In 1909 a giant by the name of Ralph Rose set the shot-put record at 51 feet. This was the one mark, said the pundits, that would never be broken. The Californian stood six feet and four inches and weighed 286 pounds, program weight. His form was excellent—good speed across the ring and plenty of snap in his follow-through. This superman had everything. Might as well close the books because there would never be another Rose.
On May 8, 1954, another young Californian, Parry O'Brien, broke ground past 60 feet for the first time. Coming in the wake of Roger Bannister's "shot heard 'round the world" mile run this record shattering performance was little noticed by press or people. While cries of Bannister, Landy and Santee rent the air Parry O'Brien kept on breaking records and on June 11 in Los Angeles finally set the present world mark of 60 feet 10 inches. Maybe I have a penchant for lost causes or unsung heroes, but I think all this merits mention. Even Broadway has gone mile crazy during the current indoor season to the near-oblivion of field events. There's been nothing like it for years—if you mention the shot-put, all you get is a vacant stare and the question: "Where's he running?"
THE "POLAR BEAR" EVENT
Mr. Fred Schmertz, the director of the venerable Millrose Games, did make one concession this year: he allowed the shot-put to be a part of his program for the first time. The event was held outdoors in subfreezing temperature at Columbia University at 11 o'clock in the morning. At least 60 of the faithful gathered to see the "polar bear" event while that evening, in the confines of the Garden, close to 15 thousand helped boot the sturdy Dane, Gunnar Nielsen, home with a new track record for the eight furlongs.
February 21, 1955
I, too, trekked to South Field at Columbia that cold Saturday morning to see O'Brien in action. For 30 years I have been a track and field competitor, coach, or avid spectator. The weight events especially, have been dear to my heart—and no pun intended. I've always said that the nicest work in the world, if you can get it, is to be a weight man on a track team. It's like taking batting practice in baseball. You run through a few warm-up "throws" with the shot, then lie around in the stadium or on a rubdown table in the benign spring sun and watch the runners put themselves into a state of utter exhaustion. And then comes Saturday. At the pre-meet meal the miler can't keep his poached egg down. The quarter-miler can't finish his tea and dry toast. All the runners are really on edge but you're having a big steak and baked potato. The coach passes by and smiles: "Give Herman another steak, Chef. He needs his strength this afternoon." Gosh, it was great to be a weight man. Anybody that would run farther than a hundred yards was crazy.
I'll never forget the day that I broke the world's record in the shot-put. The circumstances were these. It was a dual meet between Tennessee and Alabama and at the same time, running concurrently, our freshmen were having a meet with some high school. The colleges, of course, use the 16-pound shot; but the high schools throw the 12-pounder. I was coming up for my last throw and was ahead of my Alabama opponents who had already taken their last throw. One of my football teammates was helping run off the event, so, to have a little fun, he slipped me, unnoticed, the 12-pound shot. I took my position at the rear of the circle, went through all the preliminary gyrations and let go. Professor N. W. Dougherty, who was and still is the faculty chairman of athletics, was the judge that day. No sooner had the shot broken ground than he cried: "Great goodness! A new world's record." My heave went the incredible distance of 53 feet and 6 inches and I had beaten Ralph Rose by two feet and a half, to say nothing of the then world mark of 52 feet 7½ inches. I figured the farce had gone far enough and told the crowd what had happened. Everyone but Professor Dougherty thought it was real funny. Somehow, he didn't have a sense of humor.
REVOLUTIONARY AND EXPLOSIVE
I had never met or watched Parry, except for seeing moving pictures of him, until his Millrose outdoor-indoor exhibition under the worst circumstances possible—using sneakers on a board ring, flaked with ice and snow, putting into dirt. Even under these conditions I'll venture to say that he is still far away from his maximum performance. Physically, he's 6 feet 3 inches and weighs a deceiving 230 pounds. His form, especially his preliminary stance, is completely revolutionary. Instead of facing sideways or at a 90 degree angle to the toeboard, he aligns himself with his back to the direction of his throw. He originated this stance in 1951, and I could not help noticing that most of the other shot-putters have adopted this same style, practically overnight. He claims that he gets more drive and better position from this stance. I can't argue with him on this point because I've never seen anyone get as much "explosion" as he lets go. In the cold and snow, he put that shot 56 feet 7 inches at the Millrose Games.
I talked with him at length about his ambitions in track. He hopes to do 60 feet before the indoor season is over. I think that he will. He hopes to do 61 feet outdoors this year and 190 feet with the discus, something not mentioned heretofore. I believe that he will. I think that he will win both events at the Pan American Games in March, and I'll go farther and say he'll capture both events at the Olympics in 1956. If he'll just take a little of my coaching and let me fatten him up a bit more, I can promise you that the Russians won't show anything like him.
FRED DWYER, GIANT KILLER
The happiest man in track last week was little Fred Dwyer of East Orange, N.J., who upset Gunnar Nielsen and Wes Santee in the Baxter Mile in Madison Square Garden Saturday night. Dwyer won the race early when Santee moved ahead too quickly in a premature attempt to make the race so fast that neither Nielsen nor Dwyer would have a sprint left for the finish. Nielsen followed Santee closely but Dwyer, who has an impeccable sense of pace, let them go. He was 30 yards behind at the first quarter, but by the half-mile Santee was laboring, Nielsen was tired, and Dwyer had closed to within a step. With three laps to go he passed them both.
The New York crowd, yelling for Dwyer, set up a long, sustained, incredibly loud and joyous roar through the entire last quarter. Little David was trouncing the Goliaths—the outlanders, the record-breakers—and New York loved it. He was doing it big, too, running away from them as they tied up behind him. As he crossed the finish line in 4:06.2, a big happy grin on his face, his margin of victory was 60 yards and the noise of the crowd was deafening.
"How did you feel when you moved out ahead?" Dwyer was asked later.
"I felt fine," he said. "Wonderful. All those people cheering."
"Could you hear them?"
"Sure," he said. "Boy, they were really yelling. It was wonderful. They were really with me, weren't they?"
They certainly were.