Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Al Oerter

Al Oerter died Monday and I think a little attention must be paid. He's been one of my heroes since I saw a TV show about him when I was a kid. Oerter won the Olympic gold medal in the discus four times in a row. In 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968. Was there anyone, anywhere in the world who was the best at what they were doing in 1956 and still in 1968? All four times he wasn't favored, was coming back from an injury and he set an Olympic record. Twelve years after his last gold medal he tried out for the 1980 Olympics and made the team as an alternate but didn't go because of the boycott. Four years later, the 47-year old Oerter was trying out for the Olympic team when he tore his calf muscle before the finals. Less than a year earlier he had a throw that would have won the gold medal if he had been able to duplicate it in the Olympics.

Oerter was one of the old-school Olympic athletes. He worked in computers at Grumman Aircraft during his athletic career. This is a great quote from the New York Times obituary:

In his 60s, after a visit to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, he lamented what he saw as a culture of professionalism entering track and field. “I saw athletes in their 30’s training full time,” he said. “That’s their life. What happened to the rest of it? I’m happy that I had a normal life, with a career and family. That makes a person whole.”

After Oerter retired he became an artist often using a discus to create his paintings. That last part is kind of weird but good for him.

Here's a good overview of Oerter and his career. He sounds like he was a nice guy, too.

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