I won’t take credit (or responsibility) for this paraphrase of great poetry, “A thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever.” Nonetheless, with shot putters, believe me, there is poetry in their power and this paraphrase is accurate.
There’s a Universe of muscular men who fling 16-lb. spheres of iron ridiculous distances. Their Universe momentarily does not ascribe to Newtonian Law. Theirs is a Universe of massive muscle combined with overwhelming strength and power. Shot putters may be the most powerfully skilled athletes in the world.
While these athletes are Goliaths of sinuous muscle, ligament and tendon, they are also mental warriors of concentration and explosive athletic technique. The best and brightest conquer hefty weights, specializing in lifts analogous to their event that requires strength and speed strength, the squat, power or squat clean, bench press and military or push press. They move across short distances like flashes of lightening and jump and bound about, like well-muscled Kangaroos with feet of Flubber.
Since I fancy myself somewhat of a historian on strength, herein are my choices as the very best Samsons of Shot – the top Titans of Toss. While I have not ranked them, their order is almost representative of a time-line of progressive increases in distance.
These are the greatest shot putters with the heavier 16-lb. shot. Michael Carter, who played professional football and was ranked from time to time with the bigger shot, still owns the all-time High School best at over 80 feet. Truly remarkable!
I have included some dates just for reference and if I have erred in omissions, or in inches, or years, please accept my apologies. My list of a top 25 does not include all the great shot putters. A few others have passed 70’. In fact, according to T&F News, just this year, besides Nelson, Toth and Godina of the USA, Roberts of South Africa has done 70′ 10 1/2″, Olsen of Denmark 70′ 9 1/4″, Martinez of Spain, 70′ 5 1/4″, Cantwell of the USA, 70′ 4 1/2″ and Belonog of the Ukraine, 70′ 1 1/2″. My list does include the top 10 of all time though, also according to T&F News, as of May 26, 2002. Note *** (Top 3 Americans in 2002).
SAMSONS OF SHOT, TITANS OF TOSS, HERCULES OF HEAVE!
Donald Dinnie 49′ 6″ (1867)
Ralph Rose 51′ 0″ (1909)
Charles Fonville 58′ 0″
Parry O’Brien 63′ 5″ (1960)
Arthur Rowe 64′ 0″
Bill Neider 65′ 10″
Gary Gubner 65′ 10 1/2″
Dallas Long 67′ 10″
Kevin Atkins 70′ 10″
Randy Matson 71′ 5 1/2″ (1967)
Al Feuerbach 71′ 7″
Terry Albritton 71′ 8 1/2″
John Godina 71′ 10 3/4″***
Greg Tafralis 72′ 1 3/4″
Sergey Gavryushin 72′ 6 1/4″
Kevin Toth 72′ 9 3/4″***
Sergio Smirov 73′ 1″
Adam Nelson 73′ 10 1/4″***
John Brenner 73′ 10 3/4″ (1986)
Werner Guenther 74′ 0 3/4″
Udo Beyer 74′ 3 1/2″
Brian Oldfield 75′ 0″
Alleksandro Andrei 75′ 2″
Ulf Timmerman 75′ 8″
Randy Barnes 75′ 10 1/4″ (1996)
MAMMOTHS OF THROWING MUSCLE!
The Scottish muscle athlete Donald Dinnie, was the first superstar of strength and heavy athleticism. In 1967, a physiologist extrapolated that his strict throws with the 16-lb. to 56-lb. stones would equal about a 65’ shot put today. This is from a man of 240 lbs., long before CIBA pharmaceuticals, MET-Rx Engineered Foods or ephedrine. Pundits talk about Parry O’Brien’s throwing prowess, but Dinnie won 1,800 shot putting contests, 2,000 hammer throwing contests, 30, 56-lb. throwing contests, 1,400 cable throwing events, 800 running events and 1,800 jumping contests! Dinnie was to winning athletic events as Wilt Chamberlain was to sex.
