- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Relatively few people are emotionally drawn to the act of casting an iron ball out of a seven-foot circle. "Even if it's done well, not many spectators get much out of seeing it," says Seidler, "so they tend to attach things. Social questions. Politics. I'm a performer, and with a crowd behind me I respond and throw better. But I'm uncomfortable with 'You gonna beat that Russian lady?' "
Yet in saying this, Seidler, trained so happily to be herself, hesitates. "No matter what I tell you otherwise, I care about approval," she says, "about what people think. Carol and I prided ourselves on our independence. We said, 'We're different, but we like it this way and we don't give a rip what anyone says.' But maybe we did give a rip. For years when people would write about me and about my blue eyes, I would say, 'Why put that muck in?' But secretly I was pleased. So there must be an internal dichotomy at work here."
So it seems, and that would be interesting even if Seidler had only gone on putting 55 feet and collecting her plane tickets. But she didn't. After the September 1977 World Cup meet in Düsseldorf, she stayed on in Germany to train with Christian Gehrmann, adviser to Al Feuerbach, the former world-record holder in the shotput, and to Mac Wilkins, record holder in the discus, and coach of Eva Wilms, the former record holder in the pentathlon. "Christian was available, good, and had issued a standing invitation to come and be coached," Seidler says. "I'd had another blah year. I just finally got tired enough of the same old thing that I was either going to do it right or stop. I didn't want to stop, so I floated a loan from my father and went to Munich. My 10-year vacation was through."
Was it ever. In the finest Teutonic tradition, Gehrmann works with few athletes, but supervises them in exacting detail. "He said, 'Maren, expect you will be very down for the first six to eight weeks,' " Seidler says. "It was overload in everything. Tons of sets, tons of reps, lots of hard running. There were some mornings that it took 15 minutes to put my pants on. My lower back was sore. It took me a long time to sprint because of big knots in my thighs."
It was a crash program to turn Seidler into the complete athlete all fine shotputters need to be. As simply a strong and big woman, Seidler had been more the cliché of a shotputter than the actual fact of one. The best shotputters cannot be immense creatures. They would lose too much quickness and control. Feuerbach is 6'1", 240 pounds. Oldfield is 6'4", 255. Sumo wrestlers weigh a hundred pounds more. Fibingerova is 5'10½", 198. Thus, in part, the demanding training was designed to pare 25 pounds of suet from Seidler. "I literally ran my butt off," she says. "Twice a week we had to do all-out 600-and 800-meter runs. I'd get going and feel so tired that I was sure if I didn't hold my form I'd fall on my face. Christian was amazed. 'Maren, this is very good' he said." She recalls that moment with warmth. "The butterball could run."
"It sounds like drudgery," she continues. "It was drudgery, but I was sustained by Christian's caring." Seidler improved her time for 60 meters from 10.3 to 8.1. After four months she put the shot 60'1". A month later she did 61'2¼". "I wasn't a great deal stronger, but the difference was in my mobility. You have got to be able to control the body to put the shot."
Then last spring she came home to California, where she had been loosely based since 1973. On her first day back, Oldfield tried to go easy on her in a 60-yard dash, and Seidler beat him. "Would you just look at how that woman has rearranged her molecular structure," Oldfield said. "Rubenesque no more."
Maren and Carol lived on a hillside above the gleaming poison-oak thickets of Portola Valley, in the hills behind Stanford. In this serene place, Maren spoke of her decision to honestly discover her limits. "Linus van Pelt in Peanuts once said, in anguish, that there is no heavier burden than a 'great potential.' Amen. In school I got good grades without much effort, but I could have done so much better. Some of it was not wanting to accept the risk of not doing as well as it seemed I could. When I get encouraged to write [by members of the sports department of the San Jose Mercury News, where she is a copy person], I get paralyzed. What if it isn't good?"
The German training may have been the first time Seidler, a perceptive adult, had experienced the lesson that most athletes get knocked into them as children: if you go all out, the struggle takes on more meaning than the result. "There is a satisfaction in being the first American woman 60-footer," she says, "but the real satisfaction is very private and hard to talk about. It's having for the first time...taken the chance. It's made me giddy. It's made me open and ready to really enjoy this throwing, and a lot else."
There is something inconsistent about the best male shotputters, as if they have less than their share of the combative instincts of other big men. Dallas Long, the 1964 Olympic champion, quickly became a gentle dentist. Randy Matson, the first 70-footer, was too mild, many thought, to get the most out of his gifts. Feuerbach is a poetic, inward man. And Oldfield.... There is where the pattern breaks, you say. Didn't the police in Galveston, Texas explain why they had come at him with drawn guns by saying, "Because nightsticks weren't having any effect"? Yes, they did, but a close study of Oldfield tends to reveal him as a man in a mask. The barroom brawler is a role perfectly played by a splendid character actor, a character that may have trapped Oldfield.