Al Oerter

One of the alltime great Olympians, he finds common ground between athletics and aesthetics
July 01, 2007

AlOerter took to abstract painting as he once did to throwing the discus."It's something I want to do every day," says the first track and fieldathlete to win the same event in four consecutive Olympics (1956, '60, '64 and'68). And the painting was going quite well until March 13, 2003--the dayOerter died. His heart stopped during a meeting of his condo board inFort Myers Beach, Fla. "Those meetings," says Oerter, 70,"could kill anybody."

Oerter had changedhis blood pressure medication, causing fluid to build up around his heart. Whenhe got to the hospital, he motioned for a scrap of paper. "My wife [Cathy]thought I was going to write, 'I love you forever,' " Oerter says, "butI wrote, 'The light at the end of the tunnel is bulls---.' " Fourcardiologists told him he needed a heart transplant, a suggestion he dismissed."I've had an interesting life," says Oerter, "and I'm going outwith what I have."

While Oerter nolonger competes in his old field, the discus sometimes plays a role in hisartwork, which is influenced by such expressionists as Wassily Kandinsky andRobert Motherwell. For his Impact series Oerter flings the disc at pools ofpaint lying on canvas, creating forceful lines that radiate outward. To promotethe relationship between athletics and aesthetics, last year Oerter helpedcreate Art of the Olympians, which has collected the work of 14 Gamesveterans, including long jumper Bob Beamon, luger Cammy Myler and swimmer ShaneGould. The exhibit has traveled to New York City and will soon find a permanenthome in a gallery on the Fort Myers waterfront. Oerter, too, stays on the move.He expects to be at the Summer Games in Beijing next year--not throwing, ofcourse, but showing his pieces. Says Oerter, "It's a lot easier on theshoulders."

PHOTOBILL FRAKES (OERTER CURRENT) FarFlung
Oerter harnesses the visceral energy of his sport by hurling the discus at hiscanvases.
PHOTOJOHN ZIMMERMAN (OERTER ACTION)[See Caption Above.]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)