When the giant Ralph Rose smashed his competition with a 51-foot put just after the turn of the Century, (1909), pundits preached that his record would never be broken. Soon enough, Jack Torrance, Charles Fonville, Bob Fuchs (all from the US) and Jiri Skoblka (Czechoslovakia) all said bye-bye to Rose’s unbeatable record by as much as 8 feet. They were all much smaller and faster. Fonville for instance, fired the shot close to 58 feet and weighed only 194 lbs. These shot put fearless four were the last of the great throwers who faced the landing area sideways.
O’BRIEN: THE PATRON SAINT OF PUT!
In the fifties, Parry O’Brien changed the shot put event forever when he turned and started backwards to the throwing area. O’Brien smashed the 60′ barrier and eventually pushed towards 64′. Shot historians regard him as the greatest shot putter of all time. O’Brien had a string where he was not defeated in 9 years straight until Gary Gubner beat him. Parry won both the 1952 and the 1956 Olympic Games.
As O’Brien was finishing up, the British shot technician Arthur Rowe reached 64 feet in 1961.
Making the same cardinal sin as they did with Rose, various naysayers cast aspersions, dogmatically insisting that O’Brien’s and Rowe’s tosses of around 64 feet would be the ultimate. But then along came Gary Gubner and Bill Neider.
Neider was a tremendous athlete. Bill even wanted to be professional boxer. The 6′ 3 1/2″, 254-lb. Neider made 65′ 10″ (and 67′ 1″ in practice) before hanging up his Adidas. Neider took the Olympic silver medal in 1956 behind O’Brien and won the Gold in 1960. But even Bill’s super athletic skills were quickly superceded by the stronger and faster Dallas Long.
LONG AND GUBNER: THE GREAT PRESSERS
Gary Gubner became the best in the world as a teenager! He threw the 16-lb. ball 53 feet when he was 16. Gary was the best shot put-overhead presser. Gary was former National Indoor Shot Champion at 64′ 11 3/4″ while just out of his teens and he also made 65′ 10 1/2″ outdoors. Gary held the WR clean and press in weightlifting just shy of 440 lbs. Gary had a string of 22 indoor victories before Long beat him!
Dallas Long, (67′ 10″ and gold medallist in the Tokyo 1964 Games) was probably the best all-around presser. While he was attending dental school at USC and training at the old Bill Pearl Gym in Pasadena, circa ‘61-‘64, Dallas bench-pressed over 500 lbs. with a close grip. He could do dips with 200 lbs. and would do sets of 5 in the seated upright dumbbell press with a pair of 150’s! Dallas was 6′ 4″ and 265 lbs. at his heaviest. That is a “long” way to press, but his lengthy arms imparted tremendous leverage not only to put the shot, but evidently to pull teeth too!
MATSON: MAGNUM OPUS OF THE SHOT.
As great as the “Longster” was, the shot put world was really knocked on its proverbial eardrums, when Randall Matson, a 6′ 7″, 258-lbs. senior at College Station in Texas, tossed the shot an amazing 71′ 5 1/2″ way back in 1967. Matson was a mastodon of size and skill, and even though he only bench-pressed 340 lbs. and squatted 450 lbs, he was an agile giant with huge calves, hips, hands and fingers, and also very long arms.
The shot put’s 6′ 7″ Tower of Power had tremendous delivery height and trajectory and his balance and agility allowed him to impart enormous acceleration and end velocity at release time. Matson was talented enough to sail the discus 213 feet and play college basketball.
Pundits borrowed from the story of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand (that triggered WW I) when they called Matson’s WR the “Shot heard around the world.” It was, and Matson won the Gold at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, as well as the silver in 1964.
THE LITTLE PUTTER WHO COULD!
It took a true shot scientist and Spartan of labor to finally break Randy Matson’s shot put world record. At 6′ 1″ 245 lbs., Al Feuerbach did it! Considered almost miniscule for a shot putter, Al Feuerbach, out of equally little Emporia State in Kansas, was immensely explosive and focused. He lived for the shot – to break Matson’s record. Al did bust up Matson’s so-called, never-to-be-touched record in 1973, improving it to 71′ 7″. Al was pretty much on top from ‘73-‘76. He was just the best thrower and he learned to apply force over a greater distance by rotating his shoulders and upper body and starting super low. He also ‘opened’ his hip in the plant position to impart more power.
