Brian Oldfield: Rebel, maverick and shot-putter

A maverick genius of the shot-put, Brian Oldfield had a herculean physique, a boxer’s instinct for self-promotion, and a rock musician’s penchant for hard living. He was also a world class athlete. For all his excesses out of the athletic stadiums there was genuine ability behind all the hard partying. Oldfield held the unofficial world record and the British, European and Commonwealth shot put champion Geoff Capes called Oldfield the greatest in history.

Brian Oldfield, shot-putter, was born on June 1, 1945 And died from heart, lung complications and diabetes on March 26, 2017; he was 71 years of age.

The American thirsted for recognition in one of the least glamorous Olympic disciplines. At his peak he was 6ft 5in tall, he could run the 100m in a little over 10 seconds and he tipped the scales at around 275lb.

Oldfield qualified for the 1972 games wearing tight stars-and-stripes speedos and a fishnet tank top and smoked cigarettes between throws. With a little more self-discipline Oldfield could have gone further in his chosen discipline. In 1984 he set a U.S record of over 72ft (22.19m). In 1975 he threw the 16lb ball 75ft (22.86m) shattering the World record, however, the throw was unofficial as Oldfield had turned professional by that time. Today it stands as the fourth-longest throw in history.

After the feat he featured in Playgirl magazine, which celebrated him as a man of an irregular lifestyle: “Brian pursues a lifestyle that shocks and amazes both fans and competitors: he smokes at meets, competes in tight revealing red briefs, consumes huge quantities of alcohol, and enjoys the constant company of women”. Another article noted that Oldfield “has a casual training programme during the season, he gets most of his exercise chasing women”. Partying, Oldfield said, was a good cardiovascular activity

 

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Brian May Oldfield was born in the Chicago suburb of Elgin in 1945. His father, Ray, was a machine operator and his mother, Dorothy (nee Sportsman, how prophetic) was a factory worker. He attended Elgin High School, where he competed in track and field and became state champion in the shot put in 1963. He attended Middle Tennessee State where he majored in physical education. Following graduation, he worked as a teacher at the Illinois School for Boys in St. Charles until he moved to San Jose, Calif., and began training for the 1972 Olympics.

He boasted of having wrestled a bear and won. In his heyday, and during his professional life, he took part in the World’s strongest man competition, sparred with Muhammed Ali and appeared on David Frost’s U.S talk show (it should also be noted that Oldfield was well-lubricated during the interview). He tossed cabers at the highland games in Scotland; however, he did not enjoy wearing a kilt, especially when a bee ventured under it.

Turning professional with the International Track Association rendered him ineligible for the 1976 Olympic Games. When the association folded he remained excluded from Olympic competition (athletics was still amateur at that time) and went to court to force the U.S Olympic committee to let him into the trials for the 1980 games in Moscow. He did not qualify.

In any event, the U.S boycotted those games. His biggest struggle was against the U.S. Olympic Committee, which banned him from the Games for having competed professionally for the International Track Association. In 1976, unable to go to the Montreal Olympics, Oldfield was hired by ABC as a commentator, a role he said he relished. Eventually, Oldfield and several others, including pole vaulter Steve Smith and runner Jim Ryun, sued the USOC in federal court in San Francisco. Oldfield was successful and was allowed to go to the Olympic trials for the 1980 Moscow Games, but American participation that year was canceled by President Jimmy Carter because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Strange how that turns around.

Oldfield would not have another chance to compete in the Olympics, but he was not done. In 1983, competing as an amateur, he set an American record in the shot put of 72 feet, 9 3/4 inches, one inch short of the world record. His last, fruitless attempt to make the games came in 1988 when he was 43; he performed poorly, he wrote, thanks to an upset stomach caused by a binge on ice-cream, Gatorade and orange soda.

Oldfield later worked in the real Estate field, was a gardener, and helped to run a French restaurant and disco in California, which closed after 3 months. Back in his home town of Elgin, Illinois, he found work as a coach. Years of pushing and punishing his body to its limits took a heavy toll. After numerous surgeries he was, in the last years of his life, confined to a wheelchair. He is survived by his long suffering wife, Tatyana Chopovenko.

“I was drawn to the event the first time I picked (the shot) it up. That gravity pulled me out of the little city of Elgin, Illinois, and into a much larger orbit,” he wrote in 2016. “The shotput was my religion, my faith, but it was also a demanding bitch; practice, practice, practice, throw, throw, throw, lift, lift, lift, run, run, run. I tortured myself for the love of the throw.

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Still well known in throwing circles at home and abroad, Oldfield popularized the rotational throw, in which the shot putter spins through the throwing circle to launch the shot. Oldfield said he didn’t invent the rotational throw, but he gave it grit.

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