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coming on strong
Curry Kirkpatrick
September 01, 1975
"When God invented man," says Brian Oldfield, "He wanted him to look like me." However it came about, he's some piece of work. World-record holder in the shotput and sometime dabbler in "sado numbers" he's cleaning up his act for the "full-scale betterment of Brian Oldfield."
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September 01, 1975

Coming On Strong

"When God invented man," says Brian Oldfield, "He wanted him to look like me." However it came about, he's some piece of work. World-record holder in the shotput and sometime dabbler in "sado numbers" he's cleaning up his act for the "full-scale betterment of Brian Oldfield."

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That information would have come as a surprise to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which stood in collective cardiac arrest while this loudmouth, cigarette-puffing, bikini-clad colossus won the right to represent his country at Munich.

On the pre-Olympic tour that summer, the anticipated problems became reality. Oldfield went AWOL in Sweden. He was involved in a hotel courtyard disturbance in Norway. Later, the hotel received a letter from a man who claimed Oldfield was seen in his underwear amorously pursuing a chambermaid.

"I was wearing my Speedo swim trunks and she was sitting on my lap," Oldfield says. "The chick's boyfriend got uptight."

For that episode, he was almost kicked off the team by Coach Bill Bowerman. "I had tears in my eyes," Oldfield says. "If they had sent me home, I was going to throw Bowerman out the window."

After America's bumbling performance in the Games (Woods finished second to Wally Komar of Poland, Oldfield and Feuerbach were out of the money), Oldfield came home, signed up for pro track and started breaking indoor records while throwing with the standard technique. He turned to the discus-type spin in 1974, but a torn knee cartilage held him back.

Having turned the corner past 30, given up smoking and cut down on beverages, Oldfield seems to have finally come as much to the outskirts of wisdom as to maturity. He has found a home, his first real team, as it were, on the pro tour. In unguarded moments, in fact, he refers to ITA as "our club."

By personality as well as by performance, Oldfield has reached a centrist position in this environment—no small feat considering the black majority on the tour. Moreover, Oldfield's rapport with this constituency has reached such a point that he can trade ethnic slurs in good humor, occasionally offering friendly exclamations such as "Get down, darkies" with no hint of racism intended or taken.

"Brian doesn't act like most white dudes who, trying to be cool and nice to us, end up silly," says Henry Hines, the long-jumper. "He's a brother—one of us."

John Smith says, "He takes the time to deal with us. He's always joining card games or coming over to chitchat. Ryun never comes over. Seagren never comes. This guy does. Plus, all the brothers automatically loved him back in '72 when he lit up the cigarettes on the field. We knew this was a white guy who was going to show the world what an athlete is really like."

Oldfield's tendency to be natural and totally out front, to wear his heart on his sleeve along with a few well-chosen epithets, sometimes has the officialdom of ITA, a struggling organization if there ever was one, on pins and needles. Oldfield is the personification of Hercules Unchained; he will say anything and do anything he pleases. If that means beginning a discussion with an important representative of the 3M Co., a major ITA sponsor, like this—"When are you guys going to fly me to Minneapolis and shoot those training films? Don't you understand I'm an athlete who's doing it big now? I can't wait for an upturn in the economy. I've got to get mine while I'm hot. What are you, dumb?"—then so be it. If it means describing his employers to a newspaper reporter as "those ITA jerks who are publicitying me to death," then that, too, must pass.

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