From the mid-1970s through the early '80s Brian Oldfield was one
of the world's best shot-putters, strong enough to heave a then
American record (72' 9 3/4"), yet agile and lithe enough to
high-jump seven feet and run 100 yards in 9.5 seconds. Thirty
years and 14 surgeries later Oldfield, 57, needs a cane to walk
through his condo in Elgin, Ill., where he lives on disability
payments of $500 a month. Over the years he has had nearly every
leg joint repaired, from ankles to knees to hips; 18 inches of
his colon removed after 34 polyps were found; and two operations
on his throwing (right) shoulder. "I was getting addicted to
surgery for a while," says Oldfield, who had 12 operations during
one five-year stretch. "[I'd think], No pain anymore? Got to have
He blames a congenital back disorder and bowed legs for most of
those medical woes, but he hasn't gone under the knife since
1995. He scoffs at suggestions that he took illegal substances
while competing yet admits he didn't treat his body with care.
(He was never suspended for banned substances.) "A doctor once
told me to take two [legal] amino acid pills," Oldfield says,
"but the manufacturer's rep told me, 'Take as many as you can
stomach.'" Oldfield wolfed down 10 at once. "It felt like I had
one big chalk ball in my throat," he recalls.
After finishing a disappointing sixth at the 1972 Munich Games,
his only Olympics, Oldfield gave up his amateur status and joined
the short-lived pro track circuit. He also made extra money by
wrestling a bear, sparring with Muhammad Ali and competing on the
Superstars TV show, during which he outlifted Mr. Universe, Lou
Ferrigno. Oldfield reveled in the excesses of bachelorhood and
never married. "Rock stars had designer groupies," he says, his
humor intact. "Our women just showed up to party."
At a pro meet at El Paso in '75 he used the spin-throw technique
he had popularized to put the shot a career-best 75 feet, a mark
that would have stood as the world record for 13 years had the
IAAF, track's governing body, recognized pro competition. In
three years Oldfield earned a total of $26,000 on the pro tour
before it died in 1976.
Since then he has sold vacuum cleaners, taught remedial reading
at a reform school and given shot put clinics. He's also held a
few coaching positions, most recently as an assistant at Taylor
University, in Upland, Ind., where he worked from 1999 through
2001 with Croatia's Stevimar Ercegovic. Oldfield lowered
Ercegovic's elbow position, quieted his hip motion and improved
his throws from 62 feet to 65. "In Croatia he's like a throwing
god," says Ercegovic, who reached the qualifying round at the
Oldfield hopes someone else will call and tap into his expertise.
He's also looking for a publisher for what he calls "a Ball Four
kind of book" about the sport that once celebrated him. "I like
afternoon naps, because then I can still run and throw and jump
like a kid," he says. "I'm the hero of my own dreams."
pro but hasn't fared as well since retiring from his sport.