JULY 6, 1970
Most science teachers can give their students the definition of horsepower-one unit is generated when 550 pounds is moved one foot in one second. But few teachers could demonstrate this by actually moving 550 pounds with their own brute strength. One exception: George Frenn, a former Olympic hammer thrower who recently retired after 32 years of teaching science in several California high schools. He leaves the profession sounding burned out, tired of failing to reach students who showed little interest in the sciences. When he did his horsepower demonstration, for instance (now 60, he hasn't done it in years), the students paid it little mind. "They're all ho-hum," he says. "They'd blow it off."
Frenn, who was born in San Fernando, took up the hammer throw toward the end of high school in 1959 and continued through 1978. He competed at the 1972 Olympics, coming in 27th out of 32, and set world records (since broken) in the 35-and 56-pound weight throws. He now lives in Sacramento in a two-bedroom apartment cluttered with Geiger counters, spectroscopes and other science equipment he bought to spruce up classes he taught at underfunded schools.
Despite competing in a low-profile sport, Frenn got his share of attention in his heyday. He publicly petitioned then President Nixon to give as much attention to track and field as he did to football, and in 1972 Frenn issued a $10,000 challenge (which went unanswered) to anyone who could beat him in the weight throw. The deed that drew the most notice, however, is one he deeply regrets. In 1982 he agreed to carry the Olympic flag into San Francisco's Cox Stadium at the inaugural Gay Olympic Games, which he calls "the biggest mistake of my life." Frenn says he isn't gay—he agreed to participate at the request of organizer Tom Waddell, a friend and fellow Olympian. "I always had been a loner and done whatever I wanted, so I said yes." But after the games people, including his students, had a hard time believing he wasn't gay. The controversy, he says, contributed to his leaving a teaching job. "All it did was wreck my reputation," he says.
Frenn, now with time on his hands, recently purchased a high-end Sony camcorder. He wants to go to the Middle East and make a film that might somehow aid the cause of peace in the region. (Frenn is of Lebanese descent.) It's an optimistic goal for a man who has seen some unhappy times. When contacted by SI, he remarked, "You know, I don't believe in the [SI cover] curse, but some days I almost do."