An unusually fine Olympic style weightlifter, Al was the only person in history to win both the National Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the shot and the National Olympic Weightlifting Championships the same year (or ever, in fact). Al won the 242-lb. class in lifting, at the time. The class no longer exists, but Al snatched 341 3/4 lbs. and clean/jerked about 418 3/4 lbs.
Feuerbach was sometimes engaged in battle with another 6’1″ shot putter, 300-lbs. George Woods, an immense athlete who could do a standing back flip. Sports Illustrated once ran a full-page picture of George, pre-delivery, where he was covering the shot at the back of the circle. His enormous front deltoids and pectorals absolutely dwarfed the shot making it look like a tiny spec. George won the silver medal behind Matson in the 1968 Olympic Games. In 1972 he had the longest official throw of the year and in practice he reached around 73″ but he never got the big one officially to break either Matson’s or Feurerbach’s world records.
It took four years for someone to beat Feuerbach’s world record. In Feb, 1976, on a sunny day in Honolulu (where else would it be sunny in February), Terry Albritton, representing Stanford University, crept by Al’s mark. Big Terry sent the slug of iron 71′ 8 1/2″ Mahalo!
‘BARNEY’ WAS YEARS AHEAD OF HIS TIME
In the years starting about 1972 and actually all the way up to 1986, a new giant of explosive throwing power had emerged, Brian ‘Barney’ Oldfield. Brian had an amazing throw (now about 26-27 years ago) of 75 feet and he was the first to popularize the discus style spin, now used by shot putters everywhere.
In the case of Brian Oldfield, here was an example of an irresistible force kicking the crap out of the immovable object!
Brian’s 75-foot record disturbed gravity and still is a standard, even though his throw was never recognized as an amateur WR because he was part of the new professional track league at the time. Brian hardly seemed of this Earth. At 6′ 5″ and 280 lbs., Brian could power clean and jerk just under 400 lbs., push-press 315 lbs. 5 times and run a 4.6-sec., 40 yard dash!
There have ONLY been 3 guys who have thrown further. Randy Barnes is the best at just 10″ beyond Oldfield’s toss.
In my opinion, Oldfield was the rawest, most naturally explosive shot putter in history.
I recall, at the University of Chicago (circa 1974), I competed in the shot put against Brian. I was throwing about 55 feet when Oldfield, without removing his sweats, started to warm-up and promptly tossed the 16-lb. shot, side-arm 63-64 feet (That means with one arm). Then he turned around, started it between his legs and threw it over his head about 66 feet. All us peon putters stood there, mouths agape, totally flabbergasted. Many years later in San Jose, I delivered a steroid lecture to a bunch of track athletes (including Brian). In the workout afterwards, Brian exceeded 70 feet on 5 separate occasions, but with an 18-lb. shot! While he was “fouling” on all these throws, he barely teetered over the edge of the ring on two of them. Again, Oldfield was a “pro” from about 1973 to 1976, and after the pro ranks were disbanded Brian never seemed to have the same fire even though he was the top American (amateur again) in the 84 rankings and continued to throw to 1986.
About the time Oldfield shredded the record, steroids become a hot issue for the media and steroid testing began in more earnest at the ’76 Olympics. Nonetheless, the great Titans continued to aim towards the Moon.
ALL LIKE THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES
In 1986, John Brenner of UCLA blasted out the world record to 73′ 10 3/4″. Udo Beyer was generally ranked No. 2 of all-time by T&F News due to his longevity, records and wins. He was ranked No 1 from 1977, variously to 1984. By the time he had finished he had reached 74′ 3 1/2″. A bit later (‘86-‘88), Werner Gunther made 74′ 7 3/4″.
Alessandro Andrei became the first to barely move past Oldfield with 75′ 2″.
By 1990, the time when his career was drawing nigh, the great Ulf Timmerman, (generally ranked as No. 3 of all time by T&F News, and who was ranked No.1 from ’85-’90, except 1987), rocketed the sphere to a colossal 75′ 8″.
