Oerter�took to abstract painting as he once did to throwing the discus.
"It's something I want to do every day," says the first track and field
athlete to win the same event in four consecutive Olympics (1956, '60, '64 and
'68). And the painting was going quite well until March�13, 2003--the day
Oerter died. His heart stopped during a meeting of his condo board in
Fort�Myers Beach, Fla. "Those meetings," says Oerter, 70,
"could kill anybody."
Oerter had changed
his blood pressure medication, causing fluid to build up around his heart. When
he got to the hospital, he motioned for a scrap of paper. "My wife [Cathy]
thought I was going to write, 'I love you forever,' " Oerter says, "but
I wrote, 'The light at the end of the tunnel is bulls---.' " Four
cardiologists told him he needed a heart transplant, a suggestion he dismissed.
"I've had an interesting life," says Oerter, "and I'm going out
with what I have."
While Oerter no
longer competes in his old field, the discus sometimes plays a role in his
artwork, which is influenced by such expressionists as Wassily Kandinsky and
Robert Motherwell. For his Impact series Oerter flings the disc at pools of
paint lying on canvas, creating forceful lines that radiate outward. To promote
the relationship between athletics and aesthetics, last year Oerter helped
create Art of the Olympians, which has collected the work of 14�Games
veterans, including long jumper Bob Beamon, luger Cammy Myler and swimmer Shane
Gould. The exhibit has traveled to New York City and will soon find a permanent
home in a gallery on the Fort Myers waterfront. Oerter, too, stays on the move.
He expects to be at the Summer Games in Beijing next year--not throwing, of
course, but showing his pieces. Says Oerter, "It's a lot easier on the