification.

The next phase is the Nirvana phase. I named this concept after the Hindu concept that says when nirvana is reached, there is an extinction of the individual existence. So, in throwing, it is the moment when you become one with the throw, grasshopper.

This seldom mentioned and often misunderstood position is the most significant to the outcome of the throw and the recovery following the throw because it combines all the energies going into the pivot, gains power and directs the momentum up through the release. I’ll explain more in the next blog.

A drill for you:
Put a Frisbee on top of your head, get into the starting position, and keep it on your head as you go from the starting position into the rotation. Our throwing camp record for this drill is 137 rotations without the Frisbee falling off. That student got a full ride to the University of Pittsburgh. A young female thrower invented this drill. Her name was Esparza. She got a scholarship to Amherst.

Try this drill just walking on a track. See if you can go 10 yards and keep it on your head.Let me know.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 4/19/2012)

“Out The Back”

Yuriy Sedykh, the Ukrainian hammer thrower, always said, “Out the back.”

He didn’t mean out the back door, which was a handy escape route for me on various adventures around the globe, as long as you could find the back door. Sometimes you had to create one on the spot. Those are the times you really believe that necessity is the mother of invention. But that’s not relevant here.

What is relevant is Yuriy’s advice. Let’s examine that and do a little inventing ourselves. I should say re-invention for those who are not getting out the back door efficiently.

Yuriy was talking about out of the back of the throwing circle. That’s where everything begins for throwers and what you do there predicts the future in the throw, at least in the circle. It’s sort of a back to the future theory and a method on how to turn into the pathway for the linear approach to the effortless throw. That’s what we search for, the effortless, endless throw that could pierce the sky.

Yuriy was right. His mantra “out the back” worked for him. He had two Olympic gold medals and a world record. It can work for everybody, though there’s no guarantee about getting medals or a world record. But your performance will improve if you work on the initial movement for your throw, dissecting it down to the first half-second.

Let’s discuss Yuriy’s theory and my practical concept of how to initiate the start of the throw. It is the first of the five throwing phases I have developed over the years, the others being the linear or sprint phase; the nirvana phase; the vertical or jump phase; and the re-entry phase.

Sometimes throwers leave their best effort at the back of the circle because they think that all of the effort comes at the front of the circle. But it’s at the back of the circle where your throwing pattern is set up.

Set up is important for your first move. Your feet should be shoulder width apart. You should be facing to the rear. Let’s call that the 12 o’clock position. You should be straddling the imaginary radius from the center of the circle to the 12 o’clock mark. That’s right. It’s high noon for you and you have to be quick on the draw.

You should be in a squat, with your knees bent at about 90 degrees.

The 6 o’clock position is directly behind you, at the front of the circle. If you had eyes in the back of your head you would be looking at the landing area. If you are right handed, your right hand is holding the shot behind your right ear. Your left palm is up as if you are carrying a tray close to your shoulder or doing a behind-the-neck press. This is important.

The shot is held high behind the ear at the base of the skull. The center of gravity of the shots rests just below the apex of the fingers of the throwing hand with the palm up. The shot will have a natural tendency to roll toward the fingers when thrown. The left arm is held up and back with the palm up. You should try to touch your shoulder blades together. The head is held back and the eyes are kept level.

A quick test of one’s starting position and balance is to turn and look over the right shoulder at the landing area, toward 6 o’clock. At this point the athlete can gain the perspective needed to line up their spine toward the target. The spine is the axis of the rotation.

Remember – in the rotation style the starting position is basically the power position and you must be under and in front of the shot, meaning that you are low and carrying the shot behind the ear.

Now you are in position to start your throw. The first thing is to shift your weight to the left foot. The biggest mistake throwers make is to shift to the right foot, which seems more natural. The shift to the left foot doesn’t seem natural because you want to keep your weight on the right foot to push off. But the trick is to free the right foot by shifting to the left. That way the right foot is ready to begin its movement, circumscribing an arc around the left leg. This is a little trick that has to be learned, along with a lot of others for successful throwing.

Next, both feet must shift and point counter-clockwise, adding more dominance to the left leg. The right foot is prepared to lift and begin its movement around an imaginary pole that runs down through the left shoulder, hip, knee and foot, creating the first axis of the rotation.

