SEPTEMBER 1, 1975
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�"), 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 more surgery."
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 shortlived 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 2000 Olympics.
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."