Only one mortal has gone on to seek out new worlds, to bravely go where no man has gone before. That would be the voyages of the starship….. Randy Barnes! Reaching 75′ 101/4”, (10″ past Barney Oldfield), Randy Barnes jammed that shot, but was unfortunately jammed himself, by the IOC. Randy had 2 steroid positives and he was banned until Hell freezes over, which is to say for eternity.
All, like the Colossus of Rhodes, were Wonders of the World.
The best threesome in the USA today are John Godina (John led the world rankings in ‘95, ‘97 and ‘98), Kevin Toth and Adam Nelson. Adam leads the pack with 73’101/4″.
HOW DO THESE LEVIATHANS GET SO BIG AND POWERFUL?
The greatest shot putters combine Olympiclifting, powerlifting and bodybuilding but they primarily use speed-strength training, which is to say, they lift heavy objects quickly – very quickly. In my opinion, the best all-round lifter and thrower ever was the illustrious and progressive Jon Cole, former strength coach at Arizona State. Cole was about 5′ 10″ but threw the shot and discus 63′ and 210′ respectively and lifted 2,370 lbs. in the power 3.
Jon squatted 901-lbs. benched 580-lbs. and pulled 885-lbs. in the deadlift. With very limited trials in the then Olympic 3, he did 430-lbs. clean and press, 340-lbs. snatch (split style yet) and 430-lbs. clean and jerk.
Perhaps my second best all-around lifter/thrower, was 330-340-lbs. Ken Patera. Patera tossed the shot 65′ 11 1/2″ in the 68 Olympic trials, but finished sixth. He did get much stronger later, but had turned totally to lifting. Ken was the first American to lift 500 lbs. He did a 505-lb. clean and press, 386-lb. snatch (402 lbs. in training) and 505-lb. clean and jerk, all in the same competition, of course. Ken push-pressed 555 lbs. the highest ever recorded. In the powerlifts, Ken could squat and deadlift 800 lbs. and bench well over 500 lbs. with limited training. Ken had 3 athletic careers, shot putting, lifting and wrestling!
Most of the really good shot putters concentrate on sets of 1 to 3 reps and up to 6-8 reps on their exercises. They favor squat cleans, power cleans, bench presses, overhead presses, push presses or jerks, abdominal and triceps work along with the deadlift. They also sprint, bound and jump a lot!
According to author Kim Goss, a Masters Olympic lifter and strength coach for skaters, Greg Tafralis, (best throw 72′ 1 3/4″), made a squat clean of 520 lbs! Further, he supposedly squatted 880 lbs. and made a bench press of 638 lbs. While these were not contest lifts, if true, they were incredible. Greg weighed 295 lbs. The only weightlifters in US history that have cleaned and jerked 500 lbs. are Ken Patera, Mario Martinez, Mark Cameron and Shane Hamman. Again, Patera made 505 lbs. but weighed 333 lbs. (and he did clean 515 lbs. in training). Martinez though, made 513 lbs. in a contest. Thus, the Tafralis 520-lb. clean is both possible and truly impressive.
BIG SHOTS SPEED – STRENGTH IS IT!
Besides the lifts of Greg Tafralis, further support for shot putters training to be explosive (and succeeding) is the accomplishments of the number 3 rated thrower of all time, Ulf Timmerman. Timmerman (75′ 8″) was 6′ 4″ and 262 lbs. He had a 36″ vertical jump and 11′ 2″ standing long jump! He cleaned 485 lbs., squatted 805 lbs. and bench-pressed 550 lbs. His contemporary, Werner Gunthoer, (74′ 7″) was 6′ 6″ and 278 lbs. but could do a vertical jump of 35″ and a standing long jump also of 11′ 2″.
Perhaps the overall biggest good shot putters (height with massive weight) were C. J. Hunter and Kevin Atkins. Kevin in particular, was over 6′ 5″ and 320 lbs. Still, he could vertical jump 31″. Atkins reached 70′ 10″.
There certainly is a ‘large’ genetic component to becoming a Samson of the Shot Put. Short of the best chromosomes, if you still want to be the best thrower you can be, start doing your squats, power cleans, squat cleans, bench presses, overhead presses and jumping, sprinting and bounding. Get lots of correct practice. Of course, you also should read and learn from PLANET MUSCLE!