The right foot will circumscribe an arc around the pole until it lands in the circle and becomes the anchor of the second pole, or axis, one running down through the right shoulder, hip, and knee. That is the first part of what I call the “Big circle-Little Circle-Big Circle” rotation.

Thrower Mike Carter once said he wanted to get the drive and lift I had. Well, getting things right at the back of the circle is how you can do it.

You can practice this with two shots, one in each hand, and throw both at the front of the circle. This will improve your coordination and make you remember to control and stabilize your non-throwing hand.

Another good drill: place a roll of duck tape on your head like a crown and practice until and your movements are smooth and controlled and it stops falling off.

Here’s drill another for balance and getting low: Initiate the throw and when the right foot lands, start sprinting toward what would be the landing area, rather than starting the next phase of the rotation. Take four or five sprint steps. You don’t need a throwing circle to practice this. This drill helps put drive in your throw.

Another is to assume the starting position, and turn 360 degrees maintaining that position with the right foot lifted and circumscribing an arc until you return to the starting point. Mark the spot where your right foot should land. Repeat until perfect. You can do it with weight in one hand, or both hands, or no weight.

Then do it in reverse. Repeat, repeat, repeat until you are a whirling dynamo, ready to go on to the next phase. And remember, “Out the back.” Try some of these drills and let me know if they help your throw.

P.S. Sorry about the long delay since my last blog, but it was such a nice winter, I was able to get out of the house a lot more and couldn’t stand to sit at the computer.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 3/27/2012)

Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina or Venezuela or Santiago!

When they decided not to pay us, I wanted to demonstrate, but we were in Chile. President Pinochet was still in power. You just don’t demonstrate when the big, mean dog has his paws on the power buttons.

Chilean jails are not as nice as the hotel we were staying in. I didn‘t want to end up in a windowless cell in Santiago. No one might ever hear from you again, although I have to say that some of my associates would have been happy if that had occurred.

It was a track and field tour of Latin America in 1981. I was associated with a club called the Philadelphia Pioneers, a group formed to compete against other clubs, including such organizations as the Pacific Coast Club, the New York Athletic Club, and the University of Chicago Track Club. We had already been to Venezuela, Trinidad, Tobago, Argentina and Brazil. I was so hung over I think flies were buzzing me. Chile, fortunately, was the last stop.

I had started out fatigued because to prepare for Latin America I went on a two week binge in Galveston, one in which I was arrested for wearing tennis shoes. Well, it was a case of disorderly conduct and misdemeanor battery, but it started over the tennis shoes I was wearing when I tried to get into a cowboy bar. The dress code wouldn’t allow tennis shoes. One thing led to another. Cops chased me, pulled out guns and took me into custody. But that’s another story.

By the time I got to South America, I had regained some of my balance and energy. I was still throwing 70 feet and there wasn’t anyone in South America who could compete against that. Al Oerter was with us, too, four time Olympic medalist in the discus, so we could put on a good show. He was 10 years older than me and could out throw me in the discus. He was throwing 200 feet in the tour, sometimes 203, and I was throwing 190 or so. But then, I hadn’t practiced for the discus. I just showed up.

We finished competing in Chile, which was a cake walk like the other Latin countries, and we partied all night to prepare for our departure in the morning. Some of the guys were crushing up Ritalin. It’s an amphetamine in addition to being a medication for attention deficit disorder. You can buy that stuff over the counter down in Latin America and so guys were snorting it, along with smoking hashish, and drinking refreshments. I think cognac was one.

We were pretty hungry after our victory celebration so we planned on going to breakfast at the hotel. Our stay was to be paid for by the sponsors of the track meet. We also were to be paid some per diem money and some prize money. Basically it was three hots and a cot. But it turned out that was the cake we didn’t get at the end of the walk.

When we went to breakfast in the hotel, the waiter said we couldn’t have breakfast unless we paid for it ourselves. Well, I thought, that wasn’t going to fly. It was an insult piled on top of my hangover. I was going to do something.

I began throwing bread rolls at the waiter. I’m a thrower, after all, and couldn‘t stop throwing. He was lucky I didn’t throw silverware. And compared to tossing the shot, a muffin was nothing. My track buddies were giggling and saying things like, “You go, Brian.”

