Parry O'Brien is a connoisseur of antique edged weapons, an accomplished amateur chef, a fair performer on the bass fiddle and the bongo drums who sometimes plays as he listens to his collection of records of primitive music, and the vice-president of a bank. He is also the fourth-best shotputter in the world.
For quite a long time he was the best. His new and modest standing in this sport was brought home to him rather forcibly not long ago. O'Brien had just put the shot 63 feet 5 inches in a meet in Tempe, Ariz., breaking his recognized world record by an inch. When the distance was announced, the crowd heard it with no great enthusiasm. In the silence, one voice bawled, " O'Brien, that was pretty good—a month ago."
Unfortunately for O'Brien, his 63-foot-5 put came after the most explosive improvement in a field event in the history of track competition. A week or two before O'Brien's appearance at Tempe, Dave Davis hit 63 feet 10� inches to gain undisputed possession of the unofficial world record—for about 15 minutes. Then Dallas Long (see cover) heaved the 16-pound steel ball 64 feet 6� inches to top Davis. Long, in turn, held the record for a whole week before Bill Nieder did 65 feet 7 inches in the Texas Relays. Nieder is the present record holder, but his tenure is shaky, to say the least.
O'Brien regards this wholesale assault on his record with mild apprehension, but no real fear.
"This is the first time in 10 years I have had competition," he said the other day. "I hope I shall react well to it. I expect to."
He was working out in the late afternoon on the UCLA track. He paid no attention to the hurly-burly of a freshman track meet going on around him, concentrating completely on every put. Between puts, he discussed his rivals seriously.
"They are all aware of the senior-citizen psych," he said. "They do very well against one another or with no competition. We shall see what happens under the pressure of the big meets."
He went back to the shot ring, poised himself delicately, then uncoiled suddenly, firing the shot with an explosive "WOOF!", then trotting after it.
"I do not put well in practice," he said. "I save my best for competition. I am no pasture performer."
O'Brien, of course, developed the modern shot technique, and he is still the most polished technician of the big four. But technique is only a part of the shot, and O'Brien is at once the oldest and the smallest of the four men. Oddly enough, though, he has the biggest arms.