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His past is slipping into the future
Walter Bingham
April 25, 1977
After sitting out the last two Olympic Games, Al Oerter is throwing the discus again and aiming to add to his collection of gold medals
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April 25, 1977

His Past Is Slipping Into The Future

After sitting out the last two Olympic Games, Al Oerter is throwing the discus again and aiming to add to his collection of gold medals

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"What I mean," said Oerter, "is that maybe I'll try to do what I said I'd do in Melbourne. I want to try for a fifth gold medal."

Greenspan was elated and decided immediately to film Oerter's comeback. The next day Al phoned him. "I've been thinking about all the money this is going to cost you," he said. "What if I don't win?"

"You let me worry about that," said an amused Greenspan. "You just train."

Oerter began. It was too late to be ready for Montreal, and a long time before Moscow, but it wasn't easy. He pulled several muscles and broke his right ankle. His diet now consists of raw protein mixed with such things as a blended drink of honey, raw eggs, yeast and orange juice, plus meal bread and fresh vegetables and brown rice. He throws four times a week at Post. Two times a week he drives to the nearby home of John Boos, a former Mr. World, who has a weight room in his cellar. "That's for upper-body work," says Oerter. For lower-body work he goes to a health club near his home in Hicksville. As a result his weight is approaching championship level and his jacket size has increased from 46 to 52.

"The idea is to convert strength to throwing power," he says. "I'm getting there."

Two weeks ago Oerter won the discus at the Post Relays with a toss of 199'8". This week he will be at Kansas, his alma mater—he was Wilt Chamberlain's classmate—for the Kansas Relays, where the discus throw is named in his honor. This summer he is hoping to take his daughters to Sweden for the World Masters meet, although he fears the competition will not be testing enough. Chances are he will not come up against Mac Wilkins, the current Olympic champion and world-record holder at 232'6", until next year.

"I only have positive feelings about the man and what he's done," Wilkins says of Oerter. "At his age he's probing new frontiers on what the human body is capable of doing. It will be interesting to see what happens. I still think, however, that Al is throwing the discus primarily for the enjoyment of throwing, while keeping the door open for competition."

That's the way Oerter wants it. "I hope Mac keeps me back there on a recreational basis all the way to Moscow," he says. Oerter introduced himself to Wilkins at last winter's AAU indoor meet in New York. "We just said hello," Al says. "I should have been wearing the T shirt a very special friend gave to me. It has Moscow GOLD written on it."

Sitting in the football bleachers at Post after his workout, sweat pouring from his brow, Oerter ponders why he is subjecting his 40-year-old body to such rigors. It is not for glory—he has certainly experienced that—nor is it for Greenspan's film or for his daughters, who were too young to appreciate his earlier triumphs. Quite simply, he is coming back because he missed throwing the discus the way others might miss playing golf or tennis.

"I love the movement of the toss itself," he says. "The purity of it. It's very much like a dancer's motion. Now I have a greater awareness of what I'm doing in the throwing ring than I did when I was younger."

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