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He Took His Best Shot but Saw It Go Up in Smoke

At the Munich Olympics in 1972, Brian Oldfield was dying for a smoke. So he borrowed a match, lit up a Lucky, inhaled happily, blew smoke out his nose--and immediately felt much better.

The trouble was, he was in the center of the Munich Olympic stadium at the time, 80,000 people were looking on, to say nothing of ABC and millions of viewers in America--and Brian Oldfield was in the midst of the Olympic shotput competition.

If anyone needed any further proof that smoking was harmful to you, Brian Oldfield could furnish it. He should have asked for a blindfold with that cigarette, because it put him squarely before the firing squad of history. It stamped him indelibly. Brian Oldfield. Big Trouble.

As weight men go, Brian Oldfield is not the worst of the breed, by any means. He didn’t throw a whole platoon of Swedish cops into the icy waters of a Stockholm river, he didn’t turn a Japanese cab over on its rooftop, he didn’t steal a steam shovel in Germany or hold a friend by his heels out a hotel window.

Weight men are the free spirits of athletic competition. They are gruff loners usually given to doing whatever it is they wish to do, when they wish to do it. They are not team players. Their competition is solitary and so, often, is their life style.

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But Brian Oldfield raised the art of alienating the Establishment to such a degree that he may be the most unknown great athlete in the world. “Give Brian enough time and exposure and he’ll talk himself not only into obscurity but invisibility,” a friend once confided.

This would be quite an accomplishment, because Brian is about as invisible as a Rocky Mountain grizzly, which he most closely resembles. At 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, he wears the perpetually annoyed expression of a guy who just dropped a bookend on his big toe. Just because Mr. Oldfield has never thrown any cops off a river bridge is not to say he won’t if sufficiently aggravated.

But Mr. Oldfield is actually entitled to his faintly exasperated expression. Brian Oldfield is a wronged figure of history of the dimensions of the doctor who fixed John Wilkes Booth’s leg, the Count of Monte Cristo, or Joan of Arc. It’s not a role he relishes. Brian does not go willingly to the stake. He calls his lawyer, in fact. That’s another headache for the Establishment, which likes its athletes without litigation.

Brian Oldfield, in point of fact, has thrown the shot farther than any man in history, in fact, more than two feet farther--but don’t look for it in any of the record books. Brian Oldfield is the big-man-that-wasn’t-there as far as the international governing bodies of track and field are concerned.

Bob Beamon jumped almost two feet farther than anybody and they all but made him a statue in the park. Brian can’t get a free lunch.

Brian Oldfield put the shot 75-feet -inch in a meet at El Paso in May of 1975. That didn’t break the existing world record, it obliterated it. Unfortunately, Brian was competing for something called the International Track Assn. at the time. It was, you should pardon the expression, a professional organization, it--come closer, you wouldn’t want the kids to hear this--paid its athletes.

What the ITA did was charge admission to its track meets and distributed the proceeds among the competitors. If you can’t see any difference between that and what TAC or the NCAA, for all of that, does, go to the head of the class. The difference is the ITA did it openly. They subtracted the hypocrisy. This, of course, was unforgivable to the reigning “amateur” associations.

Somebody had to pay. And Brian was as good a candidate as any. “Say,” someone said at a federation meeting, “didn’t he smoke on the field at the Olympics once?”

So, Brian’s record throw, which was made under allowable conditions, scrupulously measured and calibrated, was not only disallowed, it was ignored. It never happened. Track and field, which falls all over itself certifying some mysterious mark set in the bowels of Siberia by a Soviet vaulter nobody ever heard of, before an audience of two KGB colonels and a guy in a fur hat, threw Oldfield’s record as far as it would go. It was not quite far enough. It made the Guinness Book of Records, albeit in the--ha, ha--section right by the goldfish swallowing and the number of students who could pack into a Volkswagen.

But even though lots of athletes left the folds of the ITA (which soon left itself), put ashes in their hair and were reinstated, Oldfield wasn’t one of them.

“I went to see Melvin Belli, the lawyer, but I got the one who is still trying to grow his first mustache, the son,” Brian recalls ruefully. “I figured I better drop the case before I got 3-to-life.”

In the weird half-life of amateur athletics, Brian was eligible domestically but not internationally. So, he dropped over to a meet in San Jose in 1983 and casually tossed a new American record of 72-feet 9 3/4-inches, only one inch short of the world record.

Did this mean he got in the Olympics? Hardly. “I went to court to get the international federation to let me in the Olympics. They said it was to be continued on the calendar till August 26, 1984. I said ‘Hey! The Olympics will be over!’ They said ‘Exactly!’ ” Adds Oldfield: “What was I going to do--enjoin the Olympics?”

Brian Oldfield will be highly visible at the shotput ring at the ARCO Coliseum track meet next Saturday. He’ll be the one smoking.


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