Today the Lied indoor track at Iowa State University is a world class facility, but back in the 80's when I was a graduate assistant working with the jumps things were quite different, State Gym our only facility, the indoor track 15 laps to a mile. Not much, but it was what it was.
We had workout sites all over the building. High jumpers and horizontal jumpers in the turfed basement of the facility, a 15' x 20' storage room off the locker room that was converted into a place for Olympic lifts, on the upstairs basketball court a spot to throw the shot and with an in ground box to pole vault. Since I coached all the jumpers it was easy to coordinate my group. But there was one drawback.
I didn't coach the shot putters.
John was an all-American shot putter. A left hander who threw with his right. Listened to static on the radio to get psyched up at meets. Had an Incredible Hulk doll attached to his travel bag. Was the athlete who punched a hole through the wooden locker room door...with his forehead.
Yeah, that guy.
The pole vault runway was on the outside edge of the upstairs basketball court, the shot ring underneath one of the side baskets, throws arcing across the court while we went parallel to the floor. Usually we alternated. We took one vault. They took one throw.
But when John was ready to toss the implement it was another story.
That day Tom took off when it was our turn, wanting to show John he wasn't king of the world, expecting him to wait for Tom to vault. Halfway through the approach my vaulter dropped to the floor as though shot by a sniper, his fiberglass pole bouncing on the court, the 16# ball arcing over his head and landing with a thud fifty-some feet away.
Tom was so stunned he didn't move.
John walked around my fallen vaulter to retrieve his shot, not even bothering to apologize, his size and intensity a little intimidating. Even to me. All Tom said was "Hey, watch it." I don't know if John even heard him. This wasn't good.
After that my vaulters were a bit more cautious. But I could tell it was only going to be resolved by some big heave-ho, some altercation by one or the other that proved their manhood. And I definitely didn't want that.
Yet at the following workout everything was resolved.
For weeks John joked about hitting the opposite side backboard with the shot, a distance I estimated would require a 65' toss - almost an impossibility with a 16# shot. Especially when the bottom of it was 9' off the floor. But he did that day.
We were doing PV pop-up drills when John threw a big one, the shot tearing a hole through the bottom of the backboard, the wood splintering like it was hit by a Civil War cannonball. John jumped up with arms raised, roaring like he'd won the lottery.
We didn't know whether to laugh or take off running.
My vaulters were clearly intimidated by the strength and power it took to make that throw. Yet I knew why he did - it was a 14# shot and not a competition one. But I never told the vaulters. John was never going to change and this was an easy way to resolve a sticky situation.
Besides, he was a 61' shot putter and my athletes struggled to make 15'. It was an easy call.
Enjoy this story? Be sure to check out the rest of the website where you can purchase my books, "A Golden Era" and "A Long Road Ahead" which tell the stories of the high school and college running careers of a father in the 70s and his son in the 2000s.