Dean Crouser lies on the inclined bench in the University of Oregon's weight room, an old sweat shirt tied around his neck like the bib worn at the dentist's. This is to keep the 260-pound barbell above him from bruising his chest when it strikes him at the low point of each lift. Crouser calls out, "Spot for me, will you, Ed?"
"Sure." A young man giving the impression of a furry sandstone boulder steps behind the bar and helps Crouser raise it into position. This is Crouser's younger brother, whose name is not Ed but Brian.
It would be helpful right now to point out that this story calls for remembering a lot of first names, because all the last ones are Crouser. Dean, 23, his rangy 6'5", 260-pound frame stretched out here on the bench, his elbows locked under the weight, his toes twitching in nervous anticipation, is the 1982 NCAA shotput and discus champion, the first man to win that double since Fred DeBernardi 10 years ago. He was ranked fourth in the world last year in the shot, with a best of 69'1½".
Brian, who at 20 is 6'1½" and 232 pounds, won the javelin in the same NCAA meet, the first freshman to do so. He subsequently set a freshman record of 282'11". The Crousers were the first brothers to win NCAA track and field events outright in the same year, and the first to do it in any combination of years since Mack Robinson of Oregon won the 220-yard dash in 1938 and his kid brother Jackie, who would go on to some success in baseball, became the broad jump champion in 1940.
But that's only two-thirds of the Crousers. Older brother, Mitch, 25, 6'3" and 255 pounds, who lives in Moscow, Idaho, put the shot 65'5" and threw the discus 208'9" last year, even though he quit competition in mid-May to take summer classes to complete his geological engineering degree at the University of Idaho. There seems no question, then, that these three brothers constitute the country's preeminent family at throwing things.
Dean lets the barbell drop to his chest. For a few seconds the heavy air of the room is electric with concentrated effort as he drives the weight up. After three repetitions, Brian helps him guide it back onto the supports, where it clanks to rest, the sound hard, mercilessly industrial. This seems to the observer a dismal sort of labor.
Dean agrees. "For years I worked on technique so I could stay out of here," he says. "I still hate lifting weights." His best in this lift, which approximates the angle that the shot is pushed away from the body in competition, is 350 pounds. World-record holder Udo Beyer of East Germany (72'8") reportedly bench-presses more than 600.
Yet Dean isn't in demented pursuit. "I know I have to get stronger, but I don't think I have to go from 350 to 600," he says. He is proud of being the weakest champion in a strong man's event. "The strength thing can take over. It becomes a game of its own." He cites discus thrower John Powell, the 1976 bronze medalist, as an example of how not to be distracted from the primary objective. "He's not big or strong. He's just effective."
But Dean carries the thought further than a simple debate over strength vs. technique. Quickly it becomes obsession vs. balance. "In the ancient Olympics you had to know how to throw the discus, sure," he says, "but the Greeks could also play a musical instrument or were knowledgeable in the law. Now we're getting away from that. I don't know if I've ever met a balanced person."
"Did you call him Ed?" asks a bystander.