The waiter fetched the hotel manager. He confronted us, or me, since I was the only one pitching strikes at the waiter. He yelled that the hotel wasn’t going to give us breakfast. A female employee behind the counter giggled, I remember.

He commanded me to follow him to the lobby. I did. I really wasn’t belligerent or threatening. I was just having fun in my own dumb ass way. The hotel manager picked up an ashtray in the lobby because I think I intimidated him. My hands went up and I stepped forward. It had only been a couple of years since I sparred with Mohammed Ali. It wasn’t anything that Cassius Clay wouldn’t have done and the manager had been the first aggressor, but I didn’t hit him. He ran behind the front desk and called police.

Meanwhile, at the breakfast table, I heard one of my teammates say, “Come on, let’s get out of here.” We went upstairs and got our bags and went down to another room. I think it was Larry Jesse’s quarters. Eventually we had to go downstairs to have lunch and check out. We had vouchers for that. Our flight was at 6 p.m. so we had time to kill.

We were eating beans, rice and sausage when a bunch of guys in suits came up to the table and handed me a note in Spanish. I said, “I don’t read Spanish.” Someone interpreted it for me. The note said, “Please come with us” or words to that effect. They were polite.

I started eating faster because I knew it might be a while before I got any food again. They started asking me things like, “Have you been doing drugs?”

I answered “No, I’m an athlete. Of course not.” I kept eating. One of the guys pulled his coat open and flashed his pistola. They don’t flash no stinking badges in Latin America. I began eating faster. They consulted amongst themselves for a while. Finally I finished, stood up and went with them. One of my teammates’ father was an ambassador in Europe and had connections. He made a phone call.

The policia didn’t handcuff me but they put me in a car and started driving. I said I wanted to go to the U.S. Embassy and they drove me there. I certainly didn’t want them to take me to policia headquarters for questioning.

At the embassy, I met with U.S. officials and was questioned by officials. The U.S. Ambassador may have been there, as I recall. I was pretty well known back then, an international celebrity, so I had a little clout. I wasn’t like your basic American hippie hanging out in a flophouse, smoking hashish. No, I stayed in actual hotels.

In the end, they escorted me to the airport and made sure I got on an earlier flight out of the country. The ambassador also was there. He wanted to make sure I left peacefully.

I guess I overstayed my welcome. It takes extra effort to get thrown out of a country. It’s something of which I remain quite proud.

By Brian Oldfield and George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 1/9/2012)

The Latin America Tour; Bored and broke, but we had batteries

I was in Santiago, Chile, doing a tour of South America as a born-again amateur and an athletic revolutionary. I wanted to spread the word of the heavy metal gospel and continue my free-wheeling, free-throwing lifestyle.

Unfortunately, I ended up getting expelled from the continent, for which I am grateful. Had I been stayed longer, I might have ended up against a wall staring at a firing squad. Or down the barrel of a pistola held by an angry husband or father.

Santiago was a charming city with little fortress homes, fleets of Mercedes public buses and little Catholic girls and boys in their uniforms everywhere. The tour had started in Trinidad, went to Venezuela, then to Brazil, and on to Chile, which was the last stop.

It was an eye opening trip for me. I hadn’t really seen slums where people lived in cardboard and plastic shacks built into the sides of hills, unless you count the homeless guys camped out on Lower Wacker Drive in Chicago.

I was associated with a track and field club called the Philadelphia Pioneers, a group formed to compete against other clubs, including such organizations as the Pacific Coast Club, the New York Athletic Club, and the University of Chicago Track Club, my all-time favorite. Back then, there was a lot more attention paid to track and field because of the big boom in citizen running and races and the legendary fame of such athletes as Frank Shorter, Steve Prefontaine, Jim Ryun and, of course, myself.

Even the shot-put became a popular event due to television coverage of the Olympics and other sporting events. The coverage spotlighted most of the speed and power events, the endurance events, and the swimming events. Everybody wanted to run, jump, swim or throw. People still do, but the Baby Boom generation seemed to make it more popular just through sheer numbers. Everybody started buying running shoes, even if they didn’t run.

It was 1981, and by then I had competed in the Munich Olympics, become a professional track and field celebrity, set a world record, been banned from the Olympics and amateur competition, declared war on the U.S. Olympic Committee and then re-admitted to amateur competition by a federal court decision. It was a wild ride.

