It wasn't so much a throw as it was an explosion. Make that a series of explosions. Randy Barnes broke the world shot-put record on Sunday at the Jack in the Box Invitational in Los Angeles on his second attempt of the day with a heave of 75'10¼", more than two inches better than the old mark of 75'8" set by East Germany's Ulf Timmermann. For an encore, the 23-year-old 1988 Olympic silver medalist reeled off four more throws over 73'3". Taking into account his first throw of 71'10", he averaged 73'10¾"-the best series in shot-put history.
"It's done! It's close!" Barnes yelled as his throw landed beyond the world-record chalk line and in front of a grandiose display of colorful balloons in UCLA's Drake Stadium. "That's the one!" he screamed.
When he heard the distance, 23.12 meters, Barnes immediately knew it was farther than Timmermann's two-year-old record. The 6'4½", 300-pound Barnes leaped in the air, then hugged his coach, Robert Parker, and hurdler Roger Kingdom, who had sprinted to the pad. He shook hands with U.S. Senator Alan Cranston of California, who was about to compete in an old-timers' 4 x 100-meter relay, and waved to his parents and his sister in the stands. Barnes was then presented with a check for $50,000, the amount that promoter Al Franken had offered, at Barnes's urging, as a bonus for a shot-put world record.
"I can hardly believe this," said Barnes. "I don't know if it will ever sink in."
May 27, 1990
With the throw, Barnes became the first shot-putter from the U.S. to hold the world record since Terry Albritton's mark of 71'8¼" was broken by Alexander Baryshnikov of the Soviet Union in 1976, halting an uninterrupted line of American dominance of the record that went back to 1934. Barnes's toss also set the stage for a sizzling showdown this summer with Timmermann, who answered Barnes's Olympic-record final throw (73'5½") at the 1988 Games in Seoul with an Olympic-record heave of his own (73'8¾") to snatch away the gold medal. Timmermann was initially expected to compete in the Jack in the Box meet, but his schedule would not allow it. His absence, to Barnes, was hardly a concern.
"It would have been fun," Barnes says. "But the picture was almost too perfect as it was. My family was here, the balloons over the shot put, the money. I knew the timing was right, but I thought something might go wrong. I had sort of blown my bubble with the press by predicting it would happen, and if I didn't get it, I knew it would hang over my head for a while."
What had made Barnes so bold in the weeks leading up to the meet was a monster throw he uncorked during a practice session at Fallbrook High School near San Diego on May 13.
Barnes, who lives in Charleston, W.Va., was staying with the family of 18-year-old Brent Noon, the nation's top high school shot-putter, whom he had befriended at a meet four years ago. Brent's father, Jim, coached wrestling at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif., for 20 years before retiring in 1981. Even before meeting Barnes, Jim and Brent had watched dozens of Barnes's throws on videotape and were trying to have Brent imitate his complex spinner's style.
"They've got tapes of me even I haven't seen," Barnes says, amazed.
The Noons invited Barnes to stay with them at their home in Fallbrook in April, before the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif. Barnes had such a good time with the family and such good results—winning the meet with a put of 73'1¼—that he decided to stay on with the Noons while training for the Jack in the Box.
"It was like thrower's heaven at the Noons'," Barnes says. "All we did was concentrate on training. At home I had friends who weren't athletes, and I valued spending time with them. But you stay out late, drink a beer or two, and pretty soon you do that too long and you're out of shape. I was so focused at the Noons' I just knew good things would happen."
Randy and Brent threw at the high school for hours every afternoon, with Jim videotaping each session. When Brent went to sleep at night ("I had school every day to think about," he says apologetically), Jim and Randy would head to the Noons' weight room, crank up the rock 'n' roll, and lift from 11:30 until about 2 a.m. Afterward, they would unwind by playing chess or watching Three Stooges reruns. At other times, another of Jim's sons, Brad, a 23-year-old discus thrower at Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego, would jam on guitar with Barnes into the wee hours.
The supervisor of this rowdy foursome was Jim's wife, Barbara, who spent most of her time in the grocery store writing $100 checks for food.
"It was like camp," she says. "They'd all get up and have their protein shakes and then head for the weight room or the high school. Randy started working so hard and yet relaxing so much that his practices got better and better. Every night they came home more and more excited."
They were especially excited the night of the prodigious practice throw. Barnes and the Noons (except Barbara, who was home cooking, naturally) were throwing at the high school when Barnes felt himself turn "reckless."
"Just a way you feel," he explains. "All-out abandon. The school had logs about 80 to 82 feet out there. I put a wad of tape on the 70-foot line, and 70 started looking like I could just reach out and touch it."
Barnes grins at the memory. His smile reveals a mouth full of braces, and he has light green eyes that flicker alternately with fierceness and fun. To Barnes, those two qualities are what putting the shot is all about.
Barnes says that during his stay at the Noons', he was throwing 77 and 78 feet consistently in practice. But on May 13 he spun and launched the shot so high that Brad says, "It looked like it was never coming down." When it did, Barnes claims the tape read 79'2½".
"It blew my mind," Barnes says. "I started screaming. Jim had the video camera on, and he walked up filming the tape measure until the end, and then he filmed the hole where it hit. You can hear him laughing in the background. I was screaming and he's laughing."
After that, Barnes was so giddy that he could hardly wait for the Jack meet. He summoned his mother and father from West Virginia and his sister from Houston. He felt this was the meet. So confident was he that he approached Franken about putting up a bonus for a world record in the shot, even offering to pay half of the premium for the insurance policy covering such a payoff. Franken, who has offered similar bonuses for world records in the past, agreed. On the eve of the meet, a sponsor assumed Barnes's share of the premium.
"I couldn't get that throw [at Fallbrook High] out of my mind," Barnes says. "I knew what I could do; now I just had to do it in the meet."
Barnes had plenty of room to spare behind the toe board when he launched his world-record throw. And he didn't get the same full extension in his left leg that he had gotten in practice. In fact, he says he had a lot more to give on each of his six throws. Should he hit on all cylinders, Barnes says, he can throw much farther. How much farther? Well, the license plate on his car reads 80 FEET.
But what about Timmermann, who, remember, rose to Barnes's challenge at Seoul? "If I know Ulf," Barnes says, "he'll hear about this and he'll be bearing down. It should be quite a summer. I'm anxious to see it myself."