Brian Oldfield was a shot put pioneer and star who helped popularize the spin technique in the sport. He was also a charismatic and controversial figure who defied conventions and challenged authorities. He set several unofficial world records in the 1970s, but his achievements were not recognized due to his professional status and later steroid-related investigations. He died on March 26, 2017, at his home in Elgin, Illinois, at the age of 71. What was the cause of his death and how did he live his life?
A Life of Passion and Performance
Brian Oldfield was born on June 1, 1945, in Elgin, Illinois. He began his career at Middle Tennessee State University, where he won the Ohio Valley Conference championship three times. He was inducted into their athletic Hall of Fame in 2000. He had a dream of becoming an Olympian, and he made the United States Olympic team in 1972, but finished in sixth place.
He bounced back less than a year later by setting his first world record, with a throw of 21.60 m (70 ft 10½ in). However, this record was not official due to his affiliation with ITA professional track and field. In 1975, his throw of 22.86 m (75 ft) set another unofficial world record, which still ranks fourth in the world. He also became the first to throw the shot put over 72, 73, and 74 feet.
Oldfield was not only a talented athlete, but also a flamboyant personality. He had long hair, which he called the “Oldfield Mop”, and occasionally smoked cigarettes between throws. He wore tie-dyed shirts and Speedo-style shorts, and once told Sports Illustrated that “When God invented man, he wanted him to look like me.” He also competed in the World’s Strongest Man contest in 1978, finishing seventh in a field of ten competitors. He also appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and in an issue of Playgirl.
A Legacy of Controversy and Conflict
Oldfield’s career was not without controversy and conflict. He was banned from official competitions by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) for being a professional athlete. He also faced allegations of steroid use, which he admitted later in his life. He sued the IAAF for $50 million in damages, but lost the case. He also had a feud with Al Oerter, the four-time Olympic gold medalist in discus, who criticized Oldfield’s spin technique and professionalism.
Oldfield was reinstated as an amateur in 1980, and he set an official American record with a throw of 22.19 m (72 ft 9 in) in 1984, at the age of 38. He also qualified for the 1980 Olympics, but could not compete due to the US boycott. He retired from the sport in 1988, but continued to coach and mentor young athletes.
A Death of Pain and Suffering
Oldfield’s health deteriorated in his later years, due to the injuries and surgeries he endured from his time in competition. He had nearly every leg joint repaired, from ankles to knees to hips. He also had 18 inches of his colon removed after 34 polyps were found, and two operations on his throwing shoulder. He was reduced to walking with a cane and using a wheelchair.
Oldfield died on March 26, 2017, at his home in Elgin, aged 71. The cause of his death was congestive heart failure, according to his sister. He was survived by his son, Scott, and his brother, John. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in his hometown.
A Tribute to a Legend and a Friend
Oldfield’s death was mourned by many in the track and field community, who remembered him as a legend and a friend. His former rival, Randy Barnes, who broke his unofficial world record in 1990, said that Oldfield was “a great competitor and a great person.” His former teammate, Mac Wilkins, who won the Olympic gold medal in discus in 1976, said that Oldfield was “a genius and a pioneer” who changed the sport. His former coach, Ed Burke, who was also a three-time Olympian in hammer throw, said that Oldfield was “a very loyal and generous friend” who helped him in his career.
Oldfield’s legacy lives on in the sport of shot put, where his spin technique is widely used by most of the top throwers. He also inspired generations of athletes with his passion and performance. He was a shot put legend who passed away, but his spirit remains.