The year before I was ready to go and throw in Moscow for the Olympic Games, but that turned out to be the year of humiliation as President Carter withdrew the U.S. team because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

I was 36 and still competing when the track and field tour to the southern latitudes came up. I didn‘t want to miss it. I had been in Leningrad for a meet with a lot of my American comrades and thought a stop in Rio de Janeiro would be in order. I came home, bought a new summer wardrobe, and headed toward the border.

It was summer in South America, winter up north, so it was a good place to spend a month. On this particular trip I fell in with the Pioneers, many of them fellow hooligans to whom I could relate. It was a good club. Track clubs were a way for amateur athletes to compete, get their expenses paid and receive a little per diem.

A lot of people were getting free shoes, equipment and accessories from various companies under the table and it was the beginning of club sponsorship by shoe and sportswear companies. I wasn’t a member of the Pioneers. I was a solo artist, and had gotten an invitation to make the tour, along with such luminaries as Carl Lewis, hurdler Charles Foster, pole vaulter Larry Jesse and others.

As amateurs, there was no paycheck, but we received money to live on and a little extra spending cash. Few of us had money of any significance. Few of us came from affluent families. But we got a couple of bucks for showing up and wowing the fans. It was a type of indentured servitude, except that we could always walk away.

Of course, if I walked away I would have to get a job. You know what getting a job means to me. I’ve had jobs and I think they are very over-rated unless you’re making six or seven figures and have a car and a chauffer.

I recall that the tour was sponsored by the Brunswick Corp. which at that time was known mostly for its bowling equipment and pool tables. Somehow the company Hottentots wanted to branch out into track and field. That was fine with me. I would have even bowled for them if they wanted, as long as they paid my airfare, hotel bill and expense money, plus a little extra to buy cigarettes or whatever.

On this trip, I hung out with Larry Jesse, who held the U.S. record in the pole vault at the time. I had met him in El Paso when I lived there. He was one of those people who taught me how to be an airline pirate, mixing and matching airline tickets. Back then it was all on paper with carbon copies, sort of fill in the blank tickets. He could scam his way onto a flight as if he were that guy in “Catch Me If You Can.”

Larry knew all the meet promoters and all the scams to work on tour. He would take several poles, lose them and collect the insurance. That sort of thing.

At these meets we would compete against local clubs and their best Olympic-caliber athletes. It was not particularly challenging for us. I think it was difficult for gifted young athletes in those countries to break out. Many of the local clubs were sponsored by police or military agencies and those were the people who had the money and the power. They brought in their own kids, or their friend’s kids, and didn’t go searching through the slums for kids who had potential.

We went to Argentina, where we did the tango in the dance clubs. Brazil was great. I seemed to attract women there, and had a great time. I recall that the meet was packed with spectators. It was like New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Track and field was very popular in Brazil.

Then we went to Santiago. Santiago was part Third World, part New World. At the airport, people had chickens in cages as carry-on luggage. There were llamas everywhere. And we ran into Gypsies.

We were staying at a hotel, a stone’s throw away from an old abandoned building. It was an old wreck of a place. So from our room, we started flinging batteries at the windows, just because it was a challenge. And perhaps we were a little bored. I think they were D size batteries from our boom box radios.

We had to throw through the open window of our room without smashing our knuckles against the frame. There were five of us. Larry Jesse was one. Another guy was a high jumper whose father was an ambassador somewhere; and there were two quarter-milers from the relay team. I won’t name them because the quarter-milers found the Gypsies who sold them the hashish.

I guess that might have had something to do with the battery toss. I don’t know. There we were, grown men, Olympians, throwing batteries at this building just to watch the windows break. Believe me, it wasn’t that easy, hitting those windows. It was at least 100 yards, maybe more. It took an Olympic effort, but in the end, I think I won. No, I’m sure of it.

There is a theory that humanoids started walking upright so we could throw things at our enemies, at our prey and at windows. The battery incident is proof of that. We, as humans, like to throw stuff.

But that’s not how I got kicked out of Chile. I’ll explain that in my next blog.

By Brian Oldfield and George Houde

(this blog was originally posted on 12/12/2011)