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There was a time, not long ago, when the very suggestion of a shotput competition sent track and field enthusiasts scurrying for the popcorn stand. Those silly enough to stay at their seats would giggle as the whales—shotputters are known as whales because they are the size of three-bedroom Cape Cod cottages—"aannnnghhhed" in final agonies of exhalation and pushed their shots into the air. Compared with the soaring results achieved by discus and javelin throwers, the shotputters' efforts seemed hardly worthwhile.
All that changed, however, when Parry O'Brien began coming to meets almost 15 years ago. O'Brien's idea of what a shotputter should be was simple and direct: Be Outspoken, Be Colorful. He succeeded admirably (or not so admirably, according to your own taste) in both departments. And because he could, with a distinctive and dynamic style, also put greater distance between himself and the 16-pound steel ball than anybody ever had, he brought a new dimension to the event: glamour. Now shotputters get their pictures in the paper. Little children want to be like them. They get introductions by spotlight. Their throws are performed, as they were last week in the Los Angeles Coliseum, to the roll of drums, distracting as that might be, and when they go "aannnnghhh" the fans go "ohhhhhh" and stay firm in their seats.
And Parry O'Brien? Parry is putting the shot pretty much the way he did as a two-time Olympic gold medal winner, and getting ignored because he pretty much gets his colorful, outspoken ears pinned back by baby whales like Dallas Long and Randy Matson. O'Brien did 62 feet 3� inches last week at the Coliseum Relays, which was five feet better than he did in winning his first gold medal in 1952 and almost two better than his winning put at Melbourne in 1956. But it was not for Parry O'Brien that the people passed up popcorn—and the chance to get momentary relief from a chilling southern California night—to watch the shotput. The attraction was the expected prodigies of the man-child Matson and the world champion Long.
Naturally, in an Olympic year at a meet of influence there were other attractions: Robert Hayes vs. Henry Carr in the 200-meter dash, for example, and big names ( John Pennel, Ralph Boston, Hal Connolly, John Thomas, Rex Cawley) in almost every event. But Long was encountering new challenger Matson for the first time outdoors, and one of these two one of these days is going to put the shot 70 feet. Anticipating meet directors are already marking off the perimeter lines to 70 feet, which would have been laughed at only a few years ago.
Matson presumably has been heading in that direction ever since he was 14 and smashed the fender of his dad's car with a playful backyard toss of a 12-pound shot. "Gee, Dad," said young Randy, "if the car hadn't been parked there it would have gone 60 feet." That was in Pampa, Texas, where Randy grew up to be studious, gentlemanly, bland-mannered and a classic example of what a Southwest Conference football coach looks for in a tackle. Matson is now 19, 6 feet 6� inches, 244 pounds and a prominent part of the skyline at Texas A&M. His coach there, Charley Thomas, put Matson on a weight-lifting program when he arrived last September. Matson has since added 20 pounds and three inches to his chest, and there is room for expansion in every direction.
Three weeks ago in Texas he smashed another fender, Dallas Long's NCAA freshman record, with a throw of 64 feet 10�. "I do not attempt to change Randy's style," said a smiling Charley Thomas. "I just keep him happy."
In his Los Angeles hotel room, lounging with teammate-runner Ted Nelson, an hors d'oeuvre by comparison, Matson awaited his contest with what he referred to as "the big boys" and said he had slept well and eaten well but was nervous. "I'll be happy to finish second," he said. He just could not imagine beating Dallas Long if Long came close to his world-record throw of 65 feet 10� inches.
Two weeks ago Long did 66 feet 7� in Fresno, Calif., but that will be disallowed because a raised steel rim was not used in the throwing circle. It is outrageously unfunny that meet directors discover these flaws in their facilities after a significant record has been exceeded.
Long found out at the Coliseum that he was no longer the boy wonder of shot-putting. He was now, at 23, a daddy for the second time and face-to-face with a younger man's legitimate challenge for the first time. "It's different," he said in the infield as Matson stole self-conscious glances at him from a distance, "but I like it. It makes the competition that much more interesting."
Whereas Matson is still a growing boy, Long has leveled off at 258 pounds, about what he would want to weigh for Tokyo. He wears a size 50 suit, and were you to ask how much inside that suit is firmly packed he could give you these additional figures: he bench-presses 500 pounds and does deep knee bends with 400 pounds across his neck. At present, Long is in his second year of dental school at USC, studying as much as five hours a night to ward off the challenges of pedodontics, crown and bridge dentistry and periodontics, but he manages to work in practice time—often in the dark—putting from a strip of sidewalk near his apartment.